• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #79: The Powder House, Exeter


The British didn't dare come to New Hampshire!

The first shots fired in the American Revolution weren't at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775. They happened four months earlier, in New Hampshire. On December 14, 1774, John Langdon of Portsmouth led a group of rebels across the Piscataqua River to the British-held Fort William and Mary on New Castle Island and braved cannon fire to seize a hundred barrels of gunpowder from the small royal garrison and haul down the British ensign. This act of patriotic treason was in response to the King's embargo on shipping of arms or ammunition to the increasingly restive colonies, word of which was brought to Portsmouth by Paul Revere on December 13 (a practice run for his more famous later ride).


The stolen munitions became the responsibility of John Sullivan of Durham, one of the colony's delegates to the Continental Congress. Under Major Sullivan's leadership, the bulk of the powder was transported (via gundalow and carriage) to Exeter, which was emerging as the hotbed of rebel resistance to the Crown. The powder was stored in a small brick shed that had been bult in 1771 on a spit of land called Duck Point (now Powder House Point) along the Squamscott River. The story of the powder doesn't end there - much of it was later taken to Boston and used by American forced in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It's also of interest that the raid described above led directly to the British Army marches on Lexington and Concord the following April, as the redcoats sought to recover the stolen munitions. During the War of 1812, the Powder House would again serve as a major munitions depot for the American military.


I love that Exeter is so steeped in history, and played such a pivotal (and criminally uncelebrated) role in the earliest acts of resistance against the oppressive British regime. I guess we needed a Longfellow to play the minstrel, or the slick Bostonian talent for self-promotion. New Hampshire tends not to boast or brag, but rather to sit back in secure contentment that we know we did our part. There might not be a poem, but you can still see the Powder House, across the water from the Swasey Parkway, a squat brick reminder that Exeter and New Hampshire were leadoff hitters for the American Revolution.

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