By Yizhou Zhao, Guest Contributor
It is just one of the ordinary buildings you see in Exeter every day; it is just a five minute walk from school; it is just a house of a family. Yet here we are, Ms. Parris’s Exploring American Culture class, at the American Independence Museum. It indeed once belonged to a family, but no ordinary family—it belonged to the Gilman family, who fought bravely for the Revolutionary War.
From outside, the Independence Museum is simply an old, yellow building decorated with flags, standing in the middle of noisy construction nearby. The inside of the museum is what distinguishes itself. Although I have read about it several times in historical books, I was still surprised to see how primitive the lives of American people 200 years ago were. Along the wall there were tools for making candles, cotton fibers used to make garments, and rickety chairs that we dare not sit on. The great spirit that came from such conditions was moving and admirable.
The owner of the house was responsible for collecting taxes from the state of New Hampshire. A huge metal box full of tricky mechanisms and rusty locks confirmed the idea. There was also cash of 5 dollars, even 6 dollars, and 5 pounds on the desk that indicated the confusion of the monetary system then. This was one of the most important issues the Constitution addressed.
Next we headed to the “War Room.”. As we expected, there were several guns displayed on the walls, one of which was equipped with a bayonet. These weapons were mostly given by the French, as support to bring down the empire on which the sun never sets. A uniform for the general that sat serenely against the wall and a bottle that allegedly contained the tea from the Boston Tea Party all cast an atmosphere of tension. And here came the centerpiece of the museum: a rare original copy of the Declaration of Independence. It was the very copy that was read to the people of Exeter to announce the great news. However, because of fear of persecution from the Britain, the announcer hid it in the attic of Gilman House. After about 200 years later in 1991 it was found by accident, and was astonishingly preserved well. It was this discovery that made the museum come tp being.
Only one room away there was a document as historic as the Declaration, the Constitution. There were scribbles and annotations all over the paper, full of insights and wisdom, which pleasantly added a touch of history to it.
An exciting twist to the story: the copy was illegally brought home from the Constitutional Convention. All content and documents from the convention were supposed to be kept classified, but the copy was brought to the house because the owner could not wait to let his family know about this great new constitution. On the wall there were two copies written in different times. From “We the people of the states of NH, MA, etc.” to “We the people of the United States of America,” the sense of unity grew stronger and stronger over time, and in some way encouraged us, the younger generation to spare no effort in pursuing the cause of promoting international unity.
The American Independence Museum is a small museum, yet with remarkable history.