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Henricus Spotlight — Randall Benton

Randall Benton

Historian. Educator. Interpreter.

We take great pride in the accuracy of our interpreters at Henricus Historical Park. These highly skilled  professionals spend countless hours meticulously crafting their period kit, researching Virginia history, and educating visitors to one of America’s earliest Colonial sites.

We are honored to kick off the Henricus Staff Spotlight Series in an effort to highlight some of Virginia’s greatest assets. Today we feature Mr. Randall Benton.


What is your position at Henricus Historical Park? And how long have you been a team member?

17th c. English military interpretation. 3+ years

 

Do you interpret a particular historical figure? If so, who and what is the most interesting thing about this person?

I portray a sergeant typical of the musketeers arriving here with Sir Thomas Dale in 1611. During special events, such as commemoration of the 1622 Powhatan uprising, I may portray Sgt. Thomas Harris – one of the several soldiers known to have been present during that event – but generally no specific portrayal is intended.

 

Where are you originally from and how long have you lived in the Richmond area?

I’m originally from Chesapeake, Virginia. I moved to Richmond in 1985 and attended VCU. With the exception a 3+ year jaunt in NYC, I’ve been in and around central Virginia ever since.

 

Who or what inspired your love of history?

From a very young age, anything involving swords and plate armor got my attention. In elementary school I read a collection of Arthurian legends, which led to an interest in real history – pre-Roman and Roman Britain – and then (logically) to Medieval and Renaissance Europe. In the late 1500s, English history *becomes* early Virginia history. My fascination with this period and place is a natural extension of my earliest interests.

 

If you could change one historical event in 1600 Virginia, what would it be and why?

One of the basic issues with the first settlers was an appalling lack of survival skills. From the fateful decision to build Jamestown on a mosquito-infested swamp lacking fresh water, to their almost complete inability to feed themselves amid the considerable quantity of available wild game and fish, the English seemed almost determined to fail.

It would have been wiser to send settlers who were actually qualified and equipped to survive in the “wilderness” of Virginia. Soldiers and farmers are necessary, of course, but sending huntsmen, fishermen, and foragers might have meant a higher survival rate, leading to a more rapid populating of the colony.

 

Do you have a favorite event at Henricus?

My Favorite Henricus Event is the Boar’s Head Feast. Each December, Henricus Historical Park continues the centuries old tradition of feasting and merriment that the settlers would have celebrated back home in England. In a candle-lit hall with roaring fireplaces and strewn with cedar, holly, and pine, the Lord of Misrule leads the revelers in Yuletide celebrations with enormous amounts of period food, drink, songs and music! It’s one of England’s oldest Christmas traditions at one of the England’s oldest settlements in North America. The Boar’s Head Feast at Henricus is THE event of the holiday season!

 

What do you feel makes Henricus Historical Park special?

At Henricus, we work to illuminate a vital time in Virginia’s earliest history that has been obscured by centuries of misleading and often completely fictitious accounts. Though long ignored, and existing in the shadow of Jamestown for hundreds of years, Henricus has a fascinating and important story of its own. The conversion of Matoaca; the establishment of the 1st English hospital and the first English college in the New World; the principle of private property ownership, wherein lie the roots of the American Dream; the development of the first sustainable cash crop nearby. These seminal events sowed the seeds that grew into the democratic experiment that is the United States.

 


 

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