Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: HORSES WINTERED ON MARSHES

Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents


Another vote, of the same date as the last, was substantially as follows: The town being sensible of the great damage that is done in the marshes and meadows, by persons letting their horses and other cattle run at large in the winter time, going over fences, creeks and rivers, to the haystacks, do therefore order, that from the first of November till the last of March, from year to year, every person shall take care of his cattle to prevent damage of this kind, as far as may be; and that, if any cattle be found at the haystacks standing in the meadows and marshes, within the time mentioned, their owners shall forfeit 12d. a head for every beast so found, and it shall be lawful to impound such cattle, and to take the penalty named, and all just damage to the person damnified.

The object aimed at, by this vote, was not fully attained, for about five years afterward, the vote was in substance renewed, showing that occasion for the regulation still existed. Indeed, the practice alluded to, of letting cattle--and particularly, horses--run at large during the winter season, was continued for a long series of years. In the summer, the horses were usually pastured, where they could be found and taken at any time, when wanted--generally for carrying their owners, or others, to mill or to market, and, on the Sabbath, to meeting. In the winter, they were suffered to roam upon the beach, and the marshes and meadows, and other grounds in the vicinty, getting their living as best they could, by cropping the tall beach grass, or grazing upon the rowen on the marshes and meadows, where the tides kept the ground free from snow--oftentimes, no doubt, when the creeks were frozen over, venturing far out into the marshes, and making depredations upon the haystacks.

Possibly a few aged persons now living can remember when this custom still lingered here, for it had not wholly ceased at the commencement of the present century. Some, who have died within the last twenty or thirty years, used to give humorous descriptions of the appearances of the horses thus wintered. The poor beasts, exposed to storms and the cold, were enabled to endured the inclemency of the weather, by a kind provision of nature, causing their hair to grow thick and long, which, though unused to the curry-comb or brush, seldom, when dry, became tangled or matted, but stood out, as if under the influence of the electric fluid, giving them the appearance of being plump. They were so in appearance only, however, and when the hair was wet with rain or snow, or from their own perspiration, their real condition was readily seen. Most of them were, in fact, of an inferior breed, and, being thus kept, or rather left to the care of themselves, before the return of spring they almost invariably became lean and lank, and withal exceeding shy, so that feeding together in droves, when any person went near them, they would throw up their heads with a snort, and start off with all the speed of which they were capable, appearing like so many skeletons.

"The first of April, 1671, a great storm of driving snow came out of the northwest and drove up into drifts about 6 feet deep as appeared by those that measured the banks of snow, and for the space of 14 days [after] it was a sad time of rain, not one whole fair day in fourteen, and much damage done to mills and in other ways by the floods that followed."

The above date is in Old Style, so that the storm was on the 11th of April, as we now reckon time.

Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents