Good Day, Sirs and Madams—Welcome to Websterville

Parent volunteer and docent Michael Prockiw Kline takes a group of children around to the shops on the Duke of Gloucester Street in the colonial town of Websterville.

For the last 19 years, fifth graders at Webster Elementary School have transported their friends, families and local community members to 18th century Colonial America with Websterville. 

This year, the town boasted more than a dozen stalls featuring a variety of trades as well as the traditional militia reenactment. Parents, dressed in traditional outfits of the time, were on hand to act as docents for groups passing through.

The first stall was manned by a tobacconist named Edward Thompson, who described three different types of tobacco. Thompson (a.k.a. Webster student Ethan Welsh) said the tobacco would be sent back to England in hogshead barrels for a whopping 500 shillings, making him the “most richest person in Colonial America.”

When asked how long the journey takes, he explained the trip usually took around five months.

“When my hogshead barrels come back… I mean, they don’t usually come back, the ships sink.”

Like Welsh, many of the students thoughtfully answered questions posed to them by younger students and others in the crowd.

“This group in particular, I really feel like they’re embodying their roles wholeheartedly,” Kristina London, one of the fifth grade teachers, told The Malibu Times. “I feel like they’ve been able to improvise more.”

Websterville is a culmination of three months studying American colonial life. To prepare, the fifth graders—52 in total—learned how colonial people lived. In December, they were assigned to become an expert in a specific trade, which ranged from bakers to cobblers to ship builders. To demonstrate their knowledge, each student wrote a first-person narrative from the perspective of his or her chosen colonial characters, which was then presented in a book.  

Through the project, fifth grader Jax Brady found out he was related to Colonel William Prescott, whom many know for the infamous quote, “Do not fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

Carmen Brunel, who played Websterville’s tavern wife, also created a sentimental book—the teacup and spoon glued to the front of her book were among the only things salvaged from her fire-damaged home.

“I decided that it would be cool to put it on my project and I would always remember it,” she explained.

The students were also paired up and tasked with creating their own shop, complete with a backdrop, sign and something specific to their trade. For example, this year, the ship builders designed the skeleton of a ship out of wooden planks. 

Over at Hopkins Cider, students Tess Hopkinson and Zoe Retts taught groups how cider was made and handed out cups for people to sample. 

The event is considered “a big tradition and rite of passage,” as London put it, for Webster fifth graders. Many of the kids have attended at least one or two, if not more, Websterville events in the past.

Romy Lescure, who represented the dame school—similar to a private elementary school—with Haylen Smith at Websterville, said, “Every year I’ve gone here, it’s just like I learn so much about it and it’s really amazing.”

“By the time we get the kids in fifth grade, they actually know exactly what shop they want to be in,” London said, later adding: “It’s a special celebration for them when it all finally comes together.”