Hampton Reminiscences -- Part XI
By Enoch P. Young
(July 3, 1824 - January 11, 1910)
The Exeter News-Letter
March 17, 1899
The Farmer and his Wife, Sixty-Five Years Ago -- Part XI
Editor, EXETER NEWS-LETTER. -- I am no historian, yet memory's parchment from back in my boyhood days is indelibly stamped with the scenes I then witnessed, and many times I have wished that someone with pen more free and pathetic than mine, would tell us the story of how our fathers and mothers sixty=five years ago had to battle with life's struggles. By their want of the conveniences and comforts which we to-day enjoy, they were compelled to endure and suffer much that to us is unknown.
The farmer and his wife of those times if my theme. The means of conveyance then were limited to horses and the sailing boat, the four horse stage coach and the sailing schooner, if journeying to Boston and beyond; no steam boars or railroads. The one-horse chaise was the principal conveyance used for business and for pleasure. It was a clumsily constructed vehicle; the axles were iron, made by the smith with linchpins, instead of nuts, short boxes in hubs, axle pin not turned in lathe, but smoothed only as the [black] smith could with the primitive tools he had. The four wheeled riding wagon was then but little in use, and but few owned in town. What was said to be the first one owned in the town, was in use forty years since. I then had occasion to repair the ancient vehicle. Then wagon axles were wooden, the cumbersome box body was confined directly to axle and rocker bunks; without springs of any sort. Iron axles for riding wagons were not in use till about the year 1838.About that time the leather thorough braces came into use, and were made much like what were used under the body of the one-horse chaise. The body resting upon and confined to them obtained a sort of spring, or swinging motion, an improvement on the bare axle plan. In 1840 steel springs began to be used, and very soon came into general use. The cumbersome ox cart which seldom left the farm except for seaweed, was a much used article. The two wheeled horse cart, a sort of dump, was somewhat in use. The ladies sometimes made that the vehicle with which they did their marketing to Newburyport and Portsmouth. I well remember several of those carts. On one of them the wheels were home made, and so carelessly were the boxes and spokes fitted in the hubs, that the tracks made by the rims of the wheels at each revolution resembled the letter S long drawn out.
Its owner, once on a time, meeting a person on foot approaching who seemed anxious as to which side of the road he might take, the owner of the cart seeing his perplexity told him to stand still, then the wheels would not hit him. Should he try to get out of the way the chances were they would run over him.
The plows of those times were only such as the village smith constructed, and were clumsily made. They had wooden furrow boards, with strips of thin iron on the outside, or working face. The coulter, or cutter, with the point, landside, etc., were made of iron, with the cutting parts steel, and so made that they could readily be taken apart for sharpening and repairing. No bolts with screw threads and nuts were used in its construction, for few smiths then had tools for making bolts with screw and nuts. So the linchpin and key wer almost everywhere without competitor.
Hoes, forks and most of the tools when used in doing farm work were products of the [black] smith's skill. Hay forks had two tines, made of iron as large as one's finger near where they were joined to the handle shank, stout, that we boys could not break them. The handles were sometimes not even home made, but as they grew, a willow sprout, with the bark peeled off. The hoes, with the eye of place for the handle, near the top side of blade, large enough to receive a handle an inch or more in diameter; a clog continually in the way when using the hoe. The scythe then sometimes made by the blacksmith, came into the market unsharpened, with two hours hard circular work on the grindstone, for somebody before it could cut any grass. The hunt for the webirons and ring and wedge for the snathe, which sometimes was then growing in the wood lot. Horses were not used for team work. Oxen had no rivals in that particular branch of farming.
The farmer then was a hard worker. He kept his farm well provided with fertilizers, having the advantage of his neighbors in the back towns, by his opportunity for getting sea weed from the ocean and the muscle beds in the river. His farm yielded abundantly, so much so that Hampton was largely depended upon then to furnish her neighbors in the back towns with corn, and by them was called Egypt. No West then to supply the world with grain.
It was not uncommon to see in the night time after a severe storm, 15 to 20 ox carts, with one to four men to each cart, many of the carts with two yoke of oxen each, standing in the middle of the night upon large bodies of sea weed that had landed on the shore the previous high water. The law then requiring the sea weed should be taken only by daylight, was obeyed strictly. Piling it about high water mark, or hauling it over beach hill, was the only way one could claim it as owner. The teams often left home in the middle of the night. Those who arrived first got the advantage by selecting what to them seemed the best, or richest spot, and by placing upon it his team held it till break of day, piling it after break of day around his team, thus holding it till at his convenience he hauled it over the beach hill, or so much of it as the next high water did not take away from him.
Many of our best farmers, more especially our young men, followed off-shore fishing, particularly in late autumn, and early winter. They had the shrewdness to see, as one of them expressed it, that fishing was much nearer cash than farming. Then there were on the beach a long row of fish houses, 20 or more, for the storage of boats and fishing gear, and comfort of the men employed. A host of these houses have been taken down or gone to decay. Nearly 100 men were then busily employed shore fishing off Hampton Beach. Fish were then caught on handlines, no seining or trawling. Two men to each boat, sometimes three, and it was considered slim "doing" if they did not bring in each day in good fishing weather, from ten hundred to fifteen hundred pounds of fish to each boat. Not uncommonly the fare would be two thousand pounds or more.
In late fall and early winter, large covered wagons with four and six horses attached, from Vermont and northwestern New Hampshire, having freighted goods from home to Boston, returning, came this way and freighted back with frozen fresh fish. I have seen large loads of fish spread out on the road side while in the process of freezing. Then like cord wood sticks packed in those large wagons in standing position till the wagon was loaded to its fullest capacity. They were peddled out on the journey home at a big profit, no doubt.
The raising of hay, grains, Indian corn, potatoes and garden "sass" were among the enjoyments of the farmer. He was expected to direct his energies with those objects in view, but always subject to climate conditions which were sometimes of the most discouraging sort.
I remember one season in the early thirties [1830s] when there were but few bushels of sound corn suitable for seed raised in Hampton. Early freezing weather destroyed almost the entire large crop of corn of that year. Mouldy and rotten as it was, they saved as best they could by spreading upon the attic floors such as they were compelled to use for food. The odor from those heaps is still distinctly in my memory. Apple orchards were sufficiently abundant, natural fruit, as it grew direct from the seed. Hardly ever were two trees found bearing the same kind of fruit. It was sour, bitter, chokey, puckery with all degrees of flavor mixed in an inconceivable mass of varieties and sizes, small and great, soft and hard. All answered for cider, and to feed to hogs and neat stock. All farms of any pretension had large orchards about the home place, while pasture lands and about field-fences were growing many without care or order. But little of the fruit could be kept for winter use. Baldwins, and what others are now our winter varieties, were unknown then. Some half dozen cider mills were kept running in full blast from early fall till winter's frosts stopped the business.
E. P. YOUNG