Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Reduction of Wages

Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents


Complaints of the high price of labor, began at an early period, to be made in various parts of the colony. Gov. Winthrop says: "The court having found by experience, that it would not avail by any law to redress the excessive rates of laborers and workmen's wages, etc. (for being restrained, they would either remove to other places where they might have more, or else being able to live by planting and other employments of their own, they would not be hired at all), it was therefore referred to the several towns to set down rates among themselves. This took better effect, so that in a voluntary way, by the counsel and persuasion of the elders, and example of some who led the way, they were brought to more moderation than they could be by compulsion."

To procure a reduction of wages, it is indeed far more rational to proceed by way of "counsel, persuasion and example," than by any compulsory legislative enactments. In any other than despotic governments, it is futile to expect to secure by law a perfect uniformity of prices of either labor or commodities.

But the experiment was tried. In this town it was voted, March 23, 1641, that a workman should be allowed only 1s 3d per day from the first of September to the first of March, and 1s 8d per day during the remainder of the year, except for mowing, for which he might receive two shillings. For a day's work for a man with four oxen and a cart, 5s were to be allowed through six calendar months, from the first day of September, and 6s at any other season. This order was to remain in force till the 14th of the following April, when it was to be further considered. Soon afterward it was so modified, that the best workmen should not receive more than 2s each per day, and others not more than 1s 8d.

How long this order remained in force and how strictly it was observed, are not matters of record. Judging from the nature of the case, we may presume that it could not easily be enforced. and that. though, perhaps, never repealed by any formal act, it soon became wholly inoperative.

In order to transact the great amount of business incident to a new settlement, it had been found necessary to hold town meetings somewhat frequently, but hitherto they had not been holden at stated intervals. It was now, March 23, determined to hold a meeting once in three weeks, the first meeting under this arrangement to be holden on Wednesday, the 14th of April, and other meetings to succeed on Wednesday of every third week thereafter, each meeting to commence at 12 o'clock, noon. Every freeman was required to be present, and if any one should "absent himself the space of an hour after 12 from any such meeting," he was to forfeit for each offence "12d. to the use of the town, & the like also in case he should depart, without leave, from the meeting before it was ended." The forfeiture for absence was also made to apply to a meeting holden previous to the 14th of April, for Robert Tuck was fined 12d for absenting himself therefrom contrary to this order.

At this meeting on the 14th of April, it was ordered that the fences about the Ring Swamp should be built within three days, in such a manner as John Moulton and William Wakefield should deem sufficient for the time; and these two men were required to "levy by distress" a fine of 3s 4d on each delinquent. At the same meeting it was voted, "that, if after the end of this weeke any man's beasts or cattell be found in the meadowes or marshes, the owner shall forfeit 12d for eury one so found eury tyme."

Five days later, Mr. Christopher Hussey and John Moulton were appointed by the town "to goe wth Mr. Dalton & John Crosse on this day fortnight, to conferre of ye fferi-place." This ferry was between Salisbury and Newbury, and "crossed the Merrimac at Carr's Island, George Carr keeping the Salisbury side, and Tristam Coffin, senior, the Newbury side." The General Court had nearly a year before appointed and authorized "Mr. Edward Woodman, Mr. Christo: Batt and John Crosse, to settle the fferry where they [might] think meete."

John Crosse was chosen deputy to the General Court of Election to be holden at Boston on the second day of June.

At a Quarter Court, June 1, the town was fined 2s 6d for not being provided with weights and measures, as required by law. At the General Court convened the next day, there were appointed for Hampton, "to order small causes," John Crosse, Christopher Hussey and John Moulton; "and one of them to see people ioyne in marriage in a publike meeting and keepe records of the same." Hence it may fairly be inferred, that the law then required marriages to be in public. How far such a regulation was observed in practice, we know not.

At the same session of the General Court it was enacted that the courts at Salem and Ipswich should have the same power both in civil and criminal causes as the Court of Assistants at Boston, except in trials for life, limbs, or banishment. Such cases were to be tried only by the court in Boston, and to this court appeals might also be carried from the other courts. Salisbury and Hampton were joined to the jurisdiction of Ipswich, and each of them was to send a grand juryman once a year to Ipswich.

At the same session the court "ordered that Hampton, Dedham, & all the out townes should each of them have a barrell of gun-powder, for wch they were to give satisfaction to the Treasurer."

Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents