A Scottish lord appeared before a small crowd at St. Helena’s Rianda House earlier this month and expressed concern over the talk about the formation of something called “America.”
“The 13 Colonies are part of the British Empire,” he declared.
St. Helena’s Dr. John O. Wilson, dressed in a Scottish kilt and beautiful tweed jacket, was portraying John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, who was born in 1730 and died in 1809. Lord Dunmore served as the British governor of the Province of New York from 1770 to 1771 and after the death of Lord Botetourt, replaced him as the governor of Virginia.
“You may not know my history,” Wilson said as Dunmore. “As a 15-year-old, I fought along with my father in the 1746 battle along Bonnie Prince Charlie for the clan Murray.” After the battle of Culloden, the father was imprisoned for four years in the Tower of London and the family was placed under house arrest. “The wearing of the kilt was prohibited in London,” Wilson said. John Murray joined the British Army at the age of 20 and afterward was posted to the New World.
Wilson has a passion for American history and more importantly, about the values of America as laid out by this country’s founders. He loves to teach, debate and discuss those values, their legacy and the future. Four years ago, 36 people gathered in the Rianda House to do just that.
From that start, Wilson has worked with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and developed “The Idea of America” into a dynamic program that has grown into 80 seminars in 10 states that have reached 800 people. The basis for the seminar is Wilson’s book, “The Idea of America,” which was published in July.
On Oct. 3, Wilson presented a framed thank you letter from Mitchell B. Reiss, president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, to Julie Spencer, executive director of the Rianda House. In part, it stated, “It is with the greatest of pleasure that I write to congratulate you, and through you to the many volunteers at Rianda House, for your leadership in creating the Idea of America seminar program. This vital endeavor, begun in 2014, has brought together educators, scholars and community leaders from across the country to understand and celebrate the ongoing civic and civil debates that brought our country into existence.”
After receiving the framed letter, Spencer thanked Wilson, adding, “We couldn’t have done it without you. It reminds me of what we can do together.” In the audience were nine of the original 36 people who discussed Wilson’s “The Idea of America.”
Wilson announced three programs at Rianda House on Oct. 3. First, a five-week seminar based on “The Idea of America,” would be held Mondays, Oct. 8 through Nov. 5 at Rianda House; second, he and his wife, Beclee Wilson will host two on-site seminars in Williamsburg in 2019, one in March, the second in September; and the Napa County chapter of the League of Women Voters will use his “The Idea of America” seminar beginning in January, as a model for a statewide program.
Besides Wilson, Rianda House seminar facilitators include James Scanlan and Dr. James Haslip.
“What we’d like to say is that 1,000 ‘Ideas of America’ seminars in this nation would make a difference,” Wilson said. “It would make a difference because our nation faces a critical period right now as we all recognize as to what it means to be an American, what are the basic values that we embrace that were stated at our founding.”
Various people gave voice to those founding values and then others, including Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, expanded them.
“America was born on the most important enlightenment value that was ever stated,” Wilson said, “that every human being is equal as a human being, that every life is valued. That is the key.”