Uncovering History Remnants from the past
Secret Revolutionary War items moving to Philadelphia museum
Until recently, inside an unassuming brick warehouse along the 300 block of Morgan Street sat a collection of artifacts that tells the story of how America was born.
Revolutionary War muskets, cannons, paintings, sculptures, uniforms and much more were housed in secret in Phoenixville for the past 17 years. Next year they will be seen by millions.
This treasure trove of history has been packed up and moved to its new home at the Museum of the American Revolution, set to open April 19, 2017, at 3rd and Chestnut streets, just blocks from Independence Hall, in Philadelphia.
R. Scott Stephenson, the museum’s vice president of collections, exhibitions and programming, offered a sneak peak at some of the items that came straight from the borough that will be on display opening day. Among them included Gen. George Washington’s luggage bag, a Revolutionary War soldier’s foot locker and a pensioner jacket from the 1812 era worn by a Revolutionary War veteran.
Through the carefully curated collection, Stephenson said the new museum’s goal is to tell a story that will help visitors feel like they’ve been transported back two centuries in time. The museum will begin by explaining how colonial Americans became revolutionaries in the first place. Then it will move forward in time to look at what kind of nation was created and what it looks like today. The artifacts on display will be an integral part of that explanation.
“They’re devices to get you into these human stories,” he said.
Stephenson selected a few items from the collection to talk about during a brief tour of the warehouse, that offered a glimpse at the types of things that will be on display. George Washington’s brown leather portmanteau, acquired in 1909 will be one of them. The bag, still in great condition, was used to store his luggage throughout the war.
“It’s very modern, it’s kind of like a camping stuff sack,” Stephenson said.
Other items include an American officer’s wooden footlocker, acquired this year. It belonged to Lt. James Grant, a Scottish man who served during the French and Indian War. Grant settled in New York colony after that conflict, living right on the border between British occupied New York and the revolutionary controlled area, Stephenson said.
“(The foot locker) is a great piece,” he said. “It allows us to talk about the stories of people who — he was too old to serve in the Revolutionary War, he wasn’t a loyalist or on the patriot’s side. He was stuck in between a situation, like so many other people were.”
Another item includes a linen coat from the War of 1812 era worn by a Revolutionary War veteran named Jacob Latch. Latch, a Philadelphia native, served under Washington during the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777 and the Philadelphia campaign.
“He became a pensioner, so he received a pension, so we know a little bit about his service,” Stephenson said.
Beginning in 1818, there were a number of pension acts established by the federal government as a penance for how poorly Revolutionary War veterans were treated.
“To see these Revolutionary War veterans begging was a real national embarrassment,” Stephenson said. “After the War of 1812, the Era of Good Feeling, there were these pension acts.”
An unintended consequence though was the fact that soldiers would have to prove they
R. Scott Stephenson, vice president of collections at the Museum of the American Revolution, looks at George Washington’s portmanteau, a suitcase used during the Revolutionary War. It is printed with “Height Dorchester 1775” and “Battle of Yorktown 1781” from the Revolution.