The Marshland

By John D. Fogg

'Recollections Of A Salt Marsh Farmer'

Edited by Eric N. Small -- 1983

Section 1

The first settlers in what are now the seacoast towns of Hampton Falls and Seabrook, New Hampshire, found that the hay which grows on the salt marshes was a valuable feed for their cattle. There was a good crop there every year and it could be had at a very small cost, as no care was involved, such as the building and maintaining of fences and the spreading of manure.

A good many resident and non-resident farmers owned land in Hampton Falls and Seabrook from the 1700s well into the early 1900s. The farmers came from as far away as Fremont, Kingston, East Kingston and Exeter. The farmers from Kensington and Seabrook owned the most land.

The marsh land in Hampton Falls was approximately 1,000 acres in size, bounded on the north by the Taylor River, a portion of upland and the Hampton River in Hampton and on the south by Brown's River and Knowles or Parsonage Island in Seabrook. In the 1914 valuation book for Hampton Falls, I found this town had 814 acres of marsh land taxed to residents and non-residents.

Now there was getting to be a great rush in buying up that salt marsh land. The farmers didn't have enough tillage to raise the hay and grain needed for all their livestock, so that is why the salt marsh hay was in such great demand. Grandpa John Batchelder used to tell how hard it would be to buy a piece of marsh unless it was something that needed ditching badly and the grass wasn't good.

My father, George A. Fogg, told about when he was a boy in 1860 mowing with his father, David Fogg, down on his Seabrook marsh, a three-acre piece called the Scucks marsh, not too far from Robin's Point on the Brown River.

In 1878, when my father bought our place at Fogg's Corner, Hampton Falls, and built a new barn to keep more cows, that's when he bought the Cram marsh down on the so-called "Steep Banks" marsh in Hampton Falls. That marsh land was higher than most marsh in Hampton Falls, having better drainage and the grass did grow taller and heavier. He paid forty dollars per acre for that six acres, even if it was one even mile from Healey's Island. You can see on the map in the next section, I have outlined the path that goes to the "Steep Banks." This point of marsh land of 90 to 100 acres has a higher easterly bank consisting of sand and thatch grasses.

Our marsh and the Godfrey four-acre piece is partly on this bank. If you need to drive a staddle stake you need an iron bar to make the hole. It's the same on the east end of our three-acre piece. That bank doesn't change from storms like the west bank where the tides keep washing under the sod, making the sods break off into the river.

Harvesting Salt Hay

'Recollections Of A Salt Marsh Farmer'

Edited by Eric N. Small -- 1983

The process of harvesting salt hay is not specifically mentioned in John's book, however, several years ago a brief explanation of this method, with John's assistance, was printed in our historical society newsletter. It is included here rather than in the text, as it was not written by Mr. Fogg, although it was approved by him as an accurate description of the way salt hay was harvested.

The Harvesting of Salt Hay

The harvesting of salt meadows commences in the late summer and ends in the fall after the first frost. The harvest begins at dawn during the spring tide, when the waters have ebbed just below the marsh flats, leaving the stocks of grass moist and firm for cutting. The farmers line up with their scythes, mowing the grass in windrows.

Once the hay has dried, the men return with their loafer rakes, calking up the hay into haycocks. The pointed ends of the two hay poles are then pushed under the cocks of hay, which are carried to a nearby cluster of staddles about eight feet in diameter. As the hay is packed solidly onto the staddles, one worker gets on top of the stack to arrange the hay into a round, conical formation, building it to a height of approximately twelve feet.

Several thatch ropes are thrown to the worker who places them across the haystack. He then climbs down the stack, holding onto a hay pole and jumps to the ground, careful not to disturb the hay.

The ends of the rope are tied into knots and are shoved into the sides of the stack to keep the northeast winds from destroying the haystack which remain there until the snows and the ice of winter have settled on the marshlands.

The hay is then pitched onto a hayloader or sled and hauled to a wide creek or river, where it is loaded onto a gundalow, floated at high tide to the landing, pitched onto a hay wagon and hauled to the farm.

The crop is stored in the barn and used for fodder and mulch. The hay which was cut after the first frost is sold for banking.