WILLIAMSBURG — The College of William & Mary (W&M) has no shortage of impactful history. Being the second oldest university in the United States (second to Harvard University), it has seen its fair share of leaders and armies come and go from its campus.
There’s a story about a group of students and professors who left the College in 1777 to go fight in the American Revolution. That story is commemorated with a plaque on one of the College’s buildings. It was also the inspiration for a reenactment group known as “The College Company of William and Mary”.
The group brings to life the company of soldiers who put their educations on hold while they went off to fight for independence.
“That’s our historical antecedent. We try to commemorate that sort of memory,” said Company President Daniel Speer. “In terms of the club itself, what we do most of the time is about once or twice a month we’ll go out to reenactments in living history events, around the Peninsula, and throughout Virginia. We interpret the history of both military and civilians in the revolution.”
The College Company has about 20 members, however Speer noted that membership has been as high as 35. Its members come from all different kinds of academic backgrounds. Some are History majors while others are studying economics, linguistics, and biology. Speer says that the Company accepts any student who is interested in history or just learning about the 18th century.
“In addition to reenactments, we also do the Homecoming parade, football games, and have been hired as background actors on a T.V. show,” Speer said. “The T.V. show was Gordon Ramsey’s ’24 Hours to Hell and Back’ season 3, episode 5.”
Once or twice a year the College Company sets up an encampment on William & Mary’s campus.
“We set up a couple of tents and we try to interpret a revolutionary war encampment for folks. So we go through a musket drill we show people what those procedures are like,” said Speer. “We have folks who reenact civilians talk about the different impressions that they do. Others represent people who sell stuff to the army. Some folks did contract washing for the army, and some folks are wagoners. That sort of stuff. “
Most of the reenacting work is done at various sites. The College Company travels to Mt. Vernon, Great Bridge, and South Boston where they have participated in battle reenactments and have also set up campsites.
“We have a supply of muskets and we do musket training twice a year. We also have our own supply of kit too,” said Speer. “Reenacting can be a very expensive hobby. So what makes this a really great club for folks to join is that we have our own supply of kit that people either donated or made themselves and donated and that allows folks to get and borrow kit so that they can go to events at a very low cost. It makes it a very accessible thing for folks to do.”
The group meets every week and typically focus on learning historical aspects of the 18th century. Some semesters are spent learning about specific civilians and impressions.
“For some folks, it’s an opportunity to get to know what it’s like to be a soldier in the 18th century, for some folks it’s about being a living historian and trying to debunk some of the myths that exist about this period,” said Speer. “For some folks, it’s the opportunity to get to make historical clothing, and you get to meet people that do that sort of stuff. It’s a fun thing to do.”
Speer says that they participate in events with The 7th Virginia Regiment of the Continental line, and there are also other college companies, one in Hampden-Sydney and one in Mary-Washington.
More information on the College Company of William and Mary can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.