Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Highways

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


A little previous to the settlement of the town, a way had been traced out from Newbury to the Piscataqua, passing through the woods of Winnacunnet. It could hardly be called a road, for it was probably only a foot-path seldom trod, and indicated to the traveller by blazed trees. Besides this, the first inhabitants found no roads but winding paths made by the wild beasts roaming the forests, or formed by the Indians around their wigwams and accustomed haunts, whether in pursuit of game in the woods, or going to the river to obtain shell-fish from its banks, or to make excursions upon its waters in their birchen canoes, for fishing and other purposes. But the necessities of the people soon compelled them to make other paths, some of which became public roads, while others were given up for better routes.

It is difficult to estimate the labor and expense incurred by the early inhabitants, in making and maintaining such roads as were indispendable. No wonder, therefore, that these were, in many instances, laid out in a serpentine, or even a zigzag course, to carry them over ground favorable to their construction. Some of their curves and turnings might probably have been avoided, without enhancing the cost. It cannot be suppoed that those who acted for the town, never erred in judgment. They claimed for themselves no such infallibility nor do we claim it for them. But if we would decide correctly in what cases a better location might have been given to the roads, without increasing the expense of their construction, we should know what changes have been produced in different localities by clearing, drainage and cultivation. Other considerations that their feasibility, however, without any double, in some instances, determined the location and course the roads, which in that age were not like some at the present day, designed wholly, or mainly as thoroughfares between difference and distant towns. They served rather as avenues to the farms and lots of the inhabitants. As such, a circuitous, in preference to a direct route might wisely be chosen, where a larger number of the inhabitants would thus be accommodated.

To connect the settlement at the Falls--or on the south side of Taylor's river--with the town, a more direct road was needed, especially as this was also on the route to Salisbury, Newbury, and other towns that had been settled in Massachusetts. This was an expensive road to build and maintain, for it must cross a considerable tract of salt marsh, which was often overflowed by the tide, and over which the current sometimes swept with great force. To maintain a good road across this marsh was considered too heavy a burden for the town a century and a half later. It might well, then, in the infancy of the settlement, be regarded as a great undertaking.

But as the public convenience required such a road, and it was deemed indispensable to the settlement and prosperity of that part of the town lying south of the marsh, the subject was early brought before the people for their consideration, and the town voted, November 6, 1640, to lay out a road four rods in width, from the Meeting-house Green to the Falls, to pass through Richard Swaine's home lot. It appears, however, not to have been built immediately; but a bridge had been thrown across the river sometime before mid-summer of that year, for it is incidentally mentioned in an entry on the Records, under date of July 8th, when there was made to John Sanborn a grant of a tract of land, lying "on the east side of the common way beyond the great bridge towards Salisbury." The next spring, Richard Swaine and William Wakefield were directed by the town to join, with Salisbury in laying out the highway to that town. The road over the marsh was a part of this highway. Years passed before it was completed, and further action was taken in town meeting in regard to it. It was ordered, May 1, 1645, that every person in the town should sufficiently make his share of the causey toward Salisbury before the end of the month. The road was to be built in this manner: Two ditches were to be dug across the marsh and the road to be built between them. The ditch on the west side of the road was to be five feet wide, and that on the east side, four feet, and the "floor of the causey" to be eight and a half feet in width; and wherever it should be needful for a "gutter-tree" to be laid, it should be the duty of the person, on whose share it might be, to see it done. Any man failing to perform the work assigned to him within the time specified, should be fined 2s. 6d. for every rod which he should fail to build.

To keep this road in repair, after it had once been passable, required no small amount of labor, both on account of the softness of the marsh, in consequence of which it failed to sustain the materials used in its construction, and of its liability to be washed away by the tide, especially at those seasons of the year when large quantities of fresh water were coming down from above. So much labor and expense were needed here, that some other roads were somewhat neglected, and the town was presented at the court at Ipswich, for not repairing the highways and keeping them in good order. A fine was imposed, which the town petitioned the General Court to remit; as by reason of their limited means and the greatness of the work, they were unable to compass or perform it in any reasonable time; and they estimated that the repairing of one road--the causeway--would "cost neere one hundred pounds." They also asked for a reasonable time in which to repair their roads. The court, in answer to the petition in November, 1646, remitted the fine, and granted the town £5 out of the the next country rate, on condition that a sufficient cart and horse way should speedily be made "over the great marsh," as it was termed by the court.

The records of the General Court also show that, in answer to the petition from Hampton, Mr. Waldron and Lieut. Howard were appointed, to search out and examine the nearest and best way from Dover to Salisbury, that would be attended with the least expense, whether passing through the woods or elsewhere. As no request for such a committee was made in the petition, it is probable that the court supposed that a route for a road might be found father west, that would be a substitute for the one across the marsh, thus, so far as the public were concerned, relieving the town of the necessity of maintaining a road so liable to be rendered impassable and useless. The report of this committee, if any report was made, has not been found; but the most direct way between the towns mentioned, still continues to be over this marsh.

On the 15th of May, 1650, the town voted, that the causeway should be sufficently repaired within sixteen days, each person doing the share that had previously been assigned to him, except in certain cases specified in the vote. If any person should neglect to do his part, he was to pay a fine of ten shillings for each rod not properly repaired; and the constable, together with Abraham Perkins, was to collect the fines and see that they were laid out in repairing the road. Richard Swaine and Thomas Ward, both of whom lived near the marsh, were to give information to these men, of every case of neglect.

Here we leave this subject for the present, but shall have occasion hereafter to refer to it again.

In this same month of May, Thomas Wiggin was appointed one of the magistrates usually called assistants.

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