Films and Exhibits
In the museum theater, “Liberty Fever” will draw visitors into the world of Revolutionary America, setting the stage for indoor gallery and outdoor living-history experiences. The introductory film is narrated by an early 19th-century storyteller who has traveled the country gathering stories about the American Revolution and shares his accounts using a moving panorama presentation of the time period.
The American Revolution timeline, bordering a 22,000-square-foot space where permanent gallery exhibits will open in late 2016, provides a visual journey from the 13 British colonies in the 1750s to westward expansion of the new United States in the 1790s. A nearby wall display features seven individuals who lived during the Revolution and survived long enough to have their likenesses preserved in the mid-19th century by the new technology of photography.
New Exhibition Galleries
Hundreds of objects in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s diverse American Revolution collection of military equipment, maps, paintings, engravings, furnishings and personal effects are exhibited in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown permanent exhibition galleries.
Recent acquisitions, all selected to illustrate specific exhibit themes, include such iconic artifacts as a Declaration of Independence broadside dating to July 1776; a June 1776 Pennsylvania Gazette printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which directly influenced the composition of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; an official portrait of King George III in his coronation robes; an eagle-pommel sword inscribed with the year 1776 and the name of its owner; one of the earliest known portraits done from life of an African who had been enslaved in the British colonies that became the United States; and a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” the first book to be published by an African American.
The new galleries engage visitors in the tumult, drama and promise of the American Revolution through firsthand encounters with objects made and used by people of the period and an array of sensory experiences – re-created immersive environments, dioramas, interactive exhibits, video presentations and an experiential theater. Five major themes will be presented:
• “The British Empire and America” examines the geography, demography, culture and economy of America prior to the Revolution and the political relationship with Britain. This relationship was set on a perilous course by Britain’s determination to exercise greater control over the colonies after the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763. Gazing on the scene from a full-length portrait is King George III, symbol of British rule.
• “The Changing Relationship – Britain and North America” details the growing rift between the American colonies and Britain. Within a full-scale wharf setting, issues of taxation and importation are brought into focus. As opposition to British measures to tax and control the colonies mounted, the idea of Americans actively seeking liberty took root. In 1774 Patriots in Hanover, Pennsylvania, resolved to fight for their rights if necessary, proclaiming that, “Our cause we leave to heaven and our rifles.”
• “Revolution” traces the war from the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 to victory at Yorktown in 1781 and the aftermath, and examines the motivations for American perseverance. Placed in the center of this part of the gallery is an exhibit on the Declaration of Independence, which includes a very early printing of this document. Hessian officer Johann Ewald observed of American troops that “one can perceive what an enthusiasm – which these poor fellows call ‘Liberty’ – can do!”
The “Revolution” theme encompasses exhibits about weapons and tactics, military commanders and ordinary soldiers, and the new United States on the world stage. An experiential theater will transport visitors to the Yorktown battlefield in 1781, with wind, smoke and the thunder of cannon fire.
The wartime homefront will be portrayed in re-created three-dimensional settings that provide a backdrop for the stories of diverse Americans – Patriots and Loyalists, women, enslaved and free African Americans – as they question, defy or contribute to the Revolutionary War effort.
• “The New Nation” outlines the challenges faced by the United States in the 1780s – weak government under the Articles of Confederation, the unstable postwar economy and new social tensions – culminating with the creation of the Constitution as a framework for the future. “In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power,” said James Madison, chief author of the Bill of Rights. “America has set the example … of charters of power granted by liberty.” A film will depict the resolution of many national issues through the Constitution, while others, such as slavery, are delayed for future generations.
• “The American People” explores the emergence of a new national identity following the Revolution – influenced by immigration, internal migration, and demographic, political and social changes. This section explicitly compares and contrasts America after the Revolution with America before the Revolution, and shows how our nation’s struggle for independence impacted not just America, but the world.