Revolution Out of Darkness
Revolution Out of Darkness
The new $120 million Museum of the American Revolution, opening April 19 at Third and Chestnut Streets, is devoted to the nation’s birth – in both war and ideas – and aims to be an expansive, immersive, and thought-provoking experience. Visitors will enter on the ground floor and head up a sweeping staircase to the second floor, where virtually all galleries are located. (There are also elevators.) The museum takes a very straightforward approach to telling the tale of the War for Independence, laying it out in rough chronological order. There are 476 artifacts illustrating the story, along with the latest in interactive-exhibit razzle dazzle.
The narrative is broken into four parts: What turned loyal farmers and shopkeepers into revolutionaries? How did a rag-tag army of farmers and shopkeepers defeat the most powerful nation on the planet? Was the war really revolutionary? And what did it accomplish for those white men who were formerly colonists and British subjects but who now found themselves in the position of citizens and representatives? And what about women and the enslaved?
The visitor experience concludes in a gallery-theater where the museum’s prized possession, George Washington’s battle-tested field tent, is presented (behind glass) in an 11-minute show that asks visitors to consider not only what the revolutionary generation accomplished, but what remains for Americans to achieve in the future.
The museum tells its story chronologically and begins by setting the scene of the early Americans and their strained relationship with the British Empire. Asking the question of what caused ordinary men and women to rise up and take arms against a global power, the exhibit takes the viewer through the early debates that ultimately led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Powder Horns Used to store gunpowder, powder horns were often ornately decorated with imagery, such as Philadelphia's busy waterfront during the 1760s. Philadelphia was America's largest port city at the time and was connected by water to the British Empire's nearly global trade network. This is an example of how ordinary objects could remind colonists of both the benefits and obligations of being the King's subjects.
Liberty Tree An 18-foot replica of the first “Liberty Tree” (in Boston) dominates an immersive gallery where visitors can listen to debates that began sweeping American towns in the wake of new British taxes imposed in the 1760s. The trees served as open-air town halls where the stirrings of rebellion were first heard.
Sergeant's Sword This sword is marked to the British Army's 23rd Regiment of Foot, or "Royal Welsh Fusiliers," one of the most colorful and decorated units in the British Army.
Teapot Americans celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act by buying English-made teapots decorated with the motto "No Stamp Act." British merchants were more than happy to supply Americans with goods bearing these political messages.
Timber from Old North Bridge It’s no coincidence that the museum opens on April 19. That’s the day in 1775 that Ralph Waldo Emerson would later peg as the opening of the American Revolution – “the shot heard round the world” – because of a fatal skirmish at the North Bridge in Concord, Mass. The old bridge was dismantled in 1793, but pieces were recovered from the water during a 1950s construction project. One of the storied timbers can be seen at the museum, on loan from the Concord Museum.
Figures The Museum of the American Revolution has installed more than 15 incredibly lifelike figures in a series of historical vignettes that recreate particular moments during the American Revolution. These figures aim to personalize the wide range of people who were involved in the Revolution before the age of photography.
King George Statue A statue of the British monarch on horseback, which stood in Bowling Green park at the lower tip of Manhattan, was torn down by angry colonists on July 9, 1776. The king was the symbol of British sovereignty and power, the unifier of the empire. Why would his subjects tear down his statue? Would you do the same?
Shackles These small iron shackles were likely made to restrain a child. The bar pivoted to close the shackles around the wearer's wrists, and a lock slipped through the small hole to secure the restraints. At the start of the American Revolution, hereditary slavery of African Americans, meaning the children of enslaved mothers were born into slavery, was legal in every colony.
The Darkest Hour
At the start of “The Darkest Hour,” writing on the museum wall reads, “It was one thing to declare independence, and quite another to secure it.”
Who fought this war and what type of weapons were used? And what about the Native American tribes caught in the middle of this fight for liberty? Cases full of weaponry, a seven-minute video explaining the war in its entirety, and lifelike figures tell this complicated saga.
Holster Pistols Pistols provided a shorter, lighter alternative to a long gun. This proved critical on horseback. A pair of pistols also gave the user double the firepower of a light musket. This elegant silver mounted set likely belonged to an officer.
William Burke Figure Private William Burke was a 24-year-old soldier in the British 45th Regiment of Foot, joining in 1774. In 1775, he deployed to Boston as part of the force sent to punish the Americans for the "Tea Party."
Early American FlagsIn 1776, the American Army carried a variety of flags that bore the symbols and mottos expressing the ideals for which the soldiers fought. The flag on the right, “The Forster Flag,” might be one of the earliest American flags to have been altered after the Declaration of Independence. After the signing, Americans destroyed British symbols and removed the British Union from their flags.
Cannonball Found on the site of Fort Washington, this iron cannonball may have been left behind by the large American artillery contingent in the fort.
The Oneida Nation Gallery The Oneida Indian Nation was the only tribe to completely break with the Iroquois Confederacy and ally themselves with American colonists. Life-size figures fill the gallery and their debates surround visitors (via an audio soundscape), who can listen in as they walk around the gallery.
Arms of Independence Items and weapons carried by American soldiers in the Revolutionary War.
A Revolutionary War
How revolutionary was the war? Both sides of the conflict grew weary with the ongoing conflict. Not all Americans shared the revolutionary vision, causing a civil war among themselves. And what about the Native Americans and enslaved African Americans; where did they fit in the new American republic? This chapter takes visitors through the final years of the war, ending with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
Privateer Ship So you want to join a privateer ship? Choose your ship and your captain wisely. Privateers were privately owned vessels licensed by Congress or the state governments to attack British ships and disrupt trade. They paid their crew and investors by dividing their cargo and other assets captured. The museum goes beyond artifacts to personalize the war at sea through use of a mock sailing vessel, built at Independence Seaport Museum’s Workshop on the Water.
Trading slavery for liberty While war brought death and devastation, it also brought opportunities for the 200,000 or more enslaved African Americans. Thousands of slaves traded bondage for liberty, taking an oath to fight for King George III in exchange for their freedom.
Dragoons of the British Legion The British Legion was a Loyalist corps composed of Americans who sided with the King against Congress. Commanded by British Lietenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, the legion included men from throughout the colonies.
A New Nation
The war with Britain was over and the United States of America won their establishment, but now came the fight to bring together the 13 states and form a unified nation based on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And despite the revolution’s promises of freedom and liberty for all, women, Native Americans, free and enslaved African Americans were left behind, not receiving the same rights as their white, male counterparts.
The final chapter of the museum explores these questions, honors the men and women that led the revolution, and ends by asking visitors to consider what remains to be achieved by future American generations.
George Washington Bust Philadephia sculptor WIlliam Rush created this bust of George Washington for an 1817 exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The exhibition label claimed that the sculptorwas the "most perfect likeness existing" of the first president.
Buttons Decorated buttons were sold as souvenirs of George Washington's 1789 inauguration as the first President of the United States. Unlike most modern political buttons, these were made to be sewn onto clothing.
Unfinished victories While highlighting the accomplishments of the Revolution, the exhibit makes a point to say that for all the political revolutions focusing on liberty, the new country did not make an end to slavery. Slavery expanded and grew harsher in the years after American independence, with slave masters punishing those suspected of joining the British army in search of freedom.
Generation in Photos Many people who lived during the American Revolution survived into the age of photography. At least 150 images of this revolutionary band of brothers have been identified and are displayed here – men such as Thaonawyuthe (also known as Governor Blacksnake or Chainbreaker), a Seneca war chief who fought on the British side in the 1777 Battle of Oriskany.
Washington's Headquarters Tent
Made in Reading, Pa., at George Washington’s request in 1778, this tent served as the general’s home away from home from 1778 through the war’s last major battle, the Siege of Yorktown in 1781. It is the museum’s most prized possession and is displayed in its own gallery theater with a special video program.