- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

"Step back in time," invites a sign along the wooded trail. "Follow this path to the year 1771. You will meet a poor tenant family going about their daily chores."

Indeed, visitors meandering through the woods at McLean's Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run will pass the tobacco house, used for curing tobacco and storing crops. They will pass the large pen containing several gigantic, fragrant hogs, snoozing in the shade. They will continue along the path, around a garden and up to a small one-room log building, the farmhouse.

Inside they will find farmer's wife Rachel Tuttle, tending to her chores. She's pretty much on her own now she and her six stepchildren.

"My husband Tom went west to get some land a year ago April," she explains to visitors, perspiring beneath the weight of her heavy skirts. "He's about a year late coming home now. My heart's been in my throat every day."

Rachel's uncle, John, who lives down near the river, comes over from time to time to help out. He comments on the situation:

"Been an owl hootin' down in the woods," he says, taking a break by the window. "That's not a good sign."

But life goes on for the family, and Rachel is eager to give visitors a peek at the life she has built. She's proud of the 100-acre farm. Her house, with its hard-packed dirt floor and single window, rickety chairs, pots, buckets and baskets, seems safe and warm. Black-eyed peas simmer in a large kettle dangling over a fire, and herbs dry near the fireplace.

"I have a few cloves that I'm going to use for baking today," she says, gesturing to the spice in a wooden bowl on the plank table. "I'm gonna put one in each dumpling." She turns to three of her daughters Rebecca, Sarah and Mary and asks them to fetch some green apples from the orchard.

Taking visiting children by the hands, the girls disappear outside, re-emerging a short time later with aprons full of fresh-picked fruit.

At Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Rachel, John and the girls offer visitors a living demonstration of Colonial life in Northern Virginia. In those days, we learn, property such as this often was farmed under a "three lives lease" good for the life of the tenant-husband, wife and oldest son in which the rights to the farm were exchanged for improving the land and delivering 500 pounds of tobacco annually to the landowner.

The park staff and volunteers dress in period clothing to portray the tenant family, and they work the land as if it were their own. Their furniture, tools and equipment are reproductions of 18th-century articles.

At the Tuttle farm, ask questions and you will be answered as if you were visiting in 1771.

"Would you like to see my doll, Molly?" asks 11-year-old Sarah, offering a primitive doll fashioned from a gourd.

"His hair is made of flax," Sarah says. "Jacob is the corn-husk doll. I'm the youngest in the family so I get to play with dolls when there's time, of course."

At the direction of their mother, the girls take visitors outside. They show us the chicken coop containing three fat, speckled hens and a scrawny rooster.

"Our old rooster and four hens got killed by a fox last year," offers one daughter. "And a fox just carried one off a few weeks ago."

They show us the hole dug for underground food storage and we watch as Uncle John comes out to split wood. We wander around the garden, with its crop of peas, lettuce, radishes and turnips.

After staying a few hours relying on the good hospitality of these very busy people we are on our way. Back to the cell phones, the air conditioning, the television. We ponder life then, and we ponder life now.

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