What was life like in Philadelphia during the 1700s and the Revolutionary War?
Sure, you can get a good idea from the ample historic sites around Old City, but there are fresh, immersive, hands-on takes to explore with the Museum of the American Revolution’s basement-floor discovery center “Revolution Place,” which opened June 9.
One engaging and intriguing example, near the entrance, starts with signing your name with an electronic quill pen on a digital touchscreen to enlist in the Continental Army. From there you’ll find out how Continental soldiers were paid (money or the promise of property), clothed (one set for warm weather, one set for cold weather) and equipped (judging by the size of a tent for a “mess” of six, not that well). The interactive will also tell you if there were others with your family name that served in the Continental Army.
Geared toward families with kids 5-12, Revolution Place features four key historical environments — a military encampment, a tavern, a home and an 18th century meeting house.
Museum of the American Revolution curator Mark Turdo shared a few funny anecdotes from preview “user testing” sessions with fifth- and eighth-grade students. He said one girl took to the pulpit in the recreated non-denominational church and began to preach. One of her parents reportedly said: “I don’t know where she got this from. We don’t even go to church.” It turns out there’s text for a period “Order for Morning Prayer” service on the lectern.
“This space fully allows for imaginative play,” Turdo said.
Revolution Place touches on how the Revolutionary War affected people’s faith. Churches were often occupied for use as hospitals, prisons and stables during the war. At two window-shaped “People of Faith” digital touchscreens, you can learn about the mostly-unrecorded Muslims from West Africa living in America; patriot Gershom Seixas, the first native-born Jewish religious leader in the U.S.; Quaker Elizabeth Drinker, who as a pacifist was under suspicion of being a loyalist to Britain; Absalom Jones, the first African-American Episcopal minister; Christ Church rector Jacob Duchè, who once wrote a letter imploring George Washington to stop the war; and others.
Besides houses of worship, politics and current events were also discussed in the taverns. Revolution Place’s “Three Tun Tavern” is based on a tavern that once stood across Chestnut Street from the museum.
You can handle reproduction newspapers that prompted conversations about Revolutionary ideas. According to Turdo, one student read them over and remarked: “This story is from Paris. This story is from London. It’s like the internet.”
On Three Run Tavern’s digital tabletops, place replica objects — a tea cup, a porcelain bowl, a twist of tobacco and a man’s wallet, among other items — on an animated period map (you have to place them on the Equator) to learn where and how they were produced and used, and who might have used them. Watch ships sail across the digital globe to learn about trade routes that were used to move goods during the colonial and Revolution periods.
A 1770s parlor imagines home life during that era. With portraits of both George Washington and King George III next to each other on the wall, this must have been a politically divided house. Also, you can sit around the table to learn manners and customs of the period.
At a digital touchscreen, explore a map of the block where museum sits and learn about the owners of each parcel of land.
In those days, people dumped their trash down their outhouse pit. See reassembled objects, that were likely thrown down a “privy,” from the archaeological excavation of the museum’s site, such as a ceramic mug, a porcelain tea cup, a Philadelphia redware plate and a white salt-glazed stoneware plate.
Supported in part with multi-media experiences, historical records and funding from FamilySearch International, a nonprofit sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Steve Rockwood, the president and CEO of FamilySearch International, said in a press release: “Learning about our ancestors helps us better understand who we are and where we are headed as a nation. We are delighted to support the Museum of the American Revolution in this effort to help people discover who they are by exploring where they come from. Whether or not your ancestors were involved in the American Revolution, we are all inheritors of the Revolutionary promises of liberty, equality and self-government.”
Revolution Place also will be the stage for daily programs, including story times, art and craft projects and interactions with the museum’s costumed educators.