The American Revolution tore apart communities and families.
Virginia DeJohn Anderson’s book, The Martyr and the Traitor: Nathan Hale, Moses Dunbar, and the American Revolution, adds complexity to our understanding of choosing sides in the Revolutionary era. It was not simply differing opinions on liberty that divided Americans, but religious persuasions, family ties, economic circumstances, and friendships influenced their decision making. DeJohn Anderson shows this through a dual biography of two Connecticut men: the famous Revolutionary Nathan Hale and the less-well-known Loyalist Moses Dunbar.
Archaeological investigations often remind us that some of the most interesting stories lie buried, waiting for an archaeologist to uncover and share them. In her newest book, Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution: A Tale of Two Taverns, historical archaeologist Rebecca Yamin takes readers on tour of the excavations conducted at what was then the future site of the Museum of the American Revolution and what they revealed about the historic residents of the Museum's block from the turn of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century. Yamin begins with a brief timeline of the occupation of the Museum's site.
While it is well-known that the American Revolution began with the two engagements between Massachusetts militia and the British Army at Lexington and Concord, what is not as well-known is the hurry, surprise, and confusion leading to those battles. In Lexington and Concord: The Beginning of the War of the American Revolution Arthur B. Tourtellot takes us on an intimate journey into the events of April 18th through the 20th, 1775. Starting with an overview of the two towns and the situation of the British Army in Boston, he ends the book with a discussion of the immediate aftermath of the battles and how they sparked an armed rebellion. In between, he follows the “midnight riders”, statesmen, soldiers, and civilians involved in an almost hour-by-hour look at the battles. In chapter four Tourtellot provides a detailed description of the Lexington common and the people present at the moment the British Army approached.
Dolley Madison made an indelible imprint on American culture and society in the Early Republic. As historian Catherine Allgor demonstrates in A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation , the First Lady and “Presidentress” became one of the best-known figures in the United States, even earning the title of “America’s Queen.” Madison was, Allgor argues, an innovative and skilled politician, who employed her role as a “lady” and a hostess of social events to cultivate bipartisanship and unite the new nation. For Allgor, Dolley Madison “transformed female submissiveness into a political tool,” and in doing so, fashioned the position of First Lady into one of national and political distinction.
Popular understandings of the American Revolution tend to overlook the contributions of women. In fact, Carol Berkin observes that just three women: Abigail Adams, “Molly Pitcher,” and Betsy Ross, are readily associated with the War. She corrects this “gender amnesia,” as she calls it, in her work, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence, in which she retells the story of the creation of the new nation through the accounts of individual women. Berkin finds that while women of various races, classes, ages, and backgrounds experienced war differently, they each played a unique and important role in the Revolution.
While most histories of the Founding of the United States tell an uplifting story, historian Gerald Horne’s recent work, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, finds that the creation of the republic was neither positive nor inevitable, especially for Africans. Rather, Horne demonstrates how the Revolution reinvigorated the slave trade and subsequently bore a counter-revolution of slavery. He argues that African slaves played an important role in igniting the rebellion that would become the American Revolution, a conflict he traces back to crucial turning points like the Glorious Revolution. Horne ultimately contends that our current understanding of the Founding is in need of revisiting.
During the winter at Valley Forge General Washington faced chronic shortages of manpower. Rhode Island general James Varnum proposed a possible solution - he suggested that Rhode Island recruit an all-African American regiment to serve in the Continental Army. Washington did not object, and Varnum began recruiting that spring of 1778. In From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution Robert A. Geake and Lorén M. Spears use a combination of microhistory and narrative storytelling to tell the story of the men who enlisted and where the regiment served.
When Ona Judge decided to run away from her enslavement at the President’s House in Philadelphia in 1796, she risked her life in search of freedom. Her journey to escape from the ownership of George and Martha Washington is an inspirational story of survival and determination in the face of slavery. Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar has made Judge’s story more widely known through her 2017 publication Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge. To make Judge's story even more accessible, Dr. Armstrong Dunbar teamed up with Kathleen Van Cleve to adapt her telling of Judge’s journey to freedom into a young readers edition.
At the end of the Broadway musical Hamilton, An American Musical, the cast sings the question, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” As we were writing the exhibit, Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Revolutionary Philadelphia, the curatorial team at the Museum often asked the same questions. Everyone who has ever written about Alexander Hamilton has had their own point of view. Often those views are extreme, authors either celebrate or criticize him. We weren’t interested in judging Hamilton, one way or the other. Rather, we wanted to present several possible views of Hamilton, and allow guests to come to their own conclusions about his life and legacy.
James Madison’s Notes for the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia remain one of the most valuable primary source accounts of the Convention in existence. In Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention, historian Mary Sarah Bilder analyzes Madison’s Notes and explores the various ways his revisions to the Notes reflect his shifting understandings of both the Convention and the Constitution. Bilder argues that many historians have misinterpreted the Notes. To correct this imbalance, her work provides readers with a chronological narrative of the political events and debates of the Constitutional Convention, while also deconstructing Madison’s subjectivity.
In this excerpt, Dr. Bilder discusses Madison’s personal and political evolution and his enduring ambivalence toward his Convention Notes throughout his career: