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America's First Veterans

November 8, 2019 — April 5, 2020

The tens of thousands of men who fought for American independence suffered extraordinary privations in the war and risked their lives and livelihoods to help establish the United States. They had gone unpaid for much of the war, and many of them returned home with little more than the honor of having served the nation and the satisfaction that comes from duty faithfully performed. The new republic, which struggled to pay its wartime debts, thanked them for their service but offered them scant compensation or reward.

America's First Veterans brings together paintings, artifacts, prints, and documents to address the post-war experiences of the men who won the Revolutionary War—not the famous generals and leading officers whose names appear in histories of the war, but rather the junior officers and enlisted men whose stories are less often told. The exhibition focuses on their return to civilian life, their reception by a country torn and bankrupted by eight years of war, and the nation's gradual realization of its vast debt to the men who won our independence. A centerpiece of the show is John Neagle's arresting portrait of a pensioner of the Revolution, painted in 1830 in the midst of the fight for comprehensive federal pensions for the remaining Revolutionary War veterans.

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