May 16, 2013
Works begins on the first "Oval Office"
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades tailors and seamsters open a new public exhibition Saturday, May 18 when they begin stitching hundreds of yards of linen fabric to fashion a replica of Gen. George Washington’s “oval office” — a large marquee tent that was the commander-in-chief’s home for the last four years of the American Revolution.
Guests are welcome to watch the progress and learn about the logistics of supplying an 18th-century army as the seamsters go about their work Saturday through Wednesday during the summer in the Secretary’s Office next to the Capitol.
Several other Colonial Williamsburg trade shops also are actively involved in reproducing the tent and its pieces. Carpenters and joiners are fashioning wooden poles to support the structure. Blacksmiths are forging iron hardware and pole fittings. Wheelwrights are carving small wooden items and stakes to anchor the tent. The completed marquee will measure 22 feet long, 15 feet wide and ten feet high.
The original tent — a national treasure — will be displayed in the new Museum of the American Revolution when it opens in Philadelphia in 2016. The reproduction being produced by Historic Trades tailors is part of a new partnership between Colonial Williamsburg and the Museum of the American Revolution. Once complete, the reproduction tent will be used by the Museum of the American Revolution for a variety of educational and museum outreach programs in advance of the opening of the Museum of the American Revolution.
The reproduction tent, and associated research on General Washington’s field equipment, is funded in part from a generous grant to the Museum of the American Revolution from the Acorn Foundation Fund for History in Memory of Alexander Orr Vietor.
Admission to the special tent workshop exhibition in the Secretary’s Office is by Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket. For more information, visit www.colonialwilliamsburg.com.
Historical records suggest that the original sleeping and office tent was one of a pair of marquees made for General Washington in early 1778, at the end of the Valley Forge encampment. Washington returned to his Mount Vernon home with his tents and other military equipment in December 1783 after he resigned his commission. Following his death in 1799 and the death of his wife, Martha, in 1802, Washington’s military effects, including the tents were sold at private auction to Martha’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. The tents were displayed periodically at the Custis home, Arlington House, during the ensuing decades until his death in 1857. While Union Army units occupied Arlington House during the Civil War, many of Washington’s military possessions were taken into federal custody until they were returned to the Custis/Lee family in the early 20th century. Various elements of Washington’s field headquarters are now held by institutions including the Museum of the American Revolution, the National Museum of American History, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the National Park Service.