New Hall Military Museum
A museum devoted to the Army, Navy, Marines, and to early American military history.
This modest two-floor museum is devoted to interpreting the role of the military in early American history.
GROUND FLOOR: MARINES
An exhibit called "Marines in the Revolution" documents the role of leathernecks from the years 1775-1781. Half a year before the Declaration of Independence was written, an Act of Congress gave birth to the Continental Marine Corps by authorizing the formation of two battalions of troops. Recruiting for the new military branch occurred at Tun Tavern, a popular Philadelphia waterfront watering-hole, which no longer stands. Samuel Nicholas, who was the first commissioned officer in the Marines, did much of the mustering.
Vertical, glass-enclosed displays showcase hand grenades, a blunderbuss, swords, and other Marine weaponry and equipment. At the bottom of each case, a Revolutionary War timeline gives a headline history of the clash's salient events, particularly those pertaining to the Marines. We learn that long before the Halls of Montezuma, Marines supported George Washington during his 1776 Christmas crossing of the Delaware, surprising the Hessians at Trenton.
Arousing interest is a ration list spelling out the generous daily allotment a jarhead received in 1777: 1 lb. bread; 1 lb. pork; 1/2 pound peas; 4 ozs. cheese; and 1/2 pint rum.
Elsewhere in the room, a scale model of the man-of-war Raleigh attracts attention. Built in 1777 and commanded by John Barry (whose statue graces the center of the courtyard of Independence Hall), the Raleigh became the first ship of the United States to fly the Stars and Stripes. The wily Captain Barry captured two British ships, including the Nancy. So valuable was the plunder from the Nancy that it would have taken 18 months for Americans to manufacture an equivalent amount of the captured matèriel.
Sixteen cannon line the port side of the detailed model of the Raleigh. Her starboard side is cut away to reveal the below-decks of the ship. The sacks of flour, group of sailors rotating a capstan, and dispirited British prisoners being guarded, all add up to a hypnotic slice of sea life during the War.
SECOND FLOOR: NAVY AND ARMY
A Congressional Committee which included John Adams authorized the outfitting of two naval warships on November 13, 1775, thus giving birth to the Continental Navy.
Under the helmsmanship of Rhode Islander Esek Hopkins, the Navy's first Commodore, the fledgling maritime force garnered their first victory at sea: a 1776 raid on the Bahamas, which resulted in the capture of a British naval station and fort.
However, the Colonial Navy was truly no match for the formidable British flotilla. So, Congress authorized privateers — civilian captains — to attack British ships. In return, these captains and their crews were allowed to keep a share of the captured plunder. This "unofficial" armada proved both a help and a hindrance to the Continental Navy. While putting some British ships out of commission, privateers competed with the Navy for recruits. Rogue captains were able to hold out the promise of great booty and adventure as compared to the discipline and modest rewards offered by the Navy. Prospective Continental Navy sailors were promised their choice of acreage in Western lands — if the Americans won; suits of clothing — if they arrived; or money — if you were patient enough to wait to be paid.
In spite of all these obstacles, the Continental Navy under the inspired leadership of such captains as John Paul Jones, sank 200 British ships and captured or disabled about 800 others during the course of the war.
Grappling weapons on display manifest the danger sailors were subject to. The tools of the trade — cutlasses, grape shot, hand grenades, etc. — make a landlubber queasy contemplating the life of a tar.
While it's not that vaporize-'em chess game used in TV commercials promoting the Marines, take a shot at the "Try Your Hand at Maneuvering for a Sea Battle" exhibit. To play the game, you have two switches, one of which maneuvers a man-of-war's rudder, and the other which trims the sails. Assuming a Southern wind, you must chart one of five courses for attack. With success, a green light glows. [I overheard a 10-year-old watching a grown-up taking the controls unsuccessfully comment, "They should never let adults play these games."]
The army seems to be an afterthought at New Hall. Of compelling interest, however, is one the oldest American flags in existence. A banner given to General Philip Schuyler upon his retirement from the army features an eagle bearing an early seal of the United States and an olive branch. Above the eagle float 13 white stars. Some vexilollogists claim the flag dates from the 1780s while others doubt its authenticity.
After the war, both the army and navy were virtually disbanded because of the populace's fear of a standing military. The army dwindled to literally fourscore and seven (87) soldiers who guarded federal installations under the command of Revolutionary War hero Mad Anthony Wayne.
In 1787 at the Constitutional Convention, George Washington spoke to the need for a standing military but no action was taken. Not surprisingly, he was proven prescient in 1794 when America's erstwhile allies — the French --started attacking United States shipping. Six frigates including the Constitution were built to combat French piracy. A scale model of the Constitution, nicknamed Old Ironsides, is displayed upstairs. The ship constructed of hardy oak received its moniker during the War of 1812 when cannonballs fired into her flanks did so little damage it was as if her hull were made of iron.
New Hall was built in 1791 by members of the Carpenters' Company. The guild was so successful in renting out their headquarters, Carpenters' Hall, that they were forced to move their own headquarters out of their building to New Hall.
- Shortly after the building was completed in 1791, Secretary of War Henry Knox moved his office from Carpenters' Hall to New Hall.
- During renovations in the 1950s, several artifacts were dug from a cistern about 10 feet south of New Hall. The most curious is a pornographic brass pipe-tamper.
- The Carpenters' Company met here from 1791-1857. After that they met at Carpenters' Hall again.
- "Leatherneck," the nickname for a marine, comes from the leather starks or collars the Marines wore during the Revolution.
- Location: 320 Chestnut Street next to Carpenters' Hall. Between 3rd and 4th. (Map)
- Built: 1791; Demolished 1957-58 and reconstructed in 1960 to its 1791 appearance.
- Original Architect: A member of the Carpenters' Company.
- Cost to build: 200 pounds in 1791.