Sure, every American has a right to feel all red, white and blue on the 4th of July, but it seems New Hampshire’s Seacoast should have special flag-waving privileges on that day. After all, the American Revolution really started there.
On Dec. 14, 1774, four months before “the shot heard ’round the world” in Concord, Mass., Seacoast patriots captured a British fort, the William and Mary, in New Castle. They took the 200 barrels of gunpowder stored there and used it for the momentous battle at Bunker Hill.
Not only that, then-Governor John Wentworth was forced out of Portsmouth at cannon-point, according to Seacoastnh.com. That left the Port City, once a loyalist stronghold, the only New Hampshire town without a British official in charge.
These facts argue for a great Seacoast celebration on July 4, and so there will be. There are all manner of fireworks displays, band concerts and parades planned, but the must-go event is the “Celebration of America” at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth. “It’s a good, old-fashioned family celebration,” says Strawbery Banke’s Heather Harris.
Starting at noon, a long list of activities unfurls: polka and ethnic instrumental rock music by Gary Sredzienski and The Serfs, reggae with the Mystic Vibes, a children’s bike and wagon parade, a treasure hunt, the “blessing of the fleet,” bubble blowing, kite flying, puppet shows, sack races — and that’s just for starters. For more information, visit www.strawberybanke.org.
From Portsmouth to Exeter
During the Revolutionary War, the state capitol was moved from Portsmouth to Exeter to protect it from a naval assault. It is a time that comes alive at the American Independence Museum in Exeter. You can learn about the reading of the Declaration of Independence to the citizens of Exeter in July 1776 by John Taylor Gilman, who later became governor of New Hampshire. Visit the 18th-century Ladd-Gilman house and the Folsom Tavern, where George Washington had breakfast on a tour of New England after the war.
The museum has an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution for viewing. It also has one of the first Purple Hearts awarded to a wounded Revolutionary War soldier. It’s said to have been sewn by Martha Washington.
On Saturday, July 17, the museum will be “Celebrating the American Spirit” at its 14th annual Exeter Revolutionary War Festival. There will be a troop encampment and battle by the Lexington Minutemen, a live reading of the Declaration of Independence, and an 18th-century fashion show. Historic role-players will portray General George Washington and John Taylor Gilman. A canoe rally on the Squamscott River, children’s activities and food complete the picture. For more information, visit www.independencemuseum.org
Nation’s Oldest Brass Band
Just ahead of the 4th of July, on June 28, the Exeter Brass Band will mark the holiday with a bandstand performance, which will include patriotic songs like “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Over There,” and, of course, Sousa marches. The 32-member band is the nation’s oldest continuously organized brass band in the country; the first concert was in 1847.
Chick MacDougall, who has played cymbals and drums with the band for 48 years, says he’s only missed one concert in all those years. He looks forward each year to the band’s five performances, every Monday starting June 28. The performances are free, right at the bandstand in the center of town at 7:30 p.m.
Other Exeter events: Thursday afternoons, the Seacoast Growers Association holds a Farmer’s Market on Swasey Parkway, 2:15 p.m.-5:30 p.m., June through October. Visit www.seacoastgrowers.org or call (603) 778-6003.
Thursday nights in the summer there are free band concerts on Swasey Parkway. For details contact the Exeter Parks and Recreation Department at (603) 778-0591.
The Exeter Kiwanis Charity Classic Road Race is Saturday, July 17. The club has been doing this race for more than 20 years. Contact Ron Goodspeed at (603) 580-6642. NH
Seacoast Fireworks Displays
The city fireworks begin at 9:15 p.m. July 3 and the Arts in the Park party in the park will continue until 11 p.m. For information call (603) 436-2848, or visit www.artfest.org.
Family event at Rochester Fairgrounds with food, entertainment and fireworks on July 3. Adults $3, $2 students, under 5 free. For information call (603) 335-3100.
Every Wednesday night and holidays at 9:30 p.m. July 4 features a very special shoot. For information call (603) 926-8718 or visit www.hamptonbeach.org
4th of July fireworks will be displayed from Garrison Hill this year. The display starts around 9 p.m. For information call (603) 516-6400, or visit www.dovernh.org NH
This article appears in the June 2004 issue of New Hampshire Magazine