Oneida Nation gives $10 million to American Revolution Center

Posted: July 12, 2012

The Oneida Nation of New York is giving $10 million toward construction of the Museum of the American Revolution, planned for Third and Chestnut Streets.

The gift, one of the largest ever from the Oneidas, staunch supporters of George Washington's Continental Army, comes a month after museum backer H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest announced a $40 million museum challenge grant. The American Revolution Center seeks to raise $150 million for construction of the museum, programming, and an endowment.

The gift is to be announced Wednesday at a news conference in Washington, to be attended by Lenfest; Ray Halbritter, Oneida nation representative and chief executive of Oneida Nation Enterprises; and Pennsylvania notables, including former Gov. Ed Rendell.

"Our people were the first allies in the Revolutionary War at the birth of the nation," Halbritter said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "We are now coming to the assistance of the effort of remembering that conflict."

He called the Oneida alliance with American rebels one of the great "untold stories" of the revolution: "It was a great honor for our people to serve alongside the great patriots of this country. It's fortunate we didn't lose - so we weren't all hanged."

Lenfest, one of the owners of The Inquirer, said the Oneida Nation played "a significant role" in the revolution.

"Of the six nations in the Iroquois Confederacy, they were the only ones who sided with the Americans," he said. "It's a forgotten story."

Michael Quinn, the museum's president and chief executive, called the gift "a vote of confidence in what we are doing," and said, "The source itself confirms the idea that this is of broad importance."

The gift brings the Lenfest challenge a quarter of the way home, Quinn said, and serves as an early momentum-builder for the project.

"You couldn't ask for a stronger response," he said. "This is the kind of thing that sets the tone."

Halbritter said the Oneida Nation, which has achieved business success with gaming operations in recent years, has long been interested in the American Revolution Center project. The museum was first planned for Valley Forge, but ran into community opposition. In 2010, the National Park Service agreed to relinquish its property at Third and Chestnut in exchange for the American Revolution Center's 78 acres of Valley Forge land.

If fund-raising and other matters move forward without a hitch, the museum, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, could be open by the end of 2015 or early 2016.

Halbritter sees the museum as an opportunity to tell "thousands of untold stories."

For instance, he said, in 1777, when "Washington's army was starving at Valley Forge, our people in midwinter brought hundreds of bushels of corn from their meager stores" to feed the troops. Polly Cooper, an Oneida, cooked and helped nurse the sick, refusing payment. But Halbritter said Martha Washington bought her a "bonnet and a shawl" in Philadelphia in gratitude - and Cooper's descendants still have those mementos in upstate New York.

"Americans," he said, "have not had an opportunity to learn these stories."


Contact Stephan Salisbury

at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @SPSalisbury.

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