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George Washington's Camp Chest

The mobility necessary to a military campaign dictated that all of General Washington's field accoutrements be portable. This chest and its contents are often termed a "canteen," or in modern parlance, a camp chest. It was carried with Washington's headquarters equipment in a wagon containing other field gear such as tents. The pots have removable handles so that the containers can be nested like a modern picnic set. This is a relatively inexpensive kit of the form used by officers who purchased them themselves on the open market. The pots, plates, and platters are made of tin-plated sheet iron. This set was sold at auction from his estate after his death and was given to Governor Mainadier, who in turn presented it to the U.S. government for its collections. It was on view in the National Gallery of the Patent Office until it was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1883.

 


George Washington and the Military

On the eve of the American Revolution, George Washington had been retired from military service for 23 years. Yet, Washington's disillusionment with British treatment of American subjects had become so acute that he was once again ready to assume military command. He had already established a reputation for military leadership that crossed colonial borders, and the colonies needed a military leader who would elicit respect and a sense of unity. In 1775, upon his arrival in Philadelphia as one of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, he was elected to command the American Continental Army. By the time the war had ended in 1783, Washington had served eight and a half years as Commander in Chief.

As a gentleman, Washington had learned the necessity of establishing oneself in a "uniformly handsome and genteel manner" and the importance of distinguishing among social classes. As a colonel of the Virginia Regiment, he had concluded that the "character and appearance" of officers is important. These lessons from experience, as well as the need to make the ragtag Continental Army appear to the enemy to be a legitimate professional military organization, prompted Washington to demand the deference due a commanding general, and equip himself with the proper accoutrements.

 


George Washington, First President, 1789-1797

It was almost inevitable that George Washington, one of the most respected men in the colonies and the hero of the Revolutionary War, would be unanimously elected the first president of the United States. Washington was well aware of the importance of the example he was setting for all presidents to come, and performed his duties with this is mind. It was Washington who decided that the president should live in the same place where he worked, his New York lodgings becoming the precursor to the White House; he created the presidential cabinet, with whom he met regularly to go over matters of state; and he helped to select the site and design the city that would become the capital of the new nation. Washington's courage in battle, dignified bearing, and universally admired strength of character earned him the name "Father of His Country," and to this day we recognize the importance of his contributions to the United States.

 


"Washington Accepting Command of the Armies"

"Washington Accepting Command of the Armies," from the recording entitled "Heritage USA: The American Revolution," Folkways SFW FX SH 5190, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1959. Used by permission.

April 19th, 1775. The Battle of Lexington, "The shot heard ‘round the world." The war had begun. The Second Continental Congress organized an army and appointed George Washington of Virginia to its Command. On the 16th of June Washington Addressed Congress.

Partial Transcript:
"…yet I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important trust. However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for the support of the glorious cause…"

 


 

Related Images

Cooking gear and utensils pack neatly in the
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Cooking gear and utensils pack neatly in the "canteen"
George Washington (1732-1799)
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George Washington (1732-1799)
George Washington (1732-1799)
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George Washington (1732-1799)


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