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The town of Exeter is situated in Rockingham Count, a county which it served as the county seat until 1997. Located where the Exeter River feeds the Squamscott River, a tidal river. It is named for the historic English city of Exeter in Devon. Originally inhabited by the Squamscott Indians, Reverend John Wheelwright, along with a number of other Europeans who were exiled to what is now New Hampshire, became the first to buy land from Wehanownowit, the paramount chief of the Algonquin. The purchases took place on April 3, 1638. Wheelright had been exiled by the Massachusetts for sharing religious views which were different from the beliefs of the Puritan theocracy. When he was banished, he took about 175 others with him. They were primarily hunters, fishers, and many herded cattle. In 1647, a grist mill was established, and this business was followed some time later by a sawmill, a builder of masts, staves, and other things made of lumber. The Republican Party was founded during a secret meeting at the Squamscott Hotel. Amos Tuck proposed the name of the party, and he explained that it sounded like both Jeffersonian and Madisonian. President Lincoln's son Robert Todd Lincoln attended college preparatory school Phillips Exeter Academy, which was founded in 1781. It burned in 1961.

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