The questions are tough, running the gamut from racial relations to the separation of church and state. Gracefully, the tall Southern-born President answers them all. But when someone asks about his sex life, he bridles. He’s offended that anyone would believe he’d have an affair with a young woman “under the eyes of my own family.”
Over and over, this man named Bill proves that he is every inch a President—the third President. The setting is Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, where impersonating Thomas Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826, and fielding questions about his alleged relationship with slave Sally Hemings, is Bill Barker’s full-time job. So convincing is his portrayal, says Cary Carson, vice president for research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, “I no longer remember what I thought Jefferson was like before I met Bill Barker.”
Son of a barber and a home-maker, Barker, 45, made his presidential debut in a fourth-grade play in Abington, Pa.—as George Washington. After graduating from Villanova with a U.S. history degree, he became an actor. Because he resembles Jefferson—at 6’3″, he’s a half-inch taller, with freckles and pony-tailed red hair—Barker began appearing in productions of 1776 and playing the President in public appearances. “Jefferson,” he says, “just started taking over.”
Divorced, Barker lives in a small house in Colonial Williamsburg. He constantly studies his idol, reading voraciously. “There will never be another Jefferson,” says Barker. “He was inimitable.” Inimitable? Not with Bill Barker around.