Join us throughout A Revolutionary Summer with exhibits, crafts, and activities for visitors of all ages. Plan Your Visit

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The war was the people’s war.
David Ramsay, writing in 1789 about the events of 1782

Core Question #3: How Revolutionary was the war? 

Explore the final years of the Revolutionary War from the multiplicity of perspectives of the people who lived through it. Could enslaved people find liberty, either in the American or British armies? Could Native Americans be part of the new American republic? Did Loyalists have any rights in the Revolutionary states? Explore how Revolutionary Americans struggled with these — and other — weighty questions, even as their prospects of victory brightened.

As both sides grew frustrated with the unexpectedly long conflict, the struggle continued to tear the social fabric of American communities apart, particularly in the South. The war had become a civil war and the prolonged pressures drove Americans to face persistent questions about their ideals of liberty.

Between December 1778 and May 1780, British forces captured Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and captured the majority of the Continental Army’s Southern units. At the Battle of Camden in August 1780, British troops defeated most of the remaining patriot army in the South. Encounter the military and social dynamics of the Southern war, particularly at the Battle of Cowpens — a pivotal American victory and decisive turning point in the Southern campaign.

In the year 1781, the most intense fighting of the war was in the southern colonies, but the war was changing. An army of 6,000 arrived from France and the combined Franco-American force was now capable of taking the offensive against the British, exactly the result of the alliance America has long hoped for. Through an immersive theater experience, watch as the final years of the War unfold from Yorktown in 1781 to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Tableau — Tarleton’s Loyalists Dragoons

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Come face-to-face with life-size figures on horseback of Banastre Tarleton’s Loyalists Dragoons of the British, a loyalist corps, composed of Americans who sided with the king against Congress. Even amidst the horrors of the Southern war, Tarleton’s corps had a particular reputation for cruelty and mercilessness. Though these stories were sometimes exaggerated, the British Legion came to symbolize the extreme violence of war in the region. Despite their reputation for mercilessness, Tarleton’s British Legion struggled with politics like many Southerners. Many of them were “soft loyalists,” or American Continentals captured at the Siege of Charleston, and forced to fight for the King.

A Revolutionary War Highlights

Privateer Ship

A visitor engagement associate educates families on the Privateer Ship in the galleries.
Jeff Fusco

Climb aboard a replica privateer ship, like the one 14-year-old free black James Forten volunteered on, to experience the war at sea. To counter British naval might, Americans relied heavily on the old tradition of privateering. 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 “prizes” — the cargo and other assets of captured ships.

African Americans and the Ideals of Freedom

The Deborah and London Tableau figure at the Finding Freedom interactive in the galleries.

In 1776, when Congress declared that “all men are created equal,” approximately 400,000 African Americans lived in slavery. Promises of freedom for military services came from both sides, but the decision for many enslaved African Americans was not an easy or clear-cut one. As enslaved African Americans grappled with their own personal decisions, learn about their wartime reality through an interactive, storytelling experience that explores the contradictions between the fight for American liberty and the persistence of American slavery in the 18th-century.

Native People and the West
View the war in an immersive theatre experience that reorients your perspective to look west, and see how Americans viewed these western lands as the spoils of war. Discover that the American Revolution was not isolated to the Atlantic seaboard, as the creation of a new American nation became a threat to the very existence of Native American nations already inhabiting western lands.

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A visitor looks at a tableau scene depicting George Washington breaking up a fight among his troops in Harvard Yard.

The Road to Independence

Core Exhibition
How did people become Revolutionaries? Discover how the American colonists – most of them content and even proud British subjects – became Revolutionaries as the roots of rebellion took hold.
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Image 092120 Charles Willson James Peale Peale Brothers Tableau

The Darkest Hour

Core Exhibition
How did the Revolution survive its darkest hour? Explore how America would soon learn that it was one thing to declare independence, and quite another to secure it.
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Guests with masks enjoy the images of Revolutionary War veterans.

A New Nation

Core Exhibition
What kind of nation did the Revolution create? The Revolutionaries succeeded in gaining independence, but then came the immense task of creating a nation founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
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