The Town Pound and the Hogreeve

When we first moved to Exeter, I became really fascinated by the old cemetery that's next to the playground. For about two seconds I found it creepy that the playground was essentially attached to the "old burying yard" (truly, cradle to the grave), until I began reading the grave markers over the fence while my kids played- then I couldn't wait to go to the playground.  They range from the early 1700's through the civil war. It is actually the first introduction I got to many of the old Exeter names I've become familiar with while researching my house- Thyng/Thing, Gilman, Gordon, Dodge, Magoon, Colcord, and on and on. It is referred to as the "Winter Street Cemetery" and predates the newer Exeter Cemetery off of Arbor Street, which was established around 1848.

While walking around it one day I noticed a small stone enclosure attached to it on the outside. It was made of stone blocks, had a pretty, old metal gate and seemed to be dug out, like a shallow bowl, in the middle. There was a town groundskeeper mowing around the cemetery who told me what is was. It was the old town pound, as in, animal pound. But it was no SPCA. Apparently, most New England towns had at least one pound where stray and wandering livestock could be held until their owner collected them . According to Jessie Salisbury's article, "'down old pounds," as of a 1791 New Hampshire law, it could also be used to impound the livestock of those who failed to pay their taxes.  If the taxes weren't paid within four days the animal(s) could be sold at auction. Problem solved, for the town, anyway.
The dimensions and materials used for town pounds were roughly the same: about 25 by 30 feet, six foot high walls and a gate with a lock. It was run by a pound keeper, usually a newly married man, that was elected or appointed by the town. His responsibility was to round up stray cattle, which referred to any kind of livestock, and drive them to the pound where they were held until their owner showed up and paid a fine to get them back. The pound keeper was required to split the fine with the town. Letting your animals stray seems to have been a major blunder since it had the potential to destroy your neighbors garden. In a time when agriculture was the mode of subsistence, a loose cow could not only decimate months of cultivating your current food source, but your food stores for the winter as well. It was serious business and not taken lightly.

While looking for information on the town pound I got sidetracked by the story of John Bean. From what I can tell, John (Mac)Bean (1634-1718), a native of the Scottish Highlands, was one of the first Exeter pound-keepers. His story reads like something out of the movie Braveheart, only it ends better. In 1651, along with 12,000 other Scotsmen, Bean fought and lost the final battle of the English Civil War against Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. I typically glaze over when confronted with the details of a battle or a war story, which I did when attempting to read about the battle, but the story that followed the war fascinated me. 

He and 7000 of his comrades were captured. Of that 7000, he and 271 other rebels were chosen to be shipped off to Boston to become indentured servants for a term of seven years. Here is a great synopsis of this period of John Bean's life from one of his descendants, Bernie Bean, in his 1970 book, "The Life & Family of John Bean of Exeter & his Cousins:" the age of sixteen he was a young soldier in General Monk’s army, which went forth with the design to place Charles II as king on the throne which was vacant by the execution of his father King Charles I. On September 3, 1651, roughly 12,000 Royalist, Scottish troops were holed up in the English town of Worcester. This battle became known as the "Battle of Worcester." During the 10 hour battle roughly 3,000 Royalists were killed and 7,000 taken prisoner. John was captured by English Soldiers led by Oliver Cromwell and was jailed as a prisoner of war... he was released from prison on condition that he be deported to the colonies as an indentured servant.

Upon arrival in Boston, ...the decks of the ship were full of men, but these were not usual people coming to the new land in America to carve out new homes from the wilderness; these men were what the English Government of Oliver Cromwell called "ruffians" and "troublemakers" in Scotland. On this 24th day of Feb. 1652 these 272 prisoners of war from the Battle of Worcester marched down the gangplank under guard. They had been in a great war but they were not returning home to families and loved ones as returning heroes; they were to be sold as indentured workers to pay the cost of their transportation to America, where Oliver Cromwell thought they would be well out of his way. He could not then look into the future and see that these men and their sons would one day rise up and smite the British nation a terrible blow and break the yoke of oppression that he himself designed.

These 272 men, after spending the long days and nights since Nov. 1lth in the hold of a small ship... were not [met by] a friendly crowd on the docks; Bostonians then were good Englishmen and loyal to the King and Oliver Cromwell. These [272] men... hated Oliver Cromwell only a little less than their own King Charles who had betrayed them at the critical time of the Battle of Worcester by withholding ammunition just as the battle was engaged. 

They had lost a war but they were not defeated, and they marched between guards on either side from the ship to Saugus House [also known as Scotch House], to the north of Boston where the auction was to be held which sold them into indenture. 

Saugus House, also referred to as "Scotch House," was the building that once 
housed  indentured Scottish prisoners who worked at the Saugus Iron Works.
Among these 272 men were three who seemed to be together all the time. They were Henry Magoon, Alexander Gordon and John Bean. These three men had been buddies throughout the war and had a special relationship that would last for many years to come in the new land to which they had been shipped, Perhaps they had all enlisted together in the spring of 1650 when Oliver Cromwell made moves that were a threat to the Sovereignty of their native homeland.

Historian Everett Stackpole's lists of the prisoners of The Mary and John 1630, the boat that brought John bean and the other 271 men across the Atlantic to Boston, show that seven of these 272 were indentured to the owner of saw mills on the Exeter River and the Oyster River. [It is believed that] John Bean's first employment in America was for Nicholas Lissen in either one or the other of these two saw mills.The provision of the indenture was that these men would serve a six or an eight year apprenticeship but it is certain that none of them served more than three years. John Bean didn't serve that long. 

His wife Hannah died at the age 24 while giving birth.
Being an ingenious fellow, as all Scottish Highlander MacBeans are, he hit upon a way to be free of this servitude: he simply married the bosses daughter [Hannah Lissen]. He became partner with his father-in-law in the saw mills; be became a real estate developer; he was a farmer; he began the manufacture of moccasins for the indian trade and boots for the settlers, tanning his own leather from the same formula he learned from his father. 

John was never a political man except to support the elected government in the town. Although he served in the militia during the Indian War, he couldn’t be in politics because he was an enemy of the English government even after his discharge from indenture – he flatly refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown. The only two public offices he ever held were town pound-keeper and the surveyor of the boundary between Exeter and Dover.
You can read the story in it's entirety here:

1802 Phinehas Merrill map showing "new" court house.
The pound that Bean would have been in charge of in 1680 may have been the one noted in the Town Expenditures of 1722. Apparently, Benjamin Thing was paid "to move the pound" from one place to another. I don't know where it was moved from, but it was likely moved to the middle of downtown, right around where the bandstand is today. Charles Henry Bell wrote about this early version of the pound in his book History of the Town of Exeter, NH.

It sounds like it was quite the eyesore. And with livestock being driven in and out of it, it would have been a fetid mess to boot. As Bell describes, "a pound, which was doubtless more useful than ornamental, and several small shops had been huddled there, so that not only was the eye offended by t'he sorry group, but the highway must have been reduced to the narrowest dimensions." In 1771, the town voted "to grant liberty for a county court-house to be built on the land on which the pound and the stand." 

Plug and feather  quarry marks.
So, sometime between 1771 and 1825ish the pound was moved, maybe right next to the Winter Street Cemetery. Because of the half round, regularly spaced plug and feather marks on the stones used to build the existing pound, we know that it was built after 1825 or so. We also know that it was built before 1845, because that is the first map of Exeter that I have found to specifically include the town pound.  

1845 map done by Joseph Dow showing the current placement of the town pound.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the concept of the town pound was one of many constructs that was not only practical, but made the town's people feel that they were more in control of the chaos of the greater environment that they were immersed in. The town was truly an intertwined and mutually dependent community. Roads, bridges, stocks and gallows, the cattle pound and even livestock and the town green were built and maintained for the greater good as opposed to individual gain. The self in self-sufficiency meant the sufficiency of the town, not the individual.
The control of the lands by the town was jealously preserved; and no inhabitant was permitted to buy for his own use from the Indians any of the planting ground reserved for their cultivation ; but must tender it first to the town. (Bell, History of Exeter)
An insecure clinging to life seems an appropriate way to describe the state of the town. Indians, disease, "wild beasts and plants- and supernatural evils like witches- were all around them and needed to be insulated against, contained or conquered." (Stilgoe, Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845). Indians were not to be traded anything that could come back to haunt the settlers. From weapons to alcohol to too much corn- dealing with the natives was strictly regulated in critical ways meant to ensure the survival of the town's people. Because they each wanted, and in many cases, needed, things the other had, they were engaged in quite a two-way balancing act.  
In protecting town commons as well as privately owned land, swine seemed to be a particular problem. Like other species of livestock, with the exception of intentional grazing on the town-held meadows and commons, hogs were expected to be securely fenced in. Since the modus operandi of a pig is to root and dig looking for food, it can inadvertently destroy everything in its path. For the control of this particular species there was a town appointed hogreeve (my new favorite word). The hogreeve, usually a position appointed to a newly married man, rounded up stray pigs and either returned them to their owner, if known, and collected a fee, or drove them to the pound.   

In 1641, just three years after the land that we know now as Exeter was purchased from the Piscatoquake Indians, the law was laid down regarding fences and the keeping of livestock. Swine were not permitted to be kept outside of a fence within town after they were about 2 1/2 months old. By 6 months of age, all pigs were expected to either be "sent downe into the great bay," which I assume means sent on a boat to market, or securely fenced in.
Example of a hog yoke.

Hogs that were roaming free were required to be "ringed and yoked." The ring was pierced through the snout to prevent excessive rooting and the yoke, secured tightly around the pig's neck, was meant to block it from getting either in or out of a fence. I'm sure this worked some of the time, but pigs, like us, often possess a similar combination of intelligence and willful commitment to a singular cause. They would have found a way to get at what they wanted at least some of the time, thus making a law backed up by a fine necessary.
Yoked hogs

According to Sarah O'Shea in, "Role of Stone Walls in New England Agriculture,"  
...fencing was not only necessary but soon became mandatory. New laws and regulations throughout the towns ordered fences to be in good repair. Fencing was continually a subject of legislation throughout the colonies. A fence viewer was appointed at town meetings...
Open land was susceptible to damage by any wandering livestock, and proper fencing ensured that this vital land would be protected. A fence was considered in good repair if it met the specific height regulations of the town. These regulations varied according to which type of livestock being enclosed or bounded from. All of the measurements, however, were based on the Gunter chain. The gunter chain was a chain consisting of 100 links each link being 7.92 inches long.
 As the stability of the town as a whole increased towards the nineteenth century, the concept of the individual became stronger. The town pound fit this shift in priorities as well. Some livestock may have still been owned by the town, but there were more and more individual owners who's concerns were breeding and pedigree. A prize bull or stallion was valuable and needed to be kept separate from other herds. "The few owners careless enough to let their stock wander at will learned that their neighbors would capture them and confine them in the town-built livestock pound and levy fines." (Stilgoe, Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845).  
Eventually, the pound became obsolete. Industrialization and the increase of farming in the western territories eliminated the need for individual families to raise livestock and gardens for subsistence. Grocery stores sprang up in town and people could focus on a specialized trade, such as broom making or sewing, to get by. In 1877, the New Hampshire State Legislature voted to amend the original 1641 statute that had made pounds mandatory. It read, "any town in this State, at any meeting duly called for that purpose, may vote not to maintain a public pound in said town and to dispose of any land held by them for that purpose." (Laws of the State of New Hampshire, 1877)

 More images of the Exeter Town Pound
From the center of the pound looking out into the Winter Street burying yard."

Lintel over the gate.

Written by Kerry Baldridge

1 comment:

  1. An Interesting article.
    Douglas Bean ( 12 th grandson of John MacBean)