Over the years, it has been my pleasure to stop in at the old Yorktown Victory Center. The primary focus of the museum, as one might expect, was on the October 1781 siege, which not only brought about the surrender of British forces under General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, but also hastened the eventual end of hostilities between Britain and her former colonies. More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working at the museum for special occasions as a volunteer for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation (JYF).
The Foundation has since expanded its view of Revolutionary America with a new museum, built upon the bones of the original, which looks beyond the confines of the Yorktown siege and takes a broader view of the conflict as a whole. In the fall of 2016, JYF opened its new American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown.
The building itself is large and impressive, with over 22,000 square feet (I’m told) of exhibition space. There is a natural flow between the various galleries, which chronicle our nation’s journey from subjugated colonies to Republic. Visitors, especially those who are not well versed in the history of the Revolutionary War, can more easily follow “the road” that led to our independence.
I started my visit by viewing the new introductory film, “Victory Forever”. The story of the Revolution is told by a 19th century showman who has visited many of the sites associated with the war and the events preceding its outbreak. As I began my own trip “down the road”, I was happy to see that the Foundation’s impressive collection of 18th century weapons and other artifacts are part of this new vision. There are new acquisitions on display as well, such as an original broadside of the Declaration of Independence which dates back to 1776.
There are new interactive films and exhibition galleries that tell the story first of the changing relationship between America and Britain after the end of the Seven Year’s War or, as it was known in America, the French and Indian War. This, of course, includes the rifts that arose beginning in the 1760’s over taxation.
The “Revolution” exhibition chronicles the weapons and tactics used in the conflict itself, from Lexington and Concord to Yorktown. And I was pleased to see an exhibition that focuses on the war in the south and the major players who led those events such as Daniel Morgan, the “Gamecock” Thomas Sumter, and the notorious Banastre Tarleton.
In prior years, the site also featured a Continental Army encampment and a 1780’s-era Virginia farmstead. The encampment has been expanded to include a small amphitheater for use in artillery and small arms demonstrations. This farm area is also undergoing considerable change as it will now represent a Virginia farmstead during the Revolutionary War era. Not yet completed, a conversation with friend and farm site manager Jay Templin gave me an idea as to some of the changes that are coming. “We’re now presenting life during the Revolution so we’ll need to scale back; there will be changes to what we’re growing.” Said Templin. “We’ll certainly still be growing some tobacco but not the large field as in years past.”
Although the American Revolutionary War Museum at Yorktown opened to the public in October, it is generally considered a “soft opening” as the entire site is not yet in its completed state. I’m told by staff there that the grand opening is slated for March 2017. I have to say that I was pleased with the new facilities and the fact that the focus of the museum is now on the broader era of the war. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit.