Location: 101 S 3rd Street
Hours: 10:00 – 5:00 daily, 9:30 – 6:00
Transit: 2nd Street (MFL) Jefferson Station (RR) 2,22 (Phlash)
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After years of construction and planning, the Museum of the American Revolution opened on April 19, 2017, to coincide with the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which had began the war that would change the course of history 242 years earlier. It is housed in a Georgian building, the style of architecture in Colonial Philadelphia, with a set of cannons outside the entrance to the Declaration of Independence Plaza. On one of the walls, the famed lines of the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” are inscribed.
Visitors can start with an introductory film on the museum’s first floor, at the back of the Oneida Nation Atrium. Said atrium has large paintings on the second floor, depicting events of the Revolution. On the second floor, George Washington’s tent from Valley Forge is shown after a screening of a similar movie, focused on Washington as a man, and the influence that he had over America, both during the Revolution and in the years that followed. After the movie, the screen moves away to reveal the tent itself.
Much like other history museums, the story is told chronologically. It consists of four sections, beginning with the world dominated by the British Empire, and ending with the United States having won the Revolution and forming a new nation. The museum puts an emphasis on telling the stories of women, African Americans (both free and enslaved), and Native Americans in its informational displays.
The first section is called Becoming Revolutionaries. It begins with a prologue about the British Empire, history’s largest, and the amount of authority its monarchy had on its many colonies. It then goes on to explain the causes of the American Revolution, and the acts and taxes imposed on the colonies by Parliament. The next room has the last surviving Liberty Tree, where patriots would meet in secret. This one comes from Annapolis, Maryland. The tension escalated to war on April 19, 1775, when the colonial militia exchanged fire with the British army in Lexington, Massachusetts. The exhibit on that fateful battle includes a piece of the Old North Bridge, which was demolished shortly after the war. This section ends with an exhibit on the Declaration of Independence, including one of the oldest known copies, held in a glass display with rings around it, each bearing the name of one of the 13 Colonies. On the side is a display on the Declaration’s promise of equality, and what that meant for slaves, women, and poor laborers. Overhead is a statue of a colonist bringing down a statue of King George III.
The second section, The Darkest Hour, begins with the battles fought in New York and New Jersey, in Brooklyn, Harlem, Princeton, and Trenton, where Washington’s army ambushed the Hessians on Christmas in 1776. The Oneida Nation Theater tells of Native Americans in the Revolution, and choices they had to make regarding their loyalty to their tribes and how they too decided between loyalism and patriotism. After that comes a large gallery of muskets and other authentic weapons that were used in the Revolution. The Battle of Brandywine Theater is a simulation of the battle fought in 1777 in Chadds Ford, PA, complete with real smoke, loud bangs, and flashing lights. Needless to say, this is not recommended for everyone. The section concludes with the British having seized the city of Philadelphia, and Washington’s army spending a cold winter at Valley Forge.
The tour then advances to A Revolutionary War, which begins with a 1:1 scale reproduction of a privateer ship, constructed at the Independence Seaport Museum. It is surrounded by displays about the war at sea, and the creation of the United States Navy. The next section is about the war in the South, particularly how it affected slaves, of which there were as many as 400,000 in the South alone. Both the United States and Britain promised freedom to slaves who would fight for them. Several battles were fought in the South, including in Charleston, the region’s largest city at the time. In 1781, the British were cornered between the American army and the French navy, leading to the famous Surrender at Yorktown. A film shows this battle, and several items are displayed.
The final section is A New Nation, which documents the Constitution, and how it formed the early United States. It is quite similar to the main exhibit at the National Constitution Center. It concludes at The Ongoing Revolution, how the spirit of the Revolution shaped America as it moved onward, and how it affects us today.
Admission is $19 for adults and $12 for youth (6-18). Children under 6 are free. The museum also has a large gift shop, selling all sorts of memorabilia, and a large cafe as well.