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More than 100 Historic Artifacts from Across the Country Will Be Brought Together to Explore the Surprising Journey of Washington’s War Tent

Called “the crown jewel in the collection” by The Washington Post and the “rock-star object” by The New York Times, General George Washington’s headquarters tent from the Revolutionary War is the centerpiece of the Museum of the American Revolution, where more than a million visitors have experienced the tent’s power in an immersive theater experience. 

Now, in the Museum’s upcoming special exhibition, Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington’s Tent, more than 100 artifacts from across the country will be brought together to expand the story told in the Museum’s award-winning Washington’s War Tent theater presentation and explore the tent’s inspiring journey from the Revolutionary War to today. Opening during Presidents Day Weekend, Witness to Revolution will be on view exclusively at the Museum from Feb. 17, 2024, through Jan. 5, 2025, and will be included with regular Museum admission.

Using objects, documents, works of art, touchscreen interactives, audio and video elements, and more, the special exhibition will bring 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 our fragile but enduring American republic. The exhibit explores these personal stories, from well-known names like Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Martha Washington, to lesser-known individuals like Washington’s enslaved valet William Lee, who lived alongside him in the tent, and Selina Gray, the enslaved housekeeper at Arlington House in Virginia who saved the tent during the Civil War.

“Since the Museum’s opening, visitors who have viewed our dramatic Washington’s War Tent presentation are often moved to tears and want to know more about the tent’s role as George Washington’s wartime home and about the diverse people who ensured that it survived to the present day,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, Museum President and CEO. “Witness to Revolution will take visitors on a surprising journey of nearly 250 years, including stories of leadership, conflict, patriotism, and preservation. Washington’s tent helps us tell the American story.”

Visitors will 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. After 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. The exhibition will explore how the tent became a “relic” and a family heirloom, inherited by Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who married future Confederate General Robert E. Lee in 1831.

Witness to Revolution continues through the era of the Civil War, when the United States Army occupied the Custis-Lee home (Arlington House) and government officials confiscated the tent and placed it on display in Washington, D.C. The tent’s journey continues through Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 and a decades-long campaign by the Custis-Lee descendants to secure the return of their family heirlooms taken during the Civil War. 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.

The exhibit will include a recreation of the end of the headquarters tent to give visitors a sense of the tent’s size and scale. General Washington’s foldable field bedstead from the Revolutionary War, on loan from Mount Vernon, will be displayed nearby. A tactile 3D-printed diorama of Washington’s sleeping and dining tents will be available for use by guests who are blind or low vision, created and donated by Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired.

Washingtons War Tent Credit Moar
Washington's War Tent will remain permanently on view in a dedicated theater.

Key Artifacts on Display
Created by the Museum’s in-house curatorial team, the exhibition will feature works of art, rare documents, and significant historical objects from nearly 25 public and private collections across the United States, including Mount Vernon, Arlington House, Tudor Place, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, the Library of Congress, and many others. Key artifacts include:

  • George Washington’s foldable field bedstead, which was used inside his headquarters tent during the Revolutionary War. On loan from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
  • An 1872 letter written by Selina Gray to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (wife of Robert E. Lee) describing the occupation of Arlington House by United States troops during the Civil War. At the time, Gray was the enslaved housekeeper at Arlington where Washington’s headquarters tent and other historical relics were stored and then confiscated by the United States Army. This manuscript is one of the few of Gray’s letters that survive. On loan from the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
  • The 1897 painting In the Presence of Washington by Howard Pyle, which depicts General Washington inside his headquarters tent during the Revolutionary War. On loan from the Biggs Museum of American Art. 
  • Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s panoramic watercolor of the Continental Army’s 1782 encampment at Verplanck’s Point, New York. This watercolor includes the only known eyewitness image of Washington’s headquarters tent in the field during the Revolutionary War. Collection of the Museum of the American Revolution.
  • An 1844-1849 daguerreotype of George Washington Parke Custis (Martha Washington’s grandson) who owned Washington’s headquarters tent during the early 1800s. On loan from the Library of Congress.
  • A silver camp cup that General Washington ordered from Philadelphia silversmith Richard Humphreys in 1780 for use in his wartime headquarters and a large fragment cut from the roof of Washington’s headquarters tent. On loan from Yale University Art Gallery.
  • Epaulets worn by Tench Tilghman, General Washington’s aide-de-camp, during the Revolutionary War. On loan from the Society of the Cincinnati.
  • An iron hook cut from George Washington’s tent when the Marquis de Lafayette saw the tent set up at Fort McHenry in 1824 as part of his tour of the United States. The hook was cut by William B. Barney, a member of the Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland who was in the tent with Lafayette at the event. On loan from the DAR Museum. 
  • Fragments of the original headquarters tent and dining tent. On loan from various lenders and the Museum’s own collection.
  • The original contract for purchase of the tent from 1909 and the visitor register from the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge where the tent was displayed in the early 1900s. Collection of the Museum of the American Revolution.
  • A painted silk banner with a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette at its center that was created in Philadelphia for the parade celebrating Lafayette’s return to the United States in 1824. Collection of the Museum of the American Revolution

Additional Resources:

  • Audio Tour: An audio tour (with transcriptions) will be available for $5 per handheld device ($3 for Members).
  • Guided Tours: Guided tours are available for adults and students. A guided virtual tour of the special exhibit will also be available. To book, contact [email protected] or call 267.579.3623.
  • Programs and Events: The exhibition will come to life with a rich slate of special events and daily programs, including family-friendly activities, as well as evening speakers and events exploring the historic and contemporary relevance of the exhibition. For upcoming events, visit www.amrevmuseum.org/at-the-museum/events.
  • For Kids & Families: Families will be able to 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 will include try-on clothing carts, pop-up talks, and a discovery cart with replica objects related to the travels of Washington’s tent. 
  • 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, will be made available for free.
  • 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.

Witness to Revolution will be open daily from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. The 5,000 square-foot exhibition will be located in the Museum’s first-floor Patriots Gallery. Access to the exhibition is included with regular Museum admission. Tickets can be purchased at AmRevMuseum.org, by calling 215.253.6731, or at the front desk. Children ages 5 and under are free. All tickets are valid for two consecutive days. Group tickets for parties of 15 or more are available for a reduced price by calling 267.579.3623. Memberships are also available online or by calling 215.454.2030.

Witness to Revolution is sponsored by The Reese Family: Philip, Lee, and Natalie & Kleon, and The Society of the Lees of Virginia, A. Bruce* and Margaret Mainwaring, Nancy and Morris W. Offit, Pritzker Military Foundation on behalf of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, James and Jean Crystal, The Davenport Family Foundation, Eileen and Beverly DuBose and Frances and Beverly DuBose Foundation, Landenberger Family Foundation, The Nor’ Easter Foundation, Lanny and Ann Patten, Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company, Margot Perot, Society of Cincinnati of Maryland, American Heritage Credit Union, Anonymous, David Bernstein, Jean-Pierre and Elizabeth Bouvel, D.M. DiLella Family Foundation, Brad du Pont, The Haverford Trust Company, Brian and Barbara Hendelson, Virginia Kamsky, Jacqueline Mars, Pamela J. and James D. Penny, The Richardson Foundation, Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and the Roy J. Zuckerberg Family Foundation, with in-kind support provided by Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired. *deceased

About Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution uncovers and shares compelling stories about the diverse people and complex events that sparked America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government. Through the Museum’s unmatched collection, immersive galleries, powerful theater experiences, and interactive elements, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in ensuring that the promise of the American Revolution endures. Located just steps away from Independence Hall, the Museum serves as a portal to the region’s many Revolutionary sites, sparking interest, providing context, and encouraging exploration. The Museum, which opened on April 19, 2017, is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. For more information, visit www.AmRevMuseum.org or call 877.740.1776.