For almost two centuries, most historians who wrote about Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home that encompasses an ornamental landscape, a farm, a plantation, and a small mountain in Charlottesville, Virginia, considered its architecture, the intellectual life of its patriarch, and the legacies of the documents Jefferson composed. Beginning in the 1990s, historian and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed broadened this view, repopulating Monticello and its landscape with the enslaved people who worked the land and lived in Jefferson’s household. Most importantly, she investigated the relationship of Jefferson and Sarah “Sally” Hemings, an enslaved woman, helping to inspire a 1998 DNA study that finally settled a longstanding debate: Jefferson was the father of Hemings’s children.
In this special installment of Read the Revolution, our chief historian, Dr. Philip C. Mead, reflects on the influential work of Harvard University professor Dr. Bernard Bailyn (1922-2020), who died on Aug. 7.
This Women’s Equality Day, passed by Congress in 1973 to commemorate the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920, we observe women’s continued work for equality since the early decades of American Independence. Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri’s groundbreaking book, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (2007), offers the foundation for understanding women’s political activism and American “female politicians” in the 1790s, when the right to vote was considered a privilege of property rather than a natural right. Zagarri defines “The New Jersey Exception” and explains how and why women exercised their right to vote between 1776 to 1807. We cite this book as a foundation for interpreting this surprising story in When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776-1807.
In the Revolutionary era, American society often identified women by their relationship to men. However, as Carole Owens shows in her recent work, Remarkable Women of New England: Daughters, Wives, Sisters, and Mothers, The War Years, 1754-1787 (2016), in addition to being wives, mothers, and daughters, they were also laborers, “deputy husbands,” business owners, neighbors, and friends. Owens explores women’s various roles and responsibilities between 1754 and 1787, and how women lived and worked within what Owens calls the “four corners of a woman’s world”: the homestead, the church, the village, and the social circle. Owens selects biographical sketches and gathers wartime historical records that document how individual women’s actions and experiences were remarkable to their communities and families across New England, with sources from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and even a few mid-Atlantic experiences in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Author John U. Rees drew the title for this engaging and deeply researched book from the recollections of a white veteran of the Massachusetts Line, Henry Hallowell, who in recalling the names of African American men who served with him during the Revolutionary War observed that “they were good soldiers.” While thousands of Black men fought on land and sea in the cause of American Independence, Rees focuses this work on those who served in the Continental Army. Well-organized chapters provide an excellent overview of Black service in both the British and American armies, as well as in-depth explorations of Black soldiers’ experiences in the regiments of each Revolutionary state.
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.