NH History Matters: January’s Birthstone


January’s birthstone is Garnet. Although not as sought after as the ruby gemstone, garnets are treasured for their protective powers. Even Noah carried a large carbuncle garnet aboard his Ark. Tradition says that when worn as an amulet, the garnet gemstone protects its wearer against poisons, fevers, wounds, bad dreams, and depression.

Garnet in New Hampshire

We usually think of garnets as red in color, but they can appear in a variety of colors, including green. They are formed under the same high temperatures and pressure that created the highly metamorphosed or granitic host rocks in which they are found.

With its reputation as the Granite State, it’s strange that New Hampshire has only one (previously mined) large deposit of garnet, in North Wilmot, north of Lake Sunapee. Still, small quantities have been found in mines throughout the state.

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Origin of Birthstones

HoshenBirthstones are thought to have originated with the 12 gemstones embedded in the magic breastplate of the high priest of the Israelites. The concept was later fused with the 12 signs of the zodiac, which led to the belief that a particular gem protected those born during a particular month. Garnet was one of the twelve.

The National Association of Jewelers created the modern list of birthstones in 1912.

Next month: Amethyst



Brought to you by Cheryl Lassiter and History Matters New Hampshire. nh.historymatters@gmail.com


Puritans to Parades – Christmas in Hampton


Of the 221 towns and 13 cities in New Hampshire, only the settlers of the original four—Hampton, Exeter, Portsmouth, and Dover—can claim to have once banned Christmas. For those 17th century Puritans, the holiday was a pagan ritual rife with excesses of merrymaking, drinking, dancing, and binge eating. Like the Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation, they worked on the day instead.

By 1659, the immigration of Anglicans to New England had become as onerous to the Puritans as the influx of Quakers, so to prevent the disorders “ arising in several places” by their celebration of Christmas, the General Court of Massachusetts declared that anyone found keeping “such festivals” would be fined five shillings for the offense. After several decades of this law “derogatory to His Majesty’s honour,” in 1681 King Charles II forced the General Court to lift the ban. This didn’t matter much in New Hampshire, which had been made a separate colony with its own laws the year before. Instead, in 1682 the King ordered the new colony’s administrators to allow “liberty of conscience,” and to “particularly promote” the rites and rituals of the Church of England. For those who wanted it, Christmas was back on in the colony.

While Puritanism continued to shape the Yankee character well into the 19th century (some say it still does), the belief spread that it was “unchristian” to scorn Christmas. In 1817, an Exeter newspaper observed that denominations other than Episcopalian were warming up to the idea of public religious services on December 25. This was the year Governor William Plumer raised a few eyebrows when he declared that thanksgiving, traditionally a harvest time celebration, would be held on Christmas day that year. By the 1820s, advertisements for Christmas and New Year’s presents began to appear in New Hampshire newspapers, and by mid-century the phrase “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” was a common holiday greeting.

Lane Family Journal

daybook; Lane Family

Page from the Lane Family journal. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

An early reference to Christmas in Hampton comes from the Lane Family journal, now in the archives of the Hampton Historical Society. Drawing from prognostications whose origins date to the Middle Ages, the journal lists the seasonal and natal effects of Christmas for each day of the week. A Monday Christmas portended a dry winter followed by a wet, tempestuous summer, and those born on that day would have a strong constitution. A Sunday Christmas meant a moderate winter and a fruitful year, and luck to those born on that day. A Saturday Christmas meant “a dark and cloudy winter, thick foggy and unwholesome tempestuous spring. The fruit will be scarce, the corn dear and sickly.” Anyone unlucky enough to be born on that day would be “poor in disgrace,” and the chances of recovery from sickness were slim. Christmas on Tuesday yielded the opposite result.

 In 1856, our neighbor to the south boldly stepped forward to make Christmas a legal holiday. The holiday fell on Thursday that year, foretelling good things to come, but as Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed, not everyone was happy with the law. “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England,” he wrote that year. “The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” New Hampshire made his point by waiting until 1899 to declare the holiday, making it one of the last states to do so. 

First Church Commemoration

Even as New England warmed to the tradition, the village of Hampton proceeded at its own conservative pace. In 1838 Christmas fell on Wednesday, which portended a very cold winter and a hot summer, with “fruit indifferent, not very plenty.” A person born on that day would be short lived, but projects started on any Wednesday would meet with success, auguring well for Hampton’s First Church, which commemorated its 200th anniversary on Christmas day.

No one knows why the church members chose that day. In his address, Hampton Academy principal Joseph Dow wasn’t particularly helpful to future historians, either, as he did not attribute any uniqueness to the choice of day. Perhaps the significance was so obvious to his audience that it didn’t merit special attention.

Other evidence of Christmas (or not)

In 1843, the year Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, December 25th was just another working day for the men who attended the public auction of Simon F. Towle’s estate, which included the mansion that once belonged to General Jonathan Moulton. With a high bid of $330 ($10,000 in today’s dollars), carpenter Jabez Towle took possession of the now-famous house.

Christmas was also a day of work for Charles M. Perkins, who kept a journal of his travels to the California gold fields in 1849 and again in 1857. In his journal entry for December 25, 1850, he notes that he earned $13.65 prospecting gold at Chilly Flat. Further entries show the same pattern of work: December 25, 1857, Blue Gulch. It froze this morning for the 10th time; December 25, 1860, Flintville, prospecting rock for the Merced Falls Mining Company; December 25, 1861, Rum Hollow, looking out for the mill. While Charles faithfully kept the commandment to rest on Sunday, it was pretty clear that he did not celebrate Christmas.

On Christmas day 1862, Lt. Simon Lamprey of Hampton was in Hilton Head, South Carolina with the Third New Hampshire Volunteers. “We had a very fine day here yesterday for Christmas and it was the pleasantest day I ever saw,” he wrote to his brother in Exeter. “But it was very dull, we did not have anything to do except dress parade. Wish you all a Happy New Year.” On Christmas day 1863, he wrote that besides “stirring up the Rebs a little in the morning with shell,” the day was a quiet one for his regiment. That Christmas, as it turned out, would be Simon’s last. He was killed in battle the following August.

Anna May Cole was a First Church member whose letters written from college in the 1880s reveal that Christmas was part of her family’s traditions. “What are the Christmas plans? I must send a note about Xmas to Hattie in this letter,” she wrote to her brother in 1885. “Just think, it is almost Xmas time and I’m not coming home! I’m almost homesick when I think of it,” she wrote in 1886. Two years later she wrote, “My big brother; Merry Xmas, and a week from now, Happy New Year!”

Into the 20th century

Bernice Palmer 02

Mid-20th century hand-drawn Christmas card by Hampton resident Bernice Palmer (1899-1985). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Secular traditions took off in the early decades of the twentieth century, with the first Christmas Seals for tuberculosis issued in 1907 and the first White House holiday greeting, issued by President Calvin Coolidge, in 1927. The Hamptons Union newspaper, established in 1899, published a yearly holiday Souvenir Edition featuring photographs of the town’s leading citizens, along with Christmas advertising (as today, every new gadget was a must-have for holiday gift giving). With a speed that would astound even Santa’s magical reindeer, Christmas became its own season, with sales, clubs, cards, trees, vacations, bazaars, pageants, parties, and plays, in addition to holiday-themed decorations festooning the streets and homes of every town. But family togetherness, forgiveness, and charity were not forgotten, and Christmas became a special time of giving to others. A notable example was Luigi Marelli of Marelli’s Market, who honored the season by sending dozens of Christmas boxes each year to Hampton’s servicemen and women during World War II.

The Christmas Parade

In 1959 the Hampton Chamber of Commerce put on what is likely the first annual Hampton Christmas parade. That year Santa landed at Hampton Beach aboard the Coast Guard’s amphibious duck boat and joined the parade on its High Street route from the Academy to Depot Square. In 1960 Santa came to town on the Fire Department’s new ladder truck, and for an entire week he headquartered at the old railroad station in Depot Square, which that year was named for Luigi Marelli. For a time the parade switched between the High Street-Marelli Square route and one that marched down Lafayette Road to Centre School. As the parade grew in size and popularity, Lafayette Road became the permanent route.

In 1987, for the first time, Hampton taxpayers were asked to help defray the parade expenses, with the funds paid directly to the Chamber of Commerce. Since then, voters have denied their approval only once, in 1990.

From 2004-2006, the name of the parade was changed to “Children’s Christmas Parade.” In 2007, after the death of a child in the 2006 Portsmouth parade caused insurance rates to skyrocket, Hampton’s parade was replaced with a Christmas Carnival, which the voters chose not to fund. In 2010 Experience Hampton brought the parade back to town, and when the taxpayers were asked to contribute $3,000 the following year, they did so by a large margin, voting also to change the name of Holiday Parade to the traditional Christmas Parade.

Hampton celebrates the spirit of Christmas

Once shunned as a pagan ritual, now a beloved religious and secular tradition, Christmas has come a long way on the seacoast. Karen Raynes summed it up perfectly in her 2014 Marelli’s Market memoir. “Hampton,” she wrote, “is still one of those quaint New England towns that as a community comes together to celebrate the spirit of the Christmas season.”

So, to everyone in our quaint little town, may the true meaning of the holiday season fill your heart and home with many blessings. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Originally published in the Hampton Union on December 22, 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’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.

Ephraim Marston, a New Hampshire Colonist


The supernatural horror film The Witch, written and directed by a southern New Hampshire native, follows a family of outcasts as they encounter forces of evil on their New England farm. Its strength lies in its realistic portrayal of Puritan culture poised on the knife’s-edge of wilderness, where fear of Indian attacks, long periods of darkness, and a strong belief in the Devil were all part of daily life. It offers a glimpse into what life must have been like in the early days of Hampton, when the witch Goody Cole touched the lives of men like Ephraim Marston.

For Marston, especially, the connection to Cole was a personal one. Born about 1655, Marston was a native born American whose family had settled in Hampton fifteen years earlier. He grew up with the knowledge that she had bewitched his sister and turned her into an “ape,” an affliction that resulted in the girl’s death and led to Cole’s first trial for witchcraft. While we’ll never know what frightening tales he may have passed along to his many descendants, just three generations stood between him and Edmund W. Toppan, the first Hamptoner to put the witch lore into written form.


The Marston family’s contact with the Devil’s minion did not interfere with their children’s ability to find mates. On February 19, 1677, twenty-one-year-old Ephraim married Abial, whose father John Sanborn was a leading citizen, and whose great grandfather Stephen Bachiler had been the town’s principal founder. One month later Abial, Jr. was born, and in October of that year the court convicted Ephraim and his wife of fornication (then defined as sex before marriage). The standard punishment was a public whipping, but in their case only a fine, to be paid in corn, was ordered. Judith, the unwed daughter of Henry Roby, another important townsman, seems also to have escaped with little or no punishment after she gave birth in 1671. Some convicted women, like Hannah Clement and Mary Rundlett, who were without important family connections, found themselves ordered to be “severely whipped.”

Vengeful father

In 1695, five years after he inherited the homestead that would remain in his family for the next two centuries, Marston disowned his then 18-year-old daughter Abial for marrying John Green, “contrary to her father’s wishes.” His pique was so great that he gave her name away to another daughter born two years later. The problem may not have been with Abial’s husband, but with his grandfather Justice Henry Green, who in the 1680s assisted the royal government in Portsmouth in its scheme to seize the land of dozens of townsmen. Marston eventually reconciled with his estranged daughter, calling her “beloved” in his 1736 will and giving her “one feather bed or four pounds in money,” the same inheritance allotted to the younger Abial.

Fence wrecker

Unlike his older brother Isaac, whose garrison stood at the outskirts of town, Ephraim was actively involved in Hampton’s civic life and military affairs. Often called upon to give testimony on important issues affecting the town and province, he served as selectman, boundary and road surveyor, constable, and a sergeant in the militia.

 One of his most memorable actions was in response to threats to the traditional communal use of the town’s pastures. In 1693, the freeholders of Hampton voted to make illegal the private fencing of the common land. The law was widely ignored, and for years the town issued warnings only. The situation reached a flashpoint in the summer of 1704, when a large posse that included Marston set out to enforce the law. Their first stop was the Exeter Road farm of Samuel Roby, where “in a hostile manner with force and armes etc. to the great Terror and Afrighting of her Majesties good subjects, [the posse] violently maliciously riotously & randomly did throw down burne and destroye a great quantity” of the fence that Roby had erected around his apple trees and hop vines. The posse then moved on to Francis Jenness’s farm near the beach, “pulling downe and destroying a considerable quantitie of his fence.” They also wrecked the fence of Francis’s son John, “to the indaingering” of his corn crop. Exposing these men’s food sources to predation by animals says much about their desire not only to enforce the law, but to make the violators pay for their lawbreaking in the worst possible way. Roby and Jenness sued Marston and the others for the damage to their property, but the jury found the defendants not guilty.

 Tavernkeeper and malt maker

When Love Sherburne ended her long career as the town’s central tavernkeeper, Marston was encouraged to take her place. In 1703 the Hampton selectmen readily approved his application for a license, and for over a decade he and his family ran the tavern. In 1712 the town granted him a quarter acre of land “by the fort in the [Ring] swamp to set a malt-house on.” (As a guard against Indian attacks, this fort had been built up around the meeting house during the period 1689-1692). Marston and his heirs were to “enjoy the same” as long as they would malt barley, used in beer making, for the town.

Marston built his malt house “on the knoll West & North of the Old burial place” (Pine Grove cemetery), and in 1722 the town made a road to it from the “common way” (Winnacunnet Road). By 1731 Ephraim’s “beloved son” Jeremiah was running the malt house, which had grown to an extensive operation that paid a yearly tax of three pounds. In 1736 Marston deeded the malt house to Jeremiah, in recognition of his son’s “immediate care of ye management of my outward affairs.” It was said that the malt house “stood there many years,” and was within the memory of the old-timers of the mid-nineteenth century.

1731 Tax List

1731 Town of Hampton assessments on “Trades & facultys mills Indian and Negro Slaves.” Ephraim Marston’s assessment was four pounds (right column, 3rd from top). His son Jeremiah’s malt house assessment was three pounds (right column, 5th from top). Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

After a long and productive life spent in service to his town, Ephraim Marston died of cancer in 1742. Although his headstone has not survived, he was likely interred in the Pine Grove cemetery.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on November 24, 2017.

Top image courtesy of the New Hampshire Archives.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com. Her website is lassitergang.com.

To Thanksgiving


As I reflect upon my blessings this Thanksgiving, please know that you – my readers – are at the top of my list, along with family and amazing friends, both old and new, near and far away. I enjoy hearing from you, to know your thoughts on my writing and the stories I’ve told. In the coming year I’ll continue to research and write those same kinds of stories, and hopefully the novel I’ve been working on for what seems like forever will finally see the light of day.

I’ll be spending my Thanksgiving reading Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. I’ve read William Bradford’s amazing first-hand account, Of Plymouth Plantation, and am looking forward to deepening my understanding of those important early years in our country’s history.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Cheryl Lassiter



The King’s Evil in Hampton NH


In 1657, Mary Green of Hampton, New Hampshire developed a deep, running sore on her lower leg that at times robbed her of the ability to walk. The infection had to be treated, but, as her father Henry would soon learn, there was no one in town with the skill to diagnose, let alone cure, such a serious ailment.

Henry Green is best remembered as one of the New Hampshire justices who in 1684 convicted Reverend Joshua Moodey of Portsmouth for refusing to administer Anglican sacraments in his Puritan church. When Mary fell ill, Henry took her to Joanna Tuck, whose husband Robert ran the local tavern and dabbled in surgery. Joanna’s treatments proved ineffective, and Henry took his daughter to the home of Dr. Thomas Starr of Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she lived for the next several months while Starr attempted to heal her infected leg. When Starr failed to affect a cure, Henry took her to the “doctoress” Ann Edmonds, who with her husband ran a tavern in Lynn, Massachusetts. Ann diagnosed Mary’s disease as the King’s Evil, also known as scrofula, an infectious swelling in the lymph nodes and bones.

 The royal touch

Since the time of Edward the Confessor of England (1003-1066) it was believed that the King’s royal touch could cure the afflicted, and hence the disease was called the King’s Evil. Ceremonies were held in which hundreds of sick people stood in line to be touched by the monarch and to receive special gold coins called “touchpieces.” Some monarchs were known to have laid hands on more than a thousand people in a single ceremony. Queen Anne (1665-1714) was the last English monarch to apply the touch, but French monarchs would continue the healing magic for at least another century.

Kings Evil Cure

Scarred for life

In America, the scars left from lymphatic King’s Evil were used to identify fugitive criminals, servants, and slaves. In 1731 a Pennsylvania sheriff’s notice described an escaped prisoner as having “two scars upon his neck which came by the King’s evil.” In 1738 a master described his runaway servant as “an Englishman, bred to the sea, much disfigured on the Face and Throat from the King’s Evil.” In 1783 a Philadelphia jailer advised the public to be on the lookout for an escaped inmate who had “in his throat the marks of the king’s evil.” In 1825 a New Jersey slave owner advertised for the return of a slave named Bob, who could be known by his scar “from the king’s evil.”

Curing the disease

During the second half of the eighteenth-century only four cases of death by the King’s Evil were recorded in Hampton, while many more were attributed to “consumption” (pulmonary tuberculosis). Ancient remedies such as bloodletting, expectorants, and purgatives were the usual treatments. With no real cure, enterprising quacks of a later era looked to profit from the disease. A Dr. Evans advertised his “superior method” for curing scrofula, William Swaim peddled his eponymous Panacea, A. Stewart offered Compound Vegetable Systematic Pills, and Dr. S. N. Niderburg’s “galvanic machine” was touted for its curative abilities. It was not until the late nineteenth century that scientists discovered the pathogen responsible for the King’s Evil: mycobacterium tuberculosis, passed to humans through the consumption of raw milk from an infected cow. In 1921 a vaccine was introduced to prevent the disease.

Although Ann Edmonds had at her disposal the practices of bloodletting, purges, and vomits, she concentrated instead on giving Mary a healthy diet of fresh vegetables and meat and applying poultices to the infected leg. No record exists to show what ingredients she used in her poultices, but one contemporary recipe called for goat dung mixed with honey and vinegar. Another was a mixture of barley meal, pitch, frankincense, and the urine of a child. At one point Edmonds removed a six-inch piece of rotted bone from the leg, and from then on Mary’s condition improved. After eleven months of care, Edmonds declared her cured and ready to return home.

 A dispute arises

For the expense of Mary’s room and board, Henry Green paid Edmonds a cow, and for the treatment he gave her a colt. A legal suit arose when Edmonds claimed that the colt was not the same one as originally promised. This one was “small, thin, and lowsey,” and certainly not worth the twenty pounds value of her treatments. Green responded by saying that the treatments had not cured his daughter, whom he taken to the tavern in Salisbury, Massachusetts to get the opinion of the lady of the house. She was said to have observed a “running sore” on the girl’s leg.

In 1659 the suit was presented to the Hampton court. Green’s witnesses—including Dr. Starr of Charlestown, Dr. Crosby of Rowley, and Robert Tuck of Hampton—testified that Mary’s leg had not been cured. Edmonds brought in witnesses to testify that it had. The court ruled that Green had lied and dealt fraudulently with Edmonds, but the following year the Ipswich court overturned the decision when Ann’s husband William inexplicably agreed that they had made no bargain with Green for the more valuable colt.

Mary Green survived the King’s Evil and the attempts to cure her leg. A quarter century later she faced another evil, as one of the many persons accused and imprisoned during the Salem witchcraft trials. After nearly four months in jail, she was released on bond and allowed to return home, never having stood trial.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on October 20, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including “Marked: the Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole," available at amazon.com, Marelli's Market, and the Tuck Museum in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.


Constables of Hampton


Up until the second decade of the twentieth century, constables were a regular feature of civic life in Hampton. They were ordinary men from the community, chosen each year at the town meeting to keep the peace and collect the taxes. Originally an important official, the constable eventually became obsolete as his duties were taken over by professional tax collectors, organized police forces, and sheriff’s departments.

Constables in the 17th and 18th centuries

In 1639, when the Great and General Court of Massachusetts allowed Winnacunnet (the original name of Hampton) to be a town, it gave the town founders liberty to choose a “constable and other officers.” The first constable was John Moulton, who not only kept the King’s peace, but collected the town and colony taxes—which were more likely to be paid in hogshead staves and corn rather than actual coinage. At the town meeting in 1641, the freemen chose Abraham Perkins to succeed Moulton in the office of constable.

Constables were the enforcement arm of the court, first in apprehending and bringing law breakers before the justices, and after, when punishments were meted out for crimes committed. In 1656, 1657, and again in 1661, constables carried out whippings on the suspected witch Unise Cole. In 1662, Constable William Fifield whipped three Quaker women, convicted of being vagabonds, through the streets of Hampton. Not comfortable with the task, Fifield offered to whip them before daylight, but they refused, saying that “they were not ashamed of their sufferings.” He offered to whip them with their clothes on, but they refused that, too.

In June 1732, the Hampton court found a man named John McVickers guilty of forging and passing counterfeit bills. He had been involved in the schemes of Tamsen Tibbits of Dover, who had convinced an artistically inclined schoolteacher to forge paper bills. McVickers was fined seven pounds plus costs, pilloried at Hampton for one hour, and suffered the cutting off of an ear by the constable at the time, Benjamin Towle. McVickers may have been the first man put in Hampton’s pillory, which had been erected just that month upon order of His Majesty’s Court of Sessions.

Constables were allowed to deputize men when they needed assistance. Constable Henry Dow’s deputy was Nathaniel Batchelder; together they transported Unise Cole to Boston to stand trial for witchcraft in 1673. The roundtrip took eight days and cost the taxpayers two pounds four shillings.

Constables were also empowered to make arrests and serve summonses on inhabitants, including other town officials. In 1684, Constable Nathaniel Batchelder arrested and incarcerated his old boss Henry Dow, now the town clerk, for refusing to pay his province taxes. In 1701, Constable Ephraim Marston served his fellow constables, Thomas Roby and Benjamin Fifield, with a summons to appear at the court in Portsmouth to explain why they had failed to deliver money owed to a man for work he had done on His Majesty’s fort at Newcastle. As this illustrates, the constable himself could be brought before the court if he neglected or refused to perform his duties. In 1662, when Constable Henry Roby failed to deliver notorious troublemaker Edward Colcord to the Boston jail, he was fined and ordered to complete the mission at his own expense.

Warning out

A 1659 Massachusetts law stipulated that any newcomers who resided in a town for more than three months (extended to twelve months in 1701) without being notified that the town was unwilling to have them stay, would be accounted a legal inhabitant and entitled to poor relief if they became indigent. Selectmen were therefore keen to “warn out” strangers before they could become a burden on the taxpayers. While the warning did not necessarily mean removal, the constable was obliged to advise strangers that should they become penniless, they could count on no help from the town. In 1691 a man named William Penny was warned to leave town unless his host, John Garland, would post a bond for his “security.” In 1726, a woman named Deborah Brown was warned to “forth remove out of the town or get security for her staying here,” otherwise the town would “proceed with her as the law directs in those cases.” In 1797, Constable Henry Dearborn Taylor issued a warning to a man named John Towle and a boy named Sylvester Miller, giving them two weeks to get out of town.

A crisis of constables

Unlike the offices of town clerk and selectman, men who were chosen constable rarely served more than one term. The office was fraught with immense and often horrendous responsibilities, for which there was no fiscal remuneration beyond reimbursement for travel expenses. It’s no wonder some men flat out refused to serve when chosen, preferring to pay a hefty twenty pound fine instead. It was a trend with roots in the pre-Revolution, Stamp Act generation of young men who resented “the man” taking their labor free of charge.

At the town meeting in 1766, the voters chose as constables Jonathan Dow and Nathaniel Towle. In what was by then a familiar scene at the yearly meeting, both men refused the post and paid a fine. William Lane, Samuel Brown, and Josiah Dearborn were chosen next, each one refusing, and each one paying his fine. At an adjourned meeting the following month, voters agreed to award the one hundred pounds of fine money paid by the five refusers to the man “that shall serve as constable for the whole town.” Not even that large sum of money could entice Jeremiah Dow, the next man chosen, to accept the post. The crisis was resolved when Simon Dow, Jeremiah’s brother, agreed to serve in Jeremiah’s place.

The following year, after the first candidate had refused, Simon was again chosen to serve. This appears to be the first time that the town offered the constable a true salary, promising Simon seven pounds ten shillings for his service.

Later, in the 1790s, the office of tax collector was separated from that of constable. For the next seventy years, however, it was a general rule that the man hired as constable was also employed to collect taxes.

Constables in the 19th century

Early Hampton police force

Early Hampton police force. Some of these men may have served as constables. Image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Hampton had begun to replace the constable with full-time, salaried police officers. In 1869 the town expended money on a police station, and by 1880 the names of the policemen had been added to the list of officers in the town report. Policemen wore badges to denote their office, and the position of “special” policeman began to appear in the records. What roles these men filled is not always clear, but in 1892 and 1893 policeman Curtis DeLancey was paid an additional five dollars as a special policeman to enforce the dog laws.

The constable had not been killed off quite yet, as the title continued to appear sporadically in the records of this period. In 1887, John W. Dearborn earned fifteen dollars as a policeman, ten dollars as constable, and another fifteen dollars as special constable. Clearly, the job had been absorbed into the police department, its duties most likely restricted to civil matters.

The last Hampton constables

The last constable to be mentioned by name in the town reports was Charles A. Weare in 1891. Constables were not mentioned again until the second decade of the new century, when for several years voters left the appointment of a constable to the selectmen, a sure sign of the office’s impending demise. The selectmen seem to have declined to exercise their privilege, and from 1914 on the constable disappeared from the records—and so apparently from the town.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, September 22, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and Marelli’s Market. Her website is lassitergang.com.

Ode to Joe Billy Brown


When wealthy Boston carpet dealer Joseph Ballard bought the Lafayette Road estate of his Leavitt in-laws in 1831, he had no idea that a future namesake would one day become one of the most popular and controversial selectmen ever voted to office in Hampton, New Hampshire.

Ballard and his wife Clarissa, the daughter of tavern keeper Thomas Leavitt, spent their summers in Hampton. From mid-century on, Irish-born Mary Johnston accompanied them as a servant. In 1858, she married John Gilman Brown of Hampton, and in 1862 their first child Joseph Ballard was born. Mary held a special place in the Ballard household, and when her employer died in 1877, he bequeathed to her the house and property at 393 Lafayette Road.

A one-man government

Mary’s son Joe Billy, as he was called, was a market gardener who sold his produce from a cart at the beach. A lifelong bachelor, he was first elected to the board of selectmen in 1887, at the age of twenty-four, and held the office for the better part of the next three and a half decades, eventually becoming board chairman. A 1921 Hampton Union article reported that he was “on the job from six o’clock in the morning until nearly midnight,” and that “no job is too big for him to tackle and no request of too little consequence to escape his attention.” In fact, Brown seemed to have had his nose in everything, and he performed so many jobs around town—from cleaning the Town Hall and caring for transients, to collecting rents on leased town land and personally overseeing public works projects—that calling his time in office a “one-man government” was not far from the mark.

Brown vs. the police force

 James Tucker of the Hampton Beach News-Guide described Joe Billy as “spare and wiry with a drooping gray moustache,” dressed in a “familiar” gray suit, and looking like a “character out of Winston Churchill’s novel Coniston (Churchill was a novelist and New Hampshire politician; his 1906 book about the state’s politics was a best seller). According to Tucker, Brown was “accustomed to leading,” and wasn’t the kind of man “that lags behind in a community like Hampton.” His personality was pleasant, his disposition stubborn, and although his “argumentative facilities might prove futile in a close debate,” at town meetings he was a “master of repartee.”

Tucker penned his biographical sketch in 1922, at the end of a contentious summer at the beach. With the assistance of Hampton police chief Sherburne “Sherbie” Blake and his officers, overzealous Federal prohibition agents had set up liquor roadblocks at the bridge end of the beach and on Lafayette Road. This angered business owners and cottagers, who worried that the liquor arrests were giving the town a false reputation as a bootlegging center. Even trolley operator Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway complained of the inconvenience of the searches.

The complaints did not go unnoticed by the selectmen, and in September (well after the tourist season had wound down), Joe Billy Brown fired twelve of the fifteen officers on the force, including the chief. Spared from the axe were Officers Marvin Young, Uri Lamprey, and Robert Tolman.

 One of the unexpunged officers was Brown’s friend and “anxious to wear the chief’s badge,” leading Tucker to believe that “petty jealousy and local politics” were at the root of Brown’s decision. Despite Blake’s refusal to vacate his office, the ruling stood and Tolman took over as chief.

Twenty years younger than Joe Billy, Sherbie Blake was the son of Hampton fisherman Eri P. Blake. At sixteen he joined the Navy, later working as a clerk in Boston, Massachusetts and Concord, New Hampshire. He ran a liquor store in Manchester, New Hampshire, and had a marriage, two children, and a divorce, all before returning home to Hampton to try his hand at police work. After his dismissal, he found work at the Coast Guard station on North Beach.

The following year the town elected Lemuel C. Ring as chairman of the selectmen. With Brown declining to participate, Ring and selectman Harry Munsey voted to reinstate Blake. Some locals didn’t like the change, but they must have been happy with the board’s decision not to allow their police officers to work the Federal “dry squad” roadblocks. This meant a loss to the police department of a share of the municipal court revenues earned from the prosecution and conviction of rumrunners, which in 1922 had amounted to over thirteen hundred dollars. For the town’s promoters, this seemed like a fair exchange.

Other problems arose, however, and Blake abruptly resigned after an altercation with the “occupants of an automobile” that had occurred over the Independence Day holiday. He never returned, and selectman Harry Munsey took over as chief.

Old political ring broken

Munsey was the third selectman on the three-man board, but at the time of Blake’s resignation, he and Ring were operating as a two-man board. On April 29, Brown died after surgery at Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport. With his passing, the “old political ring” was broken. It didn’t take long before the public learned of irregularities in the town’s business, including a report that Brown had kept the town’s money in his own personal bank accounts. The selectmen promised a thorough audit of the books, along with fairer and more businesslike governance in the future. 

JBB Park

In his history of the town, Peter Randall called Joe Billy “an unusual town official.” That he certainly was. He was also an admired public servant, who, as James Tucker wrote, had “at heart the welfare of the town he serves so faithfully.” In recognition of his many years of service, North Shore Park at Plaice Cove was informally called Joe Billy Brown Park. In 1964, voters made the memorial official.

Ode to Joe Billy Brown

Have you seen my Billy Brown?

He’s the man who runs our town,

I will never rest ‘til he am found.

I have looked all over town,

Down to the beach and all around.

On my knees I ask please,

Have you seen my Billy Brown

—as remembered by Horace Hobbs (1899-1999),

courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, August 25, 2017.

Photo of Joe Billy Brown courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society. Colorized by the author.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl’s latest book is “Hampton History Matters,” a collection of new and previously published essays, available at amazon.com and at Marelli’s Market in Hampton. Her website is lassitergang.com.