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When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story: Studying the Poll Lists

The Museum’s discovery of poll lists that include the names of women and free people of color who voted in New Jersey from 1800 to 1807 has revealed various patterns, themes, and possible trends among these voters and the elections they participated in. Here, we explore some of these themes.
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Season of Independence: Instructions by the Virginia Convention to Their Delegates in Congress, May 15, 1776

This newspaper from Boston, Massachusetts includes a printing of the instructions from Virginia’s assembly to their delegates at the Second Continental Congress. Most notably, the instructions tell Virginia delegates to not simply vote in favor of independence, but to propose it themselves. The instructions reference King George III’s “Proclamation of Rebellion” as one of several justifications for taking this step.

Courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Society

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Finding Freedom: Eve - Randolph Household Inventory

Following Peyton Randolph’s death in 1775, York County, Virginia, officials recorded this inventory of his possessions. The names and values (in pounds) of the enslaved people he owned are recorded on pages four through ten of the inventory. Eve’s name is listed on page five of the inventory, while her son George’s name is listed on page four. Eve and another woman named Betty were assigned values of 100 pounds each, the highest values among the enslaved women recorded in the inventory. These high values suggest that Eve and Betty worked in the Randolph home. Eve’s status may have changed following her attempt to escape from the Randolph family with her son in search of freedom. At least two handwritten copies of this inventory survive. The other copy includes the notation “gone to the enemy” next to the names of Eve and George, referring to when they first ran away from the Randolph family in search of their freedom in late-1775 or early-1776.

This historical record is dedicated to the Museum of the American Revolution by the York County-Poquoson Circuit Court, Authorized by the Honorable Kristen N. Nelson, Clerk

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Finding Freedom: Andrew - “Soldiers in Uniform”

This French officer’s depiction of American soldiers at the Siege of Yorktown shows a soldier of African descent from the Rhode Island Regiment of the Continental Army. During the Revolutionary War, Black and White soldiers fought alongside one another on both sides of the conflict. Historians estimate that between 4,000 and 8,000 men of African descent served in the Continental Army. In 1778, Rhode Island offered freedom to enslaved men in exchange for service. It created a regiment with privates of African and Native American ancestry, officered by White men. In 1781, the Rhode Island line was collapsed from two regiments into one integrated unit with segregated companies.

Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

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Finding Freedom: Eve - Bruton & Middleton Parish Register, page 83

This page from the record book for Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, lists the baptism of Eve’s infant son George on July 6, 1766. The names of George and Eve can be found near the middle of the page. When Eve and George first ran away from the Randolph family in search of their freedom in late-1775 or early-1776, George was about 10 years old.

Courtesy of Bruton Parish Church

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Picturing Washington's Army: Verplanck’s Point | Rhode Island Regiment

Take a closer look at the anchor-decorated colonnade of the Rhode Island Regiment. The Rhode Islanders’ tents were set up between the Massachusetts and Connecticut brigades. An officer’s marquee tent is visible in the foreground of this section of the painting. 

Image: Museum of the American Revolution, Gift of the Landenberger Family Foundation 

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Finding Freedom: Deborah - “Muster Book of Free Black Settlement of Birchtown,” Page 40

When Deborah arrived in Nova Scotia in 1783, she was one of many newly freed people of African descent who helped settle Birchtown, a town named for British Brigadier General Samuel Birch. This page from a 1784 census, or list of residents, documents the men and women who lived in Birchtown the year after the town’s founding. Deborah’s name, recorded as Deborah Lynch, can be found near the bottom of the page on the left side. Harry, her husband listed in the 1783 “Inspection Roll of Negroes,” is not included in this census. He may have died due to the harsh conditions and bad weather that the settlers faced. Deborah likely took the last name Lynch because Harry had been owned by a Loyalist named Lynch, whom Deborah also lived with for a short time. In this document, Deborah is listed as a member of the household of a man named Neil Robinson. No other details about their relationship status are currently known.

“Muster Book of Free Black Settlement of Birchtown,” 1784, Library and Archives Canada, MG 9 B9-14, item 1292

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When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story: How Did Women Lose the Vote?: The Backlash

In November 1807, the New Jersey State Legislature stripped the vote from women, people of color, and recent immigrants. They redefined the property qualification to include all white male taxpayers. The preamble of the new act on election regulations justified the change by citing “doubts” that “have been raised, and great diversities in practices obtained throughout the state in regard to the admission of aliens, persons of color, or negroes, to vote in elections” as well as “the mode of ascertaining” voter qualifications. What did this mean? What had happened?
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When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story: Martha Githens

At the age of 23, Martha Githens voted in 1807. She voted along with her father, older brother, and older sister. Martha Githens was the daughter of George Githens, the prosperous owner of a mineral spring resort hotel.
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When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story: Upper Penns Neck Township, Salem County, New Jersey Poll Lists, 1800

Upper Penns Neck Township
Salem County, New Jersey
December 23 & 24, 1800
Ink on Paper

This poll list is from a December 1800 congressional election that was held at the home of Philip Souder, an innkeeper in Upper Penns Neck Township, Salem County. The election determined congressional office holders for the United States House of Representatives. We do not currently know the names of the town officers, including the judge, collector, clerk, and poll inspectors who presided over the election. 

The poll list includes the names of 217 total voters. At least 29 of these voters are women, accounting for nearly 13 percent of the voters on the list. 

Like the rest of Salem County, Upper Penns Neck Township voted Democratic Republican in December 1800. Most voters in the township supported Democratic-Republicans James Mott, Ebenezer Elmer, John Condit, William Helms, and Henry Southard for the United States House of Representatives.

Note: The names recorded on this poll list were written by an election official, not by the voters themselves. The spelling of each voter’s name on the poll list may be different compared to how that same person’s name is spelled in other historical records and by the Museum of the American Revolution.

Images: Salem County Historical Society

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