Unit 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War
When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the men and women who experienced the war faced new challenges and opportunities. This unit explores the difficulties that veterans faced after the Revolutionary War, the obstacles they faced in obtaining aid from the government, and moments of possibility they experienced throughout. The unit also encourages students to consider how veterans of the Revolutionary War have been remembered throughout history and how we can remember them today. Using Don Troiani’s paintings as a starting point, students will be able to analyze various ways that the Revolutionary War veterans have been memorialized and celebrated.
Aims & Objectives
The modular activities and extensions in this unit provide opportunities for students to:
- Consider how the aftermath of the Revolutionary War provided moments of both promise and disappointment for veterans.
- Analyze the opportunities and limitations of using pension applications as primary sources of the Revolutionary War.
- Compare and contrast the various ways throughout history that the Revolutionary War has been commemorated.
- Explore the ways in which Don Troiani’s paintings and the works of other artists can help remember the Revolutionary War veterans.
- Big Idea 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War
- Painting: The Veteran’s Return by Don Troiani, 2020 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Painting: Molly Pitcher, Battle of Monmouth, 1778 by Don Troiani, 2004 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Painting: The Redoubt, Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 by Don Troiani, 2009 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Figure Study: Brunswick Camp Follower by Don Troiani, 2015 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Painting: Brave Men as Ever Fought by Don Troiani, 2020 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Painting: Nathan Hale, September 22, 1776 by Don Troiani, 2009 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Painting: Victory at Yorktown by Don Troiani, 2020 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Painting: The Oneida at the Battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777, by Don Troiani, 2005 (Courtesy of Don Troiani)
- Worksheet: Dedicating a Monument
- Worksheet: Monument Motives
- Handout: Pension Application Discovery
Engagement, Option 1 (15-20 minutes)
The Veteran's Return
Teacher preparation: Review Unit 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War particularly the section called The Veteran’s Return. Prepare to project or display the painting, The Veteran’s Return by Don Troiani.
Display the painting and engage students in a conversation around the following questions:
- What is happening in the painting? What do you see that makes you say that?
- What emotions are the people in this painting showing?
- Do you think all soldiers returning home experienced the same scene? If not, what other experiences might soldiers have had?
- What concerns do you think soldiers had when they returned home? What might they have been excited about?
Have students consider other ways that artists could portray a veteran returning home from the Revolutionary War.
Engagement, Option 2 (15-20 minutes)
Start by discussing with students what a monument is. Then, ask students if they have ever visited a monument. Engage students in conversation around the following questions:
- Why did they go there?
- Why do people create monuments?
- What did they feel when visiting?
- If they could pick one person or event to make a monument about, what/who would it be and why?
- How would your moment help to memorialize your person? What other ways can you memorialize your person/event?
Development, Option 1 (30-35 minutes)
Commemorating Through Art
Teacher preparation: Review Big Idea 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War. Prepare to project or display the painting Molly Pitcher, Battle of Monmouth, 1778 by Don Troiani. Familiarize yourself with the story of Molly Pitcher (see Big Idea 4). Ensure students have access to computers, tablets, or other devices with working internet connections.
Ask students if they have heard the story of Molly Pitcher. If so, have them recall what they know about her. If not, give them a brief summary of her story.
Then display or project the painting, Molly Pitcher, Battle of Monmouth by Don Troiani. Give students a few minutes to observe the painting and then ask them to describe the scene. Explain that the woman in the painting is the basis for the legend of Molly Pitcher. Engage students in a conversation around the following questions:
- Why do you think Don Troiani chose to paint this scene?
- How did observing the painting help you understand the story of Molly Pitcher?
- Do you think this painting celebrates the story of Molly Pitcher? If so, how?
- How might a piece of art help to commemorate a person or event?
Break students into small groups and assign each group a different painting or figure study to analyze. Ask them to examine each painting and identify the key people in each painting. Why might Don Troiani have picked these subjects to paint? Do you think each painting celebrates the people it depicts? If not, why do you feel it does not celebrate them? If so, how does the painting celebrate the person or event?
- Brave Men as Ever Fought by Don Troiani, 2020
- Nathan Hale, September 22, 1776 by Don Troiani, 2009
- Brunswick Camp Follower by Don Troiani, 2015
- Victory at Yorktown by Don Troiani, 2020
- The Oneida at the Battle of Oriskany, August 6, 1777 by Don Troiani, 2005
Conclude by discussing each group's findings and ask the class again: How might a piece of art help in commemorating a person or event?
EXTEND: Assign students to pick their favorite historical figure and find one piece of artwork that features him or her. How does the artwork help to commemorate their person? Have students present the artwork and their findings to the class.
EXTEND: Have students research other paintings that depict the legend of Molly Pitcher. How are these paintings similar and different? In what other ways has Molly Pitcher been remembered?
Development, Option 2 (35-45 minutes)
Pension Application Discovery
Teacher preparation: Review Big Idea 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War. Print out enough copies of Big Idea 7 for each student or ensure students have access to computers, tablets, or other devices with working internet connection. Print the Pension Application Discovery handout for each student or group.
Allow students ample time to read the section of Big Idea 7, called From Pay to Pensions for the First Veterans and then the handout: Pension Application Discovery (pension application of John Suddarth). Afterwards, engage students in a conversation around the following questions:
- How old was John Suddarth when he joined the Continental Army?
- How old was he at the time he submitted his pension application? Can you trust his memory?
- What roles, other than fighting in battle did John Suddarth have?
- What did Suddarth recall about George Washington? Does that change your opinion of Washington in any way?
- What did you learn about the life of a Continental Soldier from the pension application of John Suddarth?
- Why was John Suddarth denied a pension? Do you think that was a fair reason?
Afterwards, engage students in a conversation around the following questions to prepare for a debate.
- What groups of veterans were not represented in pension application accounts?
- What might be the role of memory and exaggeration in pension accounts?
- Can pension applications be viewed as accurate accounts of the Revolutionary War? Why or why not?
Have students pretend they are someone living in 1839 and ask them to write a persuasive letter to the government to convince them to give John Suddarth his pension.
EXTEND: Using the pension application of John Suddarth, have students debate the opportunities and challenges of using pension applications to understand the Revolutionary War.
Development, Option 3 (30-40 minutes)
Teacher Preparation: Review Unit 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War and make enough copies of the Monument Motives worksheet.
Have students complete the worksheet individually or in a group by analyzing the chart found on the worksheet Monument Motives. Afterwards, discuss the following questions as a class:
- How important is it to consider and understand the era in which a monument was created when we try to understand the meaning and purpose of the monument?
- Why would this be important?
EXTEND: Have students choose a Revolutionary War monument to address the above questions in a PowerPoint presentation, poster, trifold, or written essay.
Write Your Own Dedication
Teacher preparation: Review Big Idea 7: Remembering the Veterans of the Revolutionary War. Print out enough copies of Big Idea 7 for each student or ensure students have access to computers, tablets, or other devices with working internet connection. Print the Dedicating a Monument handout for each student or group.
Have students read the Big Idea 7 section on monuments. After students have read the Big Idea, distribute the worksheet Dedicating a Monument and give students time to complete it.
Assign students in a group or individually one of the memorials on the worksheet. Allow time in class or assign homework for students to research the person or event to create their own dedication to the memorial. Have the students present their dedications to the class.
Afterwards, have a class discussion on why, or whether, it is important to honor veterans of the Revolutionary War in the form of memorials. In what other ways can veterans of the Revolutionary War be remembered?
Extensions & Adaptations
Rewards for Military Service
Teacher preparation: Display the painting: The Redoubt, Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 by Don Troiani.
Ask students to view the painting and consider what soldiers might have experienced as a result of participating in this battle. What emotions might they have felt immediately after the battle and in the years that followed?
Engage students in conversation around the following questions:
- Do soldiers deserve pensions because of their battle experiences, or because of their willingness to provide any type of service to the military?
- What makes a person deserving of a pension? (Consider that not every member of the military serves as an actual combatant.)
- If you were a veteran of war, what would be a good reward for your service? Money? Land? Anything else?
- Who do you feel should decide what rewards veterans deserve?
- What are other ways that a country can reward its veterans?
Remembering the Ladies
There are records of three women who were awarded pensions for combat service in the Revolutionary War: Margaret Corbin, for her service at the Battle of Fort Washington (awarded 1779), Deborah Sampson, for her service with the 4th Massachusetts Regiment as Robert Shurtliff (awarded 1805), and Mary Ludwig Hays, for her actions at the Battle of Monmouth (awarded 40 years after the war, in 1822!)
Have students pick one of these women and prepare a newspaper article, documentary, photo essay, or Powerpoint about them and why they were able to receive a pension. How are they remembered today?
Remembering Native Americans in the Revolution
Today, in a park in the Bronx, New York City, a small stone marker commemorates the Stockbridge Indians who lost their lives fighting alongside the Continental Army on that same ground in 1778. The site is still referred to as Indian Field. Have students research if there are any other memorials to Native Americans who were involved in the Revolutionary War. How do the number of memorials dedicated to Native Americans compare with the number dedicated to other groups? Who created these memorials, when, and why?
The Redcoat's Return
Have students research if British soldiers returning from the Revolutionary War received pensions. What made them eligible? How are they remembered in Great Britain today? You can also have students research what happened to veterans returning to France, Germany, and Prussia.
Veterans of War
Have students research the experiences of United States veterans in military campaigns throughout history (or in the following wars) and how their experiences were similar and different to the veterans of the Revolutionary War. How did the government provide for them when they returned home? What were some issues that veterans faced? Then have a class discussion on the similarities and differences between the veterans' experiences. Are veterans from recent military campaigns like Iraq and Afghanistan facing similar experiences today?
Cost of Revolution
Richard St. George was a wealthy Irish landlord who joined the British Army and crossed the Atlantic to fight against the American Revolution. He battled with George Washington’s army around New York and Philadelphia. Returning to Ireland after the war, St. George struggled with the painful effects of a traumatic brain injury that he suffered during the Battle of Germantown in 1777. As a result of this wound, he lived with a surgically placed silver plate in his head until his death 20 years later.
His story was featured in a special exhibit at the Museum of the American Revolution. Have students read the following information on the life and death of Richard St. George and then discuss as a class why the exhibit was called “Cost of Revolution.”
Celebrate Veterans Day Today
Your class does not have to wait until Nov. 11 to celebrate Veterans Day. Your students probably know a war veteran. Have them ask around at your school or in your community. Invite a veteran to your classroom to share their experiences with the class. Have students ask the veteran some of the following questions:
- What were your reasons for joining the military?
- How do you think your reasons for joining and your service in the military relate to those of soldiers of the Revolutionary War?
- What challenges and opportunities did you have when you returned home?
- How would you like to see veterans of your military campaign remembered?
French Veteran to the American War
Remind students that France was a key ally in the American victory over the British Empire during the Revolutionary War. Note that one Frenchman in particular, the Marquis de Lafayette, became an important officer in General Washington’s army as a volunteer. He also helped to gain French support for the United States. In 1824, Lafayette returned to the United States and toured the country for just over a year.
Have students research the route that Lafayette took on his return to the United States in 1824-1825 and create a news article on his visit. Have students focus on what his visit did to promote the memory of those who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Have students research this rebellion, which was led by a veteran of the Revolutionary War and took place in Massachusetts in 1786-1787. What were the causes of the rebellion? Have students write a newspaper article about this event from the perspective of a veteran of the Revolutionary War.
Honoring the Veterans of the Revolution in Your Community
How is the American Revolution remembered in your community? Assign students a scavenger fund to find as many memorials, monuments, or streets named after someone who was involved in the war in a 50-mile radius.
The year 2026 marks the Semiquincentennial, or 250th Anniversary, of the Declaration of Independence. Brainstorm with students ideas about how your local community can celebrate this milestone by honoring veterans of the Revolutionary War. Afterwards, have students write letters to the mayor of your town or city with their proposals.
Monumental Field Trip
If possible, take students on a field trip to a monument in your community. When you are there, engage students in a discussion around the following questions:
- What/who does this monument celebrate?
- Who was it created by and for what purpose?
- Why was this location chosen for this monument?
- If you could make any changes to this monument, what would it be?
Native American Pensions
It was not until 1855, seventy-two years after the war ended, that Native Americans were able to apply for pensions for their service in the Revolutionary War. These pension applications were often rejected even when they met the necessary requirements.
Have students research why Native Americans were not able to apply earlier and why their applications were often rejected. Then have students read Big Idea 5 (Native Americans in the Revolutionary War) and write a letter to the government explaining why members of the Oneida Nation and the Stockbridge Indians should receive pensions just as other soldiers who fought for the Revolutionary cause did.
Black Loyalists in Canada
Note: A British Army ledger book called the “Inspection Roll of Negroes,” but often known as the “Book of Negroes,” contains a record of the over 3,000 people of African descent, most formerly enslaved by supporters of the American Revolution, who left New York City to seek a new life in Canada with the assistance of the British. The register includes their names, physical descriptions, ages, occupations with the British, names and locations of former owners, and more.
Have students research what happened to the men, women, and children listed in this book. What were their new lives like in Canada? Why might they have had some of the experiences they did?
Have students compare and contrast the following paintings that feature veterans of the Revolutionary War. Encourage them to focus on how veterans are portrayed and the emotions the artist hoped viewers of his paintings would feel.
- The Veteran’s Return by Don Troiani, 2020
- Great-Grandfather’s Tale of the Revolution - A Portrait of Reverend Zachariah Greene by William Sidney Mount, 1852
- A Pensioner of the Revolution by John Neagle, 1830
Joseph Plumb Martin
The memoir of Joseph Plumb Martin, published in 1830, is one of the best accounts of the experiences of the common Continental Soldier. Have students read an excerpt of his memoir to create a comic strip of one of his experiences. Afterwards, have them consider if his memoir is helpful in honoring the veterans of the Revolutionary War.
Veteran Issues of Today
In a group or individually, ask students to find an article in a current newspaper or website about an issue that involves veterans today and have them consider solutions to the problem to present to the class.
Other Activities from the Museum's Teacher Resource Guides
Who Should Get Paid? (from Hamilton was Here, Unit 3)
This activity engages students in a role play where they become veterans of the Revolutionary War struggling with the government's lack of funds to pay them.
Interview Andrew (from Finding Freedom, Unit 8)
This activity encourages students to explore the story of Andrew, a veteran of African descent who fought in the Revolutionary War. Students will use the Museum of the American Revolution’s Finding Freedom interactive and its accompanying primary sources to create interview questions.