The following principles shall be immutable and form the basis of the Society of the Cincinnati:
An incessant attention to preserve inviolate those exalted rights and liberties of human nature for which they have fought and bled, and without which the high rank of a rational being is a curse instead of a blessing.
An unalterable determination to promote and cherish, between the respective states, that union and national honor so essentially necessary to their happiness, and the future dignity of the American empire.
To render permanent the cordial affection subsisting among the officers. This spirit will dictate brotherly kindness in all things, and particularly extend to the most substantial act of beneficence, according to the ability of the society, towards those officers and their families who unfortunately may be under the necessity of receiving it.
For convenience the Society was divided into thirteen State Societies, and upon the roll of original members appeared the names of nearly all of the historic military and naval characters of the Revolution. The General Society, composed of the general officers and delegates from each State Society, was required to meet every three years, and State Societies annually on July fourth.
The first meeting of the General Society was held at Philadelphia, May 4, 1784, when the first general officers were elected: His Excellency General George Washington, of Virginia, President General; Major General Horatio Gates of Virginia, Vice-president General; Major General Henry Knox, of Massachusetts, Secretary General; Brigadier General Otho Holland Williams, of Maryland, Assistant secretary General; Major General Alexander MacDougall, of New York, Treasurer General. General Washington served as President General until his death in 1799.
The insignia of the Society was designed by Major Pierre L’Enfant, of the French Corps of Engineers, who planned the city of Washington. It is an enameled gold eagle, displayed, bearing on its breast medallions charged with the emblems of the Order, and the motto, Omnia Relinquit Servare Rempublicam. (He abandons everything to serve his country.) It is suspended from a light blue ribbon edged with white, emblematic of the union between France and America’ A highly treasured relic in the possession of the Society is the insignia, richly set in diamonds, presented in 1784, by the French naval officers through Admiral count D’Estaing, to General Washington, by whom it was worn and has since been regularly transmitted to each of his successors as president General.
In France, where the French officers formed an organization under the presidency of the Count D’Estaing, the Cincinnati reached a most eminent distinction, including among its members the most illustrious nobles and military officers of France. Many of the French officers valued the Order of the Cincinnati more highly than the Cross of St. Louis. The society was organized in council, with the consent of the King, Louis XVI, who, by decree, granted special permission to the French Cincinnati to wear the order, an exceptional privilege, since no other foreign order was allowed to be worn in France except that of the Golden Fleece.
THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SOCIETY
The First and Second Regiments of the New Hampshire Continental Infantry, reduced to a battalion of four companies, were stationed in the cantonments at Newburgh at the time of the formation of the Society of the Cincinnati on May 13, 1783. Brevet Major General John Stark, their senior ranking officer, however, disapproved of the proposed society and his regiments took no part in the proceedings. Lieutenant Daniel Gookin in a manuscript letter now in the possession of the New Hampshire Society states that Baron de Steuben on behalf of the General society, subsequently approached Major General John Sullivan, the next ranking officer, who caused a notice to be printed in the New Hampshire Gazette on October 4th and 25th and November 1st, 1783 requesting all eligible officers.
“to meet … at the house of col. Samuel Folsom in Exeter, on Tuesday the 18th day of November next, at ten of the clock in the forenoon, to choose a state president, and other proper officers of the society; and to agree upon necessary measures for complying with the regulations established at their general meetings.”
On the appointed day twelve officers assembled at Exeter and organized the New Hampshire Society. The following year four meetings were held in Exeter and thereafter the Society met annually until 1824 at taverns in Exeter, Epsom, Epping, Durham, Nottingham, Deerfield or Portsmouth. Although there were more than two hundred officers eligible for membership in the Society only thirty-one finally signed the institution and the activities of the Society appear to have been to dine together annually on the fourth of July, to elect officers and to distribute the modest income from the Permanent Fund among widows and children of members. Seldom were more than five to eight members in attendance after the first decade but the collations were both sumptuous and ample as witnessed by the tavern bills preserved in the Society’s archives. Annual meetings were held without interruption until July 4, 1824 when Lieutenant Daniel Gookin and Bradbury Cilley, an hereditary member, were the only members in attendance. The Society was by 1826 reduced to nine members, residing in Amherst, Dover, Exeter, North Hampton, Nottingham, and Stratham, too widely scattered and too old to carry on the affairs of the Society. No meetings are known to have been held after 1824, although John Wingate Gookin signed the Roster in 1831 upon the death of his father, and appears, therefor, to have elected himself but he may have conferred under the two surviving members, Adams and Wilkins. On October 24, 1842 Gookin, then living in North Yarmouth Centre, Maine, transferred the records and papers of the Society to the New Hampshire Historical Society stating that the society “has become extinct by the death of all the members.” Since Gookin himself had signed the membership list as the successor to his father and Lieutenant John Adams was still living in Stratham at the age of eighty-four, this statement was not strictly correct but the records passed into the hands of the New Hampshire Historical Society where they remained until 1916 when they were restored to the Society. Upon the death of Adams in 1847 and Gookin in 1856, the Society did, in fact, become extinct since it had never been incorporated and its funds had long since been disbursed.
In the year 1893 a committee consisting of Franklin Senter Frisbie, Frederick Bacon Philbrook, William Lithgow Willey, Walter Tolman Willey and Charles Langdon Tappan issued a general letter of invitation to descendants of New Hampshire officers to attend a meeting to revive the New Hampshire Society. An organizational meeting was held in the Library of the New Hampshire Historical Society on September 18, 1893 at which the members of the Committee together with Bradbury Longfellow Cilley and Joseph Neally Cilley were present. The minutes of the last recorded meeting held in Exeter on July 4, 1823 having been approved, The Society declared itself to be the New Hampshire Society of Cincinnati in session after a lapse of seventy years and proceeded to elect officers and members. On July 4, 1894 another meeting was held at which Dr. Abraham H. Robinson and Albert Edward Bodwell were elected to hereditary membership. In 1895 at least three meetings were held and it would appear that John Gardiner Gilman, Joseph Burbean Walker, Henry Oakes Kent and Frederick Lincoln Bangs were elected to membership.
On July 4, 1896 a second reorganizational meeting was called at Concord at which the proceedings of the meetings of 1893 through 1895 were set aside and the Society voted to consider this meeting as an adjournment of that held at Exeter on July 4, 1824. Messrs. Gilman, Cilley, Frisbie, Philbrook, above mentioned, and Charles Henri Gookin and James William Sullivan were elected to membership and the Society proceeded to take the necessary measures to be received into the General Society. An act of incorporation was secured on March 17, 1897 and formal application was made to the triennial Meeting of the General Society held in New York on May 11, 1899 at which it was voted that the applicants be “authorized to form a provisional organization in said State, which organization shall be for the next three years, and until further action of the General Society be governed by the rules as to eligibility of membership of the Society of the Cincinnati of the State of Massachusetts.” At the next Triennial held at Hartford, Connecticut, on June 17, 1902, it was voted that “The Society of the Cincinnati in New Hampshire having complied with all the requirements laid down by the General Society at the last Triennial General Meeting ought to be considered as fully revived and accepted as a component part of the Institution.”
The 1897 articles of incorporation read as follows:
“Society of the Cincinnati
“We, the undersigned, lineal male descendants and representatives of the original members of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati, being persons of lawful age, do hereby associate ourselves under the provisions of Chapter 147 of the Public Statutes of the State of New Hampshire by the following
“Articles of Agreement
“Article I. Name
“The name of this corporation shall be the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati.”
Article II. Objects
“The objects for which this corporation is established are to keep alive among ourselves and our descendants and in the community at large, the patriotic spirit of the Officers of the New Hampshire Continental Line who, upon the dissolution of the American Army in the year seventeen hundred and eighty three, formally organized and instituted in the town of Exeter the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati, in accordance with the provisions of the original institutions of the Society.
“To perpetuate the remembrance of that great event which gave independence to the Colonies of North America, as well as the mutual friendships which were formed under the pressure of common danger, and in many instances cemented by the blood of the parties.
“To extend the most substantial acts of beneficence to those members who unfortunately may be under the necessity of receiving the same.
“Article III Place of Business
“The place in which the business of this corporation is to be carried on is the State of New Hampshire, with headquarters in the city of Concord
“Article IV. Capital Stock
“There is no capital stock.
“Article V. First meeting of the corporators
“The first meeting of the corporators was held on the fourth day of July eighteen hundred and ninety-six, at Concord, New Hampshire.
John Gardner Gilman
Charles Henri Gookin
Ira Darling McClary
fames William Sullivan
Frederick Bacon Sullivan
Franklin Senter Frisbee
On January 19, 1905 the Standing Committee changed the legal residence from Concord to Exeter and on July 4, 1928 changed the name to “The Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire.”
On November 1, 1902 the Society purchased the Ladd-Gilman House in Exeter. Built by Nathaniel Ladd in 1721, The property was sold in L747 to Colonel Daniel Gilman and has been owned by him and his descendants, except for the years 1881 to 1883, until its acquisition by the Society. At the opening of the Revolution Colonel Nicholas Gilman was elected Treasurer and Receiver General of the State and a portion of the house became the State Treasury from 1775 to 1783.
One of Nicholas Gilman’s sons, John Taylor Gilman, had the honor on July 16, 1776 of reading a copy, just arrived in town, of a Declaration of Independence Broadside to the citizens of Exeter on the Court House steps. Another son, Nicholas Junior, served as delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Known since 1902 as Cincinnati Memorial Hall, and furnished appropriately to the period through the generosity of members, the house has served as headquarters for the New Hampshire Society. This was the only State Society to own and maintain its own house until the Georgia Society took over a Savannah mansion in 1989.
In 1929, the Society acquired the historic Folsom Tavern. in which the New Hampshire Society was organized, and where Washington had been entertained on his visit to Exeter in 1789. This has since been moved to land adjacent to Cincinnati Hall, and has been restored to its original state.
In 1985 an important discovery occurred printing when the 23rd known Broadside of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence was found in the attic of Cincinnati Memorial Hall, by an inquisitive secretary.
It has not been determined is this is the same copy, previously mentioned, that was read by John Taylor Gilman to the Exeter townspeople. However, years of negotiations followed with the State of New Hampshire on the matter of proper title and ownership over this important historic treasure. Society Members Newell Flather, Edward Mills Guild, William Dowse Weeks and Edward Franklin Woods were paramount in coordinating early successes. Strenuous efforts were then pursued by these members and William Blakely Tyler, James, Benenson, Phineas Sprague, Henry Sewall Woodbridge and Pendennis White Reed. As a result of their travail, as well as the contributions of other members, the Society was given custody of the document with the provision that the State of New Hampshire could use and exhibit it for 100 days per year.
The whole issue stimulated discussion which led in 1991 to the establishment of the American Independence Museum, using our Cincinnati Hall as its base. Among its more interesting and valuable 18th century artifacts, in addition to the Declaration Broadside, are two original drafts of the United States Constitution. Letters of Washington, Lafayette, Louis XVI of France, and other notables are also shown. In addition, the museum displays the only existing (of three) original Purple Heart Decorations, designed during the Revolutionary War and awarded by George Washington. It is therefore, the oldest American military decoration still in use today.
The 1783 Institution
The Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest American, patriotic, benevolent, social, and non-political Order, with military overtones. It was organized on the 13th of May 1783, by the officers of the Continental Army then in cantonment at Newburgh, on the Hudson River, Major General Baron de Steuben presided over the convention of officers at which the lnstitution of the Order was adopted, the governing principles of which are as follows:
“lt having pleased the Supreme Governor of the Universe, in the disposition of human affairs, to cause the separation of the Colonies of North America from the domination of Great Britain and, after a bloody conflict of eight years, to establish them free, independent and sovereign States, connected, by alliances founded on reciprocal advantages, with some of the great princes and powers of the earth.
To perpetuate, therefore, as well the remembrance of this vast event, as the mutual friendships which have been formed under the pressure of common danger, and in many instances cemented by the blood of the parties, the officers of the American Army do hereby, in the most solemn manner, associate, constitute and combine themselves into One Society of Friends, to endure as long as they shall endure, or any of their eldest male posterity, and, in failure thereof, the collateral branches, who may be judged worthy of becoming its supporters and members.
The officers of the American Army, having generally been taken from the citizens of America, possess high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus; and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, they think they may with propriety denominate themselves:”