Visit to the American Revolution Museum in Yorktown, VA

My mom and I just returned from a trip to Yorktown, VA, to see the newly renovated and expanded American Revolution Museum (formerly known as the Yorktown Victory Center). I had a fabulous time, and I would definitely recommend it to OUTLANDER fans, especially if you like seeing what the 18th-century items mentioned in Diana Gabaldon's books actually looked like.

The highlight of our trip was the "living history" part of the museum. They have recreated both a Revolutionary War army encampment and a typical farm homestead from the period, so you get a good look at the way ordinary people lived. The museum itself was very interesting. They have artifacts and exhibits spanning the Colonial period, the war years, and the aftermath of the Revolution. It's well done for the most part, though we thought the lighting was too dim in places, making it difficult to see some of the items in the display cases.

Here are some of the highlights of our visit to the museum, including many items that I think anyone who's read the OUTLANDER books will appreciate.

First, we visited the army encampment. As we entered the area, an officer at the first table we saw asked if I wanted to enlist in the Continental Army. I said, "Sure, why not?"

This was my first experience writing with a quill. It was fun. After I signed the paper, the man sprinkled a bit of sand on it to make the ink dry faster.

I was delighted to find that the whole museum complex, including the outdoor areas, was wheelchair-accessible, and I had no difficulty in getting around. We were very lucky with the weather!

This is an abatis, which you may recall from AN ECHO IN THE BONE.

Communal army kitchen. For more about these kitchens, look here.

Each group of soldiers sharing a tent had their own individual food-preparation area around the perimeter of the circle, basically just a small pit dug in the ground, barely big enough for a small fire to cook whatever food they had.

Soldier's kit, including eating utensils, razor, a deck of cards, and other miscellaneous items. The bag at the right contains beans, which were part of the soldier's rations.

Soldier's rations, and the 18th-century equivalent of a hot-plate on which to cook them.

Laundry area. This would have been run by "camp followers", women who traveled with the army. Click on the photo for a view of the price list.

The re-enactors are very good, and we particularly liked the man who did the musket demonstration. He stressed the fact that 18th-century muskets were not very accurate, even at a distance of 100 yards, but that didn't lessen the danger for the troops at all. "Suppose the enemy soldier aims his weapon at you. He might hit the man standing next to you instead." Using mass volleys of musket fire increased the odds that some shots would hit their targets.

Imagine trying to load, aim, and fire a musket (a pretty complicated series of steps) in 15 seconds, in the midst of all the smoke and confusion of battle, while enemy soldiers are rushing toward you with bayonets. It sounds terrifying!

Cooking on the open hearth, very much as Claire, or Mrs. Bug, would have done on the Ridge. When I asked what they were making, one of the women lifted the cover of the small Dutch oven shown here, revealing a delicious-looking loaf of cornbread.

Herbs hung to dry in the rafters of the farm kitchen.

Barrel of salt, used for preserving food.

Demonstrating the use of a bed-key to tighten a rope mattress, like the one Claire used in ABOSAA:
I piled up the pillows at the head of the bed—pausing to remove the dirk—then began to climb onto it. I paused again, though, and instead bent to wind the bedkey, tightening the ropes that supported the mattress until the bedstead groaned and the ropes gave a creaking twang.

“Verra canny, Sassenach,” Jamie said behind me, sounding amused.

“Experience,” I informed him, clambering over the newly tautened bed on hands and knees. “I’ve waked up often enough after a night with you, with the mattress folded up round my ears and my arse no more than an inch off the ground.”

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 7, "James Fraser, Indian Agent". Copyright ©2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Spinning wool.

Army surgeon's supplies. The device shown at bottom left is used for trepanation (boring a hole into a patient's skull), as Dr. Fentiman did for Lord John in DRUMS.

More medical and surgical supplies. The big bottle in the foreground contains laudanum. Notice the bleeding bowl in the center of this photo, with several fleams, and consider that the army surgeons at the time probably didn't clean their instruments between uses.

This medical chest is very much like the one Jamie gave Claire in DRUMS.

Soldier's canteen.

The Declaration of Independence, set in 18th-century type just like Jamie would have used.

Silver shoe buckles.

Portable lighting kit: flint, steel, and candle holder.

Brazier. This was used as a small portable stove.

Naval cannon. It's surprisingly small, maybe four feet long.

Naval weapons. The long rod with a sponge on one end is used for cleaning the barrel of a cannon.

Siege cannon used in the siege of Yorktown in 1781. It's enormous (with 24-pound cannon balls!) and must have taken a tremendous effort to transport.

This statue oGeorge Washington and French Admiral Fran├žois de Grasse, who commanded the French fleet at Yorktown in 1781, is located in a small shopping district near the museum.

My mom and I, relaxing at the end of a long (but very satisfying) day.

We had a wonderful time exploring the American Revolution Museum. It definitely lived up to my expectations, and I would highly recommend it for OUTLANDER fans!


Mary Tormey said...

Hi Karen, thanks for sharing , you must have felt like you were visiting a part of Jamie & Claire's world, and expected to be running into them at any moment, it must have been fascinating seeing all of the tents and how solidgers lived back then , I went to Gettysburg a few years ago and saw very much the same things , I hope to come here within a few years, will be watching season 3 this Fall as well as reading Diana 's new books this Summer , I hope you do too , please post more soon. Happy Week. sincerely

Mary Tormey said...

Hi Karen , I wonder if Diana herself will get a chance to come here while doing research for the next few Outlander novels , I hope so , please post more soon. Love your Blog, please post more soon. Sincerely

Susanlynn said...

Thanks, Karen. Hubba and I are fans of Williamsburg, so perhaps we will check this place out. They now have a guy on horseback representing Washington addressing this troops at Williamsburg!
Perhaps you will visit the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philly next.

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