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"George Washington's Tent"

Started by Newsletter, January 29, 2024, 02:56:58 PM

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"George Washington's Tent"

In 1824, exactly two centuries ago, the Marquis de Lafayette made his return to America, marking his first visit since his participation in the American War for Independence. At the age of 67, Lafayette journeyed to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where surviving officers from the Continental Army had gathered in George Washington's Revolutionary War tent. Stepping into the worn canopy after nearly fifty years, Lafayette and his companions were moved to tears, described by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams as tears of glory, gratitude, and joy.

Presently, Washington's war tent resides in the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, revered as a "rock-star object." Before encountering the tent, visitors are treated to a compelling 12-minute film recounting its history and significance. As the projection screens rise and subdued lights unveil the tent, R. Scott Stephenson, the museum's president, notes that "people have tears in their eyes, literally every single time." For Lafayette, this tent held a "consecrated" status, symbolizing Washington's unparalleled wartime leadership. Now, almost 250 years old, it stands as a revered relic of the Revolutionary War and a symbol of the American republic, even being likened by some to the first Oval Office.

This 18th-century marquee tent, typical for high-ranking military officers, boasts dimensions of approximately 23 feet in length, 14 feet in width, and 12 feet in height. Washington's decision to camp among his soldiers during the seven-year war was uncommon, drawing attention as military leaders typically used buildings as headquarters.

After the war's conclusion in 1783, Washington's tent, along with his military equipment, found a home in storage at his Mount Vernon estate. Following Washington's death in 1799, it became a family heirloom for his wife, Martha, and her descendants. In 1824, during Lafayette's visit, the tent gained national significance and was regularly displayed. Later, it became the cherished possession of Robert E. Lee through his marriage to Martha Washington's great-granddaughter.

Amidst the Civil War, the tent was seized by the Union Army and exhibited in Washington, D.C., symbolizing the Union cause. A prolonged legal battle ensued between the Lee family and the U.S. government, ultimately resulting in the tent's return to Robert E. Lee's daughter. Eventually, she sold it to Reverend W. Herbert Burk of Norristown, Pennsylvania, to support Confederate war widows. The tent embarked on a new journey as a prized exhibit in museums, first at Valley Forge and then at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which opened in 2017.

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lafayette's visit, the Museum of the American Revolution is launching a new exhibition in February titled "Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington's Tent."