The American Independence Festival was held Saturday, July 18th, in downtown Exeter. Most people celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. However, people here celebrate about two weeks later, because that is when the Declaration of Independence reached Exeter in 1776. Back in those days, there was no internet, cell phones, or any technology like that, so the news had to be spread by mail. This is why Exeter celebrates later.
This was the 25th festival Exeter has put on, and it included many informative historical elements. There were people role-playing George Washington, John Stark, and John Taylor Gilman. There were also different stations set up with traditional artisans doing their crafts. There was a basket weaver, a shoemaker, a harpist, a gunsmith, a potter, and many more. The museums were open, and there were chances to interact with the revolutionary characters. This was followed by children’s activities, the firing of canons, battles, dining, music, and fireworks.
“You have to love history to want to do this,” said a woman from Cpt. Dearborn’s Company, who has been reenacting since 1986 when she got married. Her station was about food, so she made a beef stew and a blueberry crumble. Satisfied with her accomplishment, she said, “it sure was a lot of work to stay alive back then — even the kids helped out.” She likes to be part of the festival to bring awareness to the colonial time period. “There’s not nearly as many people who talk about the colonial era compared to the civil war,” she remarked.
Ron Raiselis, a cooper, likes to be apart of the festival because it is an “opportunity to share and teach others.” Raiselis has been a cooper for over 38 years and started at the festival 15 years ago. When asked what his favorite part of the festival was, he said laughing, “not the costumes! Sometimes they are too hot!” Looking over to the soldiers smoking cigarettes who were role playing earlier in the day, Raiselis said, “this was an exciting time for Americans- some of the colonial soldiers have personal ties to what happened over 200 years ago.” This shows why the Exeter community is very passionate about its history.
Another station was Mrs. Oakley’s, who was a traditional dressmaker. She was accompanied by her husband, a shoemaker. It was only her second year at the festival, but she was already very into it. She decided to join because she enjoys her craft and the history of this time period. Mrs. Oakley had many thought-provoking comments to make. She said: “Americans seem to be fascinated with the colonial time period, but revere the parliament and the king. You can’t be colonial and not have a king.” She also said, when talking about the war, “for women, did this really make a difference?” Women and people of color did not benefit from this independence as much as people today would like to think. Her comments shined a light on the not-so-glorious aspects of the Revolution.
After a long day of learning and experiencing colonial history, visitors had time to grab a bite to eat from one of the venders, and wait by the river. The consensus of students was that “the fireworks were totally the best part.” Make sure to look out for the next American Independence Festival next summer.