These baby booties fashioned from a British officer's military uniform were donated to the Museum of the American Revolution by Pittsburgh resident Jim Richardson, whose ancestor served in the war.
By Marylynne Pitz/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the former chief curator of anthropology for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Jim Richardson understands the power of artifacts to make history real.
“My mother’s family never threw anything out,” said Mr. Richardson, whose object-filled office shows why his nickname is “Collecto.” He is also a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and curator emeritus at the Carnegie Museum.
Now some of his favorite family mementos are in the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. The 80-year-old Oakland resident has donated a wing chair, uniform epaulettes and red baby booties he inherited from his English ancestor, James Davenport Sr., a noncommissioned orderly sergeant during the Revolution. Mr. Richardson is Davenport’s seventh great-grandson.
“When the war started, he joined the Continental Army,” said Mr. Richardson.
His ancestor served with Gen. Marquis de Lafayette’s infantry brigade and received a sergeant’s sword from the famous French military leader. The sword remains with one of Mr. Richardson’s cousins.
A shoemaker and father of 11 children, Davenport lived in Dorchester, Mass., and enlisted in 1777. He fought at Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley, “where the first American flag flew,” and endured a frigid winter at Valley Forge. He also fought in the battles of Monmouth and Yorktown.
Davenport applied for but never received a military pension even though he remained with his regiment; soldiers often deserted during the American Revolution. He died in 1824, and his death memorial is in the collection of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Va. It shows a willow tree, an urn and women weeping.
For seven generations, the Massachusetts patriot’s wing chair, military uniform decorations, booties and other heirlooms were passed down on the maternal side of Mr. Richardson’s family. According to family lore, the booties were fashioned from a British soldier’s coat.
Mr. Richardson is glad the artifacts will be preserved.
“I know how family stuff fritters away when somebody dies. It’s hard to let go of this stuff because I’ve lived with it since I was a little kid,” he said.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1648 or on Twitter: @mpitzpg
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