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Local festival shows history ‘at work’

For many, history is a subject reserved for academic debates and classrooms, which could not be farther from what takes place at the American Independence Festival in Exeter every July.

Entering its 29th year, the American Independence Festival not only features classic festival elements — live music,  local food, games for kids, art and craft marketplace — but a living history experience for all ages.

“We have traditional artisans outside Folsom Tavern, built in 1775, and dozens of colonial re-enactors on Swasey Parkway and throughout historic downtown Exeter,” said Emma Bray of the American Independence Museum, which hosts the annual event. “It’s what you would expect at a festival, but with history mixed into it.”

The traditional artisan village is made possible by a grant from New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

“From basket weavers to blacksmiths, shoemakers and more, our traditional artisans village has always been a hit with families,” added Bray. “These artisans demonstrate how our colonial ancestors made – by hand – the things that they needed for life in the 1700s.”

This year, the festival takes place on Saturday, July 13 in Exeter, NH from 10 am to 4 pm. 

For the local business community, the yearly event is important on several fronts.

“It brings people into downtown Exeter, which features a downtown as vibrant and beautiful as you will find anywhere,” noted Florence Ruffner of Ruffner Real Estate, a longtime sponsor of the event.

Bob Mitchell, who sponsors the event through his two businesses, Historic Motor Sports and Mitchel & Monti, said he “loves the festival.”

“America was built by people who worked with their hands in ways that are being lost today,” he said. “If we can inspire a young person to just consider for a moment the ingenuity and creativity that went into how America was built, we just might have a future artisan.”

Other festival elements include a parade beer garden, Revolutionary War battle re-enactment,  and viewing of an original printed copy of the Declaration of Independence.

“It’s such a wonderful community event unique to Exeter, which has a history that rivals any town or city in New England,” said Bray. “The festival is history with an emphasis on fun, community, family…If you haven’t been to Exeter, this is one day you absolutely should visit.”

In total, more than 4,000 visitors are expected to attend the festival on Saturday, July 13 with proceeds to benefit educational programs and collections care at the museum, which features more than 3,000 items. Its collection includes one of only 26 surviving copies of the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence and two rare drafts of the U.S. Constitution, both of which will be displayed at the festival.

Festival tickets are $10 for adults; $5 for ages 6 to 18; and free for children under 6, active and retired military, veterans, and Museum members. 

Kids discover history at American Independence Museum

On any given day in the summer, the American Independence Museum in Exeter welcomes dozens of visitors, including youth who participate in lively engaging programs with costumed re-enactors.

“Our Revolutionary Kids Summer Camp provides kids with a fun, interactive learning experience,” said Education Manager Abigail Pietrantonio. “It’s fun for kids to interact with colonial re-enactors and experience life as an 18th century resident of Exeter. It is a unique program.”

It is a program that also resonates with parents, including Mary Ann Cappiello, whose daughter Ella participated in the program for two years before volunteering her time for the past two years.

“She came to camp because she loved all the hands-on learning experiences and wearing 18th century clothing, but it also definitely helped deepen her knowledge and her love of history,” she said.

This love of history, she said, is crucial given the marginalization of social studies education at the elementary level.

“I want to do something about that,” said Cappiello, who noted she herself has become involved in the museum by serving on its education committee.

“[It] connects me with other local educators who care about history and want to help the museum make a difference in the lives of community members and visitors from all over the world,” she added. 

Expressing excitement at the museum’s summer camp in 2019, Pietrantonio said she hopes Ella’s experience can entice others between the ages of 9 and 11.

“It’s a fun program that enables kids to step back in time and really use their imaginations,” she said. 
The American Independence Museum features more than 3,000 items in its collection, including one of only 26 surviving copies of the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence. 

The museum is also a member of the 17-member NH Heritage Museum Trail, which connects the public with culturally rich heritage institutions in New Hampshire. For more information about the NH Heritage Museum Trail, visit

Museum reveals some of the stories behind its collection

Active military and veterans are among some of the most ardent supporters of the American Independence Museum, which features in its collection numerous items of particular interest to them.

Among these items, Curator Rachel Passannante said their military commissions tend to elicit the strongest responses.

“These commissions are essentially contracts men signed to enlist in a local army,” she said. “They are interesting artifacts and bring the Revolutionary War to life in a sense.”

While one commission on display features a name that is no longer legible, the other two provide a clear snapshot into the lives of two 18th men, Darius Willey of NH and William Lithgow, Esq. of Massachusetts.

Willey was mustered into the standard colony-run militia regiment while Lithgow entered into the Continental Army, the latter of which Passannante said was a much more prestigious group.

“The Continental Army was the first army formed by the Continental Congress,” she said. “It included men from all the colonies.”

Another interesting anecdote is the fact both men were members of Society of the Cincinnati, which was founded after the Revolutionary War by men who fought in it. As one of the nation’s oldest veteran’s organization,, the New Hampshire constituent society was founded at the museum’s Folsom Tavern in 1783.

“The Society owns a portion of our collection and the buildings on the property, so the story behind these commissions continues in a sense to this day,” said museum Executive Director Emma Bray.

In 2018, Bray said these commissions and others on display in its 3,000+ item collection may be viewed by veterans, active military and their families without an admission fee, courtesy of Chinburg Properties.

“The story of our nation’s military begins to a very real extent right here in this region of New England,” she said. “We are very grateful at the chance to invite those who continue to fight for our freedom to witness items in our collection that tell the story of the men and women who initially forged that freedom.”

Home to a world-class collection of 3,000 historic artifacts, the museum welcomes more than 5,000 visitors annually and distinguishes itself with educational school programs and events that make history fun and relevant.

American Independence Museum offers programs for school groups

With school nearly back in session, the American Independence Museum is busying itself for visits with school groups from across the state. Available programs are geared toward students from K- 12, and several spots are still available.

“Our school programs are great because they bring students into an environment that makes history seem very real,” said Abigail Pietrantonio, education manager. “They can see where some of the leaders of Exeter lived during the Revolution and sit in a room that once welcomed George Washington. This is a perfect setting for hands-on learning.”

2018 -2019 school year programs include Letters to a Young Nation (grades K-2), Roots of Revolution – Patriot or Loyalist? (grades 5+), Students as Tour Guides (grades 8-12), and Colonial Living Days (grades 1-12).

The cost for these programs are per student and vary between $5 and $8. All programs are between 60 and 90 minutes long and accommodate a maximum of 50 participants.

“We want to be a resource for teachers and schools,” said Pietrantonio. “Our programming can be customized to complement what is taught in the classroom with the added bonus of being in an 18th century environment.”

Home to a world-class collection of 3,000 historic artifacts, the museum welcomes more than 5,000 visitors annually and distinguishes itself with educational school programs and events that make history fun and relevant.

To book a school group, or learn more about the American Independence Museum, visit Pietrantonio may be reached at [email protected]

Museum to ‘ring in the season’

As part of Exeter’s Ring in the Season events, the American Independence Museum (AIM) in Exeter will celebrate the holidays from 5 pm to 8 pm on Friday, December 1 with its annual Holiday Celebration, presented by The Provident Bank.

At the event, visitors can toast the holidays with light refreshments, create Colonial holiday gifts, enjoy seasonal music, and visit their pop-up gift shop. The event will also feature a silent auction with numerous items up for bid, including a vacation and brewery tour package at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT.

Folsom Tavern will be open for public tours Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm with refreshments available at Folsom Tavern from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm on Saturday for purchase for those watching the town’s Holiday Parade.

On Sunday, December 3, the tavern will be open from 1 pm to 5 pm as part of Womenade of Greater Squamscott’s Exeter Area Holiday Home Tour with tickets available through Womenade.

“This is the first year we’re taking full advantage of the Town of Exeter’s wonderful ‘Ring in the Season’ events that take place November 30 to December 3,” said Museum Executive Director Emma Bray. “We are looking forward to an exciting weekend.”

In addition to their annual holiday celebration on Friday, this is the first year the museum will serve refreshments during the holiday parade on Saturday and participate in Womenade’s Holiday Home Tour on Sunday.

Bray also expressed excitement that their Folsom Tavern is professionally decorated for the holidays this year.

“Our friends at The Willow across the street are decorating the tavern with financial support from The Provident Bank enabling us to host an expanded year-end celebration,” she added. “2017 was a wonderful year for us, so this is a fitting end to our season.”

Admission to Friday’s event is free for members, $5 for non-members, and $3 for non-member children.

Service Credit Union renews partnership

Recently, Service Credit Union renewed their longstanding partnership with the American Independence Museum with an investment of $5,000 to support its Traveling Trunk program, which delivers an experiential learning opportunity into the classroom. As a result of Service Credit Union’s support, school districts throughout New Hampshire will have access to the program at no cost for the remainder of the 17/18 school year.

Museum Executive Director Emma Bray referred to Service Credit Union’s support as “a huge boost.”

“This is an incredible opportunity for us to extend learning outside our museum walls and engage students in the subject of history,” she said. “We are so thankful for Service Credit Union’s partnership.”

In electing to sponsor the Traveling Trunk program, David Van Rossum, President/CEO of Service Credit Union, said he believes in the larger vision of the museum, which is to encourage civic engagement in all citizens.

“This is an important program that will get students thinking about American history, the factors that led to the Revolutionary War, why it happened,” he said. “The biggest thing is that it will encourage discussion among students and a deeper understanding of what our freedoms mean today.”

As for the educational rationale behind the program, Bray said it reflects the 4 ‘Cs’ of 21st century learning, which are collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.

“These are the skills that are required in today’s world—and the subject of history can help develop them in today’s students,” she said

In the trunk, students will be able to access more than 70 high-quality replica items, while teachers will be guided by a curriculum designed by the museum.

“The objective behind the program is to encourage research, judgments on the accuracy and reliability of sources, and a deeper awareness of multiple perspectives,” added Bray. “History is a lot more than memorizing dates.”

In addition to educating 5th through 8th grade students—although the curriculum can be modified to suit younger persons—the program also provides free family passes to the museum.

“We want to actively engage the whole family—and what better way to do that then to get them here for a tour?” noted Bray, who said both organizations share a core value.

“We both believe in serving our communities—and that belief drives us both,” she added. “We are very excited and thankful at this opportunity to educate students and families on the importance of Revolutionary history and its relevance to today.”

Currently, the Traveling Trunk program is at Little Harbour School in Portsmouth.