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Welcome to the History Is Fun blog. Our topics will range from historical insights to short articles about topics of interest in 17th and 18th-century history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

American Music Has Revolutionary Roots

playing violin at YVC

Historical interpreter Jessica Carcich will play music of the 18th century on violin December 26, 27, 28 and 30, 2015, at the Yorktown Victory Center, soon to become American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Music performed at home and in public played an essential role in the cultural life of 18th-century Americans. American colonists adapted new verses to old familiar British and European tunes, and regional styles and preferences developed in the southern colonies, the middle colonies and New England. After the Revolution, informal amateur music gradually gave way to a more professional, commercial musical culture with distinctly American themes.

Music was performed in churches, at public concerts, for ceremonial and military purposes, as accompaniment to theater performances and public balls, and as a source of entertainment in taverns, where innkeepers usually kept instruments on hand. During the Revolution, groups of professional musicians were paid by military officers to perform for American, French and British regiments.

Music-making also flourished in homes at every level of society. Lower- and middle-class people sang popular songs and traditional ballads and danced to the music of fiddles at family gatherings. Members of the upper class, for whom balls and musical performances were an integral part of social life, learned to play a variety of string and wind instruments and perform formal dances. Drawing from African musical traditions and European influences, enslaved people sang while they worked and fashioned drums and banjos to accompany after-hours singing and dancing.

The American Revolution spurred the popularity of patriotic songs and exposed Americans to high-quality military band music, profoundly influencing the development of music in the new republic.


Women of the Army

Sarah Osborn Benjamin is featured in a new “I Was There” display at the Yorktown Victory Center – transitioning to American Revolution Museum at Yorktown in late 2016 – along with six other 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. Image source:

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Peter Francisco – Hercules of the American Revolution

  Peter Francisco encounters Tarleton’s dragoons at Ward’s Tavern. Illustration from the Library of Congress. One day in June 1765, two sailors abandoned a five-year-old boy on a wharf at City Point (now Hopewell), Virginia, then returned to their ship and quickly sailed off. The boy did not speak English, but he was wearing good-quality clothing and

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Alexander Hamilton: Hip-Hop Hero

Currently in the spotlight as the hip-hop hero of the new Broadway musical Hamilton, the real Alexander Hamilton rose from obscurity more than two centuries ago to become one of the Founding Fathers. His vision of America may have revolved around his own self-advancement, but in some ways his experience epitomized the goals of many citizens of the new nation. Hamilton

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‘Creating a New Museum’ Previews American Revolution Museum at Yorktown Galleries and Film

“Lord Rodney’s flagship ‘Formidable’ breaking through the French line at the battle of the Saintes, 12th April 1782,” painted between 1784 and 1787 by Lieutenant William Elliott of the Royal Navy. A new exhibit at the Yorktown Victory Center provides a multimedia, interactive encounter with the permanent exhibition galleries and introductory film that will premiere in

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Artifact Acquisition Process a Critical Part of Planning New Galleries

New York Vice Admiralty Court seal, New York, circa 1770. Government documents often were marked with the stamped impression of an engraved metal seal, certifying their authenticity. In the Colonial era, New York had its own Vice Admiralty Court that decided cases involving ships sailing in New York waters. The decrees of the court were stamped with this seal. The new

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Mary Jemison’s Life with the Seneca

Mary Jemison’s life was shaped by war. Born in 1743 on a ship carrying her family from Ireland to Philadelphia, her life took remarkable twists and turns. She gave an interview in 1823 to Dr. James Seaver, who wrote an account of her life.  Although his writing may contain bias, it remains one of our best accounts of life as a captive of American Indians in the 18th century.

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Virginia Declaration of Rights Foreshadows United States Declaration of Independence

An original printing of the June 12, 1776, issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette containing the Virginia Declaration of Rights will be exhibited in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries, opening in late 2016, near a July 1776 broadside of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, resulting from a May 15, 1776, resolution of t

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The Sullivan Expedition of 1779

Seneca Chief Cornplanter At the onset of the American Revolution both Great Britain and the Continental Congress claimed that they hoped the American Indian nations would remain neutral, but that quickly became unrealistic. A few of the eastern tribes did support the Continental Army, but far more Indians decided to fight alongside the British, who had traditionally s

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New Programs at Yorktown Victory Center

With the opening of the spacious new museum building at the Yorktown Victory Center – a midpoint milestone in the museum’s transformation into the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown – there are extra opportunities for general and group visitors to experience hands-on history. For elementary school groups, the refreshed Yorktown Victory Center Guided Tour now inclu

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Bett’s Story….or how slavery ended in Massachusetts

Philllis Wheatley, depicted on the frontispiece of her book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” also was enslaved in Massachusetts. She was freed in 1773, eight years before the court decision that slavery was unconstitutional in Massachusetts. A first edition of Wheatley’s book, the first to be published by an African American, will be exhibited at the

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The American Revolution and the Antislavery Movement in the Upper South

The most popular symbol of abolitionism in the 1790s was a token or medallion inscribed with the motto “Am I not a Man and a Brother” and showing a man in chains. This copper medallion is in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection. The Revolution had a major impact on attitudes about slavery, particularly in the Upper South. After the Revolution many slave owners

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The Quartering Act of 1765

This illustration of a British soldier practicing a military drill is from “A Plan of Discipline for the Use of the Norfolk [England] Militia,” published in 1768. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection. On March 24, 1765, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act, one of a series of measures primarily aimed at raising revenue from the British colonies in Amer

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Sugar Nippers: An Essential Component of Well-Equipped 18th-Century Kitchens

Sugar nippers, courtesy of Jane Rees Cooking equipment to suit almost every task and pocketbook was available in 18th- and early 19th-century Virginia. Although deceptively simple, in the hands of experienced cooks these cast-iron pots, copper stew pans and basic utensils were able to produce very sophisticated meals that were the equal of any prepared by today’s cele

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Two Faces of Slavery: Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Yarrow Mamout

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, by William Hoare, circa 1733, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Collection. The transatlantic slave trade is well documented, but the personal lives of its victims are not. Even though hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought to colonial America and sold as slaves there, we have only a few surviving stories of individuals that are complete eno

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The Archaeology of Benjamin Banneker’s Everyday Life

Benjamin Banneker, an African American who will be profiled in the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries, became famous in the 1790s as a scientist and writer. For most of his life, though, his intellectual gifts were known only to a small circle of family and friends. A free man since birth, during the American Revolution Banneker was a small farmer living near Baltimore, Maryland.

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Rare French Sword and Scabbard Acquired for American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

An exquisitely ornamented 18th-century French court sword and scabbard will be among objects exhibited in a section of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries devoted to the French alliance that was crucial to the winning of American independence.  The galleries are planned to open in late 2016. The set was acquired by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation a

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