The American Revolution was a continent-wide phenomenon that had impacts from Canada, to Florida, to the banks of the Mississippi. Huge numbers of people who never joined the tax protests in Boston, or suffered with the Continental soldiers at Valley Forge, or participated in the great triumph at Yorktown, nevertheless spent years of their lives fighting for independence. These other stories are not forgotten, but they tend to be relegated to the status of state or local history. We are taught about the Boston Tea Party in school, but how many people know about the Edenton Tea Party in North Carolina, an event in which the women of the town took their own independent stand against the tea tax?
A Truly National Revolution
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries opening to the public for the first time on October 15 consciously introduce places, people and events into the narrative that visitors may not have encountered before, and convey a sense of the sheer scale of the conflict and break down some of the artificial geographical barriers that hinder understanding of what was a truly national war. The geography of the war is expanded with more attention focused on events in the South and events on the Western frontier. The same conflicts with authority that put Massachusetts on a collision course with the British Crown are paralleled in colonies like Virginia and North and South Carolina. Battles like Great Bridge in Virginia and the Patriot triumph at Moore’s Creek Bridge in North Carolina helped secure the South’s independence from British control in the early years of the war.
The issue of who would dominate the Western frontier is a vital one that caused armed conflict from Canada to Florida. Even in 1776 many Americans believed that westward expansion was essential to the new nation’s future. While thousands of American and British troops fought large-scale conventional battles along the east coast of America, hundreds of small conflicts between frontier Patriots and British soldiers, Loyalists and their Indian allies decided who would shape the future of the American West.
A Diverse Population
The story also pays attention to groups of people whose roles in the Revolution are not always in the forefront of the standard narrative. Popular histories of the Revolution acknowledge the involvement of American Indians in the conflict but treat them as subordinate allies of either the British or the Patriots. In fact the Iroquois Confederacy and other major tribal groups like the Cherokee and Creek were powerful political entities in their own right. Tribal leaders pursued their own agendas, using skillful diplomacy to secure their people’s future during the turmoil of the war.
No group of people was more impacted by the Revolution that the enslaved Africans and African Americans who made up between a fifth and a quarter of all inhabitants of the 13 original colonies. One of the most dramatic consequences of the Revolution was a widespread transformation of attitudes about slavery that led to the disappearance of slavery in every American state north of Maryland. The new exhibits talk about the lives of Africans and African Americans, both enslaved and free, and consider what the American Revolution meant to them.
The galleries also delve into the question of how America was changing economically, socially and culturally during and after the Revolution. Independence didn’t just mean that one set of political institutions replaced another. New loyalties and new conflicts emerged from the shared experience of the war. The latter part of the galleries takes this theme forward into the postwar period, and looks at how Americans continued to build their nation in the face of challenges they had not anticipated before the war. Finally, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown considers the enduring legacies of the Revolution both here and abroad.
The great ideas and inspirational leaders of the Revolution are at the core of the museum’s storyline, but visitors also will be given an opportunity to explore the wider world of the Revolution. The new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries show enough of the richness and complexity of our nation’s revolutionary heritage so that all who visit come to a better understanding of the Revolution as the gateway to modern America.