People have long shared history through theater. For example, some of Shakespeare's most famous works are referred to as his "Histories." Like Shakespeare's plays, such performances are often based on history but they don't hold up to historical scholarship.
On the morning of October 4, 1777, General George Washington went on the offensive. In the weeks prior, Washington’s troops suffered a defeat at the Battle of Brandywine, survived a bloody night attack at Paoli, and witnessed the capture of Philadelphia, the American capital. By attacking British General William Howe’s army at Germantown, Washington hoped to change the course of the fight to control Philadelphia.
When the British Army moved to occupy Philadelphia in September of 1777, sixteen-year-old Sally Wister fled with her Quaker family. While in the relative safety of the countryside, Sally began to keep a journal of her experience for her friend, Deborah (Debbie) Norris. Written over a nine-month period, Sally charmingly documented for Debbie her occasional adventures and mild flirtations with the various officers and soldiers who passed through the area. Recording an unusual side of the war, Sally’s journal offers a lively and accessible perspective of life during the occupation of Philadelphia.
In Never Caught, Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar paints a vivid picture of the life of Ona Judge, one of the nine enslaved people whom President Washington and Martha Washington brought with them to Philadelphia in 1790 when the city became the nation’s capital. For six years, Judge worked in bondage in the Washingtons’ Philadelphia home on Market Street. Judge escaped from the Washington household in 1796 in search of her freedom and lived the rest of her life with the threat of recapture looming over her.
What kinds of objects do you think represent America? Does the Liberty Bell or the American flag come to mind? How about ceramics? In Success to America: Creamware for the American Market, featuring the S. Robert Teitelman Collection at Winterthur, museum professionals relate the creamware trade to the development of an American identity. Creamware, or ceramics made of white clay and flint, was both cheap and fashionable in the American colonies and early Republic. Even though it was a British trade good, many pieces bore American patriotic symbols. The S. Robert Teitelman Collection of creamware at the Winterthur Museum has many pieces with this kind of imagery. They help tell a story of the formation of American national identity. These ceramics were popular throughout America. Even George Washington had an affinity for imported creamware.
Archaeology helps historians better understand the people of the past. In her book, Digging in the City of Brotherly Love, Rebecca Yamin uses archaeological investigations to look at Philadelphians between the 17th and 19th centuries. While she does mention prominent historical figures, she focuses on the forgotten. Through these excavations, archaeologists enhance what the written record tells us. Who knew so much could be learned by going through someone’s trash?
Daily service consumed most of a soldier's material life. Uniforms rarely lasted, equipment was worn out, lost, or stolen, and much of what does survive tends to be from officers. It can be difficult to find the common, everyday things they wore or carried.
The recent popularity of the AMC show Turn has increased awareness of the little-known spy networks that helped Washington defeat British forces during the Revolutionary War. John Nagy’s 2010 book Invisible Ink: Spycraft of the American Revolution proves that truth is often stranger than fiction, perhaps particularly when it comes to spying. A product of Nagy’s decades of searching for clues to the identities and methods of American and British covert operatives during the war, relying heavily on the under-utilized British Army papers of General Henry Clinton, Nagy’s work unveils the identity of many formerly un-acknowledged patriots and numerous crypto-loyalists. His tale includes dozens of little known spies from all walks of life - not only soldiers and officers, but women, children, enslaved people, and ordinary craftsmen those who could blend easily into crowds and appear harmless to military officers on both sides, but whose quiet operations proved crucial.
Colonial Americans redefined the limits of their right to speak and write, which they inherited from Great Britain. In Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech, Stephen D. Solomon explores how Americans from the 1690s through the 1790s deployed their technology and communication networks to expand participation in political discussions. To do this, he explores the role of almost every form of colonial communication, including books, newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, songs, sermons, plays, letters, and many others which inspired and supported the Revolution.
Solomon also takes an inclusive view of what constitutes speech. In Chapter 4, entitled, “The Shoemaker,” as he is talking about the Stamp Act protests, Solomon discusses the importance of symbols as sometimes more potent and broadly accessible than the written word.