Roadside History: Exeter Town House

September 15. 2017 10:04PM

New Hampshire historical marker number: 97.

Date established: 1974 in Exeter.

Location: At the junction of Front Street (Route 111) and Court Street (Route 108) in downtown Exeter.

What the sign says: "The historic Town House of Exeter stood near this site. Here on January 5, 1776, the Provincial Congress adopted and signed the first state constitution thereby establishing an independent state government, the first of the thirteen colonies. The newly created legislative Assembly met here during the Revolution. The Town House remained in use until replaced by a new structure in 1793."

The back story: In 1774, the rebellious Provincial Congress began to meet in the Exeter Town House after Royal Governor John Wentworth banned it from the Colonial capital in Portsmouth. In July 1775, the Provincial Congress had the provincial records seized from royal officials in Portsmouth and brought to Exeter, which became New Hampshire's capital for the next 14 years.

At the Town House on Jan. 5, 1776, delegates to the Provincial Congress adopted a constitution that established self-government in New Hampshire - the first constitution adopted by any of the 13 colonies.

On July 16, 1776, a printed copy of the Declaration of Independence, which had been approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, arrived in Exeter by courier. Exeter native John Taylor Gilman read the declaration to the townspeople from the steps of the Town House.

The poster-sized copy, known as a Dunlap Broadside, was one of 150 to 200 sent from Philadelphia to the colonies. The New Hampshire copy was discovered in 1985 in the attic of the Ladd-Gilman House in Exeter. It's now part of the collection at the American Independence Museum in Exeter and one of 26 copies to survive.

The marker commemorating the Town House is in a small park called Town House Commons and also within the Front Street Historic District, which was listed on the National Historic Register in 1973.

Sources:, Exeter Chamber of Commerce, American Independence Museum, Wikipedia.


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