My wife, Cheryl, and I were able to get away a few weeks ago to do some historical sightseeing in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We visited Philadelphia, the Delaware Crossing site and Valley Forge, and then went to Trenton and Princeton in New Jersey. If you are somewhat surprised about the visit to New Jersey, it is intriguing to note how much action took place in New Jersey during the American Revolution, really a remarkable amount.
Anyone with interest in the American Revolution has to visit Philadelphia. Many of us could probably identify Philadelphia as the home of the Liberty Bell, but that is just a small piece of all you can see in this East Coast city. Not to be missed is a visit to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence approved. (Interesting historical fact: the vote for Independence was on July 2, 1776; the vote to approve the Declaration of Independence was on July 4.) In the very same room in the summer of 1787, the Constitutional Convention took place. The delegates were supposed to gather and debate updates to the Articles of Confederation. Instead, astonishingly, they met behind closed doors and came up with a proposed Constitution. All of us should be thankful the delegates had the courage and perseverance to do so.
Just a few blocks from Independence Hall is a relatively new site I recommend, the Museum of the American Revolution. I was quite impressed by the well-done interactive displays. The culmination of the museum tour is a theater presentation titled “Washington’s War Tent.” The film follows George Washington’s journey, followed by a viewing of the first president’s actual Revolutionary War headquarters tent.
I also highly recommend the Benjamin Franklin Museum (and associated Franklin Court Printing Office) and the National Constitution Center. The museum is skillfully curated and the live demonstration at the printing office was surprisingly effective. The National Constitution Center is also masterfully put together. After watching the presentation in the Sidney Kimmel Theater, the circular exhibit hall offers insights and interactive displays. My favorite was the display on “Katz vs. United States,” about privacy in the age of electronic wiretaps. The Signer’s Hall is also engaging. The hall contains 42 life-sized bronze statues of the founders who created the Constitution, including those who dissented. You get to see how tall Washington was and how diminutive James Madison was. For those looking for a challenge, find the statue of William Paterson of New Jersey and understand his importance to the proceedings.
This is just scratching the surface of the opportunities in Philadelphia. I haven’t even mentioned Washington Square (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution), Christ Church, the Betsy Ross House, City Tavern, and more. If you do go, I recommend staying in a hotel in the old part of the city close to the historic sights. It will be more expensive, but you are in walking distance of most locations and will not need a rental car. See amrevmuseum.org for details on the Museum of the American Revolution, constitutioncenter.org for information on the National Constitution Center, and nps.gov/inde for Independence National Historical Park specifics.
In a future column, I will cover our visits to Trenton and Princeton, N.J. These battles were critical in the American Revolution. At the time, the Continental Army was bruised and battered, just about at the end of its rope.
Doug McCormick is retired from the Air Force after spending 21 years as a space operator. He started his own business, American History Tours, LLC, and specializes in taking people to see locations associated with significant American history. Send your questions and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.