Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington's TentFebruary 17, 2024 - January 5, 2025
... the crown jewel in the collection [...] oh, the stories it could tell.Washington Post
From the Revolutionary War to the present day, generations of Americans and visitors from abroad have found inspiration in the presence of General George Washington’s headquarters tent. Today, this remarkable artifact is pitched in Philadelphia at the Museum of the American Revolution, where more than one million visitors since 2017 have learned about Washington’s leadership and America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government through an immersive presentation.
In our special exhibition, now open through Jan. 5, 2025, Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington’s Tent greatly expands the story told in the Museum’s award-winning film and brings to life the stories of individuals from all walks of life who saved Washington’s tent from being lost over the generations and who ultimately fashioned this relic into a symbol of the fragile American republic. It brings together, in many cases for the first time, inspiring works of art, rare documents, and significant historical objects from public and private collections across the United States.
Visitors follow Washington’s decision to leave the “tented field” in 1783, packing up his military belongings (including the tent) and returning to private life at Mount Vernon. Following General Washington’s death in 1799, the tent remained in the care of Martha Washington and her descendants. It was routinely displayed in the 1800s, most dramatically during Lafayette’s return to the United States in 1824-25. The exhibition explores how the tent became a “relic” and a family heirloom, inherited by Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter, Mary Custis, who married Robert E. Lee in 1831.
Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington’s Tent continues through the era of the American Civil War, when the Union Army occupied the Custis-Lee home of Arlington and the confiscated Washington relics were placed on display in Washington, D.C. The tent’s journey continues through Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition of 1876 and a decades-long campaign by the Custis-Lee descendants to secure the return of their family heirlooms. Ultimately, a 1906 newspaper article sparked a friendship between Mary Custis Lee (1835-1918) and Episcopalian priest Rev. W. Herbert Burk (1867-1933), bringing Washington’s headquarters tent into the collection that is now on display at the Museum of the American Revolution.
Additional Educational & Special Offerings
- Audio Tour: An audio tour, along with transcriptions, is available on hand-held devices for $5 for general admission visitors and $3 for Museum Members.
- First Oval Office Project: The Museum will offer related living history programming both on and offsite, including a special traveling itinerary for the Museum’s popular full-scale replica of George Washington’s headquarters tent and Continental Army encampment, known as the First Oval Office Project.
- Digital Resources: Online visitors are invited to explore the Museum's digital resources about Washington's tent, including our award-winning Virtual Tour of Washington's Field Headquarters, which allows you to immerse yourself in 360-degree panoramic images of a recreated Revolutionary War encampment, including the Museum's handsewn, full-scale replicas of Washington's sleeping marquee, dining tent, baggage tent, and common tents.
- Group Visits: Group tickets are available at a discounted price. To book, contact [email protected] or 267.579.3623.
- Educator Resources: For students and teachers, virtual distance learning programs and teacher professional development opportunities based on Witness to Revolution will be available. An educator resource guide, along with modular activities, high-quality images, and ready-made worksheets, is now available online for free.
- For Kids & Families: Families can enjoy the special exhibition with a printed family guide full of activities, along with a scavenger hunt for younger visitors. Hands-on activities for visitors to the exhibition include try-on clothing carts, pop-up talks, and a discovery cart with replica objects related to the travels of Washington’s tent.