Hampton Reminiscences -- Part V
By Enoch P. Young
(July 3, 1824 - January 11, 1910)
The Exeter News-Letter
September 16, 1904
- Part V -
EDITOR, The Exeter News-Letter. -- Seventy years ago in Hampton, many a domicile, such as "Webster's Unabridged" defines as "place of permanent residence," was entirely devoid of outside paint. A few owners, a dozen perhaps, dared enjoy the luxury. Many others contended that renewal of clapboards periodically often was the greater economy. Now the unpainted home is hard to find in Hampton, so much as for an exception.
I am inclined to ask: Is this change greater than the people's habits and manners of living? Then the homestead, and its surroundings, where earnest effort was being made daily and continuously for sufficiency and comfort, was manifestly having its reward liberally and satisfactorily. Such was then apparent on all sides. Hampton then was notably a farming community, pure and simple, prosperous and contented. Many hundreds of bushels of Indian corn for surplus and a market were raised every year when the season's conditions could grow corn. This was before railroads or grain fields in the West had made their appearance. Back towns then reckoned on old Hampton as an Egypt, like where Jacob of old sent his sons to buy corn. Fertilizers gathered from old ocean and river's bed, mixed by and with pluck and vim of the farmer, made Hampton farms like gardens, very productive. Indian corn, beef and pork, with fish from the ocean, were then among Hampton's favored exports.
Fish then were in plenteous quantity. Not uncommon for the one boat, carrying two men, (some few boats carried three men), to land for that day's fishing luck 2000 pounds, while well along in the tens of hundreds of pounds per boat, with two men, was the usual expectancy with favorable weather. Ready market for winter fresh fish was the usual luck. Large covered wagons, with four or six horses each, from northern New Hampshire and Vermont, having been to Boston and a market with their home products, returning by way of Hampton, freighted with fresh fish, frozen and packed as cord-wood sticks.
Then nearly 100 men were living in Hampton that made winter fishing off Hampton beach something more than a pastime. Twenty buildings, fish-houses, stood in a continuous line on Beach hill at north beach near where is now the government life saving station. In each of these fish-houses were several boats used for fishing purposes, with all other of the needed paraphernalia commonly used in the business, with a comfortable shelter for the fishermen while ashore. Now only half a dozen such buildings remain, and about a dozen men encouraged to continue the business. Trawl fishing is thought to work disastrously to the off- shore fishing business.
Potatoes in those times were very productive and were cultivated in great quantities, one of the staple products for marketing -- not uncommon for the single farm to produce 500 to 1000 bushels as its yearly marketing product, -- 100 to 800 bushel lots for market almost as plenty as neighbors. Potato rot, Colorado beetles, blight, scab and phosphate were unknown then; no paying out then 99 cents for fertilizers, throwing in your own labors that season, uncertain if you shall at harvest time receive so much as 100 cents for it all. Fertilizers then were all home made and the real stuff. The crops appreciated by repaying bounteously.
I remember the harvest season when I was 14 years old. With my cousin about my own age I worked for one of our uncles picking potatoes, where there were several hundred bushels being harvested. The hired men did the digging and emptying baskets. We boys did the pulling tops, -- not much such done now, -- and filling baskets. Bushel baskets were then in liberal supply. Potatoes then yielded liberally. Moving basket once or twice, we had it full. The men emptied. We soon filled the ox cart with its side boards up, 60 or more bushels, often as uncle could drive his two yoke of oxen to schooner, one mile distant, and unload.
The potato digger was unknown as a farm implement then. The manure fork was often used as a digger. The hoe then used had its eye for handle so made that handle retained its full bigness through blade of hoe, a serious hindrance, a clog always in the user's way.
Several schooners plied almost weekly between Hampton and Boston, carrying produce, with much other freight, and passengers. Rye, another near-by port, neighbor to Hampton, also a farming community, with like advantages from the ocean, maintained her share of coasting freighters. The people of these two towns, very like brothers, mingled well together when in Boston. Hampton boys, working then in Boston, kept watch of the marine records, especially for schooner Fly, Locke of Rye. An evening spent on board ship, with skippers Locke, of Rye, and E. Johnson Lamprey, of the William Tell, from Hampton, was almost as good as going home.
Sea weeding, gathering old ocean's fertilizers. She pays her dividends reasonably often, in liberal quantity, and with commendable promptness. The first gatherer coming usually receives service first. So if through neglect you obtain not, you alone must take the blame. Old ocean is strictly impartial. The people's promptness in gathering ofttimes prevented lavish wastefulness by rot. Seaweeding then was among the farmer's diversions, and was enjoyed to their fill; not an uncommon sight in the middle of night the seeing 15 or more ox carts, many of them with two pair of oxen to each cart. Accompanying each cart were usually two or three men as pitchers or pilers, teams and all planted on an half acre plot, more or less, of drift seaweed, landed the previous tide, or about to land there, all waiting for break of day. The laws then required it to be taken only by day light. By planting your team upon the plot and staying there even if it be in the night, you sort of pre-empted that much till day light, an opportune privilege, the waiting till some one of the crowd, more inspired or impatient probably than others shouts "day break." Then comes the rush, almost tumbling over each other in the darkness, pitchers and pilers in all directions securing all they can for self. Look a few hours later back side of Beach hill. Acres more or less covered it may be, with hundreds of dump loads of seaweed just lately taking from ocean side.
Soon commences the transporting process to the farm acres that are being made ready for next season's harvest crop, oxen then being the principal motive power. Often in sight at such time were eight to a dozen, perhaps more ox carts, loaded, cord wood size, pressed down and running over, each with two pairs large oxen attached ready for the homeward start.
Now, it is rare that the ox cart is seen on the beach, (except for sand) with so much as one pair of oxen. Usually now, it is the one horse dingle cart with scattering samples of the two horse team, with driver, often an elderly man, accompanied possibly with a small boy, both riding on the load. Formerly teamster travelled by side of load. The later way is more comfortable for driver. It is not expected the horse will any choice in the doings. He obeys and remains silent.
Many barns then were of accommodating size, and well stocked with bovines in all conditions of growth, from the suckling calf to the heavy beef ox; cows several, and sheep not a few, for family use. The loom, spinning wheel, wool cards, and their contingent fixings furnished the large open chamber of many a home, where the daughter learned much that enhanced her value as house keeper and wife, later on. Home made cloths were then largely depended upon. One horse usually answered the purposes of farm work. Oxen were used exclusively for drafters.
Marketing to Newburyport and Portsmouth was largely done by the female side of the family. Electric cars not so much as dreamed of. The old slow farm horse, hitched to the four wheeled, no spring wagon, then the best in use, and few of them, or the two wheeled one horse dump cart, with an early start, and all day journey at that. How would mothers of to-day prize marketing, if compelled to follow like conditions.
In town were six or eight two wheeled chaises, some of which were home made, or nearly so, short boxes in hubs,axle pin rough as it came from the blacksmith's forge, with linch pin instead of nut at axle ends. I have worked up scores of such in my blacksmithing days. Such chaises were among the showy rig outs of that remembered past. Horse back riding was then much in vogue, with both male and female. The horse block, a large granite boulder, placed in the street, supposedly by town authority near the town church, was kept in that position, as late as the middle decades of the last century, as accommodation for ladies and children as well as the men, while mounting and dismounting the saddle. Ladies riding horseback to church on the Sabbath was not an unusual observance since my day.
Church service on the Sabbath, how promptly and precisely the people then remembered the Sabbath day. The large meeting house building was usually well filled, both forenoon and afternoon, no recreation, afternoon visiting and excursion services, many among those from the greater distance remaining over noon- time intermission. There were two day- time services, with sermon at both, evening prayer meeting service, usually in Academy hall (the building burned), or one of the district school houses, no hall or vestry in the town meeting house. Lighting the large open two-story room of the church with tallow candles (the common method then), would have been a difficult problem. Our change in Sabbath observance, is it on the retrograde? God is the same and is still at the helm. His time of settlement will surely come. The eternities are His, all is His.
Cattle raising was among the industries expected of the prosperous farmer, thus providing for himself a home market, for much produced on his farm, that otherwise must go to waste. A number of Hampton farmers then were owners of pasture lands in back towns, 20 or more miles distant, where many young cattle and not a few older, were sent for the summer pasturing, thus being sort of out of way and care of owner the while. In my earliest recollections flax was raised to some extent. The flax break and tow-comb were utensils common to be seen about farm store houses. Poultry, geese and hens were a sort of underfoot nuisance, in about every dooryard, not careful to confine themselves to their own home lot, sort of privileged characters, lay and scratch where they pleased. No one so much as pretended to yard their hens those days.
Salt marshes then were to Hampton farmers as extra dividends and greatly appreciated, the thousands of acres situated in Hampton Hampton Falls, and Sea brook (said to be the largest single plot of salt marsh In New England) producing yearly many thousands of tons of salt grass, which in these later years is greatly to rot and go to waste, for lack of harvesters. The bottom of farming in Hampton seems to have dropped out, or is getting fearfully loose. Marsh property requires neither fencing nor fertilizing. Taking the crop and storing the same year, your labor is done. Good salt marsh then sold readily for $40 and $50 per acre, with instances where as high as $80 was paid. Some farmers in back towns, ten miles distant, owned their marsh lands, their farms considered incomplete without. There is no call for salt marsh lands now, hardly taken as a gift. With all improvements of seeding, and harvesting machinery, this thriftless condition of things speaks volumes against the times.
E. P. YOUNG.