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Have you ever wondered what the American Revolution would have been like for the average family in the late 1700s? Just like today, most people were not wealthy; many had small farms and were just trying to survive and maybe even thrive in the colonies. Our history books tend to focus on the Founding Fathers and their service to our new country, and they absolutely should. But there is more to the story. While Colonial Williamsburg demonstrates what life would be like in a city or town during the early years of our nation, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown aims to teach us more about rural life during this time period. The indoor galleries do provide a timeline of the events leading up to the revolution, the war itself, and a little about the new nation. The Siege of Yorktown is also highlighted, and the lives and actions of the Founding Fathers feature prominently in the story of our country. But the outdoor living history portion of the museum tells the story of the middle-class farmer and the common soldier during this era. This is the story that my family experienced during our multi-state road trip this past summer.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is a newly constructed attraction that replaced the Yorktown Victory Center this past spring. This museum is one of the points in Virginia’s Historic Triangle; Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown are the other two points. When we began researching this portion of our trip, we were pretty excited to see that this museum was new, and we would be arriving just a couple of months after opening. When we pulled into the parking lot, we saw the new museum building.
This is just the main entrance; the galleries extend to the left. We could also see the living history portion of the museum as we parked the car. We were so excited to see this place! We noticed there were a couple of groups visiting that day, including a school group. We wondered if we could avoid touring with the large groups if we went to the living history section first, so that became our plan. But first, we had to get our tickets!
We went inside, and the lobby was really beautiful. We went up to the cashier where I was able to show that I had purchased a combo ticket for this museum and the Jamestown Settlement online for a few dollars off. It was a pretty great deal that allowed for you to visit as often as you wanted over several days, but we just made time in our trip for a one-day visit for both. In fact, we also looked around Colonial Williamsburg, so we actually hit all three in one day! Here is a closer look at the statue in the lobby.
From the lobby, you can start your tour of the museum and also visit a really cool gift shop. This shop had colonial-inspired dishes, candles, and lanterns, just to name a few of the items. We quickly made our way down the hall to the living history section to avoid the groups. I admit this is kind of a backward way to experience the museum, but I don’t think it harmed our experience in any way.
Living History at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
The first thing we noticed outside were the tents for the soldiers.
We had walked right into a Continental Army encampment! We were greeted by soldiers, and we began to explore the different demonstrations that were available. The army doctor gave our first presentation. He showed us the horrible treatments for battle wounds and illnesses.
That was probably the most terrifying part of our day! After his presentation, we wandered around until Kristin was recruited for the Continental Army, even though she wasn’t old enough or the right sex. The recruiter didn’t seem to mind.
Here Kristin joins the army by dipping her quill into the ink and signing the contract.
Soon we heard the alarm for the musket demonstration. On this trip, we saw muskets being demonstrated four different times reflecting three different periods in American history. This was one of the more humorous and engaging demonstrations.
Kristin is not the biggest fan of these demonstrations, so we sat back a few rows. You are also able to see the cannons, but they weren’t being demonstrated on this day.
We also got to see where the soldiers prepared meals when they were in camp. Here is the pit and individual fires. Each tent had their own small space for their fire, and they chose one man from the tent to be the cook for everyone in the tent. We were told that five to six enlisted men would fill each tent.
All the soldiers cooked at this pit so the fire could be contained. We also got to see the food that they ate. They may have beans, and sometimes they had salt pork or maybe some fresh meat. The most common food was “hard tack.” This was flour and water rolled into a dough, and then it was baked in the ashes. Sometimes they had salt, but it still was pretty hard and not very flavorful. Our guide here said that they could dip hard tack into soup.
You can see one of the groups catching up to us in the background. We stayed just ahead of them, so we had a good experience.
After we finished exploring the army encampment, it was time to check out the farm. This was a typical farm for a middle-class family during the revolution.
You can see that this areas is relatively new. We explored the farmhouse first.
Inside we learned about cooking on the farm. Here is the preserved meat hanging in the corner.
Kristin also checked out some common toys of the time period.
We also saw the bedroom just off of the kitchen and main room.
Kristin checked out the cradle in the bedroom.
After we explored the main house, we checked out the rest of the farm. We saw this guy and some chickens walking around.
We also saw some of the farm buildings. Here is where the tobacco was drying. It would also serve as a slave’s quarters. A farm this size might have had one or two slaves or indentured servants.
Once dried, this tobacco would be sent back to England for processing. The colonists were not allowed to manufacture tobacco products or any other products. This, of course, contributes to the causes of the revolution.
The farm was a fun place to explore. We also saw some baby ducks splashing in a puddle. It had rained the day before.
The area around the farm is really beautiful, too. You really get a sense of what life might have been like for the colonists living in this area.
The Galleries at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
After we had thoroughly explored the farm, we headed back inside the museum. There we saw the story of how the revolution unfolded.
This museum is really hands-on and immersive, which I think is so important to get kids like Kristin to understand a little more of the historic story being told.
There are some neat effects that really help you understand what happened. There are also plenty of life-like displays.
And there are some hands-on exhibits, films, and recordings that help tell the story.
For major history buffs, there are plenty of artifacts to examine.
The last room of the museum houses a statue of George Washington.
We really had a great time at this museum! I really enjoy history, and I love to watch history come alive for Kristin. The more we do and see, the more she understands about our nation’s history and the world around her. I also love that she’s having so much fun that she doesn’t even realize that she’s learning!
If you are planning a trip to Williamsburg, I highly recommend that you make time for the American Revolution Museum and Jamestown if you can. These attractions work well together to tell you the story of the birth of our nation, and each destination is special in its own way. If you think you may be short on time, remember that we did all three points of the triangle in one day, although if we hadn’t gone back to Colonial Williamsburg the next day, we would’ve missed out on a lot. If you love history or you want your kids to experience the history of our nation, the Ameican Revolution Museum at Yorktown is not to be missed!