By Isabel J. Povey, Summer Times Staff Writer
Founded in 1638, Exeter goes back in history nearly 130 years before the American Revolution. This town is laced with stories, and everywhere you look holds secrets of this New Hampshire community’s past. It is no surprise that the annual celebration of Exeter’s long and intricate history is always a hit.
On Saturday, the town came together as one to celebrate all that it stands for, and its heavy influence on the becoming of our nation — the news of which took some 10 days to reach Exeter from Philadelphia in 1776. That’s why Exeter celebrates Independence Day each year about a week and a half after the rest of the country. This year, the 29th annual Independence Festival united vendors from all over New England, passionate history fanatics, and dedicated Exonians alike.
It even brought the Kamala Harris 2020 Presidential Campaign Team around to Exeter! “The history here is absolutely amazing,” said Ms. Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff. “The spirit, the history here is living and breathing, it’s so great to see it right in front of us.” He was at the festival on behalf of his wife, and he said he was so excited for the opportunity to represent her while meeting new people from the state that holds the first primary election. He even remarked on Phillips Exeter Academy, calling the school “amazing” and “known all over the country”.
Not only is this celebration a tradition in the town, but many families look forward to this event each and every year. Rose Dennis of Newton, NH, always visits Exeter just for the festival. She said she loves to experience the time period come alive before her eyes through music, clothing, and storytelling. She loves watching the reenactments and sitting down for beer with George Washington — or his lookalike each year. “It’s something special to this community, I can’t think of anywhere else that has celebrations that are as meaningful to the area as this one,” Ms. Dennis said.
Some people love the Exeter history so much that they become the Exeter history! Sarah Jaworski is one of many who get the honor of portraying Exonians during these monumental colonial ages. She was an actress demonstrating the toys kids played with to entertain themselves during the time of the Revolution. She is an employee of the Exeter Independence Museum, and hit the ground running by working this event only a few weeks into the job.
“I started my career in history at this museum as a volunteer,” she said. “I then worked in other museums for fifteen years and had to come back to my roots.” Ms. Jaworski said she believes in history because “it’s a way for us to learn from people’s mistakes and successes.” She also explains the reason why she loves it so much is that it reminds her that no matter what, we are all human. “Everyone’s the same, no matter when they lived. And whatever we are feeling, it has been felt before.”
Business owners near and far love the Exeter Independence Festival as a way to build lasting customer relationships. Claire Mcgrall has come to the festival for the past few years from Hampton, NH, to support her husband’s birdhouse booth. After seeing how much he enjoys being a vendor at the event, she wanted to give it a whirl.”I used to follow my grandmother through her garden. Now, I love planting dahlias,” she says about starting her project. “I use dried flowers to create decorations like bouquets. I love painting them and trying new things!”
She and Sue Swietek, another vendor, both said they believe in the importance of knowing the history of where you come from. Ms. Swietek, however, traveled a little further to contribute to the festival. The owner of Hubba Hubba Foods, she came all the way from York, ME, to celebrate Exeter’s story. For her, she was eager to learn about the history of a town she isn’t native to. Hubba Hubba Foods specializes in handmade spices. It all started when she gave each of her friends and
family members a jar of steak rub for Christmas. “They came back to me with the empty container and said they can’t eat steak without it now!” Even though she’s never been to the Independence Festival, as soon as she saw the vender applications, she signed up. She’d been looking forward to the event since.
From delicious food, to encounter with Founding Fathers, to real cannon firings, the Exeter Independence Day Festival is clearly about more than just history. It is about community, togetherness, and sustaining these traits that make us Exeter for the many years to come.