The Institute acquires hundreds of items each year for its library and museum collections. Here is a selection of the most important, rare, unusual or intriguing. Each contributes to the great aim of the Institute—to ensure proper understanding and appreciation of the enduring importance of the American Revolution.
A Massachusetts Minute Man’s Sword
From his home in western Massachusetts to the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, Ensign James Taylor carried a hanger at his side through his service in the Revolutionary War. The entirely American-made short sword, used by infantrymen as a secondary weapon in close combat, reflects both the popularity of British styles and a growing independence among American cutlers in the late eighteenth century.
French and Indian War Journal Documents the Brutality of War
The brutality of warfare in the North American wilderness during the French and Indian War comes through vividly in the manuscript journal kept by Rudolph Bentinck, a Dutch-born lieutenant in the Royal American Regiment of the British army. The journal also includes mention of Col. George Washington, commander of the Virginia provincial troops during the French and Indian War.
Gold Eagle Owned by Allan McLane
The most recognizable symbol of the Society of the Cincinnati is its historic insignia known as the Eagle, a gold badge that is as old as the American republic. This rare example was owned by Capt. Allan McLane, a Revolutionary War hero from Delaware.
Lost Revolutionary War Journal Found
This long-lost original manuscript journal kept by James Melvin, a young Massachusetts soldier, documents his march with Gen. Benedict Arnold to Quebec in 1775 and his subsequent imprisonment in Canada. The nearly daily account records the arduous trek north, the Battle of Quebec and his seven months of captivity.
First Depiction of a Homeless American Veteran
John Neagle’s oil portrait of Joseph Winter, painted in Philadelphia in 1830, is the earliest-known depiction of a homeless American veteran. This somber and arresting painting hints at the financial struggles many soldiers of the Revolution faced in old age and the ongoing fight for federal pension benefits for the remaining Revolutionary War veterans.
Landmark French Map of Yorktown
This landmark French map—one of the most comprehensive of the Yorktown campaign—presents the actions, on land and at sea, that resulted in the decisive victory of the allied forces. Encompassing the Chesapeake Bay region all the way up to the Potomac River, the map emphasizes the key role of the French navy in sealing off the entrance to the bay, trapping Cornwallis’s army on the Yorktown peninsula.
“Thunder Box” of the Battlefield
Few weapons inspire imagination about the sounds of a Revolutionary War battlefield like a blunderbuss, a short, smoothbore firearm that was best used in short range. This British blunderbuss made during the era of the American Revolution would have been issued to cavalry or naval troops for use in close-quarter combat.
Rare Peale Mezzotint of Lafayette
This rare mezzotint portrait of the marquis de Lafayette—based on a portrait of Lafayette that Peale painted from life in 1780 for George Washington—captures the direct gaze of the young major general at the age of twenty-three, wearing his Continental Army uniform. This print was part of a planned series of mezzotints of “illustrious personages” of the Revolution that Peale undertook in 1787.