New Yorktown musuem
This month marks the 235th anniversary of the British surrender at Yorktown, and with it came the opening of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. (It’s not be confused with the bigger museum opening next year in Philadelphia.)
The place is laid out nicely except that the main gallery that is open is something of a timeline hodgepodge. The orientation movie is new and quite creative. It touches lightly on the two battles and focuses more on the future of the country afterward. Therefore Yorktown is not the end but only the beginning. Very clever.
A portrait of King George is one of three big acquisitions, but a docent told me it was a copy instead of an original. So I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal. George died in 1820. The exhibit helpfully points out that he lived long enough to see the dissipation of the British Empire. This painting is from 1761 when he was a young man presiding over much of the civilized world. The portrait is prominent in the first hall of the main exhibition building. The place is laid out chronologically but it’s easy to take a wrong tour in the timeline.
The first poems of a black slave is an original, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” by Phillis Wheatley. This is important because it conveys a cultural approach that was long denied for slaves. It is well documented that plantation owners denied all forms of education to blacks to prevent them from becoming informed and subsequently rebel.
“Portrait of Ayuba Suleinman Diallo” was painted circa 1733 as a “famous victim of the African-American slave trade,” according to the exhibit. He was kidnapped in 1731 from his native Senegal, sold into slavery, and two years later regained his rightful freedom.
“There’s a lot of money tied up in there,” said the woman who issues tickets. The new museum cost $50 million and looks vastly better than the original Yorktown Victory Center. A big feature is four classrooms for student interaction and lectures, much lacking in the old place.
Another original is a rare parchment of the Declaration of Independence. Like all the artifacts, it was bought with money from a donor—not state funds. A google search finds that an original Declaration went for $2.4 million 25 years ago.
The last thing to open will be the hall with rotating exhibits, sometime this winter. The first show will be “Afterward,” following the theme of the orientation movie but conveying the westward expansion of America.
Out back is a period camp. An interpreter told me that it currently conflates a traditional farm camp with a wartime camp, but they will be separated eventually. “Back there in a few weeks is an amphitheater where we’ll demonstrate the artillery guns of the siege. They won’t be actual cannons but replicas.”
Camp followers were present at the battle, but Washington was scrupulous about preventing prostitutes from hanging around. The interpreter said, “If a woman’s husband died in battle or from injuries, she had a few weeks to get her affairs together. She could marry some other soldier or else she would have to get out.”
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