Hand-painted etching of New York City in flames with citizens and Redcoats fighting in 1776; by Franz Habermann, ca. 1778 (Library of Congress)
“The history of our Revolution will be one continued lie from one end to the other,” wrote John Adams in 1790. “The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the Earth and out sprang General Washington.”
As Adams understood, the real story of the American Revolution is far more than the catalog of deeds done by a handful of famous men. Declaring independence on a piece of parchment on a summer’s day in Philadelphia in 1776 would have meant nothing had not tens of thousands of ordinary Americans been willing to support that cause and fight to make it a reality.
People at the time knew this, though too often today we forget it. As Joseph Plumb Martin, a private in the Continental Army, later put it: “Great men get praise; little men, nothing.”
Richard Bell, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, explores the tumultuous years between 1775 and 1785 from the perspective of these “little men” by examining military recruitment, the wars on the home front and in Indian territory, the struggles of people of color, and the experiences of loyalists.
9:30–10:30 a.m. Hearts and Minds
More than 200,000 men and boys served with what became known as the Continental Army over the 8 years of war. Examine the experience of military life for ordinary enlisted soldiers and the wives and children who tagged along with them.
10:45–11:45 a.m. Homes and Hearths
How did the 1.8 million white non-combatants living in the colonies support the war effort? Bell looks at how the war transform the economic lives of ordinary Americans as they responded to shortages and scarcity. He also analyzes how leaders on both sides tried to turn those civilians toward or against the cause of independence.
12–1 p.m. Tomahawks and Trade Goods
In some ways, the American Revolution was also an Indian war. Bell discusses the critical roles that Native Americans played in determining its outcome, the sides for which they fought, and how the war reshaped the balance of power between them and Europeans on this continent.
1–2 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own.)
2–3 p.m. Race and Rebellion
Both the Continental and the British armies turned to free and enslaved people of color to bolster their troops and provide logistical support. Bell examines how they responded and the ways in which we can understand the American Revolution as a war for racial freedom.
3:15–4 p.m. Fear and Loathing
How does the story of the American Revolution change when told from the perspective of the loyalists? Learn why some ordinary white Americans choose to retain allegiance to Britain and how that decision shaped their experience of the Revolution—and changed their lives once the patriots won the war.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)