by Barbara Rimkunas
This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, January 4, 2013.
With the inauguration of Maggie Hassan, Exeter can now claim to have four governors from the town. It’s not the most governors from a single town in New Hampshire, but it is an impressive record. New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states that still have a two-year term for governors, and for the first 100 years New Hampshire held a gubernatorial election once a year, so there’s a fairly large pool of governors in our state. Since 1776, New Hampshire has had 81 governors while neighboring states Connecticut and Massachusetts have had 68 and 65 respectively.
When the Declaration of Independence arrived from Philadelphia on July 16, 1776, it was John Taylor Gilman who read the document to the collected townsfolk. The copy he read from was one of the famed Dunlap Broadsides – perhaps the one later found in the attic of the Ladd-Gilman house.
After the war, John Taylor Gilman became the state treasurer at the death of his father in 1783. He retained the job until 1792. In 1794, he was elected governor and would be elected 14 more times before his retirement in 1816. He served an unprecedented 11 straight years – the longest run in New Hampshire history. John Lynch holds second place with a mere 8 years, and he only had to stand for four elections.
Just before finishing his term with the NH Supreme Court, Smith purchased a mansion on Park Street overlooking the old militia grounds, which now serve as the Park Street commons – home to Rec Department baseball games and the public skating rink. The house has changed hands many times and was moved just up the road many years back, but it still stands.
Smith served just one year as governor before returning to his chosen profession of judge and lawyer. His first wife and a son and daughter died within a three year time span in his later years. Many wondered if he would recover from such a blow, but a late in life marriage and the birth of his son, Jeremiah Smith Jr., when he was 80 years old seemed to bring him back to his old equilibrium. He moved, in his last year, to his wife’s hometown of Dover, where he died in 1842. Like John Taylor Gilman, he was buried in the Winter Street Cemetery.
At the time of his retirement, he decided to spend his time writing history. Turning first to his adopted town of Exeter, he wrote a history of Phillips Exeter Academy, which he had attended while preparing for Harvard. He also wrote about Exeter’s involvement in the Revolution, Exeter’s Wheelwright Deed and a history of the New Hampshire Bench and Bar. His magnum opus, though, has to be his broad “History of Exeter, New Hampshire,” which encompasses the history of the town from 1638 to 1888. This book has proved invaluable to researchers and is used nearly daily at the Exeter Historical Society.