At Museum of the American Revolution, we believe that stories are a gateway into history. When we introduce the events that led to creation of the nation as more than facts on the page, but as the lived experiences of real people from all walks of life, young people can begin to see themselves in this story and understand their role in continuing it. Here are some books for all ages we think will inspire your own young revolutionary.
When you look at a modern map of the United States, you will probably encounter the name Bolivar. Places such as Bolivar, New York, Bolivar, West Virginia, and Bolivar, Tennessee, are all named for South American revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar, known as “the Liberator.” Historian Caitlin Fitz’s book Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions explores how and why many people in the United States celebrated the revolutionary movements against the Spanish and Portuguese empires in South America in the early 1800s. Fitz argues that studying how and why the people of the United States related themselves to the South American revolutions can teach us about the diverse, conflicting, and changing ways the people of the United States laid claim to the principles of their own revolution in the decades after 1776.
Cities were small but powerful places during the American Revolution. Because of this mingling of peoples and opinions, cities became spaces for citizens to make their political voices heard. Before and during the Revolution, cities served as vital civic arenas where political ideas and aspirations were publicly expressed by people from a variety of backgrounds. Cities were – and still are – places where a society’s political imagination of what is possible takes root, finds commonality, and builds unity. Check out nine suggested readings from our collection of Read the Revolution book excerpts addressing the role of cities in the American Revolution.
Imagine what it would have been like to tour a Revolutionary War battlefield with a soldier who actually fought there. How did Americans remember their first battles when participants were still alive to tell the tale? In his book Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic, historian Thomas A. Chambers explores how people visited and commemorated battlefields between independence and the Civil War.
Historian Mary Kelley’s study of educational venues, from classroom instruction to literary societies to reading circles, shows us how and why women shaped their lives anew in the early United States. While analyzing shifts in school curriculum by region and by decade nationwide, Kelley contrasts popular novelist Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s reflections on her early 1790s childhood education with the expanding world of formal education (and career opportunities in teaching) for men and women. These academies and seminaries set many precedents for the favorite subjects and skills, textbooks, and other teaching tools that we recognize in K-12 and college classrooms today.
In the 18th century some observers described the American Revolution in terms that today make us think of divorce. America was portrayed as a woman intent on leaving her tyrant partner, the king. This marital metaphor was unusual because it empowered America, the woman, to seek separation and independence. In Sex Among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender & Power in the Age Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830, Clare A. Lyons expands on this idea, but instead of looking at relations between nations, she focuses on the changing power dynamics between men and women in early Philadelphia.
In late 1777, General George Washington’s command of the Continental Army came into serious question. The British took Philadelphia soon after defeating the Continental Army at the Battle of Brandywine. Washington was forced to retreat at the Battle of Germantown in October and the defenses on the Delaware River fell to the British in November. Things were not looking good for General Washington. The Continental Congress’s confidence in Washington was shaken. Meanwhile, Continental Army Major General Horatio Gates declared victory over British General John Burgoyne’s army after the lengthy Saratoga Campaign. If another American general could beat the British, was something wrong with Washington’s military leadership? Historian Mark Edward Lender’s latest book, Cabal! The Plot Against General Washington digs into this moment of crisis for the Continental Army and provides a new perspective on the infamous challenge to Washington’s command, popularly known as the “Conway Cabal.”
Although the term “First Lady” was not adopted until the later 19th century, Jeanne Abrams’s recent work, First Ladies of the Republic (2018) suggests that America’s early presidential wives — Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison — were the first to pioneer this role, creating the “distinctly American quasi-political” position of First Lady. Each of these women, Abrams argues, wielded some degree of political power and helped shape national identity as part of what Abrams refers to as a family unit.
There are two popular interpretations of the shooting that took place in Boston in March 1770: the first takes after Paul Revere’s rendering of a bloody, violent massacre — the Boston Massacre — while the second derives from John Adams, who, as the lawyer defending the soldiers in court, portrayed the soldiers as the victims and not the perpetrators of the event. But Serena Zabin’s recent work, The Boston Massacre: A Family History, suggests there is a third interpretation. She tells a different story — a story of the people.
Italian artist Xavier della Gatta painted two realistic Revolutionary battle scenes in 1782, the Battle of Paoli and the Battle of Germantown. Collected by the Valley Forge Historical Society in 1957, both paintings came to the Museum of the American Revolution with the rest of the Historical Society’s collections. Famous for their accurate depictions of equipment, troop locations, and actions, there was still a lot about them that was not known. For instance, how did an Italian artist with no known connection to America paint such realistic scenes while the war was still raging? Enter Richard St. George, the focus of the Museum’s special exhibition, Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of An Irish Soldier.