beer in new hampshire“Deeply and impressively researched, this book deftly describes tavern keeping in Hampton, New Hampshire during the 1638-1783 period. Consistently informative and entertaining, the book authentically depicts daily life in the colony.” – 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-published Book Awards.

“I loved this book! I never knew Hampton was once populated by such daring men and women.” – Peg on Goodreads.

History doesn’t have to be stuffy! This book is part history, part adventure, and, as my publisher (me) loves to say, “altogether a delightful read!” — depicting the vibrant lives of the seventeen men and six women who kept Hampton’s public houses of entertainment during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Blending historical fact with a sprinkling of well-crafted storytelling, A Meet and Suitable Person takes readers on a back door tour through the taverns of Puritan Hampton, depicting the lives of the seventeen men and six women who kept the town’s public houses of entertainment when America was still an English colony.

Here you‘ll delight in the humorous tale of the Newbury doctors’ scandalous attempt to procure a couple of townswomen at the Tuck ordinary, learn about the witchcraft-plagued tavernkeeper and corrupt judge who sold his countrymen out for a hundred acres of land, and cheer for the brave militia leader and tavernkeeper, Captain Samuel Sherburne.

The lives of the six women tavernkeepers shed new light on the rights and privileges of women in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Through sidetrips you’ll discover other intriguing inhabitants, such as the much-maligned “witch” Eunice Cole, the turbulent, alcoholic lawyer Edward Colcord who once threatened to “rip” Eunice with a knife as she faced yet another trial for witchcraft, and the upright but feisty town clerk Henry Dow, who kept a diary of every drink he bought at the ordinary during a time when serving the locals was illegal.

And you’ll discover that in the 1680s Hampton was a hotbed of liberty-loving patriots who weren’t afraid to throw a punch at a royalist or kidnap an insufferable Crown official to send him packing out of the Province. Informative and entertaining!



Download a free map of the Old Hampton taverns and start exploring for yourself!



Early Fire Companies of Hampton


The founding of Hampton, New Hampshire’s fire department rightfully belongs to the early twentieth century, with the formation of a beach fire precinct in 1907, a village fire precinct in 1909, and, in 1912, a volunteer company comprised of a chief, captain, lieutenants, clerk, and twenty “members.” These century-old associations, however, were not the town’s first attempts at organized fire protection. That happened over four decades earlier, in 1822, when voters authorized a committee of thirteen persons “to take into consideration the expediency of purchasing a fire engine for the use of the town and organizing a company.” The committee was to report on the costs of an engine and a “suitable building” in which to house it.

The thirteen men were appointed, but what became of their committee and its findings has not been recorded. Some sort of action regarding fire protection must have gone forward, since voters were asked at the 1823 town meeting to choose men to fill the newly-created post of “fireward.” This position, the forerunner of the fire chief, was modeled after that of Portsmouth, whose fire department dates to 1744, and Exeter, which had public and private forms of fire protection since 1774. But Hampton voters, who were getting along just fine with the community bucket brigade, chose to “pass by” that part of the warrant article.

Also in 1823, a group of men organized a fire company in Hampton Falls. According to Warren Brown, who wrote the history of the town, the company—which never fought any fires—was formed solely for the purpose of exempting its members from military duty (up to eighteen men per engine could claim an exemption). This was not unusual at the time, Brown said, as “similar companies were formed in other towns for the same purpose.”

May 2017 Image 01

1830’s-style hand-drawn fire wagon.

The exemption was still in force in 1833, when a group of fifty-one Hampton men purchased a fire engine from the American Hydraulic Company of Windsor, Vermont. The early 1830s was a relatively peaceful period in which the “Era of Good Feelings” still lingered across the country, and it seems unlikely that these men formed their company for any purpose other than firefighting; rather, they were doing what the town had declined to do a decade earlier, and they asked for permission to erect a building on town land to house their new engine. The 1841 map of Hampton shows the Engine House that the voters allowed the “Owners of the Fire Engine” to build “on the School lot in the Centre District.”

May 2017 Image 04 According to historian Joseph Dow, fires were rare in Hampton, and “after a few years, in which little service was required,” the fire company and its engine were abandoned. Afterwards the town kept “several sets of fire-hooks in different localities,” but those, too, were eventually abandoned. Writing the town’s history in the late 1880s, Dow observed that at the time there was no public means of extinguishing fires.

In 1891 the town installed a fireproof safe to protect its public records, some of which were over 250 years old, but voters still refused to concede the necessity of organized fire protection. The success of the bucket brigade in extinguishing and preventing the spread of fires, and watchmen paid to make sure they didn’t break out again, hindered the passage of proposed measures, including the purchase of a chemical wagon in 1900 and the installation of a water system and fire hydrants in 1905.

May 2017 Image 03

 Lemuel C. Ring, Chief of Hampton Beach Fire Department

It was a different story at the more densely populated and rapidly growing Hampton Beach, where concerned residents were growing tired of waiting for the town to act. With the State’s permission, they formed their own fire precinct in 1907, under Chief Lemuel C. Ring. Not to be outdone, the town formed its own precinct in 1909 (the two precincts remained separate entities until 2002, when the town assumed responsibility for fire protection at the beach). The town also approved the purchase of a horse-drawn chemical wagon, built by blacksmith Nelson J. Norton, painted by house painter George Johnson, with ladders supplied by farmer J. Austin Johnson and firefighting chemicals by the American Lafrance Engine Company. Three years later, Hampton’s first fire department was organized under Chief Elmer C. King, a forty-year-old piano and cabinet maker originally from Massachusetts, who had married Ella, the daughter of Horace and Elizabeth Hobbs of Hampton.

Horse Fire Truck is20041qtr_95

c 1910 Hampton’s first chemical wagon at the Town Hall.

Carefully balancing the town’s Yankee frugality with a need to grow his department, in his first report, submitted on February 1, 1913, King asked for the funds to build a second wagon, one that his men had volunteered to build themselves, and a house in which to store his anticipated fleet expansion. According to the 1914 town report, he didn’t get his new wagon, but the town did appropriate twelve hundred dollars for the proposed fire house. From then on, expenditures for the Fire Department became a regular line item in the town’s yearly budget.

1830’s firefighting humor

The lawyers of Penobscot, Maine have petitioned for a fire engine, to be called the “Spouter,” which they propose to man and work themselves.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on May 26, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book, with co-author Karen Raynes, is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is

THINGS TO DO THIS SUMMER: GO TO BEACH, GET A TAN, READ AT LEAST ONE OF CHERYL’S BOOKS! Available at, and in Hampton at Marelli’s Market and the Tuck Museum.



Tramps in Hampton NH


“I knocked softly at the kitchen door.”

“The successful hobo must be an artist,” wrote Jack London in The Road, a collection of stories about his life as a teenage tramp in the 1890s. London’s “artist” was a man who could spin a convincing tale of misfortune and woe in exchange for a handout at the doors of America’s kitchens. The writer credited his successful career as a novelist to his own tramping artistry, since, if he wanted to eat, he was “compelled to tell tales that rang true.”

In contrast to London’s uncritical, often humorous portrayal of hobo life, Hampton’s historian Joseph Dow had a scathing opinion of the drifters who yearly descended on his town and beach: they “strolled idly from town to town, begging or stealing their support, and often committing deeds of violence and lust. No picnic grove or berry pasture, no secluded road or lonely house was a safe resort for the unprotected.” This annual “trampaign” of vagabonds reached its peak in the summer months and fell off with the coming of winter. As the Portsmouth Herald observed in 1899, “only working men out of jobs or amateurs tramp in the latitude of Portsmouth after Thanksgiving.”

According to Dow, itinerant vagrants began appearing in town around the year 1850, and their ranks swelled after the Civil War. Town reports referred to them somewhat sympathetically as “strangers” and “transient paupers” until 1874, when the word “tramp,” with its connotations of idling and drunkenness, entered the lexicon. The economic panics of 1873, 1884, and 1893 guaranteed the jobless tramp a permanent place in the American scene, and his ne’er-do-well mode of living was caricatured in every newspaper across the country.

The Tramp Houses

In New Hampshire towns like Exeter, Nashua, and Manchester, tramps were lodged overnight in the “bum room” at the city jail. Hampton, however, did not have a dedicated police station until 1900, when the town paid one hundred dollars to erect at the beach a 12’ x 16’ building, with three cells and an officers’ room. To deal with its growing transient population, in 1870 the town established what was facetiously called a “tramp’s retreat.” It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the retreat attracted “hordes of vagabonds,” and in some years taxpayers spent over one hundred dollars for their care and feeding. While the tramps were pleased with the arrangement, the town demanded a cheaper, less inviting alternative.

In 1874 the retreat was shuttered and a second house, “somewhat better than a dog-kennel,” was placed on land leased for ten dollars per year from Simon P. Towle, who lived at 495 Lafayette Road. The town paid $13.50 in materials and labor to S. J. Drake, Joseph Johnson, and John Dearborn to move a shack onto the property and fit it with a stove and funnel. Yet still they came. Over the next decade, Jeremiah Marston, a bachelor who lived on his ancestral homestead at the corner of Winnacunnet and Mill roads, was paid by the town for his “care of tramps,” but it’s unknown whether his efforts were in conjunction with or in addition to the tramp house. Otis Whittier of the Whittier Hotel was also paid to lodge vagabonds, and, in the 1890s, men associated with Hampton’s nascent police force—Abbott Young, Clinton J. Eaton, John I. Dow—took care of the transient population.

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Gilman Marston of Exeter NH

General Marston’s Tramp Law

In 1875, New Hampshire enacted legislation to send vagrants to the county jail or town farm for a maximum term of six months, but enforcement ended when “loafers” began filling local facilities to capacity. A better solution was needed, and Exeter lawyer Gilman Marston, a battle-hardened Civil War general, was just the man to provide one.

Born in 1811 in Orford, New Hampshire, Marston had served in the United States House of Representatives before, during, and after his military service. In 1878, as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, he drafted a bill to sentence tramps to a maximum of five years hard labor in the State prison. After exempting women, minors, and blind persons, the bill was passed into law that August.

Dow wrote that the effects of Marston’s law “were immediately apparent throughout the state.” Hampton’s tramp house was shuttered and sold to Otis Whittier for five dollars. In 1879 the town’s annual “trampaign” charges fell to under ten dollars.

The law was so effective that enforcement eventually fell by the wayside, prompting social reformer Frank B. Sanborn of Hampton Falls to caution that if the law wasn’t diligently applied at all times, then “tramps, like other migratory creatures, will again return.” In Hampton, at least, the “wandering willies” were proving Sanborn right. In 1887, Hampton resident Flora Shaw wrote that she would not venture alone into the woods for fear of encountering tramps; in 1894 voters agreed that the selectmen should enforce the tramp law; in 1898 they agreed to study the “possible construction of a tramp house.” Meanwhile, the town was giving aid to hundreds of tramps each year. We can only guess how many hundreds more of London’s artists received handouts at the kitchen doors of Hampton’s housewives.

Hampton RR Station

Paying customers only, no tramps allowed. – Train depot, Hampton NH, c. 1915.

Tramping by the Numbers

In the decade after the Civil War, the town spent an average of $105 per year on tramp care. From 1875 to 1892, with the second tramp house and Marston’s law deterring itinerant vagrants, the average cost was $18. With the economic depression of 1893, Hampton’s costs for tramp care rose, and did not return to their previous levels until 1905. During the period 1893-1907, when an estimated 1300-1500 transients passed through town, the average cost was $44 per year, with a high in 1898 of $90 and a low in 1905 of $2.25. Again, we can only speculate as to how many men received handouts outside of “official” relief channels.

By 1910 tramp care had been institutionalized at the local and county level. Replacing the traditional system of provisioning by private individuals whose expenses were reimbursed by the town (and the town by the county), police took transients to the station for the night or sent them before the local judge, who might order them to the county jail at Exeter or the county farm at Brentwood. No doubt the artists still made good at the kitchen doors.

19th Century Tramp Humor

Old Lady: Well, here’s ten cents for ye, but I should hate to feel that I was encouragin’ ye to drink.
Tramp: I don’t need no encouragement, mum.

Originally published as a History Matters column in the Hampton Union, April 21, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society. Image of tramp at the back door from The Road by Jack London, 1907.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to thehistory of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


Early Women’s Rights Advocate Nancy Towle of Hampton NH


“She is an instrument of much evil in the world,” wrote Nancy Towle, an itinerant evangelical preacher from Hampton, New Hampshire. Towle was referring to women in general, and laid the blame for their condition squarely at the doorstep of an educational system that taught women to see themselves as “subordinate beings.”

Towle was born in 1796 and came of age during the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival in which millennialism played a dominant role. She attended Hampton Academy and taught school in North Hampton. In 1818 she was religiously “saved” at a woman-led revival meeting, was baptized, and three years later, having “felt the word of the Lord as a fire shut up in my bones,” she set out to become a traveling preacher.

The Awakening changed the lives of millions of Americans, but women preachers like Towle were not always welcomed by those whose souls they sought to save. By her own reckoning, she had traveled more than 15,000 miles delivering the word of God’s salvation to the masses, but in many places was turned away on account of her sex. From these encounters with bigotry she formed a body of opinion about the right of women to enter the pulpit. Her 1832 self-published book, Vicissitudes illustrated, in the experience of Nancy Towle, in Europe and America, is as much about women’s rights as about religion.

 Towle’s first opportunity to speak before a congregation came in 1821 in Stratham, New Hampshire. Over the next eleven years she expanded her horizons in ever-widening circles, traveling first to nearby towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, then north to Canada, west to New York and Ohio, south as far as South Carolina, and as far away as England and Ireland. At the conclusion of her preaching tours she declared herself a “citizen of the world,” not so much for her travels as for her refusal to commit to any established sect.

Towle possessed a serious, gloomy disposition, which she may have inherited from her father, who had suffered from night terrors and once planned to kill himself. She was also highly sensitive to what she termed “impressions,” and was frequently visited by premonitions of death. She foresaw her father’s death, and on the day he died experienced an auditory hallucination, which she ascribed to a gathering of angels come to take him to heaven. On the day of her brother Philip’s death, hundreds of miles away, “a darkness and strange disorder seemed to pervade [her] heart” and her spirit left her body. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Towle experienced a vision of a “death-like shadow” standing beside her bed, and informed her hosts that someone in the house was about to die. When she returned to Portsmouth some months later, she learned that the man of the house had disappeared and was presumed dead.

Towle was intolerant of views that differed from her own. She heaped opprobrium on sects she believed were in error—Jews were “pharisaical and blind;” otherwise good Mormons had been “duped” by a charlatan; Irish Catholics, Episcopalians, Friends, and Bible Christians were “enveloped in the grossest darkness, ignorance, and superstition.” She once attacked a group of congregants, saying they were so “stupefied by sin” that she doubted they could be saved at all. She issued dire notices to male preachers who refused to allow her to speak to their assemblies, warning that if souls were not saved as a result, the “blood be upon” them, not her. At each point of denial, she detailed her unreimbursed expenses and complained that male itinerants, unlike their female counterparts, were never expected to wash or mend their own clothes or to help with the housework at the homes of their hosts.

To read Vicissitudes is exhausting. With a sledge hammer as a favorite tool of persuasion, Towle met bigotry with bigotry and self-righteousness with self-righteousness. Every page is a holy war against the forces of conformity. Yet the book is an important early marker along the path to greater freedoms for women. Besides documenting her own experiences, she wrote about the experiences of fellow female travelers, and addressed objections against women speaking in church by citing Biblical passages that assumed equality between both male and female speakers. She exhorted her God to “raise up a host of female warriors that shall provoke the opposite party from their indolence.” The book’s final line echoes the sentiments of early English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft: “I wish to deliver up my life as a sacrifice, for one, towards remedying these evils; and seal my testimony, as with my blood, in vindication of the rights of women!”

Little is known of Towle’s life after the publication of Vicissitudes. In 1834 she published a short-lived journal titled The Female Religious Advocate. It’s believed she returned to Hampton in 1840 after the death of her brother Simon. She lived on the family homestead (495 Lafayette Road) with her mother Betty, Simon’s widow and children, and her unmarried brother David. Family letters suggest that she may have taught at Hampton Academy, as a niece wrote that when she went to school there in the 1850s, she was “always terribly afraid I should come across Aunt Nancy.” Before her death on January 1, 1876, Towle suffered “delusions” and “sought death as a joyful release.” She was buried in the High Street Cemetery, where her tombstone can still be visited today.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 17, 2017.

Image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


Party Boss of Hampton


Back in an era when Republicans ruled the political roost in New Hampshire, John Garrison Cutler of Hampton Beach was one of the party’s leading bosses. Born in Exeter in 1833 to free blacks Rufus E. and Anna Cilley Cutler, he began his working life at his father’s Water Street store, later opening a billiards parlor in the same building. After the building burned in 1873, Cutler bought the Sea View Cottages at Hampton Beach and converted the property to a hotel, with dining facilities and stables. When the hotel burned in 1885 he rebuilt and expanded the property. By the turn of the 20th century, Cutler’s Sea View was a renowned summer resort hotel.

jgcutler-04John’s grandfather was Tobias Cutler, once a slave of Colonel Enoch Hale of Rindge, New Hampshire. Tobias served in the Revolutionary War, and at age 21 was received as a free inhabitant in the town of Rindge. He married Dorothy Paul and moved to Exeter, where their sons Nathaniel and Rufus would become business proprietors. John’s mother Anna was born in Nottingham and may have been associated with the family of General Joseph Cilley of that town. Cilley was known to have owned four enslaved persons, one of whom was named Chloe Cutler, who was perhaps related to the Exeter Cutlers. On July 29, 1873, with no state anti-miscegenation laws to bar the union, John Cutler married Harriet A. Brewster of Stratham. They had two sons, George and Charles. (Note: an 1893 obituary for Nathaniel Cutler says that Tobias and Rufus were brothers, not father and son, but birth records transcribed in 1906 indicate otherwise).

 Politics, As Usual

jgcutler-02Even as a boy Cutler had been interested in politics. Certainly he followed the activities of Congressman Amos Tuck of Exeter, who in the early 1850s organized the Republican Party around anti-slavery principles, and he was likely present on March 3, 1860 when Abraham Lincoln gave his anti-slavery speech at the Exeter Town Hall. Although Cutler never ran for political office, over the years his active participation in the New Hampshire Republican Party gained him a reputation as a kingmaker. He preferred to deny it, yet pointed out that office seekers came to Hampton Beach to gain his support for their causes. Known by the nickname “Bunkey,” he counted among his friends United States senators and congressmen, among them Senator William Chandler and Congressmen Frank Jones and Cyrus Sulloway, all men who had helped his career in state and local politics.

Of Chandler, Cutler said that he was a “great worker and organizer” from whom he had received his “best lessons in politics.” Of the wealthy Portsmouth brewer Frank Jones, Cutler remarked that “He was a great man. When he left the Democratic party in 1896 the party lost its brains and its money.” But Cutler’s favorite politician was Cyrus Sulloway, called the “Tall Pine of the Merrimac” for his gaunt, six-foot-eight frame. During the summer season Sulloway could often be found lounging about the piazza of Cutler’s hotel, holding forth impromptu strategy sessions with compatriots. In part because of his frequent presence, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire newspaper posed the question: “Is Hampton Beach the summer capital of New Hampshire?”

 jgcutler-03Liquor at the Beach

Under a state liquor law passed in 1903, Hampton voted to issue licenses for the sale of alcohol. Cutler’s Sea View received a license, but was later charged with selling liquor on Sundays. In his defense Cutler told the state liquor board that he thought he was permitted to sell to registered guests who took meals at his hotel. Three other local inns were also charged, and all but Cutler’s had their licenses revoked. The following year Hampton changed its mind and voted no to licenses, although hotels like the Sea View could still be granted a restricted license. Cutler was not pleased with the new arrangement, which, as he said, allowed the liquor board to arbitrarily revoke a license without a hearing, and it was thought that he had a hand in the no vote. “It’s a bad law,” he later said. “It was no such law as we would have had, had Frank Jones lived.”

 Charges of Racism

In 1904 Democrat John Worthing Dearborn won Hampton’s state legislative seat, while every other elected position had been filled by Republicans that year. Proud that he had helped his party gain a small foothold in the Republican bastion of Hampton, to a reporter he crowed that he was a “rather rare bird in these here parts—an office-holding Democrat” (the last Democrat win had been in 1897). He attributed his election to what he believed was the growing racism within the rival party, saying that the “young fellows” of the Republican Party didn’t like taking orders from a “colored man,” and they voted for him instead of Cutler’s man, the carriage maker George E. Garland. Other men interviewed by the reporter who had captured these provocative remarks agreed with Dearborn’s assessment, with one saying that the biased young men “ought to be ashamed of themselves…but the truth is the truth.” And while others thought that Dearborn’s win had put Cutler into political hot water, they weren’t altogether sure that he could be permanently beaten.

From this far remove it’s impossible to know if the charges of racism were politically motivated or had some basis in truth, but after Dearborn’s two-year term and for the remainder of Cutler’s life, which ended on February 7, 1913 after a bout of pneumonia, Republicans controlled Hampton’s legislative seat. Despite opposition, and despite his self-effacing claim that “I’m not the boss people would have you think I am,” John Cutler had remained party boss to the end.

February is African American History Month. To learn more about the history of African Americans in Cutler’s hometown of Exeter, go to

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


A Fundamental Flaw (Part III)


In this final installment, Roby’s checkered career as a justice.

Justice of the Court of Sessions

New Hampshire received its name with the grant to Captain John Mason on November 7, 1629. Mason poured his own money into improving his grant, but when he died unexpectedly in 1635, his widow informed his tenants that they would have to shift for themselves. These men, who had built the settlements of Portsmouth and Dover, looted the entire property, selling off the cannon and cattle and dividing the land among themselves. Other groups encroached on the southern end of Mason’s grant to settle Hampton and Exeter. By 1643 all four towns were under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but when Mason’s heir Robert came of age in 1650, he began pressing his claims of ownership. Nothing came of it until 1679, when, to break the power of Massachusetts, Charles II chartered the Royal Province of New Hampshire. The King appointed a locally-constituted president and council, but would later send Lieutenant Governor Edward Cranfield to oversee the affairs of the colony and to intervene between the inhabitants and Mason. Cranfield favored Mason, and he aggressively used the executive and judicial powers of the government to help him turn landowners into tenants.

From the start Henry Roby supported their schemes; his loyalty rewarded with an appointment as a justice of the peace and a seat on the highest court in the Province. His unpopularity among the locals was guaranteed when Mason granted him 100 acres of Hampton’s common grazing land, but it was his part in the trial of Reverend Joshua Moodey of Portsmouth that sealed his fate. Moodey, a Puritan, was convicted of administering the sacraments contrary to the laws of England and for refusing to administer them according to the rites of the Church of England. This was clearly a political hit engineered by Cranfield to silence Moodey, who was a vocal opponent of the Cranfield-Mason regime. To his credit, Roby was at first for acquittal, but after a night of threats and hectoring he changed his mind, as did Justice Henry Green, also of Hampton. Both were intensely aware of how their neighbors would react to a guilty verdict, and even as they sought to appease their masters, they contrived their rulings to leave a bit of wiggle room. Or they may have been truly conflicted, unsure of which ruling took precedence: Parliament’s laws governing the sacraments or the King’s commission that allowed liberty of conscience. It was “very clear,” Roby stated, “that the statutes are clear against the said Moodey, if the commission that gives liberty of conscience doth not take away the force thereof.” Apparently it did not, and Moodey served a six-month sentence in the Great Island prison.

Although Justice Green was “much afflicted” by what he had done and would later beg Moodey’s forgiveness, Roby was decidedly unapologetic. Had he been otherwise, his position of authority might not have crumbled so quickly beneath his impenitent feet.

Justice of the Peace

If we could drop in on Roby’s public house around noon on January 2, 1685, we would find an incensed 65-year-old justice of the peace furiously scribbling out arrest warrants for Samuel Leavitt and Moses Gilman, two impudent Exeter men who just moments earlier had dared to utter “seditious” words right to his face. Roby had summoned the men to answer to the provost marshal’s complaint of abuse and for treasonous remarks made against the Governor—to which Leavitt was now cheerfully admitting his guilt.

The trouble had started four days earlier, when a gang of club-wielding Hampton men accompanied Marshal Thomas Thurton and his deputy John Mason as they went to Exeter to enforce a court-levied fine on the town constable, who had refused to collect the province tax. Since the Governor had dissolved the representative assembly, no one felt obliged to pay his unlawfully raised taxes, and men were understandably vexed at attempts to collect them. The marshals were harassed everywhere they went; goodwives threatened them with buckets of scalding water and the minister came out with a club. Their unwelcome escorts “jostled them in a very rude manner,” called them names, made fun of their swords, and turned their horses loose. When Thurton called for order, the crowd bragged that even if Cranfield himself had shown up they would not obey.

In reporting the incident to Roby, Thurton identified Leavitt and Gilman as the ringleaders. Now, as the two agitators were making their appearance at Roby’s house, the marshal was a short distance away, attempting to enforce a fine levied on Captain Samuel Sherburne for his assault on the town doctor. When Sherburne refused to pay, Thurton placed him under arrest and brought him before Justice Roby.

With a house full of hot-headed men, Roby’s quill continued fly, now scratching out a warrant to commit the insolent Leavitt to prison. When Thurton attempted to make good the arrest, Leavitt punched him. Roby tried to intervene, but was “violently” prevented from doing so by Sherburne, who then took the opportunity to escape Thurton’s custody. Moses Gilman joined the melee, striking Roby and saying that Leavitt would not be going to prison. Roby managed to abate the chaos long enough to order Thurton to put both Leavitt and Gilman in prison, but Thurton was not in need of any more prisoners. It was left to Roby’s son Ichabod to deliver the men while Thurton tramped out to reacquire the one who had just escaped.

Leavitt and Gilman refused to go along, peaceably or otherwise, until Sherburne’s young son came in and whispered to them. Amazingly, Roby saw nothing fishy in their sudden change of heart (or was relieved to be rid of them in whatever way presented itself), and Ichabod escorted them across the meeting house green to the prison. As they passed Sherburne’s tavern, several men ran out to knock Ichabod to the ground and relieve him of his prisoners.

Thurton was inside the tavern, trying to convince Sherburne to pay his fine. As he recalled it, at Sherburne’s signal a “great number of men” grabbed hold of him, beat him up, and with a rope tried to strangle him. Afterwards, under cover of night, they hogtied him and took him across the border into Massachusetts, where they left him in Salisbury at the house of a man named Smith. Meanwhile in Hampton, Gilman and four others returned to Roby’s house, and, according to Roby, for the next five hours they banged on the door demanding to be let in. Only when Roby threatened to shoot them did they ride away.

And these were just the incidents that fixed the court’s attention. Under such a cloud of hostility, the next three years could not have been pleasant ones for Roby and his family. According to Reverend Joshua Moodey, Roby became a “common drunkard,” never repenting for his part in the minister’s politically motivated conviction. Reverend Seaborn Cotton, whom Roby had publicly denounced in the 1660s, prophesied that “when he died he would not have so honorable a burial as an ass.” Cotton’s bitter soothsaying may have proved true. Moodey wrote that Roby was excommunicated from the church, and when the end came in 1688, his friends buried him in a secret location to prevent creditors from ransoming his body for outstanding debts. It was an ill-starred end for one of Hampton’s most interesting early settlers.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on February 3, 2017.

Image courtesy of Harold Fernald and the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


A Fundamental Flaw (Part II)


Roby’s brushes with witchcraft, role as a father in trying circumstances, and a risky confrontation with the church.

Brushes with witchcraft           

Soon after settling in Hampton, Roby and his family encountered the purported maleficium of their neighbor Unise Cole, with whom they were already acquainted from their days in Exeter. From early on, Cole may have seen Roby as an antagonist. In Exeter, her husband and others had to pay Roby and another man “a peck of corne for harm done to them by swine.” From a modern perspective this seems like mild restitution, but those were starving times in the young settlement, and men were given the authority to search houses for surplus corn to feed the poor. While the Coles were poor, the Robys were not, and it must have rankled Unise to give up a portion of her precious store of food to a young man whose circumstances were far better than hers.

By the 1650s Unise Cole’s reputation as a witch had been firmly established, based partly on testimony the Robys had given against her in 1652-53. Nor did she help her cause when, in 1655, she interrupted a selectmen’s meeting at Robert Drake’s house to badger them for wood and “other thinges.” When they refused her demands, she told them, “They could help Goodman Roby, being a lusty man, and she could have none. This should not do.” The men were concerned that her words had conveyed more than just the worries of an old woman in need of charity. Witnesses reported that a few days later Roby lost a cow and a sheep “very strangely,” which they attributed to the devilish works of Unise Cole. Then when Cole was put on trial for witchcraft in 1656, Roby’s wife Ruth testified that Unise had tried to “insinuate” herself into the lives of her children. Ruth herself had been tormented by Cole, who appeared to her in “many ways” and in “many forms.” We don’t know what supernatural horrors Mrs. Roby had been witness to, but some of Cole’s forms were said to be those of a dog, an eagle, and a gray cat.

In 1680, in the midst of the threat of Indian attacks and the uncertainty brought about by the separation of Hampton and her sister towns from Massachusetts, Roby was foreman of a jury of inquest impaneled to investigate the death of John and Mary Cox Godfrey’s infant son. The jury decided that the boy had been murdered by witchcraft, and they named Rachel Brabrook Fuller, a young woman with children of her own, as the witch who had done the deed. In the court depositions that followed, a witness repeated Rachel’s story of a great row at Goodman Roby’s in which Dr. Reed, one of Roby’s lodgers, was pulled out of bed by witches, who “with an enchanted bridle did intend to lead a jaunt.” Roby’s strange mojo, which caused these reputed witches to call him out by name, could afflict others, too—throughout the summer of 1682 his kinsman and business partner George Walton was plagued by “stone-throwing devils” at the tavern that he and Roby owned on Great Island (Newcastle, New Hampshire).

 In Judith’s defense

According to the historian Joseph Dow, Judith was the third child and first daughter of Henry and Ruth Roby. Born about 1650, she would have been old enough to work in her parents’ public house by the time Roby received his first tavern license in 1669. In March 1671 she became pregnant by John Young, an Exeter man with whom her father was acquainted through his legal work for the town of Hampton. In December 1671 Judith gave birth to a son, naming him John after his father. There is no record that she was ever called to court to answer for her sin of fornication, unlike the experience of many young men and women of the time. John refused to accept the child, and Roby sued him for support. Young then promised to pay two shillings six pence per week, but he was so lax with payments that Roby had to complain to the court on several more occasions. To make matters worse, during this time his wife died, leaving him with three minor children to care for, and his unmarried sister-in-law became pregnant, for which he had to post a bond for her appearance on charges of fornication (she was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 15 stripes if she could not pay her fine). Roby began drinking heavily, to the detriment of himself, his family, and his tavern.

In October 1674, at the last court appearance of which there is a record for the “maintenance of the bastard child,” Roby’s new wife Elizabeth Garland caused such a scene that the justices ordered her committed to prison. Elizabeth was not a woman to be taken lightly, and she was not afraid to stand up for her rights. After she had successfully sued a man for roughing up her teenage son Jacob at Roby’s tavern, she hired Roby to sue the town of Hampton for seizing a load of wood staves that belonged to her son John (Roby won the case, and two months later he and Widow Garland were married). But Elizabeth was also smart enough to know when she had overstepped her bounds. After she confessed that she was “very sorry” for her “contemptuous carriages in open court,” the justices remitted her sentence.

Roby’s sister-in-law married her child’s father, but Judith did not. She and her son continued to live at the Roby homestead. Although she had committed a grave sin, it’s clear that Roby kept his daughter in his heart. In his 1687 will he bequeathed to her a feather bed, all the apples she wanted from his orchard, and ten pounds money, “so long as she lives single unmarried.”

We don’t know what became of Judith’s son John Young Roby, but in 1693 she married the widower Samuel Healey. In 1697 John Young, Sr., still living in Exeter, was slain by Indians.

 Confronting the Church

In 1662 the “half-way covenant” was introduced into New England’s churches. The object of this covenant was to bring more members into the fold by allowing the baptism of children whose parents were not in full communion with the Puritan church, thereby passing on the “benefits of godliness” to those children. The new covenant was not universally accepted and remained a contentious issue for many years. As late as 1678, Frances Jenness of Hampton (later, Rye) was presented at court for saying that some children recently baptized “had received the mark of the beast.”

Henry Roby, who considered himself one of God’s elect (and therefore his place in Heaven was assured), publicly disapproved of the new covenant. He declared to Hampton’s congregation that their minister Seaborn Cotton “would baptize all ye heathen in the country if there were water enough.” To a friend he said that Cotton “might as well have cast ye water upon a beast’s face standing by as upon these children.” In his journal Cotton wrote of another occasion when Roby turned his back on the sermon, departed the meetinghouse, and refused to return. Cotton’s supporters accused him of the serious crimes of “reviling the ordinance of baptism and reproaching the minister,” and he was put on trial. No doubt Roby, like his courtroom nemesis Edward Colcord, had a way with words, as the justices merely admonished him and bound him for good behavior. As we will see in the next and final installment, Cotton never truly forgave Roby for the incident.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on January 27, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is

A Fundamental Flaw (Part I)


drunk_woodcut Henry Roby of Hampton, New Hampshire stands out as one of the most intriguing minor figures in 17th-century New England. The fragmentary record of his life portrays an industrious colony-builder who demanded respect, but through some fundamental flaw in his character had failed to actually earn it. He abused the power of his position, disregarded his sworn oaths, and arrogantly transgressed the authority of the church. His encounters with smarter and more determined men revealed him to be a weak and ineffectual authority figure, easily flustered and prone to violence, which opened the way for disobedience to his orders and derision of his character. Drunkenness clouded his judgment and acquisitiveness made him an easy target of bribery.

In the end, it was written that he had been excommunicated from the church as a “common drunkard,” and that when he died his friends buried him in a secret location near his house, fearing that his creditors might ransom the body for his outstanding debts. Whether these stories are true or not, they illustrate the level to which he had sunk in popular opinion.

An English Immigrant

Roby was born in 1618-19 at Castle Donington, Leicestershire, England. In 1639 he and his nine-year-old brother Samuel were swept up in the great western migration of an estimated 20,000 English men, women, and children, most of whom had left the country of their birth for religious reasons. After landing at Boston, the Roby brothers whisked through the towns of Dorchester and Salem before setting down in Exeter, a new settlement whose lands had been bought from the local Indians by Reverend John Wheelwright. Roby arrived in time to sign his name to the town’s first charter for government, and while many of the signers eventually left for places like Maine and Rhode Island, he remained to take an active role in the governance of the small settlement.

Roby married Ruth Moore of Ipswich, Massachusetts sometime before the birth of their first child in 1646. After publicly disparaging Exeter’s minister, who happened to be the son of the Massachusetts governor, Roby thought it prudent to find another place to live. He bought the Hampton homestead of Isaac and Susanna Perkins, located on the north side of the meeting house green (near the present day Baptist Church on Winnacunnet Road), and moved there with his family, which by then had grown to include three children, Thomas, John, and Judith. In his lifetime he would have three wives, the last of which survived him, and would father nine children.

In Hampton, Roby served as selectman, lot layer, constable, militiaman, grand juror, attorney, justice of the peace, and a justice of the Court of Sessions. He accumulated wealth through his endeavors, which included farming, land dealing, and tavernkeeping. By 1680 his tax was over 13 shillings, one of the highest rates in town. Balancing out this stellar reputation were behaviors that landed him before the court as a defendant on numerous occasions— negligence as constable, assault on a neighbor, reproaching town ministers and a member of the court, selling wine without a license, public drunkenness, and keeping a poor public house. Even the town witches knew his character well enough to call him out by name.

Roby and the Vexatious Edward Colcord

If the Essex County court of the 17th century had been a business, lawyer Edward Colcord would have been its best (and most colorful) customer. He was constantly before the court, representing himself and others, and was accused of using subtle contrivances and underhanded practices to cheat dozens of men out of their property. He cursed, drank excessively, and was prone to violent outbursts, yet he was also the darling of the courtroom, as the justices gave him a very long rope with which to hang himself. Over a decade would pass before they dealt seriously with the complaints piling up against him, but finally, in 1661, they screwed their courage to the sticking place and sentenced him to prison in Boston—not for his fraudulent dealings, but for his needless and vexatious suits.

As Hampton’s constable at the time, it was Roby’s job to deliver Colcord to prison. He either wouldn’t or couldn’t, and through some cleverness Colcord was allowed to post a bond to avoid prison time. The situation was brought before the gentlemen of the General Court, who affirmed the Hampton court’s sentence on Colcord. They also voted unanimously that Henry Roby, “for his unfaithfulness in not duly attending his warrant,” would have to personally bear the charges of transporting Colcord to Boston.

This affair caused permanent animosity between the two men, and Roby would later sue Colcord for calling him a “base rogue” and for troubling him with many vexatious suits. The court fined Colcord for his abusive language, but did not agree with Roby’s second contention. Colcord then sued Roby and Norfolk County marshal Abraham Drake for assault and battery, claiming that they had “wounded him and endeavored to break open his house when he was peaceably at his calling with his family.” The defendants countersued Colcord for “illegally and vexatiously prosecuting” them, but even as the justices agreed that their darling had “violently resisted with weapons the marshal in execution of his office,” they determined that he had merely broken his bond for good behavior. Their reluctance to take strong measures against Colcord was especially maddening for men like Roby and Drake, who risked being fined if they did not enforce the law.

Roby the Tavernkeeper

Roby’s career as tavernkeeper began rather ingloriously, with an illegal tavern in Exeter. This tavern was eventually discovered and shut down, and he was fined 20 shillings. He later acquired an interest in the Great Island tavern of George Walton, but there is no record to show that he was anything more than a silent partner. Then in 1669 he applied for his first tavern license—which was granted to him with the proviso that he would not “suffer any townsmen’s children or servants to lie tippling in his house.” This may have been a caveat crafted specially for him, as not all tavern licenses were issued with this warning. Sometime before 1674 Roby leased Robert Tuck’s former public house from fellow townsman John Sanborn, who as the deceased Tuck’s son-in-law managed the estate for his wife. When Roby had a disagreement with Sanborn, perhaps over the terms of the lease, or perhaps over the way Roby was running his tavern, Roby knocked his landlord down with both words and fists. Sanborn sued in court, and Roby was ordered to pay reparations for his abuse. The men patched up their differences, and Roby continued to lease the house until it was sold to Captain Samuel Sherburne of Portsmouth in 1678. Roby then moved his tavern to his own dwelling.

Also in 1678, Roby married his third wife Sarah. While he pursued his occupations as attorney and justice of the peace, she ran the tavern (and would continue to run it under her own name after his death). License renewals that year were issued under a new law which made it illegal for tavernkeepers like the Robys to serve the inhabitants of their town. Needless to say, the result was much riding out to the taverns in neighboring towns, but this, too, was made illegal. Staff-carrying tythingmen were enjoined to search public houses and private homes for evidence of local tippling, for which they received one-third of any fines collected. Nevertheless, the crackdown on drinking went largely unenforced and the law was eventually repealed.

Roby was a pious man, in full communion with the Hampton church, but his strict Puritanism offered no immunity from the temptations of the tavern. He was convicted of the sins of “excessive drinking” and “drinking to the abuse of himself,” which led to later accusations and fines for keeping a sloppy tavern. These convictions gave the selectmen ample reason to refuse his yearly license renewals, but they did not, because in the 1670s Henry Roby had not yet become the guy everyone loved to hate. That would come later.

To be continued…

First published in the Hampton Union on January 20, 2017.

Sources for this series of articles: Essex County Court Files Vols. 1-3, New Hampshire State Papers Vol. 1, The History of Hampton by Joseph Dow, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire by Noyes/Libby/Davis, Seaborn Cotton’s Journal (Massachusetts Historical Society), and Henry Dow’s Journal (Hampton Historical Society).

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015,” available at Her website is