Revolutionary War will get a museum filled with artifacts from collection

(CBS News) PHILADELPHIA - There are museums dedicated to barbed wire and Spam, hobos and yo-yos -- even trash. Yet there is no major museum for the treasures of the American Revolution. But there are plans to right that wrong -- with a museum to be built with public and private funds in the city where America was born.

In a secret location in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Scott Stephenson has been cataloging artifacts form the Revolutionary War.

He shows us a musket used in the Battle of Lexington and Concord -- the first action in the war of independence. He also has a soldier's canteen -- one only three known to have survived:

It says "U. States."

"If you think about it at this point the United States is still just an idea," Stephenson said.

Revolutionary War musket
A musket used in the Battle of Lexington and Concord is one of 3,000 Revolutionary War artifacts being donated to a new museum in Philadelphia documenting the Revolution.

For years the 3,000 items in his collection have been looking for a permanent home. By 2015, they'll finally have one, when the Museum of the American Revolution opens in Philadelphia, across from Independence Hall. Amazingly, it 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, a scholar of the revolution.

"There have been museums for almost every conceivable event in American history or person in American history. But not for the American Revolution," Wood said, "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. It was donated just this month.

Another item: An enlistment form for recruits to an uprising.

"This is the original," Stephenson says. "Printed in the spring of 1775." It represents the beginning of the army.

The carvings on a soldier's powder horn show the stakes were high: "Kill or be killed," it reads. "Liberty or death."

Revolutionary War powder horn
A soldier's powder horn is one of more than 3,000 Revolutionary War artifacts that will be shown in the new Museum of the American Revolution set to open in Philadelphia.

But the prize of the collection is a 20-foot piece of canvas -- a tent that served as General Washington's home during the war.

"This is it. This is the roof under which he spent at least half of the American Revolution," Stephenson said. "Personally, I think it's chilling to think about the emotions that were felt underneath this canvas."

Washington's victories led to the birth of a nation. "To be an American is not to be something, but to believe in something," Wood said. "And the things that we believe in came out of that revolution."

The story is written in this collection -- artifacts from an act of defiance that would literally change the world.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"