Which Revolutionary artifact do you wish was mistakenly delivered to your doorstep rather than the curator of a museum?
Washington’s draft of The Farewell Address. As I tell the story in my new book, The Great Divide, the newspaper editor who printed said he liked it so much, he felt regret at returning it. Washington said he could keep it. Sometime in the next decade, it disappeared.
Almost anything having to do with Paul Revere’s ride the night of April 18, 1775 is cloaked in erroneous American folklore and it seems kind of overblown to some historians. But yet when I was visiting the Concord Museum (Concord, Massachusetts), I found my ultimate souvenir.
David F. Wood, the museum curator, showed me their display of one of the original lanterns that hung in the Old North Church belfry tower that night. It was one of the two lanterns that signaled the British marching plan to Patriots across the Charles River. Wood told me the provenance of the lantern from 1782 to the 1853 acquisition by Cummings Davis. Like the Shroud of Turin, the lantern may or may not be the original. But I wanted it to be, and more so, I wanted it to be mistakenly delivered to my doorstep.
I don’t know if the artifact exists, but if so, I’d like to have Banastre Tarleton’s saber. Not only did he wield it in numerous engagements, but the controversy surrounding his career would make it a great conversation piece.
I would love to have the original Abolitionist broadside published in 1775, written by Quaker miller Daniel Byrnes when he was living at the Hale Byrnes House in Delaware. Meant to be published on the national day of prayer and fasting, it was in fact released several weeks later. In essence, it says, “You guys are a bunch of hypocrites talking about slavery, freedom, and justice for all. What about those who are truly enslaved?” The guy had guts!
George Washington’s two silver camp drinking cups, scheduled to go on display at Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution when it opens in 2017 (along with his spectacular headquarters tent!) These small, handle-less, non-descriptive drinking vessels were part of a twelve cup set manufactured by Philadelphia silversmith Edmund Milne in 1777. They really possess no particular intrinsic significance beyond having accompanied Washington in the field and, presumably, been silent witnesses to much of what he was involved with as he and his aides and guests talked and drank their wine from them.
I suppose for sentimental reasons my wish list should start with a printed broadside that a newspaper report called “Wolfe’s summit of human glory.” Little Christopher Seider had a copy of this big illustrated report on Gen. James Wolfe’s Québec campaign of 1759 in his pocket when he was fatally shot during a protest in Boston on 22 February 1770, eleven days before the Boston Massacre. Christopher was the first “martyr” of the Patriot cause, and this relatively expensive broadside probably meant a lot to him. I’ve seen only one copy, at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It’s hand-colored but not bloodstained.
The British did not surrender their infantry colours at the Battle of Saratoga. While there is some controversy whether they carried their colours from Canada, there is some evidence that at least one of the regimental colours was spirited back to England. While having regimental colours in my home would be my most prized possession, relocating it from England, Canada or elsewhere in the US to its rightful place at Saratoga National Park would be the rightful place for a national treasure.
An original copy of the Declaration of Independence, the most awe-inspiring document of the American Revolution. No nation had ever before come into being pledged to cherished principles of the equality of all, the natural rights of humankind, and the right of people to change their governments. I would treasure holding this magnificent document. Then I would sell it for enough money to enable me to afford to live in Boston, though only during the summer months.
George Washington lucked out when the Key to the Bastille arrived at his doorstep in 1790, thanks to the Marquis de Lafayette. What a precious artifact, a symbol of the end of despotic government in France, but also a statement of how much Lafayette admired Washington as a father figure, close friend, and mentor.
-James Kirby Martin
The long, narrow package from UPS would contain Timothy Murphy’s double-barreled rifle. If it exists, I must hastily add, it would be a thrill to own the weapon used to kill General Simon Fraser in the heat of the Battle of Saratoga on October 7, 1777. The legend has Colonel Daniel Morgan ordering Murphy, one of his best marksmen, to climb a tree and bring down Fraser from an impressive distance. At the time, the British general was actively rallying British troops to oppose the American attack. Murphy’s precise shooting caused British morale to sag and led to a decisive victory for the Americans.
Wrapped around the iconic rifle would be sworn statements by half a dozen of Morgan’s riflemen testifying to the deed, including one signed with an X by the illiterate Murphy. I would thereby find myself in possession of the gun that fired the most important single shot of the Revolutionary War.
You’d be able to knock me over with a feather quill if one of the three missing “Fidelity” medals showed up at my door. These medals, awarded to militiamen, John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams, were struck at the direction of the Congress to commemorate their capture of Major John Andre, traveling to the British lines after gaining the plans of West Point from Benedict Arnold. They are the first medals created during the Revolutionary War and were never bestowed again. Though some controversy arose regarding the motives of the three captors, they performed an essential service, preventing the planned invasion of West Point in 1780. Unfortunately, one medal disappeared in the early 1800s and two were stolen from the New York Historical Society in 1975. From my doorstep, they’d go directly to the Museum of the American Revolution, not back to NYHS.
I would love to purchase an old painting at a flea market for $50, open its back, and discover another early edition of the Declaration of Independence!
The “Braddock Pistol” now owned by the Smithsonian. In 1777, Washington was “much exercised over the loss of this pistol, it being given to him by Gen. Braddock” in the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755. He carried it “with him through several campaigns, and he therefore values it very highly.”
The pistol evoked the fallibility of the British Army. The arrogant British disrespected the “American” style of fighting that Washington championed and erred in their strategy.
The pistol reminded Washington where he had been. Braddock’s defeat and death and Washington’s miraculous survival launched the young officer’s military career. The pistol reinforced for Washington that he could withstand adversity and was meant to lead.
The pistol was a torch being passed. Braddock may have been a father-figure to Washington, but that relationship was conflicted. Washington and the colonies had come of age. Now Washington was “the father of his country.”