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The first USA

Museum of the American Revolution at 3rd & Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia (2017 Photo by S. H. Smith)

Wednesday morning I was in Philadelphia for a last minute meeting and in the afternoon stayed to visit a recently opened museum. The Museum of the American Revolution is located on the southeast corner of 3rd & Chestnut Streets.

A bank of large, high-tech, touch screens greets the visitor upon entering the main exhibition on the second floor. However there is also a good mix of interesting low-tech panels displaying interesting facts as one meanders their way through the exhibits.

One such panel is entitled “The First USA.” Quoting that panel in its entirety: “Who first used ‘USA’ to describe the new United States? In August 1776, Congress directed that the military mark its wooden gunpowder casks ‘with the letters U.S.A.’ designating them as government property. But it seems the first widespread use of ‘USA’ occurred the following year. In 1777, Continental Army soldiers were first issued buttons marked ‘USA.’ These buttons were cast in special molds with a metal alloy called pewter. Over 25 buttons adorned each soldier’s coat. Hundreds of examples have been excavated by archaeologists at Valley Forge and other Continental Army encampments.”

There was a school group ahead of about 15-tourists that entered when I did. Another school group followed us. With the ticketed reserved time system the museum uses, it seemed that nobody was crowded or rushed. It was interesting to see and hear which exhibits the younger crowd liked the best. The privateer navy exhibit really caught their attention, as did the wall of faces prior to the exhibition exit.

More on my visit to the Museum of the American Revolution

This wall mounted floor layout is located between the ticketing desk and the stairs. Near the base of the stairs, greeters scan tickets and issue wristbands. If you purchase a ticket online and print it yourself, you can head directly to the greeters to get your wristband.

Floor Layout in the Museum of the American Revolution (2017 Photo by S. H. Smith)

An informative orientation film is shown in the first floor theater. The first floor also has a cafe and a gift shop. The “Patriots Gallery” noted on the first floor plan is not yet finished. This gallery will contain rotating exhibits and portraits. One of the early rotating exhibits will deal with Revolutionary War prisoner of war camps; which jives with my understanding that some of the York County Camp Security artifacts housed in the State Museum in Harrisburg have been loaned to the Museum of the American Revolution. I suggested they also do an exhibit on the various capitals of the United States.

The second floor contains the very nicely done main exhibition space and a large theater. When both screens are raised at the front of that theater, one can view George Washington’s tent; that he used during Continental Army encampments and battles throughout the Revolutionary War.

The privateer navy exhibit, within the core exhibition area, was exceptional. This is an often-overlooked component of the war for independence. The following panel is positioned at the entrance to “The War At Sea” exhibition area.

The War At Sea panel in the Museum of the American Revolution (2017 Photo by S. H. Smith)

In 1776, the Continental Congress resolved: “That the inhabitants of these Colonies be permitted to fit out armed vessels to cruise on the enemies of these United States.” Congress issued 1,697 Letters of Marque; in effect authorizing private citizens to arm their boats and attack British shipping. If privateer ships were successful, crew and investors shared cargo and other assets of captured ships with the government. The Colonies also got into the act, issuing their own Letters of Marque. In total, over 2,600 privateer ships harassed British supply shipping during the Revolutionary War.

The exhibit contains a life-size front half of what a typical privateer ship looked like. Visitors can climb on the deck to listen to the story of one of these ships through the eyes of a young teen sailor. A freed African-American, Jim Forten, was that sailor. He would go on to become a prominent Philadelphia businessman.

If you are interested in visiting the Museum of the American Revolution, here is the link to their ticketing reservation site.

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