Illustration of an automated mill for processing grain

This illustration of an automated mill for processing grain appeared in Oliver Evans’ “The Young Mill-wright & Miller’s Guide,” published in 1795.

To the Millers—The Subscribers have a Merchant-Mill on Redclay Creek, 3 Miles above Newport, Newcastle County, Delaware, with Evans’s new-invented Elevators and Hopperboys erected in her.  John, Theophilus, & Oliver Evans

Thus read a broadside advertising a new invention for the new United States, an automated grain mill.  The mill was invented in 1787 by Oliver Evans (1755-1819) of Delaware.  Evans was an inventor of a machine for making card teeth for carding wool, a high-pressure steam engine and a refrigeration machine.  But his most important invention was his grain mill apparatus.

After the American Revolution, the country was in an economic crisis.  The United States plunged into a recession, with high taxes, a large war debt, and a weak central government.  But a growing domestic market in the 1780s caused some industries to expand.  The Middle Colonies, particularly Pennsylvania and Maryland, supported large grain growing regions, which paved the way for an entrepreneur like Oliver Evans to invent and patent a machine to make grain grinding easier.

In Evans’ flour mill, all the work was done by a variety of machines geared to the same water wheel.  Only two men were needed, one to empty bags of wheat at one end of the machine, and one to close and roll away barrels of flour at the other end.  Mill owners in the Delaware Valley gradually began to replace their older, laborious mills with Evans’ product.  Even George Washington installed Evans’ invention at his gristmill at Mount Vernon!

Rochambeau and Cornwallis on Opposing Sides
in Two Major Battles – Minden and Yorktown

In 1781 French general Count Rochambeau and British general Lord Cornwallis commanded opposing forces during the final major conflict of the American Revolution at Yorktown.  It was the second time the two men were participants in the same decisive battle.  On August 1, 1759, an allied British-German force achieved a famous victory over the French army at the Battle of Minden in Germany.  Rochambeau commanded a regiment that formed part of the French forces defeated there, while Cornwallis, a 19-year-old who had joined the army less than two years earlier, was a staff officer attached to the British forces who won at Minden.

The Battle of Minden has another curious connection to the American Revolution.  General  George Sackville, one of the commanders of the British troops at Minden, disgraced himself during the battle by refusing to attack when ordered to do so.  Subsequently he was court-martialed and thrown out of the army.  Sackville chose politics as his second career and by the time of the American Revolution had become part of Lord North’s cabinet.  In his role as Secretary of State for the American Department, Lord George Germain, as he was then known, was responsible for many of the unwise military decisions that led ultimately to the French and American victory at Yorktown.

Cornwallis and Rochambeau fought on opposing side at two major battles – Minden in 1759 and Yorktown in 1781.

Cornwallis and Rochambeau were on opposing side at two major battles – Minden in 1759 and Yorktown in 1781. The portrait of Cornwallis (left), by Daniel Gardner, is in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection and is on exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Townshend’s Folly

Portrait of Charles Townshend

Portrait of Charles Townshend by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Had Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend wanted to provoke the American colonies into rebellion, he could not have devised a better scheme than his Revenue Act of 1767.  This act imposed duties on imported lead, glass, paint, paper and tea.  Revenues would pay for salaries of some royal colonial officials, salaries previously paid by the colonial assemblies.  Now Townshend and Parliament hoped to take “the power of the purse” away from the colonies and make most colonial administrators answerable only to the King. 

To collect these new duties, the Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767 unleashed an army of royal customs commissioners whose main purpose was to enforce trade regulations and collect fines.  The Revenue Act also reaffirmed the legality of writs of assistance, which allowed customs officials to search houses and businesses for smuggled goods.

Townshend knew his new program would be controversial in the colonies but argued, “The superiority of the mother country can at no time be better exerted than now.”

Responding to these “Townshend acts,” John Dickinson published a series of 12 essays entitled “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to Inhabitants of the British Colonies.”  He argued that taxes imposed on the colonies by Parliament for the purpose of raising revenue were unconstitutional and an affront to all English people.  Even though tax rates were low, he warned colonists not to agree to them because this would set a dangerous precedent.  Widely re-published throughout the colonies and Great Britain, his letters ushered the cause of American liberty onto the global stage.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts General Court (legislature) began a campaign against the Townshend acts.  First, a petition was sent to the King asking for repeal of the Revenue Act.  Then Sam Adams penned the Massachusetts Circular Letter, approved by the court on February 11, 1768.  Sent to the other 12 colonies, this letter pointed out these duties constituted “taxation without representation” and violated the British Constitution and natural rights of the colonists.   It further stated that governors and judges must be answerable to the colonial legislatures, and it argued for the previous arrangement whereby the colonies were taxed only by their own colonial assemblies.  The letter concluded with a call to active resistance. 

Secretary of State Lord Hillsborough in London ordered the Massachusetts General Court to revoke the letter, but the body voted against this action.  In response, Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard dissolved the assembly on the grounds of sedition.  Mob violence ensued with attacks on custom officials, and Lord Hillsborough countered by sending four regiments of British soldiers to Boston.  Their arrival in October 1768 did nothing to calm the stormy waters.

The colonies were becoming accustomed to taking united action against what they saw as their common enemy.  Boycotts of British goods were renewed, with such a devastating impact to British merchants that widespread popular and parliamentary support grew for a more liberal colonial policy.

On March 5, 1770, new Prime Minister Lord North presented a motion to repeal the Townshend duties – all but the tax on tea.  Ironically, this was the same day as the Boston Massacre, an incident in which British soldiers killed five men.   Repeal came the following month.

Alas, Charles Townshend was not destined to see the results of his handiwork.  He contracted typhus and died suddenly on September 4, 1767.

 American-Made Bureau Features Patriotic Designs
By David B. Voelkel, Curator 

American made bureau with patriotic design

This 1790s bureau, with American eagle inlays set into the exterior side of the fall front, is currently on view in “The Legacy of Yorktown: Virginia Beckons” exhibition at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

In 2000, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation purchased a fall-front desk embellished with three oval inlays of a patriotic mode.  The piece, correctly called a bureau in the 18th century, was made somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region during the 1790s by an as-yet-unidentified cabinetmaker.  The American eagle inlays so prominently set into the exterior side of the fall front speak to an important development in American history – the turn of revolutionary events leading to the formation of a modern democracy in North America.

The July 4, 1776, acceptance of the Declaration of Independence is information known by all Americans from their earliest school days, but are you aware that on that very evening a committee of three – Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams – was appointed by the Continental Congress to devise a symbol for the new nation, a seal of the United States of America?

A number of years – and several designs – passed before Congressional secretary, Charles Thomson, submitted his own with an eagle as the focal point of the Great Seal.  It was adopted by Congress, and the American eagle as our nation’s symbol was born.

In the decades following the American Revolution, nationalism developed, and the eagle of the Great Seal embodied the spirit of the young republic.  The image was unmistakably American.  The American eagle belonged to a free, independent people of a new nation that had recently broken away from the most powerful empire in the world.  Its arrows would defend it against any would-be oppressor, and its olive branch would be extended to all peace-seekers.

Classically inspired pictorial inlays, such as Grecian urns, became fashionable in British furniture in the late 18th century and crossed the Atlantic to embellish American Federal furniture.  American cabinetmakers were inspired and turned to the American eagle as one of their choices for a nationalistic design. These inlaid eagle pieces were produced from the late 1780s until the 1820s, from the deep South to the new state of Maine, when feelings of nationalism were at their height.


American Revolution Museum at Yorktown lobby

An artist's rendering of the lobby in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Construction, starting with a section of new parking space, gets under way this month.

Work begins this month on building the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to replace the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.  W.M. Jordan Company, Inc., of Newport News is construction manager for the first phases of the project, including a new 80,000-square-foot facility and visitor parking areas and eventual demolition of existing structures.

While some exhibits and parking availability will be impacted at various stages, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will continue in operation as a museum of the American Revolution throughout construction.  The phases managed by W.M. Jordan Company start with a section of new parking space and removal of the museum’s “Road to Revolution” open-air timeline exhibit, continue with construction of the new building, and conclude with demolition of existing gallery, visitor services and maintenance buildings.

The new building, situated on the 22-acre site to directly face the roadway entrance to the museum, will encompass expanded exhibition galleries, classrooms and support functions. New permanent gallery exhibits will be fabricated and installed over an approximately two-year period after the building is in use, and the museum’s outdoor re-created Continental Army encampment and Revolutionary-period farm will be expanded and relocated. 

Architect for the museum replacement project is Westlake Reed Leskosky of Cleveland, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., with Hopke & Associates of Williamsburg as associate architect.  Gallagher & Associates of Silver Spring, Md., is exhibit designer.  Upon completion of the entire project, “American Revolution Museum at Yorktown” will be the museum’s name.


Jack Jouett silhouette
This silhouette of Jack Jouett was made by his son Matthew Harris Jouett.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year…    

                                                         Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1861


Hearken good people: awhile abide:
And hear of stout Jack Jouett’s ride;
How he rushed his steed, nor stopped nor stayed
Till he warned the people of Tarleton’s raid

                                                    Charlottesville Daily Press, 1909

Jack Jouett was a captain in the 16th regiment of the Virginia militia during the American Revolution.  In June of 1781 Lord Cornwallis learned that Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislature had fled to Charlottesville after Benedict Arnold had taken Richmond.  Cornwallis ordered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to Charlottesville to capture them.  Jouett learned of Tarleton’s advance on Charlottesville and rode through the night of June 3 and 4 to warn his fellow Virginians that the British were coming!  He succeeded, as Jefferson and most of the legislature escaped capture.

The Prison Ship HMS Jersey

sea service musket

Guards posted on the Jersey shot prisoners when they tried to escape. This 18th-century British sea service musket was recently acquired by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation for the Yorktown collection.

Patriots taken as prisoners of war by the British Army in America often were confined aboard prison ships.  Using ships as prisons was a common 18th-century British practice, since the Crown always seemed to have plenty of surplus naval vessels that could be converted to prisons cheaply and easily.  The most notorious of the British prison ships in American waters was HMS Jersey, an obsolete British naval vessel that was used to confine thousands of American prisoners in New York harbor from 1776 to 1783.  Conditions aboard the Jersey and the other New York prison ships were terrible; more than 10,000 American prisoners died on these ships during the course of the war.

While the Jersey was not the only British “prison hulk” to house American prisoners of war, conditions of crowding, disease and abuse seem to have been particularly bad aboard this ship.   To American patriots the Jersey became a symbol of British tyranny.  One famous American confined aboard a British prison hulk was the poet Philip Freneau, who wrote one of his best-known poems about the experience.

ungenerous Britons, you Conspire to murder whom you can’t subdue – line from “The British Prison Ship,” 1780, Philip Freneau

‘American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’ Will Replace American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

The distinctive two-story main entrance of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will provide a focal point for arriving visitors.

The distinctive two-story main entrance of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will provide a focal point for arriving visitors.

Along with a physical transformation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will come a new name – “American Revolution Museum at Yorktown” – adopted May 10 by the Board of Trustees of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Virginia state agency that operates American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Jamestown Settlement, and endorsed by the Board of Directors of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc.  Recommended by a board naming study task force, the new name will be implemented upon completion of the museum replacement, and in the meantime the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will continue in operation as a museum of the American Revolution.

Construction is expected to start in the second half of 2012 on the project, which includes an 80,000-square-foot structure encompassing expanded exhibition galleries, classrooms and support functions; enhancement of the outdoor Continental Army encampment and Revolutionary-period farm interpretive areas; and reorganization of the 22-acre site.  Visit http://www.historyisfun.org/new-yorktown-museum.htm to learn more.

George Washington Statue by Hubard After Houdon

Hubard statue of George Washington
The 19th-century plaster statue of George Washington by William James Hubard, now in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection, recently underwent conservation.


This life-size cast plaster statue of George Washington once stood in the Hall of Representatives in the U.S. Capitol.  It is an exact replica of the marble statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon that resides in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, a building designed by Thomas Jefferson.  Crafted by the artist William James Hubard, the plaster statue has had a long and tumultuous life.

In 1786, three years after Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to return to private life, the Virginia General Assembly resolved to honor him with a “monument of affection and gratitude” by commissioning a statue of the “finest marble and best workmanship” to be exhibited in the Capitol Rotunda.  American ambassador to Paris, Thomas Jefferson, recommended Houdon, a French neoclassical sculptor, and Houdon insisted upon traveling to Virginia to study George Washington for the statue.

At Mount Vernon, Houdon executed wet clay life models and a plaster life mask.  These served as models for the statue, created between 1786 and 1795.  Houdon portrayed Washington as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who left his land to fight for his country and, after victory as a general, returned to his farm as a man of simplicity and peace.  He wears his military uniform but carries a civilian walking stick.  This statue was considered by contemporaries to be the best living likeness of George Washington.

In 1853 the Virginia General Assembly approved a request from sculptor William James Hubard to make castings of Houdon’s statue.  Hubard was a British-born artist who began his career as a silhouette portrait cutter and later worked in Boston and New York as a portrait painter.  By mid-century he was operating a foundry in Richmond, Virginia.  Hubard took castings directly from Houdon’s masterpiece and then made a mold from these castings.  Holding the exclusive right to make copies over a term of seven years, the artist created bronze and plaster statues from this mold.  The end result was a faithful copy of Houdon’s work and a remarkable life portrait of Washington in uniform.

Six of Hubard’s bronze copies are known today, but this may be the only surviving plaster rendition.  This plaster copy was manufactured in Hubard’s Richmond studio between 1856 and1860.  The U.S. government ordered a copy in 1860, but the Civil War broke out before it could be delivered.  The statue remained in Hubard’s possession, even after the artist converted his studio from statue casting to ammunition manufacturing.   In 1862 Hubard died in an accident while serving in the war, but his widow finally sold the statue for $2,000 to the U.S. government in 1870.

Hubard’s statue stood in the Hall of Representatives for 80 years, gradually suffering the ravages of time, including losses to its base and sword hilt.  In 1950 the Architect of the U.S. Capitol transferred it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was stored for more than a half century.  In 2007 it was rescued by the intervention of the Library of Virginia and was later given to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, which has had the piece conserved and will prominently display it in the new museum replacing the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

The Yorktown Chronicles

Yorktown Chronicles home page

Home page of The Yorktown Chronicles

American colonists, unhappy with the way Britain was trying to tax and control them following the French and Indian War, at first attempted reconciliation with the mother country but eventually turned to armed conflict and a declaration of their independence.  The British, on the other hand, thought it only fair that the colonists pay for the protection of their homeland and were surprised by such a negative reaction from the Americans.

As conflict between the American colonies and Great Britain intensified in the 1770s, two men stepped forward to defend their principles and countrymen.  One man stayed fiercely loyal to his king, and the other was devoted to the cause of freedom.  The stories of these two men, George Washington and Charles Cornwallis, are featured in The Yorktown Chronicles, a new Web section of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation site, www.historyisfun.org. In character portrayals, Washington and Cornwallis share the American and British perspective on key American Revolution topics in eight dynamic films.  The Yorktown Chronicles engage those interested in learning more about the Revolution through timelines, biographies, essays and a glossary of terms. 

Enjoy exploring this exciting new resource for American Revolution enthusiasts, students and educators.  Please share your impressions of The Yorktown Chronicles.

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