Caught in the midst of loading his musket at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, Private William Burke of the British Army’s 45th Regiment of Foot is the subject of one of the Museum of the American Revolution’s life-sized figure tableaux. Such dramatic scenes help to bring the people of the American Revolution to life in the museum’s core exhibition. Burke’s personal memory of fighting in America as a young man, which inspired the tableau, and his eventual desertion from the army is one of nine stories featured in this week’s Read the Revolution book, Don Hagist’s British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution.
In July 2019, the Museum of the American Revolution released our first book, Among His Troops: Discovering the Only Known Image of Washington’s Tent, an expanded catalog based on the special exhibition of the same name. The catalog focuses on two of Pierre L’Enfant’s watercolors, one depicting the Continental Army at West Point and the other showing the army’s encampment at Verplanck’s Point, New York. L’Enfant’s Verplanck’s Point watercolor includes the only known war-time image of Washington’s tent, which is in the Museum’s collection and on display. The catalog also includes an overview of Washington’s time under canvas from just before the French and Indian War through the Revolution, an illustrated explanation of each watercolor, original objects from each of the encampments, and full-size reproductions of both watercolors.
There is no single Revolutionary story. In The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America, T. H. Breen unearths surprising tales of the everyday people and local communities whose participation in the American Revolution helped sustain the war effort. Breen identifies seven stages of Revolution, including rejection, assurance, fear, justice, betrayal, revenge, and reconciliation. His formulation helps restore human passion to the traditional narrative of the American Revolution, providing an alternative understanding of the conflict to those that focus solely on either lofty ideas or gritty realities.
The Battle of Paoli, which took place overnight on Sept. 20-21, 1777, is remembered as one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War. Commonly known here in America as the “Paoli Massacre,” at least 53 Continental Army soldiers lost their lives and roughly 200 were wounded or taken prisoner during this surprise bayonet assault by about 1,200 British troops. Thomas J. McGuire’s engaging book, Battle of Paoli, published in 2000, is one of the best accounts of the engagement.
Being a founding director of a museum is to lead a revolution. Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and now the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian, shares his revolutionary story in A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump. After a century of false starts, the NMAAHC was established in 2003, and the building opened in September 2016, all led by Bunch’s vision of what the museum could and should be.
The American Revolution is often perceived as a war between Patriots and Loyalists, but what about those Americans who found themselves caught between the lines? Aaron Sullivan explores the lives and experiences of these men and women, known as the “disaffected,” in his recent work, The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. He argues that for many Americans, the war was not something to be won or lost, but rather something to be endured. Sullivan’s focus on the disaffected sheds light on Pennsylvania’s fragmented society, subsequently humanizing the War for Independence.
Today marks the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, a hard-fought victory for the British Army during their campaign to capture Philadelphia. This week’s Read the Revolution feature highlights Matthew H. Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783, an engaging study of how the British Army fought in battles such as Brandywine during the Revolutionary War. Lieutenant Richard St. George, the focus of the Museum’s special exhibition Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, served in the battle as part of the 52nd Regiment’s light infantry company and was wounded in the heel.
Dr. Linda Colley's popular book Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837, tells the story of how Great Britain formed a "national ideology" between the Act of Union of 1707 (uniting Scotland and England) and the beginning of the Victorian era in 1837. Dr. Colley writes this complex history in an understandable and interesting way for a broad audience. She counts among her source material popular music, art, and military uniforms to provide a rich, in–depth look at British culture and identity. Although originally written in 1992, Britons shows that the history of Great Britain in the 1700s remains relevant to today's international politics.
The history of loyalists in the American Revolution is not just a national history, it's a global one. Few explain this better than Maya Jasanoff, in her pivotal work, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. Through the stories of ten major characters, Jasanoff explores loyalists' decisions to leave America after the war and their ventures to resettle across the British Empire, from Nova Scotia to Jamaica, Sierra Leone to India. She finds that each journey reveals "a different stamp of the revolution on the world."
Despite being published over 20 years ago, Philip Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry remains today one of the leading studies on black culture in eighteenth-century America. His work compares slave societies in the Virginia Chesapeake to that of the South Carolina Lowcountry, exploring the contours of black life, such as family, work, diet, medicine, housing, courting, and sex. He finds that slave culture was both African and European, wrought with continuity and adaptation. His thematic approach further reveals the contrast in production in these slave societies—the lowlands cultivated rice and indigo while Virginia became a producer of tobacco and wheat. Morgan concludes by suggesting that although work routines and experiences of slaves were not all that dissimilar in these two regions, perhaps the material treatment of slaves was better in the Lowcountry.