The American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire first opened in 1991. It is situated in the historic Ladd-Gilman House. The home is named after Nathaniel Ladd, who built the home in 1721 as well as Nicholas Gilman, Sr., who lived at the home and served as the New Hampshire State Treasurer during the Revolutionary War. The Ladd-Gilman House has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
The museum’s premiere attraction is an original broadside of the Declaration of Independence, which was discovered in the home in 1991. It also contains several early drafts of the United States Constitution and one of two surviving Purple Heart badges from the American Revolution.
The American Independence Museum
is located in Exeter, New Hampshire. Exeter was the state’s Revolutionary War
Capital and the home was the site of the state’s Treasury at the time. The museum
was founded in 1991 under the combined efforts of the Society of the Cincinnati
in the State of New Hampshire, the Exeter Community, and the State. The
exhibits inside the museum showcase life in 18th century Exeter, New Hampshire.
The town was a busy seaport and an important center of the Patriot cause during
the American Revolution. New Hampshire’s role in the war and the founding of
the fledgling nation and its early years are illustrated for each of the
museum’s visitors. Its campus includes the Folsom Tavern (1775) and the
Ladd-Gilman House (1721).
The Folsom Tavern was built by
Colonel Samuel Folsom in 1775. It was originally situated facing Exeter’s
central square. The Patriots gathered in
the tavern many nights during the Revolution to debate its course and make plans.
A plaque outside the building boasts that the tavern once entertained President
George Washington (he was treated to breakfast). Col. Folsom ran the tavern
until his death in 1790. After his death, his wife Elizabeth continued
operations as “Widow Folsom’s Inn” until her own death in 1805. The Folsom Tavern
was renovated during the mid-2000s and now serves as a function/special event
space for the museum.
Ladd-Gilman House (also known as Cincinnati Memorial
The Ladd-Gilman House was
originally constructed by Nathaniel Ladd in 1721. He sold half of the home to
Daniel Gilman in the 1720s. By 1777, the Gilman family had purchased the entire
home. Nicholas Gilman, Sr. followed by two of his sons, John and Nathaniel, served
the state as Treasurer from the time of the Revolutionary War (Exeter was the
state capital at the time) periodically until about 1814. One of the home’s
bedrooms, aptly called the “Gilman Bedroom” is devoted to the story of John
Taylor Gilman. He served as the state’s Governor for 14 years (1794-1805, 1813-1816).
The room contains original documents from his tenure.
One of the hidden gems on display
in the museum is an original Purple Heart, or “Badge of Military Merit.” It is
the small, purple silk heart issued by General George Washington to any soldier
(including common soldiers, which was not done previously) for a single act of
valor in battle. Only two of the silk
purple hearts are believed to still exist, and one of them is on display is at
the American Independence Museum.
Including the Purple Heart,
antique furniture, and revolutionary broadsides, there are over 3,000 artifacts
in the museum’s collection. Today the
American Independence Museum is a place for the study, research, education and
interpretation of the American Revolution and of the role that New Hampshire,
Exeter, and the Gilman family played in the founding of the new republic. The
museum is open from May to November. It is open on Tuesdays through Saturdays
from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Each year, it closes on Thanksgiving and the Friday