George Washington's Camp Chest


Armies on campaign must carry with them much besides their weapons. At the time of the American Revolutionary War (1776-1781), various boxes and chests transported soldier's individual effects, wardrobes, official military payrolls, and other necessities. Camp chests or canteens as they were called in the 18th century, carried utensils and cooking apparatus to be used by officers and their staff when in the field during campaigns.

George Washington's well-appointed personal camp chest, or "mess kit," enabled him to dine in a manner reflecting his position as commander of the Continental Army. Two sets of leather covered canteens, or camp chests, were bought by General Washington, on May 3, 1776. Another set of "canteens" captured on a British prize ship were sent for Washington's use in October 1778. By 1782, General Washington's camp equipage which included canteens, tents, tables, traveling beds, and various other field equipment, was so extensive that he had to request that two horses, "natural pacers," be selected by the Quartermaster General, Timothy Pickering, just to carry the General's camp chests.

We do not know which of the several camp chests belonging to Washington is in our collections; however, this example is complete with all original utensils. It contains tin plates and platters, tin pots with detachable wooden handles, glass containers for condiments such as salt, pepper, and sugar, as well as knives and forks with dyed black ivory handles. The chest also contains a tinder box, candle stand, and folding gridiron.

Date Made: 1775-1776

User: Washington, George

Used: United States

Related Event: American RevolutionRevolution and the New Nation


See more items in: Political and Military History: Armed Forces History, Military, Food, Military

Exhibition: Price of Freedom

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Related Publication: Nation of Nations, A

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: AF.016111Accession Number: 13152Catalog Number: 016111Accession Number: 013152

Object Name: mess kitcamp chestOther Terms: mess kit; camp chest; Equipment, Individual

Physical Description: green (overall color)cloth (overall material)leather (overall material)brass (overall material)iron (overall material)wood (overall material)tin (plates and platters material)glass (containers material)Measurements: overall: 10 3/4 in x 21 1/4 in x 14 in; 27.305 cm x 53.975 cm x 35.56 cm


Record Id: nmah_434899

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.