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Dawn of the American Revolution, 1768-1776


The opening years of the American Revolution tested the colonies’ power and resolve to become an independent nation. As leading colonial thinkers began to formulate an argument for sovereignty, thousands of men, young and old alike, volunteered to fight. From the first gunshots of the Boston Massacre of 1770 to the final attempt to hold New York at the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776, the Americans repeatedly clashed with the larger, better-equipped and better-trained British forces. Despite these early defeats, General George Washington rallied his troops and with assistance from the Continent, especially France, persisted in the ultimately successful fight for independence.

Both American and European audiences eagerly sought news of the war from textual accounts, political caricatures, and eyewitness views. The prints and drawings in this exhibition are primarily firsthand visual accounts of the major battles and scenes of the early Revolutionary period. A number of them are by British and American soldiers who participated in the incidents they depicted, and they are often the most accurate, or only, contemporary depictions of these events.

While later depictions frequently dramatize Revolutionary events and figures, and often include classical or mythological references, the personal accounts on view here are remarkably direct and inventive, even if they occasionally reveal some technical naiveté. Historians have relied on these images, and continue to do so, to corroborate written accounts of the period and to construct more comprehensive narratives about the American Revolution.

This exhibition celebrates the deep and diverse holdings of early American prints and drawings in The New York Public Library, primarily the Phelps Stokes Collection, the Emmet Collection, and the Eno Collection, all part of the Print Collection of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, and the collection of Archibald Robertson drawings in the Spencer Collection. Dawn of the American Revolution, 1768–1776 is part of a series of ongoing exhibitions that draw from these holdings to examine issues in American history and the tradition of printmaking.


Nicole Simpson
Print Specialist

This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

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