Experience the best of the best with this Top 8 list of things to do and see in Portsmouth.
Walk through history and see Olde Towne’s origins and it’s continued evolution.
Plan for your visit and explore Portsmouth with the Visitor Directory.
They educate folks on Portsmouth history and portray real historic figures, but they are not re-enactors. They sing, dance, and tell jokes, but they are more than entertainers. They are edu-tainers. They are Mary Veale and the Colonials, and they bring history to life through stories, song, word origins, colorful costuming, and equally colorful characters.
Portsmouth’s surveyor, Gresham Nimmo leads the Youth Virginia Regiment on an impromptu walk through Olde Towne
Take the kilted Andrew Sproule, for example. He is most often described as an “Arch Tory”. But was he? By his wife, Catherine’s account, he was merely an unwilling pawn in fellow Scotsman Lord Dunmore’s unsuccessful attempt to quell the rebellion. The founder of what is now Norfolk Naval Shipyard and a respected Portsmouth citizen and businessman for decades, poor Andrew fled his beloved Portsmouth with his family and died aboard ship “of a broken heart” within the week.
Then there’s William “Billy” Flora, hero of the Battle of Great Bridge. Born a free black, young Billy answered the call to fight in the American Revolution, bringing his own rifle, joining an all-white regiment, and proving himself heroic under fire. He settled in Portsmouth, owning a home and a livery, as well as making a tidy profit as a land speculator.
James Armistead Lafayette proved to be the most important spy of the American Revolution. He was clever, confident, intelligent, educated, and familiar with the terrain–perfect qualities for a spy. At the request of the Marquis de Lafayette (also a character in the troupe), James travelled to Portsmouth under the guise of a runaway slave to gain the trust of Benedict Arnold. The infamous turncoat saw these same qualities in James and enlisted him as spy for the crown, making him a double agent. After Arnold left Portsmouth, Cornwallis moved his headquarters here. James was again enlisted as a spy, delivering the General’s troupe movements at Yorktown to George Washington, enabling him to win the battle that won the war.
And of course, there’s Mary Veale, housekeeper to Portsmouth’s founder, Colonel William Crawford. Mary is the ringleader, if you will, of this raucous band of performers, who can be seen strolling the streets of Olde Towne, mingling with citizens, visitors, and business owners alike. You may catch them telling an amusing story on the boardwalk or bursting into a bawdy tune for those seated outside one of Portsmouth’s many pubs and restaurants.
Sometimes, you’ll find them on neighborhood streets leading one of several walking tours. Mary Veale and the Colonials offer a Homes and History Walk, which highlights architectural features of the largest collection of period homes between Charleston, SC and Alexandria, VA. This walk includes stories of owners and prominent visitors, as well as customs, word origins, and songs of the time.
From Bacon’s Rebellion thru the Civil Rights Movement, the Heroes and History Walk highlights historic events that affected the African American community here and focuses on local heroes who championed the rights and freedom of African Americans.
Lakeview Elementary students on a walk with Sally Walker, Billy Flora, and James Lafayette of Mary Veale and the Colonials
The age-appropriate History Happened Here Walk, is available for schools and other children’s groups. This walk focuses on how Portsmouth history is intertwined with the Virginia and U.S. history children learn in the classroom. Walks may be combined with a trip to the Children’s Museum of Virginia followed by a picnic in one of Olde Towne’s beautiful parks.
For more information or to schedule a walk, call 757-705-8130 or visit Mary Veale and the Colonials.