Fires on the Property of Jonathan Moulton and His Dispute with Capt. Jonathan Swett

Return to Table of Contents

Related stories from newspapers of the day

Jonathan Moulton was one of the wealthiest men in Hampton in his day, and led men in battle during the Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. He represented Hampton in the Provincial legislature and as Town Moderator. In 1785 he attained the rank of Brigadier General. Between 1766 and 1769 Moulton suffered the loss of several barns and his mansion house by fire. Some were the work of nature or accident, others were declared to be arson. Below are newspaper articles that appeared in Portsmouth and Boston papers describing the incidents. After these articles is information on a dispute between Capt. Jonathan Swett of Hampton Falls and Moulton that seems to provide evidence as to the possible arsonist. This information, to the best of our knowledge, has never been published elsewhere since it first appeared in the newspaper.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth)
October 3, 1766 & October 10, 1766

150 Dollars Reward

Province of New-Hampshire

WHEREAS a BARN of more than one Hundred Foot in Length, and proportionable in other Dimensions, which belonged to me the Subscriber, situate in Hampton Falls, in this Province, was in the Evening of the 24th Instant, consumed by Fire, with about Forty-five Ton of English Hay; and about two Hundred Bushels of Grain, a Quantity of Flax, and other Fruits of the Earth, the Produce of the present Year, all then in said Barn; which Fire (as it appears probable by many Circumstances) was kindled by some evil minded Person or Persons: And as it is hoped every Friend to Society will exert his best Endeavours to detect the Person or Persons guilty of such an atrocious Crime; for an Encouragement to make such Discovery, I hereby promise to pay any Person who shall so do, so that the principal Offender may be convincted of the Offence, ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY DOLLARS, on Demand afterwards; and as far as is in my Power, Indemnification against any Damages he may sustain by the Discovery, excepting the principal Offender.
Jonathan Moulton
Hampton, Sept. 27th, 1766.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth)
October 24, 1766


Captain General, Governor, and Commander in Chief in and over his Majesty's
Province of New-Hampshire, in New-England, and Vice Admiral of the Sam, &c. &c. &c.


WHEREAS, a large Barn, said to be well Stor'd with the Products of the Earth, in the present Season, which belong'd to JONATHAN MOULTON, of Hampton, Esq; Situate at Hampton-Falls, was lately destroy'd by Fire, which as appears Probable, was maliciously and wickedly kindled therin with a barbarous Design to consume the Substance of the Owner : And whereas such secret Villany if not detected, may prove Ruinous and Destructive to the Community, and seems to be a loud Call for the Exertions of public Authority, in every lawful Method to discountenance and prevent for the future, as much as possible, the Repetition and Progress of such Nefarious Crimes: I HAVE therefore tho't fit, by and with the Advice of his Majeesty's Council, to Issue this Proclamation, hereby strictly forbiding all Persons within this Province, to perpetrate any such secret injurious and diabolical Wickedness, and also promising a Reward of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS, Proclamation Money, to any Person who shall discover the Author or Authors of the Mischief perpetrated as aforesaid, with Impunity, if he or they were Accessaries only.

GIVEN at the Council-Chamber, at Portsmouth, the 6th Day of October, in the Sixth Year of his Majuesty's Reign. Anno Domini, 1766.
By his Excellency's Command,
With Advice of Council,
Theodore Atkinson, Junr. Sec.ry

Boston Post Boy (Portsmouth)
October 27, 1766

PORTSMOUTH. October 24. Last Sunday Evening we had here a severer Storm of Rain, Thunder and Lightning, than has been during the Summer, which continued all Night with but little Intermission ; the Thunder seemed to be directly over the Town, and the Lightning as sharp as ever was known; but happily no Damage was done here. It was also very severe at Hampton, about 15 Miles Distance, where the Lightning struck a very large Barn, belonging to Col. Moulton, and intirely consumed the same, together with 30 Load of Hay and some Grain therein.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle
March 18, 1768

PORTSMOUTH. We hear that on the Morning of Lord's Day, the 13th Instant, about four o'Clock, a large new Barn, of Colonel Jonathan Moulton's then standing at Hampton-Falls, on the same Place where he had one Burnt, September 1766, and a smaller one of the same Gentleman's standing close to the other, both to all Appearance Willfully set on Fire, as it was a wet Season, and no rational Account given how it could happen by any Accident. -- In the large Barn, (which was 100 Feet in length, and of a proportionable breadth, well finish'd) there were consum'd Nineteen Head of neat Cattle, and some Swine, the Flames having prevail'd so far, before the Fire was discover'd that there was no possibility of saving the Cattle, nor so much as their Hydes after they were dead -- in the other Barn some young Cattle and Sheep were saved -- The Loss is great to the Public, as many milch Cows with Calf were destroy'd, besides other useful Stock. How much the Loss is to the Owner we are not able at present to say -- We wou'd only observe, that such flagrant Wickedness is most amazing and alarming, as it threatens the Destruction of the Place where it exists ; for in such Cases no Mans Person nor Property is safe ; and every one wou'd chuse to fly from such a Place as fast as from one infected with the most malignant Contagion. -- 15 load of Hay was also burnt.

Boston Evening Post
March 21, 1768

We hear from Hampton, that Yesterday 7-night a large new Barn of Col. Jonathan Moulton's of that Place, 100 Feet in length, and a smaller one close to it, were maliciously set on Fire by some evil minded Person, and entirely consumed : In the large Barn were 19 Head of Cattle and some Swine, who all perished in the Flames ; some young Cattle and Sheep in the smaller Barn were saved: -- 15 Load of Hay was also burnt. The above Gentleman had a large Barn burnt at the same Place about eighteen months ago, supposed to have been purposely set on fire.

Boston Evening Post
March 28, 1768

BOSTON, March 28, 1768. Five Hundred Dollars Reward is offered by Col. Moulton, of Hampton, for the Discovery of the Person or Persons who set Fire to his Barns : mentioned in our last to have been consumed there, together with 19 Head of Cattle, and other Stock.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle
May 13, 1768

Last Saturday about Noon, a Flash of Lightning struck a Warehouse of Col. Moulton's at Hampton, tore off part of the Ridge Pole, Shingles, Boards and Clapboards, quite down to the Ground, but the Damage we hear, is not very great.

Boston Evening Post
November 7, 1768

We hear from Hampton, that another large Barn belonging to Col. Moulton, near his Mansion House, was consumed by Fire Last Wednesday Night, in which was a considerable Quantity of Grain. It is supposed to have been set on Fire by some evil minded Person.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth)
March 17, 1769

PORTSMOUTH, March 17, 1769. Last Wednesday Morning about Four o'Clock, the large Mansion House of Col. JONATHAN MOULTON, Esq; of Hampton, together with two Stores contiguous thereto, were wholly consumed by Fire. -- This melancholly Accident, it is suppos'd was occasioned by a Beam taking Fire under the Hearth in his Parlour. The Flames had got to so great a heighth before the Discovery, that it was with great Difficulty the Family escaped with their Lives : Col. Moulton saved no other cloathing than a Cloak, and a Gentleman who happened occasionally to lodge that Night at the Colonel's was obliged to jump out of the Chamber Window -- When he was first called upon, he did not know the Occasion, and had put on most of his Cloaths before the Smoke apprized him of his Danger. There were between Fifteen and Twenty Souls in the House, who thro' the good Providence of God, were all saved unhurt. All the Furniture, which was very good and valuable, was wholly consumed, but the Shop Goods, Books, Bonds, Notes and other Papers, which were in the Stores were happily saved. This loss is estimated at £3000 Sterling.

The New-Hampshire Gazette; or State Journal, and General Advertiser (Portsmouth)
December 9, 1786

PORTSMOUTH, December 9. Last Saturday a genteel house just finishing at Dover, the property of Capt. William Horn, took fire and was consumed ; the fire communicated to a building belonging to Gen. Moulton, which was also consumed, beside other property. It is said the above misfortune was occasioned by leaving shavings near the fire place, while the workmen went to breakfast. It is a pity so many buildings should be destroyed in the country for want of means to extinguish fires, when Engines for that purpose are made in this town for the small sum of fifteen dollars, with which two persons will throw water over the ridge pole of any common three story building, and discharge from half a barrel to a barrel per minute.

New-Hampshire Gazette, and General Advertiser (Portsmouth)
February 17, 1787

Portsmouth, Feb. 21. We hear from Hampton, that about six o'clock on the morning of Sunday the 11 inst. the stable belonging to General Moulton, near his dwelling house, was consumed by fire, owing to the carelessness of a boy who carried a candle into it when he went to sodder the horses ; by the alacrity of some of the family the horses were soon relieved, and the carriages, &c. seasonably got out ; providentially it was then very calm, and by the exertions of a great number of people who quickly assembled, his mansion house happily escaped, which, under less favourable circumstances must have shared the same fate. -- This may serve as a caution to persons against their carring candles into stables, or barns, without lanterns.

We also hear that the people of Hampton are freely of their own accord collecting timber, &c. in order to erect another immediately, without any expence to General Moulton, saving necessary refreshments while at work. -- An example worthy of imitation in similar cases.

Jonathan Swett vs. Jonathan Moulton

Beginning around the year 1760 Capt. Jonathan Swett of Hampton Falls and Jonathan Moulton of Hampton had disagreements over the ownership of property that eventually went to court and were settled primarily in Moulton's favor. Based on the testimonies below, Swett was angered by these verdicts, feeling that Moulton had unfair influence over the judiciary to the extent that it was impossible to obtain a fair verdict against him. Swett and others of like mind apparently made their anger known with threats against the property of Moulton. Not long after this threatening, one of Moulton's barns was destroyed by arson. Moulton clearly believed that Swett was the arsonist, although he could not prove the point in court. It seems likely that Swett or a friend of like mind was the culprit, but it will likely never be proven at this late date.

The letters below date from January of 1768. In March another barn was destroyed by arson and a large monetary reward was offered for the identity of the person or persons who were responsible. Swett and his wife Mary sold land in Hampton Falls on May 3, 1768, and have not been located in any records after that point. What became of him is presently unknown. In November a third barn was destroyed by arson, then in March of 1769 his mansion house was destroyed, although the latter fire was supposedly accidental in nature.

Jonathan Swett was born in Hampton Falls on November 17, 1712, the son of Joseph and grandson of the Indian fighter Benjamin Swett. He was married three times and had ten children. He was a captain in the local militia and served as a Selectman in Hampton Falls, so was a well-respected member of the community. It seems unlikely that he would turn to arson in his middle fifties, but it is perhaps not unreasonable to postulate that, at the very least, the dispute between he and Moulton was the ultimate cause of the arsons.

Moulton had earlier gotten into the bad graces of some of the local populace after the shipwreck of the mast ship St. George in late 1764. Moulton was one of a handful of area merchants who managed to profit greatly from the goods washed up on shore, and many people in town were resentful. When local townspeople tried to collect some of the salvage for themselves they were later arrested, and a local riot ensued when a large number of Hamptonites attacked the constable and released their charges. The governor was forced to call for a posse to come to town under arms to make arrests. This series of events likely added to the enmity that Swett and others felt towards Jonathan Moulton.

A chronology of events helps to illustrate the situation:
ca. 1760-62: Moulton and Swett quarrel over disputed marsh land
ca. 1763: Moulton, acting for the daughters of the deceased Nathaniel Weare, gets the courts to invalidate Swett's claims to some land.
November-December 1764: Mast ship St. George is shipwrecked and is followed by a riot. Townspeople angry with Moulton.
August 1766: Swett confronts Moulton and threatens him
September 24, 1766: A barn belonging to Moulton is burned in Hampton Falls. Cause was arson.
ca. November 1766: Moulton sues Swett and an accomplice for the threats and arson. Swett cleared of arson charges but ordered to pay damages to Moulton. Swett arrested and put in prison when he does not pay.
December 7, 1767: Moulton writes letter urging release of Swett.
January 8, 1768: Swett publishes his case in the New Hampshire Gazette.
January 27, 1768: Moulton's rebuttal to Swett, published February 5th in the NH Gazette.
March 20, 1768: Another Moulton barn lost to arson.
May 3, 1768: Swett and wife sell land in Hampton Falls. No further record of Swett.
November 1768: A third Moulton barn lost to arson.
March 1769: Moulton's mansion house destroyed by fire. Cause apparently NOT arson.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle
January 8, 1768

The following Dispute between Col. MOULTON and Capt. SWETT, we hope, will be carried on, to the Satisfaction of the Parties, and the Public, to whose Tribunal the Appeal is made; and likewise be of no Disadvantage to the Publishers, they having received some Earnest of what shall accompany its Continuance, which is more convincing to them of its Necessity, than the publishing the nicest Piece of Criticism, or the Most elaborate Performance, or politest Discourse, with the finest turn'd Periods could be without such an Earnest.


As Colonel MOULTON hath industriously reported, that he hath offered the most compassionate Proposals to alleviate my present Misfortunes, and by his insinuating misrepresentations hath much exposed me to the Censure of the PUBLIC -- I am bound in Justice to myself and my distressed Family to deny, that he has ever offered me any other Terms than such as are utterly inconsistent with the Principles of Honor or Friendship ; and as a Specimen of his last and best offer ever made me, the following Letter which he wrote to Capt. STOODLY, to be communicated to me will suffice to convince the Public of his Artful and cautious Proposals for a Reconciliation.

Hampton, December 7, 1767.

Capt. Stoodley,

Since I saw you last at your House, I have tho't much upon the bad Situation in which Capt. Swett is -- I can truly say, I have no inclination that he should remain in close Goal, notwithstanding his ill Treatment to me, both in Words and Actions, if there can be any Way found out to get him released -- I have consider'd upon what you propos'd with respect to letting him come out to try him, and see how he will behave, and if bad, I might immediately take and confine him again ; you said you would be bound for him, that he should not do me any Damage -- If he would behave civily I wou'd willingly consent he should come out of that doleful Place (the Prison) and let him go about his own Business, therefore I take this Opportunity to make the following Proposals, which are different from what I have heretofore made, namely, I don't insist upon any sort of an acknowledgement from him -- You said you was satisfied if he was to come out that he would behave properly as any Neighbour aught to behave to another -- therefore I reposing Trust and Confidence in your Belief in this particular, will consent that he may immediately be taken out of Goal, and not be held thereon Account of the Execution which I have against him ; for as I told you before, and so say now, I did not design ever to have asked or demanded any Thing of him or John Chace [Chase] for the Ballance of the Execution by which Capt. Swett is now held in Goal, had he not interrupted and plagued me about the Mill which I was put in Possession of, which was the only Reason I had the Execution serv'd. My other Proposal to you was, to give him a Discharge from the Execution he is now held in Goal for by me provided he would quit Hampton from living in it. I now relinquish that Proviso, and say, that so long as he behaves well, I have no Objection to his living in Hampton Town or Hampton Falls, but this I must say, I shan't consent for him nor Family to live any longer in that House, or on that Place which was delivered to me by Execution, being the same House his Wife and Family now lives in ; for if I was to consent to that, I think it would open a Door for further Disputes and Quarrels, therefore I would by no Means consent to that ; but in Case he has no convenient House to move his Family in, I will consent he may move them into a good House of mine in Hampton Falls, about a Mile from the Meeting House, viz. the House that I bought of Benjamin Hillyard, [Hilliard] Son of Benjamin Hillyard deceased, or if he don't like that, I will procure him some other House that shall be convenient for him and his family, and will not ask him any Rent ------ This is what offers from       Sir, Your humble Servant,
Jonathan Moulton.

N.B. If you please you may communicate this to Capt. Swett, or if you think best, to deliver the Substance of it by Word of Mouth : you will act your own Judgment upon it.

Before I make my observations on the foregoing Letter, I think it necessary to state the Grounds of our Disputes, and the Consequences resulting therefrom, very fatal to me and my injured family.

Col. Moulton sued out a Writ of Damages against me, and one Mr. John Chace, for a supposed Burning his Barn and riotiously assembling before his House, and putting him in Fear of his Life, and occasioning thereby great Expences to him in supporting a Watch, to defend him and his Substance.

The Action was commenced and prosecuted, at the Inferiour Court, where we made no Defence, but gave up the Case, and defended it at the Superior Court, and there recovered our Costs; from which Judgement he appealed to the Governor and Council, where to my surprize he recovered against us jointly £253 Lawful Money Damages, for his Expences in defending his Person and Property, but acquited us of the supposed Burning. It was Col. Moulton's Duty to put me under Bonds of the Peace if he imagined I meditated any injury to him, and in that Case, he would have secured all the Province in his Favour against me, and if I could not have procured him Bondsmen, I must have been confined, so that as he did not avail himself of his legal Priviledges at first, he should never have had any Benefit from those Laws which he had so slighted. Upon this Judgement he took out Execution, which when the Sheriff came to serve, and demanded of me to chuse a Person to apprize the Estate, which Moulton designed to extend, I told him I had no Estate, but offered my Person in Execution, which he refused, and said he must extend such Lands as Col. Moulton showed him as my Estate, and accordingly levied his Execution on the Estate which I had sold to one Mr. Pottle, and the same was valued at £142 Lawful Money, which is worth £300 at least -- He then got Security of Mr. Chace for £60 and now holds me in Prison for the Residue : thus it appears, supposing the Estate which he has served his Execution on, had really been my own, he seeks to oblige me to pay three Quarters of the whole supposed Damages he has recovered. -- This is the Situation of our Dispute. -- I shall now take some Notice of the aforementioned Letter, and to save Time, I will pass by his specious Marks of Friendship, in releasing me from my present Confinement, as I esteem the Terms unworthy my own, much more the Public Notice ; but shall only say, that Real Friendship is a Passion that does not belong to his Character, but if he thinks otherwise, I would recommend it to him to consider, it is dangerous to rely too much on our own Opinion, and that some Men, like False Glasses, represent their Complexion better than Nature hath made it, and as they are not fond of discovering their own Deformities, their Interest too frequently suborns their Reason, and thereby make them incapable of judging when they most expose themselves. -- From the aforegoing State of Facts, its evident Col. Moulton has a plentiful Share of that Revenge, which he attributes to me, and has carried it to so great an height that he is now wretched uneasy, & afraid of a Return, even tho' he has the more immediate Object of it in close Confinement.

Thus Providence causes the Votaries of this Passion to be their own Executioners, and thus the Punishment falls upon themselves, either in Fact or Expectation ; but now let me pray Col. Moulton to quiet his Fears, & compose himself to a conscientious Regard to the Duties we all owe to Mankind, and wherein either of us have done amiss, let us do so no more. -- And on my Part I will venture to fall a Sacrifice to the Indignation of the Public, a Tribunal I am now appearling to, and whose Censure I dread equal with Death, if ever I do him an Injury.

I never was or would be guilty of gratifying this Passion on my most obdurate Enemy, as I dispise and abhor such Principles ; but when Men fear, where no fear is, and are daily under the flinging Remorse of Conscience, let them esteem this Fear the Chastisement of Heaven, and a loud Call for them to REPENT. Colonel Moulton offers me one of his Houses, if I will move my Family out of that they now live in at Hampton, and which belongs to Mr. Pottle, and that they shall live therein without Rent ; How long? not a Word of that ; but we have all the Reason in the World to suppose, that no sooner than we had got into his House, we should soon be ferrited out again : Can we expect otherwise from a Man whose tender Mercies we have experienced to be a Repetition of Cruelties. He writes, he never design'd to take any more from Chace or myself if I had not opposed his using the Mill -- very good Reasons may be given therefor, he thought he had got an Estate for £142 from me which is worth £300, and £59 from Mr. Chace ; so that he would take to himself the Credit of giving us £60 Lawful Money, when in fact he had already got from us near double the Execution against us. If ever Col. Moulton entertained a tender Thought for me or my distressed Family, I heartily thank him for it, but his Conduct to me in every Case convinces me to the contrary, especially since he has put another Family into the House with my Wife, on purpose to aggravate my Misfortune ; I esteem all of a Piece, and I can with Truth say, I never received a Favour of him in my Life ; nor did I ever do or design to do him an Injury since I knew him -- thus much is evident, -- he has ruined me and Family, and I hope I may be the last -- I neither expect or desire any Favour from him -- I leave my Cause to the Supreme Disposer of all Things, and one who can best judge for my Innocence -- I now Challenge Colonel Moulton publickly to tell the real Offers he has ever made me, without concealing the Clogs with which such Offers were made -- I must leave him, and Charge him with ruining me and my Family. --

I am, the Public's Devoted humble Servant.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth)
January 15, 1768

PORTSMOUTH. To the Publishers of the New-Hampshire-Gazette. As Mr. Jonathan Swett has been pleas'd in your last Paper to exhibit a long Complaint against Colonel Moulton, who went out of the Province into the County of Cumberland in the Massachusetts, the Day the Papers came out, and is not yet returned, this Stab in the Back must remain untouch'd till he returns, when by only relating the Facts touching the Grounds of the Difference, he will doubtless effectually cure the Wound -- the publishing the History of private Disputes, it must be confess'd, is a very barren Entertainment to the Public, yet as Silence in this Case might be judg'd by some to be a Confession of Guilt, he will undoubtedly think it his Duty, as he will be able fully to clear himself of any such Imputation. Hampton, January 14.

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle
February 5, 1768

To the Publishers of the NEW-HAMPSHIRE-GAZETTE.

THOUGH I apprehend myself injured by the Representation Mr. Jonathan Swett has made of the Difference between us, lately publish'd, and that I have an Answer ready, which will be a sufficient Vindication of my Character in this Matter -- yet I think some Apology due to your Readers, for filling your Paper (which might be employ'd to much better Purposes) with a long Detail of uninteresting Facts (to all but the Parties concern'd) and the Altercations of a private Quarrel. -- It is therefore with Reluctance that I spend my own Time and theirs, in an Affair which will require the utmost of their Candor, not to think a Man must have a very high Notion of, and very sensibly feel his own Importance, to imagine a private particular Controversy of his, a Subject worthy of the public Attention -- But as I am now ingag'd tho' unwillingly, and have put my Hand to the Pen, I can't look back. -- Mr. Swett begins his Complaint, at the latter End of our Dispute ; but in order to judge who is most in Fault, or to give a just View of the Cause, to that Tribunal to which the Appeal is made, whose Judgment he professes mightily to revere, it is necessary to take up the Matter from the beginning. I know not that Mr. Swett and I had ever any Difference, 'till about the Year 1760, we happened to lay Claim, each to the same Tract of Salt-Marsh. -- It is not material to trace our different Titles -- I offer'd a Settlement, which he refus'd, enter'd and took what he pleas'd of the whole Profits, tho' before the Grass was come to Maturity ; which by the way, look'd as if he then suspected his own Title. -- And thus he did a second Year ; when I expostulated with him on the Matter, he was very insolent, shew nothing of a pacific Temper, but said he could do as he pleas'd in that Matter, and cut the whole of this Marsh, or any Part, as it suited him. The third Year, after forewarning him, he notwithstanding, begun to mow, but I enter'd, cut the Residue and carried off that which he had cut -- Upon which he bro't his Action. And this Part of his Conduct was right, for it could answer no valuable End, to be seizing, and making Reprizals, as had hitherto been the Case. In the Event Mr. Swett's Title fail'd him, he had built upon a sandy Foundation, and was quite mistaken in his Law. And upon what the legal Decision discover'd, I tho't he would have acquiesced : But he work'd himself into a Passion, which grew stronger by Time, and inflam'd his Resentment against me, as if I had greatly injured him, in supporting my own Title -- and began his Clamor, that I had wronged him of the Profits of this Marsh. But this suppos'd Wrong was in some Degree merged in another Dispute which soon arose between us ; but whether I was the blamable Cause will appear by a bare Relation of the Facts. There was one Nathaniel Weare who owned considerable Parcels of Land at Hampton-Falls, most of which it was said were intailed -- some of which I bought, but engaged him to dock the Intail by a common Recovery -- Mr. Swett purchased some other Part of the Land supposed to be intailed, of which he was put in mind, but said he could show another Title which would defeat the Intail, if there was any.--

Not long after this, Weare died, leaving three Daughters, of whom at their Mother's Request, I accepted the Guardianship, they each being then under fourteen. -- And as the Profits of the intail'd Land where the Intail had not been dock'd, belong'd to them, I bro't a Suit in their Name as their Guardian, for the Land, or Part of it, that Mr. Swett purchased of Weare, of which he had been admonished, as aforesaid. - This gave Mr. Swett great Offence -- Tho' here in particular I dare appeal to his dread Tribunal, where I should not have been guilty of a very culpable Negligence if I had not done it, and whether any Guardian could have justified such a Negligence of the Interest of his Wards ? -- On the Appeal at the superior Court I recover'd, Mr. Swett reviewed some Time after, had a Verdict in his Favor, which my Counsel moved to set aside, upon some Matter, out of my Sphere, and there, for want of Time, the Absence of Parties, and other Reasons, at the alternate Motion of each Party, was several Times continued, in all which I was no otherways active, than any Party is or ought to be, in any litigated Suit ; or than Mr. Swett himself was in this very Action : but it seems he tho't (as some others have done) that it was a strange preposterous Thing that he could not have a Judgement on the Jury's Verdict, at any Rate, and that what they agreed on, could under no Controul. -- And here I beg Leave to observe, that in the Event of this Suit, I was wholly disinterested, for it was not my own Estate when recovered ; this Motion to overrule the Verdict, was no Device of mine -- However, the Verdict was finally set aside, and no Judgment enter'd on it -- The Reasons or Grounds of which it cannot be reasonable to expect, I should declare ; it was the Act of the Court, to which all Parties concern'd ought to submit, or there must be an End of all Property ; or take the legal Method of further Prosecution. But it seems in the Time of the Suspension, as well as after Judgment, Mr. Swett express'd himself very indecently on the Point, and in such general Terms, as finally terminated, not so much on me, as elsewhere.

This issue of the Cause, made this Gentleman immoderately angry with me -- and this Passion instead of cooling by Time, rankled and settled at the Heart, and so much inflam'd the whole Man, that he cou'd not restrain its effects ; but they broke out on me in a very outrageous and extraordinary Manner, -- for coming to my House some Months afterwards, he accosted me to this Purpose -- Jonathan, you have wronged me by stealing away my Hay, and have cheated me of a Thousand Dollars, in getting my Land, and if you don't pay me I'll take my own Satisfaction ; -- When I express'd my Surprize at what he said, and the manner of his speaking, putting him in Mind, that I had done him no Injury, the Law had decided the Controversy, and I had done no more than he himself had done, in these Cases, only had obtained Judgment in my Favour, which he had endeavor'd to do ; to this he answer'd ? I don't mean to contend in Law with you Jonathan, for you are so full of Hell, I had as lives be concern'd with the Devil in Law, as with you, for I never will be concern'd in Law with you again, but I will have Recompence of you some way or other ? prov'd by the Oaths of Katherine Moloon, Elizabeth Ambrose, and others in the last Trial. -- but now he said he was for Gospel -- that he and some others wou'd erect a Court of their own, which should see justice done to all Persons so aggriev'd. -- In this Manner Mr. Swett thought proper to talk, without restraint in all Companies, and work'd on the Temper of one John Chase, junr. who pretended and gave out, that I had cheated him, in a Parcel of Iron Work, out of Two Thousand Pounds * -- that I had cheated many others -- that they were going to have these Accounts drawn out in a proper Form and laid before the Council. -- That when he was ask'd whether he meant the Governor and Council, said Chase said no ? we have got a Council, and they are to judge and determine, and settle the Accounts between Col. Moulton and us -- Damn him, he has cheated us Two Thousand Pounds about a Vessel's Work, and he is a dam'd Rogue, and I swear he must pay whatever is my Demand -- with much more to the like Purpose, prov'd by the Oaths of Caleb Sanborn and others, ibid. -- But it would be too tedious and draw this Account to too great a Prolixity, to relate the various seperate, as well as united Complaints of these two Persons up and down the Town of Hampton, Hampton-Falls, Exeter, Rye, Stratham, and even into the other Province, to Newbury, &c. and their joint Endeavours to raise a Mob to take Revenge, or as they called it to do themselves Justice. -- There are in that Trial near thirty Testimonies, proving their Threatenings -- the Assemblies they rais'd -- the mobbish Spirit they stirr'd up -- and the Appearance of a Design to make an Attack upon some Part of my Substance, and by some Expressions of Mr. Swett, designed on the House where I live. -- These Motions began in August 1766, and continued to the burning of my Barn in September next following, -- above six Weeks, -- which put me to a prodigious Expence, to guard my House, + Stores and Barns, and after all my Vigilence a large Barn, full of all Sorts of Stores, proper to be put in a Barn, was consum'd by being wilfully set on Fire by some Person or other. -- I then commenc'd the Action against him and Chase, of which he Complains; and though the Council might possibly entertain some Doubt of the Evidence, being principally presumptive, and attending to that Maxim, that Judgment must be for acquittal, where there is any Doubt. -- Yet I question not, but if that Point, had been tried alone, the doubt wou'd have been overcome -- for Mr. Swett in one of his threatening Speeches express'd himself thus, there is a great want of Ashes at Hampton-Falls -- That he was determin'd not to let Things drop between us, and to do something yet privately*. -- The expressing himself in this Manner about Ashes before the Fact, could have no Meaning, but with Regard to the Event, which afterwards turn'd up ; his determining to do something privately, -- his being seen with a Gun that Day, (which it seems was a very uncommon Thing with him) carries upon the whole, a violent Presumption, that he either did it, or caus'd it to be done. -- Add to this, there never yet has been any, even the lowest probable Account given to show that this Injury happen'd by any other Means. -- Had this been tried alone I am apt to think Mr. Swett wou'd have been convicted ; for there is a great Difference in considering the Evidence of a complex Case, in which a Number of atrocious Crimes are charg'd, and a single Fact. However I mean not to complain of the Issue. -- There was a sufficient Cause of Action, in the Judgement of the Court, without the accumulated Guilt of depriving the Public of so many of the Necessaries of Life, and doing such a prodigious Injury to the Owner, -- This Sentence proves his Guilt, and it is a very fond flattering Piece of Self-Approbation, after all that has past, for this Gentleman to tell the World & assert, that he never did, nor designed to do me any Injury since he knew me, -- with how much Truth this can be asserted, let the World judge : to pretend to great Innocence, in the very Point in which a Judgment of a Supreme Court of Judicature, after a whole Day's Hearing, stands against him, gives Grounds to suspect the Man guilty of great Self-delusion, or is conscious of the most audacious Impudence and Falsehood. -- And by the same Method the greatest Criminal may prove his Innocence, that is by supposing the Judgment and Sentence against him erroneous.


* Chase's Part in this Work was about £800 Old Tenor, I have the Account stated under his Hand, and offer'd to produce the whole Accounts at the Court for an Examination in the Action against him & Swett : this Clamour was wholly groundless, there was not the least Colour for it.

* At this Time my Wife lay-in, and some spoke to Swett of that Circumstance, and told him a Mob about the House might be of dangerous Consequence to her and the Child ; but of this he took no Notice.


Before I take Notice of the Mistakes in his Complaint, I wou'd shortly remark upon the Temper this Gentleman has discover'd in this Dispute with me : When we began our Claim to the Marsh, he arbitrarily said he wou'd take all, or whatever Part of the Profits he pleas'd, and enter'd and took them accordingly ; -- when I did so, he immediately bro't his Action without any Proposition of an Agreement, and yet when the Case went against him, then he was wrong'd : I had injur'd him, -- How ? why, by doing to, and dealing with him, as he had done with me ? that is, he had endeavor'd to maintain his Title to the Marsh, and so I did mine -- I prevail'd, and he is angry. -- Though were it not for his strong Prejudices always in his own Favour, I shou'd judge we both had the same secret Opinion of his Title, that it had not so much as Colour to support. -- But though that was my Opinion, I never blam'd him for endeavoring to maintain it, for he and every Man has a Right so to do, to bring his Claim to the Test for Approbation -- but when mine turn'd out approved, and his rejected, my taking the Profits of this Land in Consequence of this Preference, is Theft in me, but wou'd have been Right in him, had he gained the Point -- By all this it appears, he was angry because I did as he did. -- Something like the Gamester, that wou'd not pay, because he said it was a designed Thing to beat him. This is the way I got the Hay he complain'd of. -- The next Injury is the Thousand Dollars in recovering the Land for my Wards, above related : Here I apprehend I did nothing, but what was my Duty to do ; and in conducting the Action, and in the Trial Mr. Swett had the same Liberty that I had, and nothing but an Impatience of Disappointment and Contradiction cou'd made him uneasy -- and whoever discovers such Resentment against the regular Administration of Justice, (though Judges are not infallible, and sometimes mistake the Law) discovers plainly that he wou'd set up an arbitrary and Despotic Government, provided he cou'd be at the Head of it. -- I appeal not only to Mr. Swett's Tribunal, but to the History of past Ages, whether the first Movers of Tumults, Insurrections and Seditions, have not been those whose stubborn Wills, or in other Words, whose Pride or Avarice, made them conceit they were always in the Right ; the Consequence of that push'd them to oppose all different Sentiments. -- This is the true State of the Grounds of our Difference, till it proceeded so far as to oblige me, in my own Apprehension, to prosecute the Action, in which the last Judgment was given, -- and I know of no Injury I had ever done Mr. Swett, nor any other Offence ever given him, than what has been now related ; and whether I have been to blame is freely submitted. -- But one Thing more I beg leave to mention, which I think further demonstrates the Spirit & Temper of this Gentlemen : After the Judgment was recover'd before the Governor and Council, I sent Mr. Swett Word, if he wou'd only make an Acknowledgement that he had injur'd me, and would promise to live neighbourly and friendly with me for the future, I wou'd forgive the Damages and Costs, and wou'd give him a Release of the Judgment : This was sent in Message to him, by one of his Friends, who I was told perswaded him to it -- but he replied he wou'd sooner be quarter'd.

I come now to make some Observations, on his printed Performance. -- After reading the Proposal just mention'd, I desire to know whether Mr. Swett has a Right to assert, as in his first Paragraph, that I had never offer'd him any other Terms, than such as were utterly inconsistent, with the Principles of Honor or Friendship. -- And whether the Offer above related, was not better, than any in my Letter, which he has printed, which he says contains the best I ever made -- The Reader can't but see how extreamly evasive it is, to pretend to tell the World the Occasion of our Difference, and mention only what occur'd in the very last Part of it -- besides giving a false Colouring to the Whole. -- I think my Letter contains much more favourable Offers than Mr. Swett had Reason to expect, after the Treatment I have received from him, and the Evidence of an irreconcileable Spirit contain'd in his rejecting with the utmost Disdain the Benefit of the Release aforesaid, on such Terms at every honest Man, every peaceable Member of Society, one wou'd think, wou'd readily observe, without Gratuity or Reward. -- Which was in effect a Declaration of his Resolution to maintain Hostilities with me during Life -- What else had I to expect from one who discover'd such inveterate Enmity?

The next Matter observable in his Account is a Pretence to give an Account of the Grounds of our Difference, and then begins with the last Action, which he reverses, putting the last Part first, and gives this false Account of the Conduct of it, That he made no Defence at the Inferior Court when in Fact it was argued as strenously there, as at any Court, and lasted the whole Day : it was Candle Light before the Jury went out, and returned their Verdict the next Morning, found for the Plaintiff £200 Lawful Money Damages, and the Judgment was render'd accordingly, and the Defendant appeal'd. It is true the Jury on the Appeal found Costs for the Defendant, which they did as some of them said, because they saw the Courts Opinion, was for the Plantiff. -- Let Mr. Swett remember, that there were three Arguments of this Cause, at three different Courts, and the Opinion of the Courts was always against the Defendant ; and as for the Verdict of a single Jury, there can nothing be learned from it, of the Propriety of the Action, or the Justice of the Cause. He is pleas'd to say he was surpriz'd that the Governor and Council gave such Damages against the Defendant, &c. I believe he, and all that heard it, wou'd have been more surpriz'd had they been acquitted. -- He goes on and tells his Readers, what I shou'd have done, instead of bringing this Action, viz. Laid him under Bonds, and as I did not avail myself of my legal Privileges at first, I shou'd never have the Benefit of those Laws I had so slighted. If this Passage has any Meaning, it amounts to this, that an injur'd Person shou'd have no Remedy against the Offender, by a civil Action, if he did not prosecute it criminally ; or that when the Offender is liable to a double Prosecution, he ought to be pursued by the severest, or be exempted from any. -- But let him or any of his Friends show any Authority, to lay a Man under Bonds for keeping the Peace or good Behavior, merely because another is affraid he will commit a Trespass upon him, or any other Way destroy his Substance, (unless by Arson). I was told that no Man had a Right to demand such Bonds that can't safely swear, he is in Fear of his Life, or some bodily Hurt -- which was not altogether the Case here. Besides such Bonds, had they been given, wou'd have been no Satisfaction for the Damages I sustain'd : But this Exception is only a kind of after Game, to destroy the Credit of the Process, since the Exceptions taken on the Trials did not prevail, and is design'd as a side Thrust at the Courts, that sustain'd the Action over my Back -- And is a further Evidence, how difficult it is for this Gentleman to submit to the Orders of the Government under which he lives, and is protected, from the like insults, to those he himself is so ready to give to others, - or to take it in the mildest Sense, it is a Hint of the Injustice done to him by this Means ; and is an Imputation of Partiality in them who gave the Judgment. To give any Answer to this Sugggestion, wou'd be treating it with more Seriousness, than it deserves; it is the easy, cheap and dernier Resourt of the Guilty. -- But to return to what he calls the Grounds of our Dispute, the Commencement of this Action against him and Chase -- If so, how came he in so unreasonable and furious a Manner, so long before, to charge me with stealing his Hay, with cheating or wronging him of a Thousand Dollars, &c. and Chase with cheating him of Two Thousand Pounds ? -- All this was without Occasion, if this Action began the Dispute -- and the Threat'nings to have Recompence, the Attempts to plunder, or to reek their Vengeance, by destroying some Part of my Estate, (which a good look out prevented) was done, it seems, with any Provocation. -- As to the Complaint relative to the Execution -- it was 28 Days after Judgment before the Execution was issued ; as the Estate on which it was served, was attached by the original Writ, I cou'd not without loosing the Benefit of the Attachment, suspend it any longer. Mr. Swettwou'd not accept a Release upon the easy Terms, to others (though perhaps difficult to him) of being peaceable ; what shou'd I do ? give him up all, without any Hopes of getting his good Will or his Thanks for it ? I cou'd see no Reason for that. -- And since we must live in a State of War, it was at least good Policy to weaken my Enemy, nor contrary in such a Case, to any Principle of Morality --- I therefore caus'd the Execution to be leved on the Estate attached ; this was done by the Sheriff, who I presume knows his Business ; he knows how much he was to pay me ; it was not in my Power to augment the Sum, nor take any Estate at my own Valuation ; it was done by Men under Oath, I was in this merely passive. But says Mr. Swett, the Estate was valued at £142 L. M. with is worth 300 at least ; and this he has made Matter of Complaint against me. I had no more Influence in the Case than Mr. Swett. Let any Person disposed to examine, look into the Law for leving an Execution upon Land, the Parties concern'd have nothing to do with fixing the Value; that is done by indifferent Persons upon Oath ; and here Mr. Swett shows his Self sufficiency, and opposes his own Judgment, in his own Case, to that of disinterested Men upon Oath. Every Thing is wrong, that does not coincide with his Sentiments. To what Purpose, and how unreasonable is this Cry of Hardship ? unless it is a Hardship I shou'd be paid. The Land and what Chase paid was added together, and he was taken for the Residue. -- In all this I have no more, than the Amount of the Execution and Costs -- not one Penny more than others -- no Way concern'd adjudg'd to be my Due ; -- here is a sly Intimation of Partiality in the Sheriff, as if he let me take this Estate as I pleas'd. -- He complains that I endeavor to make him pay three quarters of the whole Execution-- This Objection I suppose is from a Mistake of the Law, and supposes the Creditor oblig'd to serve his Execution on each Party equally ; whereas I am told each Defendant is liable for the whole till paid, and they must settle the Matter by Contribution between themselves ; otherwise, in this or the like Case, suppose one proves a Bankrupt and totally Insolvent -- must the Creditor loose half the Judgment ? -----

The pretended Sale to Pottle is a mere amusement. If there is such a Conveyance, it was made only as an Indeminfication, and only discovers the fraud Swett wou'd pass upon me. -- But after Execution serv'd on the Mill, &c. if this was Mr. Pottle's, why did Mr. Swett trouble himself to interrup my Improvements, which he did, & carry away many of the Untensils, Implements, and some part essential to a Grist Mill, as the Ink or Iron by which the upper Stone is turn'd ; threw Glass in to poison the Meal, or some other evil Intention. -- So that after the Execution was serv'd Mr. Swett gave me all the Interruption he cou'd, and discover'd all the Opposition he cou'd exert, to the due Execution of the Laws of the Land. -- He repeats his Reason, because it was set off too cheap, vis £142, when it was worth £300. If the Apprizers had valued it at £500, and my Execution had been for that Sum, must I not have taken it at that Rate, cou'd I have refus'd ?--but this has been answer'd ; and here let me ask Mr. Swett, did or cou'd his Interruption enhance the Value, or obtain a new Appraisement ? or to what Purpose this complaint of under Valuation of another Man's Estate -- it cannot affect Mr. Swett, if this was Pottle's Estate, what it was apprized at ; for upon this Supposition, the Process is void, and the Execution still remains in full Force.

As to Mr. Swett's personal Reflections, they do not affect me in the least ; for neither his Commendations nor Revilings, will, where we are both known, affect, in any Measure my moral Character -- and with those to whom we are unknown, it is only Somebody commends or reviles Somebody. -- I have said no more of his moral Character than the Facts, declared, implied, or than naturally resulted from them. -- the Proof of what I have related is contain'd in the Depositions in the Case before the Court of Appeals -- To have publish'd them would have been to have wrote a Book, which perhaps few wou'd have thought it worth the Time nessary to read it, when done, as it wou'd be only a private Affair. -- He charges me with ruining his Family -- I say in Answer, his own Obstinacy has done it, and had in other Instances hurt them much.

But when I see his moral Reflections and exhortations, I am at a loss whether he intended they shou'd be taken as written seriously or ironically : -- there was once a Time in England, when Monks were taken to be very religious Persons -- considering Mr. Swett's Situation when these Reflections were wrote, it brings to Mind, as having some remote Resemblance of a Verse currently among them, viz

When the Devil was sick,
The Devil a Monk wou'd be,
But when the Devil was well,
The De'il the Monk was he.

January 27th, 1768

The New-Hampshire Gazette, and Historical Chronicle (Portsmouth)
February 19, 1768

Capt. Swett's Answer to Col. Moulton, did not come soon enough to have a Place in this Week's Gazette, but will make its appearance in our next, in case the proper Recommendation is sent.

[Editor's note: Page by page searches of the New Hampshire Gazette through the March 18th issue show no further information on this dispute.]
Return to Table of Contents