Colonial Williamsburg’s newest historical site aims to improve upon the telling of the African American experience in the Revolutionary city, according to Ted Maris-Wolf, foundation vice president of education, research and historical interpretation.
Hope’s Barber Shop, accessible to those with tickets beginning Oct. 1, tells the story of John Hope, also known as “Barber Caesar.” A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the barber shop takes place at 11:15 a.m. Sunday along the north side of Duke of Gloucester Street between the Palace Green and Market Square.
Maris-Wolf said Hope endured enslavement before winning freedom and achieving professional success, and it opens new windows into 18th-century realities that Colonial Williamsburg has been wanting to represent more clearly.
“Revolutionary Williamsburg was a black-majority city, and it is a priority for us to do a better job of conveying this important fact by broadening and deepening the African American perspectives we represent, and to do so in highly visible ways,” Maris-Wolf said.
Hope was captured as a boy and sold into enslavement in 1743 to a York County tavern operator. That person advertised haircuts and gave Hope the name Caesar, according to Colonial Williamsburg. Hope’s sale in 1768 for £150 (150 pounds) indicates that Hope had acquired valuable skills, and in 1775, Hope was described by the Virginia Gazette as “Caesar, the famous barber of York.”
Hope’s owner freed him in 1779 — when Hope was in his mid-40s — and five years later, he was doing business in Williamsburg under the name John Hope, and had purchased and freed his own son, Aberdeen, according to Colonial Williamsburg.
Maris-Wolf said that after reading a research report from historian Michael L. Nicholls in 2010, he wanted to bring Hope’s story to life.
Through a footnote in Nicholls’ research, he found a living descendant of Hope’s Peggy Hammond, who will be at the ceremony along with several other of Hope’s descendants. Since then, Maris-Wolf has stayed in touch with Hammond, exchanging information to ensure an accurate portrayal.
Visitors will experience, as closely as possible, a 18th-century Williamsburg barbering business, Maris-Wolf said.
They will also learn about the barbering instruments used, along with challenges and opportunities Hope and others faced as black entrepreneurs during the time, Maris-Wolf said.
“The new shop allows us to represent the life of a black man,” Maris-Wolf said, “who navigated the horror of slavery and the challenges of freedom by acquiring enough trust from many of the city’s gentry — including Thomas Jefferson — to hold a sharp blade to their throats, and eventually, earn a living doing so.”
Maris-Wolf said research by the foundation, and by Nicholls, shows that Hope was born free in Africa, though they don’t know exactly where, and was sold by coastal traders to European slave traders. Hope survived a horrific Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean before being sold as a slave when he was 10 years old.
“His perspective allows us to convey realities of the Transatlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage through first-person interpretation,” Maris-Wolf said.
Two unnamed donors have agreed to fund the shop’s renovation and Hope’s portrayal for the next two years. DeAndre Short will portray John Hope.
“Every day at Colonial Williamsburg we share with our guests the remarkable lives of African-Americans who comprised more than half our city at the time of our nation’s birth,” said Colonial Williamsburg president Mitchell Reiss in a news release. “Along with his fellow characters like Gowan Pamphlet, Aggy Randolph, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, John Hope offers guests a window on the courage and complexity that define America’s enduring story.”
Maris-Wolf said he hopes the new historical site will enhance the visitor experience to Colonial Williamsburg and tell a fuller, richer story and explain the types of relationships that existed in Williamsburg’s free and enslaved communities.
“Interpreting Caesar Hope’s shop on a bustling block of Duke of Gloucester Street will bring us closer to realizing our goal that all guests will encounter a range of African American characters and perspectives during their visit,” Maris-Wolf said.
Hope’s Barber Shop
Hope’s Barber Shop is accessible to ticketed guests from the north side of Duke of Gloucester Street between the Palace Green and Market Square. It is open Sundays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. until noon and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. beginning Oct. 1.
John Hope will be portrayed by actor-interpreter DeAndre Short.