Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Sea-Weed Laws / The Public Lands

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Sea-Weed Laws

At the annual town meeting, in 1757, were passed the first votes on record, regulating the getting of sea-weed and rock-weed on the seashore. Every person was prohibited from removing any sea-weed from where the sea leaves sit, by carting or sledding, or by pitching it up in heaps, between daylight in the evening and daylight in the morning, under penalty of forty shillings for each offense. And if any person should pitch, or in any way heap up any sea-weed or rock-weed, "any where below the top of the beach," that is, below high-water mark, such heaps were to "be free for any person to put to his own use." These votes were often renewed, or similar ones passed, though sometimes with a different penalty for their violation, till at length, after the formation of the State government, a law, with similar provisions was, at the request of this town, passed by the General Court, which, with slight amendments, is still retained on the statute book.

The Public Lands

Respecting the lands lying between tracts belonging to private individuals and low-water mark, regarded as public lands, several controversies have arisen. A few of the abutters have even contended that their own claims stretched to the water, and have fruitlessly striven to restrain others from carrying away sea-weed from such portions of the beach. All claims of this kind, however, were forever silenced when in 1851, the Superior Court of New Hampshire sustained the ruling of the lower court, and closed the lawsuit of Jesse Knowles against Josiah Dow, for such alleged trespass.

{Jesse Knowles brought action against Josiah Dow and several other citizens of Hampton, in a plea of trespass. The action was returnable before a Justice of the Peace. Several pleas were put in by the defendants, all raising the question of title; and in consequence, the controversy was settled on the Dow case. It was sent up to the Superior Court, for jury trial. The second please was that the close, in which said supposed several trespasses were done, was not the close of the plaintiff. The trial was at Portsmouth, October term, 1848; verdict for the defendant, Dow. Plaintiff moved to set aside the verdict, for several specified reasons. This was done and a new trial granted. Opinion by Justice Wilcox, July term, 1849 [N.H. Report, XX:135]}

{In the second case, Knowles vs. Dow. In a plea of trespass, for breaking and entering the plaintiff's close and carrying away sea-weed and flats-weed, the defendant filed six pleas, the first four of which were ruled out by the court; and the case went to the jury under the fifth and sixth pleas, and a verdict was found for the defendant under both pleas. The fifth plea was: a certain ancient and laudable custom, used and approved by all the inhabitants of the town of Hampton -- the privilege of hauling sea-weed and flats-weed upon the close and depositing the same, and afterwards taking and hauling away. The sixth plea, that the defendant did the acts complained of by leave and license of the plaintiff. Judgment on the verdict was rendered at the July term, 1851. Opinion by Chief Justice Gilchrist [N.H. Report, XXII: 387].}

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