First-of-its-kind Museum of the American Revolution set to open

This month, workers put the finishing touches on the Museum of the American Revolution. It took them eight hours to hang a painting of George Washington at the end of the war, and it’s taken more than a decade to get to this point.

In 2012, collections director for the museum Scott Stephenson gave “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Anthony Mason a preview of some of the items that will go on display.

Some of the historic items include a musket used in the Battles of Lexington and Concord -- the first action in the war of independence -- and a soldier’s canteen inscribed with the word “USTATES”, one of only three known to have survived.

Stephenson, now the vice president of collections, exhibitions and programming, said, “If you think about it, at this point the United States is still just an idea.”  

For years, the 3,000 items in this collection have been looking for a permanent home. This week, they’ll finally have one in what will be the first national museum to tell the entire story of the American Revolution. 

“It’s been a long time coming but I’m glad it’s here,” said Brown University professor Gordon Wood.  

Wood, a scholar of the revolution, said, “There have been museums for almost every conceivable event in American history or person in American history. But not the American Revolution. Which is extraordinary when you think of the revolution as the most important event in our history.”

The museum’s collection will include a letter, written in Washington’s own hand, celebrating the French joining the cause. The original enlistment form for recruits to an uprising printed in the spring of 1775 will also be featured, according to Stephenson.

A portion of the document reads, “And enlist ourselves as soldiers in the Massachusetts service for the preservation of the liberties of America.” The beginning of the army.

ctm-0415-revolutionary-war-museum-1.jpg
CBS News

The carvings on a soldier’s powder horn show that the stakes were high, with phrases like “kill or be killed” and “liberty or death.” 

The museum will also feature the faces of the revolution -- pictures taken of Revolutionary War veterans during the earliest days of photography. Some of these former soldiers were more than 100 years old when they posed for these pictures.

A 20-foot piece of canvas was General Washington’s home during the war.

ctm-sat-041517-tent.jpg
CBS News

“Personally, I think it’s chilling to think about the emotions that were felt underneath this canvas,” Stephenson said.

Now, out of storage, the tent is once again set up -- this time not on the fields of Valley Forge, but behind a layer of thick protective glass.

“To be an American is not to be somebody, but to believe in something. And the things we believe in came out of that revolution,” Wood said.

Washington’s victories led to the birth of a nation, and that story is written in this collection -- artifacts of an act of defiance that would literally change the world.