Long before the first musket shot was fired in Lexington in 1775, the seeds of the American Revolution were taking root in Philadelphia as colonists declared their independence and began preparing for war. With the April 19, 2017 opening of the Museum of the American Revolution, visitors will discover the complex and sometimes painful path to independence—a story that’s told both within the museum’s walls and at sites and attractions scattered throughout Philadelphia, the headquarters of the Revolution, and its surrounding countryside.
For visitors eager to delve into this tumultuous time in history, the Museum of the American Revolution—located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Historic District and the first and only museum in the nation that tells the whole story of this world-changing war—serves as the starting point for their exploration. More than 242 years later after the battle, dozens of key sites and landmarks throughout the region remain, giving visitors a glimpse into the fascinating stories of the American Revolution.
Here’s a look at some of them:
A Revolution Rising:
- Fed up with King George’s taxes and trade policies, representatives from 12 colonies (Georgia didn’t attend) gathered at Carpenter’s Hall in 1774 for the First Continental Congress and voted on a trade embargo, the first of many unified acts of defiance against the realm. 320 Chestnut Street, Historic District, (215) 925-0167.
- After long days of debating the future of the colonies, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and other Founding Fathers gathered at City Tavern for the 18th-century version of happy hour. Recreated to its original design, City Tavern still states 21st-century appetites, serving hearty fare and beverages to hungry diners in a colonial setting. 138 S. 2nd Street, Historic District, (215) 413-1443.
- Hard to believe that the Graff House (also known as Declaration House), situated just blocks from the hustle and bustle of Independence Hall, was once a country refuge providing Thomas Jefferson with the peace and quiet he needed to draft the Declaration of Independence. Tour hours are limited and can be found on the website. 599 S. 7th Street, Historic District, (215) 965-7676.
- During the blistering summer of 1776, 56 delegates gathered at the Pennsylvania State House and pledged their “lives, their fortune and their sacred honor” in the pursuit of independence. Now known as Independence Hall, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is where the Declaration of Independence was signed, finalizing the colonies’ break with England. Tickets, which are required for tours, are free and available at the Independence Visitor Center. 520 Chestnut Street, Historic District, (215) 965-2305.
Armed For War:
- The Continental Army and Navy needed armaments, and Hopewell Furnace was one of the foundries that supplied the troops with cannons, shots and shells, including 115 big guns for the Continental Navy. Built in 1771 by the ironmaster Mark Bird, Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smoke houses, blacksmith shop, office store, charcoal house and even the remains of a schoolhouse. The summer season brings with it living history demonstrations and other historic activities. 2 Mark Bird Lane, Elverson, (610) 582-8773.
- The New Hall Military Museum, a reconstruction of the first Secretary of War’s headquarters, features exhibits that trace the founding of the U.S. Marines, Army and Navy during the Revolution. Modern day visitors will find dozens of examples of colonial-era weaponry, scale models and other artifacts. 320 Chestnut Street, Historic District, (215) 965-2305.
- When the American troops were low on weapons, food, supplies and the money to purchase them, Hayim Salomon, a member of Congregation Mikveh Israel, stepped up and helped finance and underwrite the War. He was so generous with his personal resources that he died penniless. Hayim Salomon is buried at Congregation Mikveh Israel Cemetery. Synagogue, 44 N. 4th Street, (215) 922-5446; Cemetery, 8th & Spruce Streets, Historic District.
- The ragtag Continental army had Thaddeus Kosciuszko to thank for the brilliant military engineering that helped them pummel the Redcoats in several battles. Following the Revolution, Kosciuszko returned to Philadelphia and welcomed top leaders to his charming residence. 301 Pine Street, Historic District, (215) 965-2305.
Time For Battle:
- In 1776, General Washington gave the British troops a morning-after-Christmas surprise—a sneak attack that ultimately turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. Echoes of that historic event are evidenced throughout Washington Crossing Historic Park, where centuries-old historic houses and buildings and a visitors center recount that daring trip. Each Christmas day, hearty souls don colonial attire and recreate that daring and dangerous river crossing. 1112 River Road, Washington Crossing, (215) 493-4076.
- During the Continental Army’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, one of Washington’s most celebrated generals, would sometimes return to his family home, Historic Waynesborough, for a good night’s sleep. The Battle of Paoli took place steps away from the front door and yet the house survived unscathed. 2049 Waynesborough Road, Paoli, (610) 647-1779.
- During its long, storied history, Stenton mansion saw both sides of the war. In August 1777 as he made his way to the Battle of Brandywine, General Washington sought refuge in this elegant manse. Then Britain’s General Howe occupied the estate for the month leading up to and through the Battle of Germantown. Tours offered in the afternoon, Tuesday through Saturday from April through December. 4601 N. 18th Street, Germantown, (215) 329-7312.
- On September 11, 1777, some 30,000 American and British soldiers faced off in one of the biggest battles of the Revolution. Despite being led by a who’s who of the Continental Army—Washington, Wayne, Lafayette, Knox and others—the Americans suffered a major blow on Brandywine Battlefield. A weekend of family activities and reenactments on September 16-17, 2017, will mark the 240th anniversary of the Revolution’s largest land battle. 1491 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, (610) 459-3342.
- On September 21, 1777, under cover of night, British soldiers committed unspeakable atrocities during a sneak attack that became a bloody massacre at Paoli Battlefield. A marker honors the 53 American soldiers who were slashed and died by British bayonets. The grounds mark the ninth bloodiest battle of the war and feature the second-oldest Revolutionary War monument. Monument & Wayne Avenues, Malvern, (484) 320-7172.
- For six long, cold weeks in 1777, a cadre of only 400 soldiers huddled inside Fort Mifflin to fend off British ships trying to bring supplies to British-occupied Philadelphia. Despite lack of food, freezing temperatures and rampant illness, the rebels held the ships back, giving Washington time to flee to Valley Forge where they would spend the winter rebuilding the army. Open Wednesday through Sundays from March through mid-December. 6400 Hog Island Road, Southwest Philadelphia, (215) 685-4167.
- In early October 1777,GeneralWashington and his staff chose the Peter Wentz Farmstead as a headquarters while they planned a strategy to engage the British forces in Philadelphia, resulting in their defeat at the Battle of Germantown. Washington’s contingent returned to the Wentz property for four days before settling in for the winter at Valley Forge. 2030 Shearer Lane, Lansdale, (610) 584-5104.
- The Battle of Germantown resulted in a crushing defeat of the American rebels. Fought on the grounds of the Cliveden estate in 1777, the combat saw more than 1,000 men on each side killed or wounded and Washington’s troops decimated. Still visible is the “blood portrait” drawn on a wall by a dying British soldier using his own blood. Every year on the first Saturday in October, costumed re-enactors gather here for a day of remembrance that includes family-friendly activities and a recreation of the historic battle. The museum and grounds also give visitors a chance to experience tours and exhibitions. 6401 Germantown Avenue, Germantown, (215) 848-1777.
- Disease, supply problems, expiring enlistments and weakened morale took their toll on Washington’s troops during the winter encampment at Valley Forge—now memorialized as Valley Forge National Historical Park—from 1777 to 1778. Despite losing more than 2,000 soldiers to disease, the army emerged a stronger fighting force, going on to stand their ground at the battle of Monmouth. Today, Washington’s headquarters, monuments, recreations of soldier huts, park rangers and volunteers recount the patriots’ sacrifices for freedom. 1400 Outer Center Line Drive, King of Prussia, (610) 783-1099.
The Wages Of War:
- After long days debating independence, the Founding Fathers often headed to Powel House. At this elegant 18th-century townhouse, the guests enjoyed what John Adams called a “Sinful Feast,” along with dancing in the Rococo ballroom. While Samuel Powel was a cautious patriot, his wife Elizabeth would become one of General Washington’s closest advisers. 244 S. 3rd Street, (215) 627-0364.
- Not once, but twice, the Revolutionary War left the young upholsterer Betsy Ross a widow. After losing her first husband, John Ross, to an ammunition explosion, she wed John Ashburn who would later die after being captured and imprisoned by the British. Betsy herself is on site daily, plying her trade as she welcomes visitors with stories of colonial-era life. Betsy Ross House, Historic District, 239 Arch Street, (215) 686-1252.
- Dating back to 1719, Christ Church Burial Ground is the final resting place for several of those who fought for and declared American independence. Among the 4,000 graves are Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Francis Hopkinson and Revolutionary War officers Major William Jackson and General Jacob Morgan. On any given Sunday during the Revolutionary War, one could find a who’s who of the era worshipping at nearby Christ Church. Still an active church, “America’s Church,” served as the house of worship for 15 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Burial Ground, 5th & Arch Streets, Church, 20 N. American Street, Historic District, (215) 922-1695.
- During Washington’s campaign in 1776-77, wounded and ailing soldiers recovered at the Thompson-Neely House, which had been transformed into a temporary regimental army hospital. James Monroe, who would later become the fifth president, was among the many who convalesced there. 1638 River Road, Washington Crossing, (215) 493-4076.
- During the Battle of Germantown, the Quaker-owned Wyck House was seized during the Battle of Germantown and used as a field hospital, the 18th-century version of a MASH unit. 6026 Germantown Avenue, Germantown, (215) 848-1690.
- The bloody business of war still haunts Grumblethorpe, home of the Wister family and occupied by British Brigadier General James Agnew before the Battle of Germantown. Shot by a sniper, Agnew bled to death and more than two centuries later, the bloodstains are still visible on the floor. 5267 Germantown Avenue, Germantown, (215) 843-4820.
- Many who gave their lives in the quest for freedom were unknown when they were laid to rest. Although the names of 52 of the Revolutionary War soldiers buried at the Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground are known, the names of six heroes killed during the Battle of Germantown remain unknown. 6309 Germantown Avenue, Germantown, (215) 844-1683.
- While George and Martha Washington, John Adams and other colonial-era notables attended Old St. Mary’s Church, history also permeates the gravesite here. Commodore John Barry, founder of the American navy, is buried in the adjacent cemetery, along with General Washington aide-de-camp Stephen Moylan and other heroes of the Revolution. 252 S. 4th Street, Historic District, (215) 923-7930.
Where To Learn More:
- Everyone from the casually interested to the dedicated scholar can utilize the David Library of the American Revolution. Devoted solely to the American Revolution, the David Library boasts 10,000 reels of microfilm, nearly 8,000 books and 2,000 pamphlets among its holdings. Primary source materials include diaries, maps, muster rolls, letters, recipes and other information from the era. 1201 River Road, Washington Crossing, (215) 493-6776.
- With almost 3,000 books, pamphlets and 191 archival collections dealing with the American Revolution, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania offers a vast array of primary source materials and research resources for inquiring minds. 1300 Locust Street, Midtown Village,
- The Polish American Cultural Center offers a glimpse into the life and contributions of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, whose engineering genius helped win the Revolution. 308 Walnut Street, Historic District, (215) 922-1700.
- The library and research facilities at the Chester County Historical Society hold a wealth of information about people and events that played a regional role in the Revolutionary War.
225 N. High Street, West Chester, (610) 692-4800.