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Revolutionary impact of the Revolution

ArtAmerican Revolutionary War (1775-1783)Jamestown SettlementRentals

Nearly 232 years after Washington's momentous victory over the British at Yorktown, it can be hard for modern-day Americans to gauge the immensity of the changes unleashed by the Revolution.

The war itself was just one of many ways is which daily life was dramatically transformed, says curator Tom Davidson of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. And not long after the first shot was fired at Lexington, the old colonial world in which the British crown dominated everything from civil authority, trade and fashion to manner of worship quickly begin to give way to a vastly new order.

That's why Jamestown Settlement has assembled some 75 mostly recently acquired artifacts in a new exhibit that leaves nearly a century of American economic, military and cultural dominance behind to revisit a time when 13 barely united colonies boasted fewer than 3 million people.

Following the stories of more than half a dozen Virginians who could trace their roots to Jamestown and the colony's first 100 years, it uses period artworks, weapons, consumer goods, documents and other artifacts to explore some of the forces that transformed the long-time subjects of a king into the citizens of a new and much freer nation.

"The Revolution was so much larger than the war," says Davidson, standing inside the artifact-filled galleries of "Jamestown's Legacy to the American Revolution."

"No matter what side you were on, everybody's life was transformed as Virginia began to realize that it was no longer a colony, it was becoming something different — and people started to recognize that they had this other identity as an independent people."

Ultimately intended for the permanent galleries of the foundation's new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown — a $50 million, 80,000-square facility scheduled to open in 2016 — the stream of new artifacts begins with an imposing late-1700s portrait designed to underscore the power of the British monarchy to influence the lives of its subjects.

Produced by the London studio of Scottish-born artist Allan Ramsay, who became the Principal Painter to King George III in 1761, the 8-foot-tall canvas shows the monarch in his ermine-trimmed coronation robes. Hovering above his head at the top of the towering original gilded frame is an eye-popping facsimile of the royal crown, which embodied his sovereignty over his far-flung dominions.

"This was his favorite portrait," Davidson says.

"It was intended to convey the idea of majesty and to dominate the space it was in — and it did."

The far-flung reaches of British imperial power began to retreat almost instantly, however, once the Revolution started.

Among the artifacts that demonstrates that change most provocatively is a 1751 Book of Common Prayer from Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church, where all the references to the king — who was the head of the English Anglican Church — have been crossed out and replaced with patriotic references to America.

Many other objects resonate with the same kind of message, including an engraved English drinking glass and a cast-silver English spoon, both of which bear slogans that celebrate the cause of liberty as well as the pro-American views of radical English parliamentarian and newspaperman John Wilkes during the Revolution.

"This was born in an English context," Davidson says, describing the image of a bird escaping its cage and the words "I love liberty" emblazoned across the bowl of the spoon.

"But it was soon adopted by many Americans, including Paul Revere — who engraved his own version as the masthead for a Massachusetts newspaper — as a powerful symbol of liberty."

Other objects include an ornate 1774-75 English silver coffee pot, one of several examples representing the pervasive pre-Revolutionary influence of imported English consumer goods in the lives of Virginia merchant planters such as the Ambler family of Jamestown Island.

Then there's a 1783 Land Office Military Warrant, one of thousands that gave Virginia soldiers grants of land in the western territory that now makes up Kentucky and parts of Tennessee and Ohio — and which helped spur a great post-war migration.

Few of the artifacts may be so unexpectedly revealing to modern eyes, however, as a silver-hilted hunting sword decorated with an eagle-head pommel.

Dated 1776, it was carried as a symbol of rank during the war by New York Continental Army officer William McKissack.

"Today, you see the American eagle everywhere," Davidson says.

"But this is one of the very earliest examples of the use of an eagle as a patriotic symbol in an American military context."

Want to go?

"Jamestown's Legacy to the American Revolution"

Where: Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown Road (Route 31) and the Colonial Parkway, James City

When: Through Jan. 20, 2014

Cost: Included in general admission ticket of $16 adults, $7.50 children 6-12

Info: 757-253-4838; http://www.historyisfun.org

Online: Go to dailypress.com/revolutionarylegacy to see a gallery of objects from the exhibit.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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ArtAmerican Revolutionary War (1775-1783)Jamestown SettlementRentals
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