Join the Revolution! Starting July 4 and continuing all summer long, New-York Historical celebrates Revolutionary Summer. The Museum-wide event transports visitors back to the Revolutionary War, a time of cavalry, militia drills, metalsmiths, and spies. Visit a Continental Army encampment in our outdoor courtyard, meet fascinating historical interpreters portraying early Americans from all walks of life, and check out amazing 18th-century artifacts and documents in the Museum.
The centerpiece of Revolutionary Summer, a replica of Washington’s Headquarters Tent, is on display in our courtyard on select Fridays and weekends. On loan from the Museum of the American Revolution (MoAR), the painstakingly detailed, hand-sewn replica was created through a collaboration between MoAR and Colonial Williamsburg. The Tent is staffed by MoAR educators, who lead visitors on an immersive tour through history. We wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the structure, so we asked someone who knows it best. Below, Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, president and CEO of MoAR, offers some special insights and crucial background on the Headquarters Tent. Read on, then come meet George Washington!
Check out Revolutionary Summer for a schedule and full roster of programs for all ages.
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: First off, tell us a little bit about the tent!
Museum of the American Revolution: General Washington’s Tent served as his living quarters and private office through much of the Revolutionary War. This Tent, or “marquee” as it was known in the 18th century, was part of a group of tents that formed the general’s mobile headquarters. The original Tent is on display at the MoAR in Philadelphia. The hand-sewn replica that is on display at New-York Historical this summer was made by tradespeople at Colonial Williamsburg in 2013 for the MoAR.
DCHM: What is your favorite part of the tent?
MoAR: I love the interior, which is divided by internal partitions into spaces for sleeping, sitting, and storage. You can really feel the presence of George Washington in these intimate settings.
DCHM: Is it the only one of its kind?
MoAR: It is one of a kind, but there is a second marquee tent from Washington’s Revolutionary War equipment that served as a meeting and dining space. The dining marquee was on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History many years ago, but it is currently in storage. The National Park Service at Yorktown Battlefield in Virginia displays a replica of the dining marquee with an original ceiling liner within it, and the interior chamber of the sleeping and office tent that is on display at the MoAR.
DCHM: How would George Washington have used this tent?
MoAR: The tent served as Washington’s personal living and office space. This was virtually the only private space that he had during the summer campaign seasons of the Revolutionary War. Washington was the nation’s first Commander-in-Chief, so we sometimes call this tent the “First Oval Office.”
DCHM: Where did MoAR get the tent?
MoAR: The founder of our predecessor organization, the Reverend W. Herbert Burk, raised funds to acquire the tent from Martha Washington’s descendants in 1909. It is now installed in Philadelphia’s MoAR, where is it presented in a 12-minute multimedia piece called Washington’s War Tent.
DCHM: What can visitors expect when they visit the tent at New-York Historical ?
MoAR: They’ll have a chance to see this carefully constructed replica of Washington’s tent up close and personal. Educators from MoAR and New-York Historical will be on hand to explore life in a Continental Army encampment. There will be lots of hands-on activities and a chance to peek inside the “First Oval Office.” Inside the Museum, there’s an original panoramic watercolor of the 1782 encampment at Verplanck’s Point, NY, that includes the only known wartime depiction of Washington’s Tent.
DCHM: Do you have any “tent secrets” that young “history detectives” can look for when they see the Tent for themselves?
MoAR: Yes! They should look on the inside ceiling of the tent for a mysterious marking that has so far defied explanation. It is a mark made in black ink within a circle. Make sure you share your theories about what it might be with our educators.
Written by Maggie B. Solarz, senior manager of family programs