Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Town Meetings

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At the first town meeting of which there is any record--probably the first that was holden--October 31, 1639, William Wakefield was chosen town clerk; and, judging by the records which he kept, the choice was a judicious one. Christopher Hussey, Richard Swaine and William Wakefield were chosen "to measure, lay forth and bound all such lots as should be granted by the freemen," to hold their office for one year, and to receive as compensation for their services, twelve shillings for laying out a house lot; and, in ordinary cases, one penny an acre for all other land surveyed by them.

A vote was passed, imposing a fine of 1s. on each freeman, who, after due notice of any town meeting, should fail to be at the place designated, within half an hour after the time appointed; and it was made the duty of the constable to collect every such fine, for the use of the town, under penalty of forfeiting double the amount.

At another town meeting a few weeks afterwards, November 22, two rates were ordered to be made, one of which was "for the payment of 3£ 11s 8d to John Moulton, for his going twice to the Court as deputy, at which times he spent twenty-seven days, which at 2s 6d per day,--his diet being satisfied by the Court,--comes to 3£ 7s 6d, and that with 4s 2d for ferriage, comes to 3£ 11s 8d."

The purpose of the other rate appears to have been to meet expenses incurred at the beginning of the settlement for the transportation of goods, but so much of the record is worn off, that it is impossible to gain from it any very definite information.

As the term "freemen" will often be used in the early annals of the town, it is proper to explain here its meaning. Under the first charter of the Massachusetts colony, only those were freemen, who were admitted such by the General Court, and took the oath of allegiance. This custom prevailed till the second charter changed the colony to a province.

In Coffin's Newbury, we read:

"A man might be a freeholder & not a freeman, and vice versa. He might be a voter in town affairs, and yet neither a freeholder nor a freeman.

A freeman was one who had taken the freeman's oath, and which alone entitled him to vote in the nomination of magistrates and choice of deputies, alias representatives.

A freeholder was one, who either by grant, purchase, or inheritance, was entitled to a share in all the common and undivided lands.

When any town officers were to be chosen, or money raised by way of rate, all the inhabitants could vote.

Thus we sometimes find the expression, 'at a meeting of the freemen', sometimes, 'a meeting of the freeholders', or 'a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants,' or 'a generall towne meeting,' and sometimes of 'a legall towne meeting.'

These expressions always indicate the nature and object of the meeting, and were necessary, as all the transactions were recorded by the town clerk in the same book."

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