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How Exeter Discovered a Copy of the Declaration of Independence in an Attic



You never know what treasures are lurking in the attic of an old house. The Society of the Cincinnati in New Hampshire found out in 1985 when local electrician Dick Brewster and his assistant made a big discovery. However, this story really begins in Philadelphia in July of 1776.
(Full story below)

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American Independence MuseumOn the night of July 4 (into the wee hours of July 5th) 1776 Philadelphia printer, John Dunlap, printed approximately 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence. The broadside copies were couriered by horseback to each of the thirteen colonies, General Washington and his troops plus other important colonists and by ship to England. A broadside is a poster printed on paper. It took several weeks for the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence to reach its destination in New Hampshire.

The broadside arrived in Exeter, New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War capital, on July 16th. The state treasurer’s 22-year-old son, John Taylor Gilman, was given the honor of reading the document to the residents of Exeter from the town house steps. It is not clear what John Taylor Gilman actually did with the Dunlap after he read it, but it is assumed that the document stayed with the Gilman family after it was printed in the local newspaper.

The Gilman's of Exeter  

John Taylor Gilman and his five surviving siblings grew up in Exeter in the home now called the Ladd-Gilman House. The Gilmans were destined to be active in politics. John Taylor’s father, Colonel Nicholas Gilman, served as the treasurer for New Hampshire from 1775 until his death in 1783. During that time the family home became the state treasury and his three eldest sons assisted Colonel Gilman in the financial affairs of the state. John Taylor became the state pension agent in 1776, served as a state representative to the Continental Congress for one term, became state treasurer after his father’s death and later served as governor of the state for fourteen one-year terms.

MORE on the Gilmans of Exeter

Nicholas, Jr. served in the New Hampshire militia and the Continental Army during the war becoming an aide-de-camp to General George Washington. Nicholas later would become one of the state’s two delegates to the Constitutional Convention and later served as a US senator. Nathaniel assisted his mother during the war and would later become very active in local politics and served as a member of both the US House of Representatives and Senate for a brief period.

The Ladd-Gilman House stayed in the Gilman family until 1902 when the Society of the Cincinnati in New Hampshire purchased the house. The Society used the house as their club house for annual meetings and also created a small military museum in one room of the house. The Society of the Cincinnati is a fraternal military organization founded by officers of the Continental Army in 1783. Nicholas Gilman was an original member of the New Hampshire chapter.


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