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The Secret Society of the Cincinnati

Society of the Cincinnati
America's First Hereditary Veteran's Organization (Continued)


The Society of the Cincinnati honored the selflessness of Cincinnatus by adopting the motto “Omni reliquit servare republicam,” that means “He relinquished everything to save the republic.” In addition, the Society insignia also honors Cincinnatus.         

On June 19, 1783 the Bald Eagle was adopted and the Society allowed Major Pierre L’Enfant, a French officer who joined the Continental Army in 1777, to design a medal to be worn by members. L’Enfant believed that the Society insignia should be similar to European orders like the Order of St. Louis or the Order of Military Merit. He designed a medallion with the bald eagle as the main symbol. In the center is a scene of Cincinnatus. One side shows Cincinnatus receiving a sword from the Roman Senate and the reverse shows him plowing his fields. The ribbon on the medal is white and light blue to symbolize the friendship between the United States and France. The Society flag is similar to the medal, but contains fourteen stars around the Cincinnati Eagle to represent each of the thirteen states and France


Society_of_CincinnatuiThe Society of the Cincinnati was an active organization until the early 1800s when it became dormant for many years. The original rules for passing Society membership to the eldest son eventually forced a change. The Colonial Revival period brought about its rebirth because Americans who had a hereditary connection to members of the Revolutionary generation were creating organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution to reconnect to their ancestral past.  

Today’s members must be a descendants of an officer who served three or more years in the Continental Army or Navy , an officer who was killed in service, or an officer who was serving at the end of the war. Membership can be passed to a collateral heir if no direct male heir exists. A collateral heir would include a cousin or nephew. Membership today is approximately 3,700 worldwide.          

The state of New Hampshire’s Society of the Cincinnati has four membership categories that include: (1) Hereditary members who are direct or collateral descendants of an eligible New Hampshire officer; (2) Successor members who are descendants of a current New Hampshire hereditary member; (3) Life members who are a collateral descendant of an eligible officer from another state whose membership will return to the other state upon the member’s death; (4) and finally Honorary members who are selected by the state society in recognition of a position of national distinction or public service. Many U.S. presidents have been honorary members, but the only president who was a hereditary member was President Franklin Pierce.  

The Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire  

The New Hampshire chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati was founded on November 18, 1783 at the Folsom Tavern in Exeter. The chapter elected Major General John Sullivan the first state president. The chapter went dormant in 1823 and was reorganized on July 4, 1896 in Concord, and has remained an active organization since. On November 1, 1902 the chapter purchased the Ladd-Gilman house in Exeter to use as their club house and for annual meetings. In the 1920s the Society took ownership of the Folsom Tavern and now holds their annual meeting in the same room in the Tavern where they were founded 227 years ago.  

The New Hampshire Society supports the American Independence Museum and maintains ownership of the Ladd-Gilman house and Folsom Tavern, which are used by the museum. The New Hampshire Society continues to collect important objects, paintings and documents of the Revolutionary period to assist the museum in educating the public. Those interested in learning more about Society membership should visit the Society’s Web site  

The Society Today  

The National Society is headquartered at Anderson House in Washington D.C. that holds a large manuscript, portrait and military ephemera collection. The National Society maintains a museum in the Anderson House which is open to the public, as well as a library which is open to researchers. The Society is now a society of friends that aims to educate the public about American history and the principles on which the nation was founded.  

For more information on the Society of the Cincinnati please visit the American Independence Museum in Exeter, NH. The Museum is open from mid-May to the end of October from Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Bergeron is the curator at the American Independence Museum and teaches United States history at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, NH.


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