Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution opened in April of this year. I visited it last week and can report that it is a wonderful addition to a city rich in historic sites and institutions related to the founding of our nation. The films, exhibits and artifacts in this well-designed museum help the visitor understand how the diverse American colonies, often at odds with each other, united to gain independence from Britain. The history examined spans the years from 1760 to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787 and the inauguration of George Washington as president in 1789. And, it is suggested, onward to the present as we continue to try to be true to the founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A serious effort has been made to include insights into the experiences of all sorts of people, women and children as well as men. Visitors will meet both the elite and the humble, those who served in the military as well their civilian counterparts, Native Americans and enslaved workers, Patriots and Loyalists. Particular attention is paid to the Oneida Indians who sided with the Americans as opposed to other Indian nations that saw their interests better protected by the British. The Oneida Nation contributed $10 million toward the construction of this new museum and is suitably honored.

The museum is visitor friendly, with many interactive displays. The impressive collection of artifacts and objects includes all things military: from uniforms and kits to guns and swords—in American, British, Hessian, and French versions. The life-size troops pictured are Dragoons of the British Legion.

In one niche is a collection of flags. Another is devoted to women in their various roles. Still others to household necessities and American-made products, including china and fabrics. There are manuscripts, printed documents and broadsheets. Visitors can view books like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Baron Von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of Troops in the United States; his drills turned a rag-tag army into an effective fighting force.

Happily there are reproductions visitors can touch. Or sit in. This is the chair, with the famous carving of the sun on its high back, from which George Washington as President of the Constitutional Convention listened to the debates. Of it Benjamin Franklin is said to have remarked: “I have often … in the course of the session … looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Clearly the museum is great for kids. There are life-size depictions of famous events: watch Americans tear down the statue of George III in New York City for example. There are so-called “immersive events” with appropriate sound effects: stand beneath a reproduction of Boston’s Liberty Tree where residents discussed the pros and cons of resistance to the British; choose some fighting clothes; climb aboard a privateer’s ship; sniff a tar-coated hauser.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance among the artifacts at the museum is George Washington’s war tent, one of two, used when he was on the road. At the end of a well-done film, describing its construction, use, and conservation, on the stage behind a scrim and in a protected environment the tent itself is revealed. Seeing it is almost like a religious experience.

After some refreshment at the café, the next stop is the well-stocked shop where visitors are sure to find souvenirs or gifts for all ages. There is an excellent selection of books, both scholarly and popular. I am hoping the shop will, in the near future, carry Selected Correspondence of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay and In the Words of Women, both by me and my colleagues Louise North and Landa Freeman. There are gifts aplenty for kids but it was a bit jarring, in this day and age, to see these grouped by sex. It was also disappointing and rather ironic to find that many items on sale were made in China, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Pakistan. How great it would have been for a museum about the founding of our nation for them to have been made in the USA.

Visit the museum’s website to purchase tickets in advance at specified times. There is so much to see and absorb that tickets are good for another visit on the next day.

On a personal note, it was gratifying to see many visiting school groups, while carefully arranging to be well ahead or behind them because of the noise. And it was a particular pleasure to talk to some of the other visitors. I met and engaged in conversation a woman of the Lenape nation who visits classes of schoolchildren in Native dress to tell stories and provide information about Native cultures and games. We exchanged email addresses.

posted November 7th, 2017 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Museums

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