A visit to Colonial Williamsburg will open your eyes to the many lines drawn by our forefathers to define our borders. Putting that era into perspective, the colonists were forging a new country. In their minds the country was a clean slate, and it was all up for grabs. To stake a claim was their right given by law or taken by force. As soon as that stake was claimed, a map was drawn, recorded and then, up went the fence or wall. Whether it be vast territories claimed by foreign countries or 200 acres claimed by the early settlers once possession was asserted and all means ensued to protect it.
Colonial Williamsburg is a restored microcosm of life in the 18th century. Beautiful brick walls outline many of the larger buildings in the city, homes are guarded by picket fences and wooden gates and gardens are hedged with dense aromatic boxwood. The Governor’s Palace, the Crown’s jewel, has a 6 foot brick and fence wall surrounding both the Palace itself, the many outbuildings and its magnificent gardens. Inside the garden wall is a border of boxwood. Inside the boxwood hedgerows are shell paths leading to a matrix of flower beds contained by more boxwood. Most interesting in this garden is the 200-year-old boxwood maze designed to entertain giddy guests who would wander through and get lost in the many dead-end twists and turns. This brought much joy to others who watch in a tree-top perch.
The homes along the main street of Williamsburg are adorned by both vegetable and flower gardens outlined with neatly laid brick borders and shell paths. The outer perimeter of the gardens are contained by white picket fencing.
A most interesting border is evidenced in the Capitol Building. In the beautifully paneled courtroom, there is a divider between the defendant and the attorneys, jury box and judge. Legend has it that it is this railing, referred to as the bar, is where the expression “before the bar” comes from. Passing the “bar exam” gained access to the other side.
So as the residents of Colonial Williamsburg lived within their walled confines, other early Americans were encouraged to go West lured by the prospect of free land. They pushed on over the mountains, through dense forests, and forded raging rivers to carve their own destinies. These settlers made tomahawk claims and later received warrants or patent deeds to property. As states were created more lines were drawn. The surveying of the Mason-Dixon line created to define the southern border of Pennsylvania and the norther borders of Maryland, some of Virginia and West Virginia was considered during the Civil War as the dividing line between the North and South.
As we also know, the borders walled out the indigenous people of America. They were forced from their homelands and hunting grounds, had treaties violated and promises broken. For those on the other side of the wall, the world is a much different place even today.
Man likes to define his space, whether for safety or ownership, bigotry or hatred, the message is clearly sent that the line is drawn. If you cross it, you are trespassing and you must beware. Citizenship will be the new test or “bar exam”. In a world where so many of us try to be more open and accepting, in a country founded by immigrants, these lines continue represent an aggressive act and one that should be used less often if at all.