17 Historical Secrets You’ll Learn at the Museum of the American Revolution
On April 19, the Museum of the American Revolution will open its doors in Philadelphia, a city that was named one of Travel + Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2017. The collection has an impressive selection of artifacts from the period leading up to and shortly following the American Revolutionary War, and the museum takes the creation of the U.S. republic and situates it in the broader context of modern politics.
With the success of Broadway smash hit “Hamilton,” many have discovered a newfound passion for some of the familiar characters and chapters of American history. The museum is across from the First National Bank in the Colonial-style building, and will allow visitors from around the world to explore the early history of this nation’s founding.
The tent that served as President George Washington’s command center during the war is the centerpiece of the collection, but the museum has a wealth of hidden gems, from some of the flints used to fire the first shots in the war to two of the original flags used as symbols of the revolution.
The museum also effectively incorporates the narratives of certain groups of people that are often left out of the story of the American Revolution, including women, African-Americans, and the Oneida tribe that supported the cause of independence.
“We’re telling a story that is broader and more populous than the revolution is usually presented,” Scott Stephenson, vice president of collections, told Travel + Leisure.
“It’s usually very much focused on the John Trumbull painting guys, the people in Independence Hall, or just the soldiers, and it’s not a broader story — and that’s what this is supposed to suggest,” he said.
Before your next trip to Philadelphia, take a peek at some of the unusual objects of the collection that tell this familiar story in new ways.
English Punch Bowl
This seemingly innocuous punch bowl was in fact a symbol of the closeness between England and her colonies. Merchant sailors would use bowls like these to toast to trade made between the U.K. and the colonies.
Two Original Coats of Arms
British royal coats of arms were used as symbols to pay homage to the current ruler. These shields decorated everything from homes to official court documents in the 17th and 18th centuries. Look closely to see how each element served as a symbol of a different part of British unity, with the lion standing for England and the unicorn for Scotland.
The British printed their own paper money to finance early colonial wars with France and Spain. One of these 20-shilling notes was printed by a familiar name in 1758: Benjamin Franklin, who would later become one of the founding fathers of the U.S.
“Liberty trees” in various colonies served as gathering places for early organizing during the American Revolution. A section from one of the original liberty trees in Annapolis, Maryland, is embedded at the museum.
Pieces of Flint
It’s easy to walk by what looks like nothing more than a handful of small stones. These rock shards are in fact flints that were used for the firing mechanism in the “shot heard round the world,” the first gunshot fired in the American Revolution.
Drag Beam from Old North Bridge
Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, was the site of what is considered the first fight of the American Revolution. Though the bridge has since undergone renovations, this drag beam is from its original construction.
Bunker Hill Bible
The inscription in this bible did more than mark the book with its owner’s name. Young soldier Francis Merrifield scribbled these words in his bible after surviving the battle of Bunker Hill:
“I desire to bless God for the Kind aperince [appearance] in delivering me and sparing my life in the late battle fought on Bunker’s Hill. I desire to devote this spared life to His glory and honor.”
Declaration of Independence Printings
History aficionados don’t need to go all the way to Washington, D.C. to see the Declaration of Independence. The founding fathers made many printings of the document, and several have survived to this day, including the two found here (one in German).
Historical accounts often overlook the role that women played in the Revolution and their dedication to the cause. Their devotion to burgeoning independence can be seen in places as intimate as their undergarments.
Women used flatteners in their garments to straighten their torso, and this busk is covered in Revolutionary symbols, including a liberty tree and the circular chain that adorned many Revolutionary imagery.
King George III Statue Fragments
New Yorkers who walk through Bowling Green in downtown Manhattan are most familiar with the neighborhood’s charging bull statue, a symbol of Wall Street. But back in the 18th century, a statue of King George III stood in Bowling Green. Revolutionaries tore down the statue following the Declaration of Independence and melted most of it down for bullets and buckshot. A few fragments of the original statue remain, and two of them can be found here.
Visitors may be shocked to discover that some of the earliest Revolutionary flags featured symbols that declared the colonists’ devotion to Britain, intended as a symbol that their quarrel was with Parliament and its taxation and not with the entire regime. Two original flags are on display.
The majority of Native American tribes sided with the British during the Revolutionary War or remained neutral, with some chiefs putting more trust in the British than in the colonists to respect their land. The Oneida tribe was one of the rare groups of natives to support the American Revolution.
Members of the tribe acted as scouts for the revolutionaries, and some even fought alongside them. Early American leaders promised the Oneida they would not forget the tribe’s contributions. Soon after the war, however, the young New York state successfully pushed the tribe off most of its land and the Oneida scattered west toward Wisconsin.
Despite many depictions in art and literature, the Revolutionary War was not very glamorous. This large leather bag was part of George Washington’s luggage during the battles.
George Washington’s wife rarely signed her name to her possessions, and this inscription in the first few pages of this Christian book is one of the few surviving examples of her signature.
As photography did not exist at the time of the American Revolution, historians rely mostly on paintings and written accounts of the war. Dozens of people who were actively involved in the Revolution, whether soldiers or civilians, lived well into the 19th century and were alive for the dawn of modern photography.
Their portraits can be found at the end of the exhibit, where visitors can ask themselves the question “what does a Revolutionary look like?”
Much like women and Native Americans, African-Americans do not feature prominently in the most well-known accounts of the war and its aftermath. Their contributions helped shape the nation, and visitors can learn about their lives and sacrifices in this interactive exhibit.
Many visitors to the museum would never know that there is a formal ballroom on the top floor for events and even weddings. U.S. history buffs can make the museum their spot for a destination wedding.