One of the newest and most popular attractions in Philadelphia, the Museum of the American Revolution is dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s founding. The Museum offers guided tours with trained educators who explain the challenges and ideals that were at the heart of the rebellion.
When you visit as a school group, all of this is brought together into an engaging and effective tour led by the museum’s docents who distill all of this information for the students and manage time effectively to fit inside a two-hour visit.
Just a few blocks away is the Constitution Center, which picks up the story where the Museum of the American Revolution leaves off. The two museums are very complementary to each other in their coverage of the founding of our nation.
Together with Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Franklin Court, Reading Terminal Market, Valley Forge, and the best food on the whole tour, you will need a solid day, or two at a more comfortable pace, in Philadelphia.
Imagine the scene: George Washington and his army are encamped upon a hillside in a rolling Hudson River valley in the fall of 1782. His marquee headquarters
tent, looking like something out of the European wars of the Middle Ages is proudly pitched on a hill overlooking his army and its hundreds of white tents spread out below.
He continues to live in the tent, as he has all through the war. He writes hundreds of letters, makes command decisions, and sleeps on his cot. Even when he has selected more permanent buildings to serve as headquarters nearby, he still sleeps in the tent.
Washington’s tent is real, it’s remarkably preserved and it is in the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.
It is accompanied by an incredibly moving film, lighting and sound that dramatically reveals the tent at the end. It is one of the most moving things I have personally seen at any historic site up and down the east coast, and I cried like a baby when I first saw it.
Speaking of babies, I had to bring my then-7 month old son (and future historian) to see it. He sat transfixed as if it was the most incredible war tent he ever saw. (It was) He didn’t cry. Let’s just say that if you’ve been to Gettysburg and seen the Cyclorama in it’s new 2008 building, then seeing Washington’s tent is like that. The moment it is revealed gives you goosebumps.
However, this museum is not just about George Washington’s campaign tent. This is the American Revolution, writ large.
It brings together all of the elements found at different sites in Philadelphia; from the Stamp Act and other measures that brought animosity towards the Crown, to the beginnings of the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence and the long road to victory. Receiving special attention is the Battle of Brandywine, which is near Philadelphia and was a disaster for Washington and protracted the war.
Also featured are the stories of people who’s choices intertwined and affected the outcome, such as how enslaved African Americans had more to gain by siding with the British, the dilemma of the Oneida people and other Native American nations, and how women participated in the war.
Which side to support and fight for was not an easy and clear-cut choice for many colonists, which is why this war resembled a civil war as much as it did a revolution. Loyalists and Tory colonists were everywhere, and fought against their Patriot countrymen in engagements that pitted neighbors and families against each other.
At the end of the museum there is a wall of photographs of the Revolutionary War generation, taken at least 60 years after the war in the 1840’s or later when photography was becoming widespread.
Some of the faces are quite haunting. When you gaze into the eyes of these elderly men and women who lived through such trying and formative times, it provides a real link to the past.
These are the people that witnessed our nation’s birth and infancy, and stood by it through doubt and fear, and ultimately triumph.They gaze back at us across almost two centuries, some of whom no doubt also saw that same tent featured in the museum today.
The SCHOOL TRIP SPOTLIGHT is written by NationsClassroom's licensed tour managers and guides. Written from their years of experience with student groups, the articles feature exciting attractions from the most popular student travel destinations on the historic East Coast.