Ship to tell story of the American Revolution
Ship to tell story of the American Revolution In a Wednesday, July 13, 2016 photo, Dave Dormond and India Gilham-Westerman work on a replica of a privateer ship for the Museum of the American Revolution, at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Ship to tell story of the American Revolution
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Visitors to the birthplace of America can soon climb aboard a life-size Revolutionary era privateer ship. It will be in the heart of Philadelphia's historic district. But the visitors will stay firmly planted on land.
Builders working with the Museum of the American Revolution are crafting half of a ship. It will be 45 feet long. That is big enough to impress in scope and scale. The ship will invite visitors to learn a lesser-known story of the Revolution. They will do it through the story of 14-year-old James Forten.
The ship will act as one of the museum's primary immersive exhibits. It will explore maritime involvement in the Revolution and highlight Forten. He was a free African-American boy. He served on a privateer ship. He became a prominent abolitionist and wealthy Philadelphia businessman. The museum is set to open in April. It will be just two blocks from Independence Hall.
R. Scott Stephenson is the museum's vice president of collections, exhibitions and programming. He said Forten "represents a founding generation."  Forten's story spans ethnicities, backgrounds and ages.
Philadelphia's Penn's Landing was one of the major maritime ports during the Revolution. Stephenson said, "many don't know African-American men and white men fought side by side on ships. And that they were probably the most integrated places in the (war) effort."
To help the public learn more about the war effort and allow them to easily walk aboard a Revolutionary era boat, the museum asked for a ship. But it wanted one that wouldn't float!  Building such a ship was a bit counterintuitive for shipwright Mark Donahue.
"We're building a boat that won't float. It kind of messes around with our minds some of the time," Donahue said. He is director of the Workshop of the Water at the Independence Seaport Museum.
Donahue led some 20 people tasked with crafting the $175,000 replica. It has been a nearly yearlong process. About one thousand pieces will be transferred to the museum in August. The ship will be reassembled on site.
The exhibit will have an accessible ramp. The builders also will outfit the ship with lights to create the illusion of water. A speaker system will surround the exhibit with sounds of people working on a privateer ship.
Stephenson said the museum's exhibits will create a "connecting narrative" for historic pieces spread across Philadelphia and the nation. It is a story that is often lost, he said.
"Nowadays probably the most important single thing we can do is get people to believe any of this really happened," he said.
Stephenson said the ship exhibit is centered on Forten's story. He said the museum's artifacts will explore "one of the great unfinished aspects of the American Revolution: making the promise of equality apply to all people."

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