Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: SNOW STORM IN MAY -- RIGHTS IN THE COW-COMMONS

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Dr. Belknap mentions, in his History of New Hampshire, on the authority of a letter from Rev. Nathaniel Gookin, of North Hampton, to Rev. Thomas Prince, of Boston, a very sudden and remarkable change in the weather, which, according to his statement, occurred in 1658, when the apple trees were in blossom. The change of temperature was so sudden, and the cold became so severe, that of the crew of a fishing boat, belonging to this town, "one man died before they could reach the shore, another was so chilled, that he died in a few days, and a third lost his feet." We find no notice of this event on the town records; but they do inform us, that, on "the thirtieth of April, 1659, there was a great storm of snow, which lay upon the ground three or four inches thick upon May-day in the morning, and continued, some of it, till it was ten o'clock, or thereabouts." This date is given in Old Style, so that the storm was on the 10th of May, according to the present method of reckoning; a time, when, if it was a forward spring, the apple trees might have been in blossom. Might not, then, the occurrence related by Dr. Belknap have happened one year later than he supposed? That there should be an error of one year, in the date, is not improbable, for it should be borne in mind, that the letter on which he based his statement was written more than a century after the occurrence, and the writer probably had no knowledge of it except from tradition.

The following vote, passed by the town, December 20, 1660, shows a willingness that the laws to which they were subject should be known. It also shows the care that was taken of the books containing the laws.

"Liberty is Granted to those yt have the keeping of the Las Bookes yt they shall lend them to their neighbors for about a fortnight att one time, who are to Returne them to those yt haue the keeping of them & nott to lend them from man to man whereby they may come to damage."

On the first of January, 1661, the town established a rule to be observed in the taxation of unmarried men, who had no estates on which taxes could be assessed, for defraying the expenses to which the town was liable. Each man was to be estimated as an estate of £20 in the assessment of taxes--whether town, or ministerial, except in cases where the selectmen, for good reasons, should think it expedient to assess a smaller sum.

It has already been shown, that the regular and usual method of admitting inhabitants was by vote of the town. From the first, this power was exercised as a protection from imposition and injury. Still, there was need of constant and untiring vigilance, to prevent persons acquiring the rights and privileges of inhabitants without permission thus granted; for by a colonial law, of 1645, any person who had lived in any town of the colony for the space of one full year should be accounted an inhabitant of that town. It was probably on account of this or some similar law, that the people of Hampton at this time made a regulation, that if any inhabitant of the town should receive into, or keep in his family, any inmate, without the consent of the town, he should forfeit to the town's use ten shillings a week.

But what occasion there was for the following vote, passed at the same meeting, it is not easy to conceive. The record of it is in these words:---

"Itt is ordered ytif any prson shall discharge a Gunn in the Meeting House, or in any other House, without the leave of the owner, or Householder, Hee or they shall forfitt five shillings, unless the prson so offending doth peaceably make satisfaction; nor shall any prson Ride or lead a Horse into meeting House under the like penalty."

At the town meeting last named, liberty was given to any and all inhabitants who chose, to break up planting ground on the commons, and have the profits for ten years, on certain conditions. The land must lie three miles, at least, from the meeting house, and those who should undertake to cultivate any portion of it must give security to the satisfaction of the selectmen for the time being, that at the end of the ten years, they would, at a seasonable time in the year, sow it down with English hay seed, two bushels, at least, of good merchantable seed upon each acre of ground so cultivated, which was thenceforth to lie common forever.

At at meeting, March 11, 1662, the town, as an act of justice to the owners of the meadows, or marshes, over which the causeway passed, gave them permission to set up gates across it in convenient places on both sides of the meadows, to prevent cattle from feeding or trampling upon them. The town also voted, that after the erection of such gates, no persons should put any cattle upon these meadows between the first of April and the first of October, under the penalty of being accounted as trespassers and dealt with accordingly. Nathaniel Boulter alone dissented.

Permission was also granted for gates, to protect the common field that had been enclosed in the east part of the town; one, near John Redman's--probably on the sea road, not far from the site of the east schoolhouse--to prevent cattle from entering the field from above; and another, at the bridge near the beach, as security against the cattle pastured upon the Great Ox-Common. These gates were to be kept up, and no cattle left within the enclosure from the beginning of April, till after the 10th day of October annually.

In the autumn following, the constable, Henry Roby, was fined ten shillings for neglect of duty, in "warning a meeting and not attending to forward the work"--the whole fine to be exacted, unless he should give a satisfactory reason for his absence, in which case one-half of it would be remitted. He also lost his office, and William Fifield was chosen constable in his place.

In December, the question, Who are to be considered inhabitants of the town? was answered by the following vote: "Itt is acted & ordered thatt Hence forth no man shall bee Judged an Inhabitant in this towne nor haue power or liberty to act in towne affaires or haue priviledg of Comonedg Either sweepedg or feedage butt hee thatt hath one share of Comonedg att least according to the first deuission and land to build upon."

At a town meeting, on the 9th of March, 1663, an allowance of 40s. was made to Samuel Dalton, the town clerk, for keeping the town records and recording the "Towne actes" during the year preceding. What his compensation had been in former years is not known.


At the same meeting, it was voted that the cow commons should be cleared of mares and colts, and that no person should put any cattle upon the commons, unless he owned some right in them. Persons having a right , might, if they chose, pasture one horse there instead of two cows. Thomas Marston and Nathaniel Batchelder were chosen to see this order executed. Persons owning no right in the commons, who should put any beast there to be pastured, in violation of this order, were made liable to a fine, even for the first offence. If the committee just chosen should neglect their duty, they were to forfeit 10s.apiece.

At this meeting, too, about seventeen years after what has usually, though rather improperly, been termed the divison of the cow common, two persons-one of whom was John Sanborn, and the other not known, his name being obliterated from the records-were chosen to join with Samuel Dalton, the town clerk, to ascertain by whom the shares of the common were then claimed, and to whom they really belonged; and as eleven shares had formerly been reserved by the town, to be disposed of afterward, they were also to ascertain how many of these had since been disposed of, and to whom. All claimants of shares were required to make known to the committee within two weeks, what shares they claimed, and any neglecting to do so, would subject themselves to a fine of 20s. each, The committee were also required, after having made a thorough investigation, and having found to whom the shares legally belonged, to case a record thereof to be made. The constable was empowered and ordered to take by distress all forfeitures arising under this order, and to give an account thereof to the town, with the assurance that he should "have satisfaction for his paines."

Two weeks afterward, the committee presented their report, which was accepted and placed upon record, as follows:

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