George Washington’s headquarters tent, a piece of the last surviving Liberty Tree, interactive exhibits and more, fill the first museum dedicated to telling the story of the American Revolution, which opens in Philadelphia on 19 April.
Located just blocks from the spot where the Founding Fathers met to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Museum of the American Revolution was decades in the works, and the meticulous planning shows in the range of exhibits, artifacts and perspectives on living through war, including those of African-Americans, women, children and even British soldiers.‘People are focused on the founding history when they visit Independence Hall and the surrounding area. The piece missing is a place that explains the revolution’, says R. Scott Stephenson, the museum’s director.
The Museum of the American Revolution’s 16,000 square feet of exhibit space does this in some remarkable ways. In the Battlefield Theater, visitors are grouped into companies of 25 and taught to march together to the front lines of the battle of Brandywine, a 1777 skirmish that was part of the Philadelphia campaign. A 45-foot, to-scale replica of a privateer schooner explains the wartime experience of seafaring soldiers through the story of an African American boy. Personal belongings of figures like Abigail Adams, Patrick Henry and Martha Washington are also on display, as are important works of Revolutionary-era literature, like Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.
But the star of the show is George Washington’s military field tent. ‘In our minds it is absolutely on a par with the Star-Spangled Banner as a national treasure’, says Stephenson. The linen tent went through 500 hours of restoration before it could be displayed. Stephenson says that in addition to its historical significance, the tent says something important about Washington’s character and his republican ideals: ‘Unlike most leaders during this period, he remained in the field with his army through the entire war. He had a moral force with his soldiers because he had been there, through the battles and in the snow, the rain and the heat.’
The museum’s opening ceremonies on April 19 – the 242nd anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord – will include performances by the U.S. Army Old Guard color guards and fife and drum corps, as well as a speech by former vice president Joe Biden.
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