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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

George Washington’s War Tent

Museum of the American Revolution - Joy of Museums 1

George Washington’s War Tent

One of the most iconic artefacts from the American Revolutionary War is the field tent used by General George Washington as his wartime headquarters. George Washington used it from 1778 – 1783, and it witnessed many historic moments during the War of Independence.

General George Washington used a pair of campaign tents or marquees throughout the American Revolutionary War. In warm weather, he used one for dining with his officers and aides, and the other as his military office and sleeping quarters. This tent was used by Washington’s as his military office and sleeping tent.

The office tent was the workplace of Washington’s headquarters staff, where they managed the commander-in-chief’s correspondence and made copies of his orders. A divided section of the shelter was where Washington slept. Washington’s enslaved valet William Lee also slept there.

“… the smaller, or sleeping tent, had an inner-chamber, where, on a hard cot-bed, the chief reposed. Within its venerable folds, Washington was in the habit of seeking privacy and seclusion, where he could commune with himself, and where he wrote the most memorable of his despatches in the Revolutionary war.”

The tents were inherited by Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. He passed them on to his daughter and her husband, Robert E. Lee. Their enslaved housekeeper, Selina Norris Gray, kept the tent safe when Union Army soldiers ransacked Arlington House during the American Civil War. The tent was among the Washington artefacts seized by the federal government in 1862 when the grounds of Arlington House were converted into Arlington National Cemetery.

Washington's Marquee Burk 1920 p.172

Washington’s office and sleeping tent in 1911

George Washington

George Washington (1732 – 1799) was an American political leader, military general and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States. He commanded the forces in the new nation’s American Revolutionary War, and he led them to victory over the British. Washington also presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which established the new federal government.

Washington’s first career was as a land surveyor, he then became a leader of the Virginia militia in the French and Indian War. During the Revolutionary War, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress and was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Army. He led the allied campaign to victory at the Siege of Yorktown which ending the conflict.

Washington was unanimously elected President by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. He promoted a strong, well-financed national government, but remained impartial in the fierce rivalry between subordinates Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Washington set many precedents for the office of president, including the title “President of the United States”.

Washington owned African slaves, but became troubled with slavery and freed them in his will. He was a member of the Anglican Church and the Freemasons and urged tolerance for all religions in his roles as General and President.

Reflections

  • Would the American Revolutionary War have been won against the SuperPower of the day without the unifying leadership of Washington?
  • Amazing to discover the tent used by George Washington as his military office and sleeping tent during the American Revolutionary War?
  • Has this tent which witnesses extraordinary people and challenging circumstances, survived to remind us of the importance of leadership?
  • How much of his correspondence was written by Hamilton?

Exploring the Museum of the American Revolution

Explore George Washington

George Washington’s War Tent

~~~

“Be courteous to all,
but intimate with few,
and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

– George Washington

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) GM 2) By Rev. W. Herbert Burk (1867-1933) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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