“Within These Walls” Exhibition Has More Stories To Tell June 28

National Museum of American History Asks What Does a House Say About Slavery and Liberty?

June 14, 2017

The largest artifact in the National Museum of America History, a two-and-a-half-story house, continues to reveal its history. The exhibition that houses it, “Within These Walls,” is being expanded with new scholarship and will gain additional interpretive layers for a June 28 opening. The show is one of the exhibitions in a newly transformed wing of the museum’s second floor. Under the theme, The Nation We Build Together, all the exhibitions on this floor tell the story of America’s founding and future as a country built and building on the ideals and ideas of freedom and opportunity.

Originally opened in 2001, “Within These Walls,” tells 200 years of history through a partially reconstructed Georgian-style, two-and-a-half-story timber-framed house that stood from Colonial days through the mid-1960s at 16 Elm St. in Ipswich, Mass., 30 miles north of Boston. In 1963, Ipswich citizens saved the house from scheduled demolition, and it was moved to the Smithsonian where curators could learn more of its history. In the first iteration of the exhibition, the curatorial team researched more than 80 inhabitants of the house and focused on five families: American colonists, the Choates; revolutionaries, the Dodges; reformers, the Caldwells; immigrants, the Lynches; and the Scotts, who were part of the war effort in 1942 and lived in the house until the early 1960s. The updated exhibition highlights new research into slavery and liberty during the Revolutionary war era.

“If you want to see the interlocking ideas of the whole floor, this house from Ipswich, Mass., has generations of stories to tell about how communities and individuals have negotiated ideals such as freedom and democracy,” said John Gray, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the National Museum of American History.

The exhibition was previously made possible by leadership support from the National Association of Realtors, which is generously continuing its sponsorship, becoming exclusive sponsor of “Within these Walls” September 2018 through 2030.  

“Tracing the lives of the residents who lived in this house during the American Revolution and its aftermath, including an enslaved youth and the daughter of a patriot, as they struggled to stake their claim to the promises of the Revolution, offers visitors new insights in this transformative era,” said Shelley Nickles, Curator at the National Museum of American History. “One house can tell the stories of how people in their daily lives shaped their community and helped build a nation.”

Chance Bradstreet: Restoring a Name and Legacy to an Enslaved Man

When the exhibit first opened, little was known about an enslaved man identified as “Chance” who lived in the house while in service to the Dodge family. With the assistance of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the museum has uncovered new details related to his story. Chance, they learned, came to this house as a youth in 1777, when he was leased to Abraham Dodge by his owner, a minister in nearby Marblehead, Mass. Additional documents suggest Chance remain enslaved to the Dodge family years after 1783 court rulings challenged the legality of slavery in Massachusetts. Researchers have not been able to uncover if he had ever married or had any children. But with this new research, the museum is able to restore his legacy. “Within These Walls” now includes his full name, Chance Bradstreet, and documents that he returned to his birthplace of Marblehead as a free man and ultimately the head of his own household. Curators also discovered a document that revealed the role Chance played in the community and his ties to the larger Atlantic economy, “making fish,” which means working on the waterfront processing fresh cod into salted fillets for export.  

“Within These Walls” will continue to be updated with new stories. In 2018, the museum will install a new artifact case to feature objects marking the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which was signed in April 1968 to protect the buyer or renter of a dwelling from seller or landlord discrimination. Other future enhancements to the exhibition include experiences to further engage younger visitors in piecing together Chance’s story and the ways enslaved people staked their claim to liberty as well as additional interactives throughout the exhibition.

One section of the website helps visitors understand the power to uncover the history of their own homes by using tools such as county registries, historical records, photos and more. It allows families to understand the history and unlock the hidden stories in their own home. New content will also appear on the exhibition website at http://americanhistory.si.edu/within-these-walls.

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SI-347-2017

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[Category: Society and Culture]