Exeter's colonial heritage takes center stage at festival

Special to the Union Leader
June 21. 2014 7:43PM

Colonial demonstrations are part of the American Independence Festival every year in Exeter. Kimberly Davis/Courtesy

Featuring arts and crafts, colonial demonstrations, battle re-enactments, food, music and much more, thousands of people are expected at the 24th annual American Independence Festival in historic Exeter.

Scheduled to take place on July 12, this year's festival will not be a mere re-creation of year's past, according to museum Executive Director Julie Williams.

"We've doubled the number of artisans from last year and devoted the entire lower grounds of the museum to the Artisans Village, not to mention some rooms inside Folsom Tavern as well," she said.  

Built in 1775, Folsom Tavern will also serve as "a tavern" in the words of Williams, featuring an Independence Ale, courtesy of Redhook Brewery.

"We also plan on keeping the tavern open past the time of the festival's close at 4 p.m.," said Williams, who noted costumed characters will interact with visitors at the tables. "Our re-enactors are incredible, too - they are all seasoned veterans with a lot of professional experience."

For longtime festival re-enactor Jim Hayden, who recently joined the museum's board of directors, the opportunity to provide a realistic glimpse into history is unique.

"As a re-enactor for 40 years, I think most of us try to really understand what life was like for a citizen and soldier," he said. "We put ourselves into the time period and hope we can educate the public about it."

Hayden said he bristles at the suggestion that more popular forms of entertainment, such as movies and TV, provide as accurate a picture of history as that provided by the festival and museum through its year-round programming.

"Movies like 'The Patriot' and shows like 'Turn' do great disservice to the real stories of what men and women on both sides of the independence, and those caught in the middle, went through," he said. "Real history is fascinating - and that's what the museum presents."

In presenting history to visitors, Williams said they constantly update their exhibits, which she believes will provide visitors with "a unique experience" at the festival. "It will complement all the live happenings," added Williams, who cited three new exhibits, including Medicine in the Revolutionary War, will be on display for visitors. "People of all ages will be amazed at some of the stories and early history of medicine."

New exhibits will include a hands-on exhibit for kids as well as one that explains the Society of the Cincinnati, the nation's oldest veterans organization. In addition to cannon firings throughout the day, she said visitors will be able to view an original and extremely rare first copy of the Declaration of Independence, among other items.

For museum board President Allison Field of The Provident Bank, which serves as one of several major event sponsors, the festival is an important part of the fabric of the Town of Exeter.

"Exeter was the state capital of New Hampshire during the Revolutionary War and played a critical, although often forgotten, role in the founding of our nation, which this festival helps to highlight," Field said. "It is a huge undertaking, but a bold and visible sign of the many dimensions the museum offers throughout the year."

Williams agrees and added, "The festival is really tons of fun for people of all ages. We hope people join us from throughout the state and beyond."

This year, major sponsors include GEICO's local office and Minuteman Health. Additional support is provided by Chinburg Builders, People's United Bank, the Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, N.H. State Council on the Arts and in-kind support from Redhook Brewery, Seacoast Media Group and WXEX-FM 92.1 and WXEX-AM 1540.

The American Independence Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, in downtown Exeter. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for ages 12 to 18, and free for children under 12 and for museum members.

To learn more about the American Independence Museum or the festival, go to www.independencemuseum.org.

TourismTravel and commutingNew HampshireExeter

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