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.
Harvard historian Vincent Brown’s latest book, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, is all about entangled histories. The book tells the story of the largest slave revolt in the British Empire during the 1700s; a bloody conflict in Jamaica that few modern Americans know much about. Brown does not share this story to simply increase awareness of Tacky’s Revolt (1760-1761). Instead, he encourages his readers to think about the conflict not only as a local insurrection, but as a major battle in a centuries-long slave war that links the histories of Africa, the Americas, and Europe.
Benedict Arnold has fascinated Americans for two centuries. The drama surrounding one of the Continental Army’s most accomplished generals defecting to the British Army makes a good story that has been told in books, films, and recently on television. Historian Stephen Brumwell’s new research into Arnold’s life, his letters, and the writings of his contemporaries has yielded the latest study of America’s most famous traitor. Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty, published in 2018, provides a fresh perspective on Arnold’s personality and his sense of honor.
Many historians point to the Stamp Act in March of 1765 as one of the pivotal events that caused the American Revolution. In his recent work, Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776, Patrick Spero turns our attention away from this more traditional, urban story of the coming of the Revolution and instead focuses on the western American frontier. He argues that in order to understand the origins of the American Revolution, we must move beyond events like the Stamp Act and study the central role the frontier played in shaping opposition against the British Empire.
From the day the Museum of the American Revolution opened, guests asked if there was a book available that captured the spirit of our core exhibition. This past July, the Museum released our Official Guidebook, which captures that spirit, highlighting some of the more memorable moments in the exhibition.
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.