written by Patricia L. Cummings
This article was previously published in UnRavel the Gavel, Volume 16, Number 7; August 19-September 15, 2005, front
page, 7A, 8A, and 10A.
Please do not "pin" any photos from this page or any other pagess on this website. Photos by James Cummings
The entrance to the American Independence Museum, Exeter, NH
The entrance to the museum sits at the top of a hill behind the main building
Did you know that Exeter, New Hampshire once served as capital city of the state of New Hampshire? Were you aware that
from 1775-1789 the coffers of the State Treasury were stored in an iron trunk located within a room of the Ladd-Gilman
House on Water Street in Exeter? This is just some of the information that you would learn, were you to visit the American
Independence Museum, located just off of Water Street, Exeter’s main street in the downtown area.
Rivers Spawn a Bustling City
Sited on both the Exeter River and the Squamscott River, the first settlement of the area that is now known as “Exeter”
occurred in 1638 after Reverend John Wainwright purchased a large tract of land from the local Indians. The two rivers, one
of fresh water, the other of sea water, provided ample water power to turn the wheels for local mills. Exeter soon became a
thriving industrial town. A brochure published by the American Independence Museum states that inhabitants included
“merchants, soldiers, slaves, servants, shipbuilders, sea captains, and political leaders.”
Museum Honors History and Those Who “Wrote It”
The American Independence Museum is a private, not-for-profit institution, which was established in 1991. The Ladd-Gilman
House, an expansive yellow colonial building sits atop a hill overlooking one of Exeter’s busiest downtown streets. The edifice
was initially constructed by Nathaniel Ladd in 1721 and was intended to be used as a family dwelling. The Gilman family
inhabited the home for 180 years. Today, the house seems to be a very appropriate place to display artifacts associated with
the American Revolution. The use of the Gilman family residence, for this purpose, honors Nicholas Gilman and his two sons
who were totally dedicated to public service.
The Ladd-Gilman House is in close proximity to Swasey Park on the shores of a river that was once the site of much ship
traffic. Located close to the water’s edge is a brick building called the Powder House. This small structure is reported to have
supplied gun powder to soldiers during the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Upon stepping into the museum, one begins to feel a sense of excitement at the anticipation of seeing antique items of weighty
historical importance. On the hot summer day that we toured the house, guide Ann Clark patiently answered our many
questions and explained some of the quaint objects found in the house, such as the leather fire buckets, individually inscribed
with the names of their owners, the Hessian andirons, the examples of old currency, and many other objects.
Hessian Andirons at the American Independence Museum
photo by James Cummings
Heavy Iron Trunk Held State Treasury Funds
Our first stop was to see the huge black iron trunk that was made in Germany, circa 1700. The Society of Cincinnati,
New Hampshire chapter “suggests that it (the trunk) was imported by Nicholas Gilman and was used to store the NH
treasury funds” from 1776-1814, according to the museum’s accession sheet. Two very heavy iron padlocks were
probably added at a later date. No doubt that those locks could keep even the most determined thief at bay!
Iron trunk. Photo by James Cummings
Trade by Barter or Coin Preferred
Ann told us that, “In those days, people did not trust (paper) money. They were more accustomed to trade by barter
or by coins.” She showed us some examples of early paper money that was scripted in English pounds, or were
backed by the Spanish government. Each bill was intended for a one time use only. Then a hole was punched in the
middle of the bill, rendering it void.
The first Treasurer of the State of New Hampshire was Nicholas Gilman. The five dollar note, shown here, is an
example of early New Hampshire money. At first, each state printed their own currency.
Photo courtesy of American Independence Museum
This particular piece of currency is dated April 1780 and its center has a “devaluation hole,” meaning that it has been
processed. The back is signed by John Taylor Gilman. This provides evidence that John acted as State Treasurer
during times when his father was away. Nicholas Gilman commanded the Fourth Regiment of the New Hampshire
militia throughout the Revolution.
Yet Another “John Hancock” Signature
Upon the wall, in the same room, a large, framed document hangs. This document, a bill of lading for coffee and other
goods that had been shipped into Boston Harbor, is signed by John Hancock, one of our leading fathers who also
signed the Declaration of Independence.
Amazing “Secret” Uncovered: Precious Artifact Revealed
Old houses do hold many potential secrets. To date, the greatest "discovery” at the Ladd-Gilman House happened in
1986 when a workman stumbled upon an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, two hundred and ten years
after its signing. The document had been hidden underneath a floorboard.
This important piece of ephemera has been authenticated to have been printed in Philadelphia by John Dunlap. This
priceless artifact is now stored off-site in a secure location, and a reproduction has been created for public display.
Once a year, the original document is available for viewing, but not without security personnel in place.
Declaration of Independence Read to Crowd by John Taylor Gilman
New Hampshire did not receive a copy of the Declaration of Independence until two weeks after it had been
announced elsewhere. Nicholas Gilman’s son, John Taylor Gilman, was given the privilege of reading the document to
the people of Exeter. John later served (14) one-year terms, as the Governor of the state of New Hampshire, until
1816. His brother, Nicholas Gilman, Jr., also entered public service, and was a state delegate to the Constitutional
The history of Exeter includes a visit from President George Washington in 1789 when he stopped by the Folsom
Tavern to eat breakfast during his presidential tour of New England. At the time of this writing, the Folsom Tavern,
located behind the museum, was being renovated and was scheduled to be open for public viewing beginning May 20,
AIM firescreen photo by James Cummings
A Special Fire Screen and the Gilman Legend
The textiles in the house are not extensive, yet are very meaningful. A wooden "fire screen” (which is actually an upright
wooden stand) sports a needlepoint panel which served a unique purpose. Surprisingly, we were told, the duty of the
panel was to prevent the heat from the open flames of the fireplace from melting the (wax based) makeup of the lady of
the house, as she sat warming herself by the open hearth.
Update 3/31/07: A recent exhibit at the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. reveals that firescreens were rare in
Colonial America, and American women customarily did not wear makeup. This information was shared by Lucinda
Cawley in an online post on March 20, 2007.
The image of this particular fire screen is associated with what has come to be called, "The Gilman Legend.” As the
myth is recounted, one of the Gilman ancestors wanted to steal the book of knowledge from the demons. Before he left
on this quest, he was instructed not to go near running water. After successfully stealing the book, Gilman chose an
alternate path home, not realizing that it would take him in close proximity to a stream. As a result, his leg turned black.
For this reason, the embroiderer has stitched a tall, black boot into the center of a light blue background, lest the tale
not be forgotten.
Hessian Andirons Tell a Story
In another room, with yet another fireplace, there are a pair of Hessian soldier, cast-iron, andirons. This type of andiron
was popular following the American Revolution, and the tradition was revived in the late nineteenth century. The
Hessians were soldiers from Germany who had been called upon by Britain’s King George III to fight in the
British/American conflict. The King was from Hanover, Germany and so, enlisted the help of his compatriots.
When General George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River in the middle of the night on December
25, 1776, they surprised and defeated the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey. After an hour long battle, 23 officers and
896 Hessians and British soldiers had been captured. Only two Americans were killed and six were wounded, so this
was a decisive victory!
Of the andirons, it has been stated that they have symbolic meaning to the effect: “May the Hessians burn forever.” This
statement may sound very impassioned, but it is passion that won the fight for freedom and independence!
Lucy Ann Mill Sampler - 1809
photo by James Cummings
A Tale of Two Needlework Samplers
An intriguing schoolgirl Sampler, embroidered by Lucy Ann Mill in 1809 “in the 11th year of her age” features letters
and numbers that little girls were taught to stitch in girls‘ schools of the era. The antiquated piece of linen also contains
the following embroidered message which shows a clear awareness of the fragility of life in the early nineteenth century,
and the knowledge that many individuals succumbed to death at a very early age due to diseases such as cholera,
diptheria and smallpox.
Lucy Ann wrote:
Friends nor physicians cannot save
My mortal body from the grave
or shall the grave define me there
When Christ commands me to appear.
Gilman Family Sampler Passed Down Through the Ages
A less gloomy Sampler by Ann Taylor Gilman was made circa 1740. This item is believed to have been stitched by
Ann during her childhood and consists of the alphabet and the words: "ANN + TAYLOR +/HER + SAMPLER.”
The Gilman Sampler. Photo by James Cummings
In the book, Samplers and Samplemakers: An American Schoolgirl Art: 1700-1850, author Mary Jane Edmunds
mentions that little girls were taught to embroider, partially so that they could “make initials on clothing and household
linens.” Textiles were so valuable, it was important to “mark” every one of them in this way.
*Kits for the Ann Taylor Sampler are available in the museum's gift shop. (update October 13, 2007).
Usually, all textiles were noted in household inventories. However, the Gilman Sampler was not included. One
explanation could be that it is thought that making a Sampler was an educational activity, but had no high monetary
value, at the time. The practice of creating an inventory stems from a common practice in English law which insured that
all household goods be listed so that division of property be fair and equitable, when settling an estate.
The inventory of Nicholas Gilman, Esq. in 1783, includes: 15 Blankets, 1 Chints (Chintz) Bed Quilt, 1 Quilt, Coverlids,
14 Pillow Cases, 10 Sheets, and 3 Counterpains,” to name just a few of the items considered to be of value.
One of the most valuable parts of any house were bedhangings. The museum retains a (framed) linen panel that once
hung on one side of a bed, as a valance.
Part of a bed valance at the American Independence Museum
Photo by James Cummings
This piece was worked with wool yarns for Crewel Embroidery and the design, a vine and floral motif, was
embroidered by Deborah Folsom Gilman (1753-1791), John Taylor Gilman’s first wife. She is believed to have spun
and woven the cloth herself, before embroidering it. If one knows about the processing of converting flax into usable
linen thread, and the weaving of those linen fibers, then one realizes what a formidable task this was!
Other sections of the Gilman bed dressings are in the collection of the York Historical Society, York, Maine.
Original Purple Heart from circa 1782 Discovered in Deerfield, New Hampshire Barn
Did you know that on August 7, 1782, George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit award, known
today as the Purple Heart? According to a book, New Hampshire, Its Cincinnati, and the Revolution by Edward F.
Woods, DMD (Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire, April 1995), the American Independence
Museum “displays the only known original Purple Heart."
Purple Heart at American Independence Museum
photo by James Cummings
This 2” x 2” lavender color silk heart features some decorative silver-color embroidery and was mounted onto navy
wool. The purple heart award of Washington’s time was awarded for meritorious action as a way to honor enlisted
men, whose pay was meager. This particular example, thought to be one of three of its kind in existence, is believed to
have been awarded to Daniel Bissell, a Connecticut soldier.* During the 1920s, it was found appliquéd onto an old
coat and was discovered in an unidentified barn in Deerfield, New Hampshire by Captain William Willey.
An online article states that the Purple Heart award was first created by George Washington on August 7, 1782 and
was called the "Badge of Military Merit." Only three soldiers were given this recognition: Elijah Churchill, William
Brown and Daniel Bissell, Jr..
In 1932, President Herbert Hoover, re-established the award, reviving it as a way to honor the 200th anniversary of
George Washington’s birth.
Exeter, New Hampshire
New Hampshire became a royal colony in 1679 and some historians consider that date as to be the beginning of the
period of time in which Portsmouth, NH served as the provincial or colonial capital, according to Michael Huxtable,
Reference Librarian for the city of Portsmouth. During the late 17th century and into the mid-18th century (1698-
1741), New Hampshire and Massachusetts shared a governor until Benning Wentworth was appointed Royal
Governor in 1741. His “regime” lasted until 1766. In the meantime, he had made a fortune from land dealings and the
sale of trees for ship masts.
In 1774, the House of Representatives that had been meeting in Portsmouth disbanded. The following year, all
provincial records were transferred to Exeter, (in 1775). This action came on the heels of an attack by British warships
which burned “Falmouth,” (now called Portland, Maine), not far from Portsmouth, on October 18th of that same year.
Several hundred buildings were burnt to the ground, as result of British anger at the unwillingness of lumbermen to
continue to provide masts to the Royal Navy.
With the imminent threat of possibly more British attacks by sea, Exeter, a more inland location, became New
Hampshire’s capital city from 1776-1788. Twenty years later, in 1808, Concord, NH was officially chosen as the
permanent seat of state government in New Hampshire.
Society of the Cincinnati
Items that are owned by the Society of the Cincinnati can be seen in several rooms of the Museum. Founded in 1783,
the Society was led by George Washington for sixteen years until his death in 1799. The group’s goals were three-fold:
to stay in touch with fellow officers of the Continental Army; to establish charitable funds directed toward helping
widows and orphans of the fallen; and to work to secure pensions for Revolutionary War victims.
The name of the organization is based on their role model, Lucius Quintus Cincinnati, who was born in 519 B.C., and
died in 430 B.C. A farmer by profession, Cincinnati was appointed dictator and asked to lead the fight in saving Rome
from the Aequi tribe. He could have remained in the role of dictator, but having solved the problem in only sixteen days,
he returned to the land. George Washington has been called, “the American Cincinnati,” for his parallel actions.
The Society of Cincinnati has owned the Ladd-Gilman House since November 1, 1902 and considers it to be one of its
treasures. If you are wondering, the city of Cincinnati is named after the Society. To read more about the oldest
hereditary military organization, please visit their online website.
A Place To Go, If You Love History!
The American Independence Museum, housed in a beautiful example of early New England architecture itself, is a joy
to visit if you love history! Artifacts too numerous to mention abound within its walls. Each is a very special tribute to
the early years of our country.
American Independence Museum flag
photo of flag, courtesy of the American Independence Museum
A small silk flag with interlocking circles represents the original thirteen colonies. A similar idea is represented in the gift
shop: a poster originally engraved by Amos Doolittle (1754-1832) of New Haven, Connecticut. The work was
created, (circa 1790), and has fourteen interlocking circles which contain the state seals of the original thirteen states,
plus the U.S. Great Seal, to celebrate the Constitution and the new federal government! Copies of the poster are also
available, either framed or unframed.
Every year, exactly two weeks after July 4th, about 5,000 people descend on the city of Exeter for a large celebration
at the museum to commemorate the reading of the Declaration of Independence there. Invited artisans are on hand to
demonstrate various old time crafts.
DIRECTIONS TO THE MUSEUM
To reach Exeter from the west, take Route 101 East. You will see a large sign on the turnpike which directs the driver
to take exit 9. A right hand turn at the end of the ramp will bring you to downtown Exeter. A right hand turn onto
Governors Lane will bring you to a parking lot at the top of the hill. Museum parking is free.
The American Independence Museum, located at One Governors Lane, Exeter, NH 03833-2420, is open from
May 1 to October 31, Wednesday through Sunday, 12-5 p.m. The last hourly tour begins at 4 p.m. A nominal
admission fee is charged. A museum shop has many tantalizing books, history-related items, and gifts available. For
more information, please call (603) 772-2622.
We would like to thank Funi Burdick, Executive Director of the Museum; Debbie Kane, Development Officer; and
Ann Clark, tour guide; for all of their kind assistance in the preparation of this article. I would also like to mention the
help of Michael Huxtable, Reference Librarian for the City of Portsmouth. In addition, the book, New Hampshire, Its
Cincinnati, and the Revolution by Edward F. Woods, DMD (Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire,
April 1995) was of great assistance. Thank you all.
©Copyright 2005. Patricia and James Cummings, Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, NH. All rights reserved. Re-
use of photos strictly prohibited.