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Jim Hayden, a volunteer at the American Independence Museum in Exeter, provided a live musket-loading and firing demonstration at Saturday's opening. (RYAN O'CONNOR/Union Leader Correspondent)

American Independence Museum opens new exhibits

EXETER - President George Washington was touring New Hampshire on Nov. 4, 1789. Hungry and parched, he stopped by the Folsom Tavern in Exeter to "partake of a collation"

"It was really a light breakfast," said Julie Williams, director of the American Independence Museum, which includes the historic tavern.The museum opened for the 2014 season this weekend, welcoming guests Saturday to explore the property and check out four new exhibits.

"Today, we wanted to offer everything to be free to everyone so we could get as many people in the community out to enjoy what we have to offer and all the new things we have going on this year," said Wilson.The museum's new features include a hands-on children's exhibit and a graphic look at Revolutionary War medicine.

"It's gory and creepy, and I hope people come see the images," said Wilson. "It's really, really interesting stuff involving amputations and gout and all sorts of surgeries without anesthetic."Several American Revolution re-enactors, including a militiaman and a doctor, were on hand treating visitors to both authentic and reproduced artifacts, good-natured banter and live musket loading and firing demonstrations.The American Independence Museum, which was opened in 1991, was previously owned by another private nonprofit organization, the Society of the Cincinnati, the nation's oldest veterans society.

In addition to the Folsom Tavern, which was built in 1775, the museum's property includes the Ladd-Gilman House, which was constructed in 1721 and housed John Taylor Gilman, who governed the Granite State for 14 years."It really has been a treasure trove of Revolutionary War History," said Wilson. "We have all these incredible objects."

Among items currently housed in the museum are two early drafts of the U.S. Constitution and one of 29 known Dunlap Broadside's of the Declaration of Independence. The historic copy was found in the Ladd-Gilman house in 1985. Other permanent collections include Revolutionary-era furnishings, ceramics, metals, textiles and military memorabilia, including an original Purple Heart awarded by Washington, and hand-written letters from the nation's first President.In addition to Washington's visit - the 225th anniversary of which will be commemorated in November - the property is also famous for hosting a meeting of Revolutionary War officers on Nov. 18, 1783. That day, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire was formed.The American Independence Museum, located at One Governors Lane in Exeter, is open Thursday through Saturday, May through November, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Normal admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors (65 and older) and $3 for students ages 6 to 18. Admission is free for children younger than 6.roconnor@unionleader.dom