Did you know that the document that ended the American Revolutionary War was signed in France? I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I had forgotten this useful bit of information (which was surely taught to me in a 5th grade history class) until just a few days ago, when I had the opportunity to view an original version of the treaty. On September 3, 1783, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay met with a British Delegation at Parisian hotel to officially put an end to the conflict between Great Britain and her rebellious colonies. Today, you can see their treaty and a whole host of American diplomatic art by taking a little known Washington, DC tour: The U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms Tour.
One possible reason for the obscurity of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms Tour could be its reliance on highly organized travelers. Reservations for the tour must be made no fewer than 90 days in advance, a requirement that disqualifies uninformed and last-minute visitors alike. If you do manage to get a reservation, you won't be disappointed, as the rooms are filled with magnificent pieces dating back to the early years of the Republic. You'll find china used by Paul Revere, French wine glasses that once belonged to Martha Washington's sister, and one of Thomas Jefferson's writing desks thought to have been used during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Paintings on the walls range from scenes of the Pilgrims' landing to portraits of famous Revolutionaries. All of the pieces in the collection were donated, and the tour itself is free.
Of course, the highlight of the tour is the Treaty of Paris. Seeing the real signatures of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams is a truly moving experience. They're some of our Founding Fathers! And while we usually only read about them in the history books, seeing a document they created and actually touched reminds you that they existed as men, not simply as stories. You'll also get to see the painting I included in this post, which is Benjamin West's depiction of the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Famously unfinished, West had to abandon the project when British signatory, David Hartley, refused to sit for him. I guess he was a sore loser.