The star attraction at the Museum of the American Revolution is the carefully preserved field tent where Gen. George Washington slept and strategized when he was the leader of the Continental Army during the American colonies' struggle for independence from British rule. He didn't have to rough it—he could have just as easily lodged at taverns or his estate at Mount Vernon—but Washington wanted to share the hardships of war alongside his troops. 

The tent, passed down from generation to generation and displayed at the museum in a special light-controlled environment to protect its fragile linen fabric, is a fittingly egalitarian symbol for an institution that aims to examine the American Revolution from as broad and inclusive a perspective as possible. Instead of telling a triumphalist tale of liberty-loving Minutemen overthrowing despotic redcoats, the galleries of the main exhibit contain period art and artifacts as well as interactive displays, immersive tableaus, and video reenactments that present a more complicated picture of life in America before, during, and after the Revolution.

advertisement

Special attention is paid to groups left out of the Founders' calls for liberty, particularly enslaved African Americans and Native Americans. A tiny set of slave shackles probably designed to restrain a child are exhibited near the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence, reminding visitors that the document's claim that "all men are created equal" was mere rhetoric at the time. The era's divided loyalties are represented by colonial mementoes bearing the British king's seal, letters and artwork reflecting already brewing tensions between North and South in the Continental Army, and tableaus recounting the ambivalent stance of native peoples. 

advertisement
What emerges is a surprising and thought-provoking investigation into the country's beginnings—a time of doubt, contradiction, and loss as much as victory, bravery, and promise.