Harvest Time

By John D. Fogg

'Recollections Of A Salt Marsh Farmer'

Edited by Eric N. Small -- 1983

Section 2

I'll mention now how the farmers knew when to go cutting the marsh hay.

The time to go to the marsh would be in August when the moon was at apogee and high water at 3 o'clock. That would be real low and it stayed down until the 9 o'clock tide, then it would start to rise every day until the 12 o'clock tide. The 12 o'clock tide is the highest but this time, the moon being near apogee, you could work on the marsh right over this 12 o'clock tide. This would be a little high, on the night tide and day tide the same, but after that the night tide is usually highest, could run the marsh some. Right after that the tide would start dropping off again. It would probably not any more fill the creeks on that 12 o'clock tide. Then you could again go around the same as before low tide until the 9 o'clock tide.

Now this time you better be finishing up, for the moon coming at perigee, this 12 o'clock tide will flood everything way up to the upland. They would go on the two o'clock tide so the grass would be wet more than just a dew. The grass cuts much easier with scythes when wet. That's why they go early when the night tide is always the highest, except the 12 o'clock tide "that's the same day and night."

When the farmers came to cut the marsh hay, they camped at the Rocks, a landing at the end of the old Rocks Road in Seabrook, where they could have campfires. They had two horses, a tent and all the equipment that goes with cutting hay and camping.

A gundalow was docked there which they used to get across to their marsh. It was a flat bottom boat used primarily for floating the harvested hay to the upland.

Besides working to cut the marsh hay, the farmers had a good time clamming, fishing, swimming, and with all this they got four big stacks of hay put up.

Grandpa John Batchelder used to tell me about camping. There were a lot of campers along and near the Hampton River or anywhere they could take the boat in the tents so if the tide did come up a little, they would be high and dry.

You see on the map where a path is outlined to the Steep Banks where we were stacking. Now, Healey's Island and Mike's Island down to where the path takes a turn south on Stephen Brown's marsh, they had a big stake like a telephone pole set deep in the marsh and up 10 to 12 feet so it could be seen at a long distance. What I am getting at is the farmers that could not camp when mowing would come to Healey's Island on the Hampton Falls marsh before daylight and with lanterns could find the "Great Stake," so-called, then from there they could easily locate their own marsh. Sometimes they would visit some tenters until daylight before starting the mowing. That Great Stake had another purpose. It kept teams from getting into creeks when hauling hay in the winter when snow and ice covered everything. The Ox Bow Creek was near the Great Stake, and others.

Now, this is in my time in 1898 the August season when father and his paint helper, Jake Merrill, were going to cut that 6 acres on the Steep Banks in Hampton Falls. With that scythe cutting, it was much nearer to go by boat from the Seabrook Rocks Dock. It was just a short walk across the Joseph Chase, Frank Locke, and Ralph Fish marshes. They camped when hand cutting and lots of others did the same. They mostly came from the Rocks Dock and some did come from Hunts South Creek in Seabrook.

In the cutting season of 1900 we liked the idea of Jake and father camping while mowing with scythes. They could then have a good night's rest.

We boys would do the chores, load up the wagon with provisions for Jake and father and the lunches for all of us. Father would meet us at the Rocks dock with the boat. Mother would drive us down so to take the team back home. I liked the raking and laying the stacks but not the hard work of calking and poling.

Father told me about one time when camping to cut the Steep Banks grass. He and Jake had mowed one day and that night a storm came up, flooding the marsh. They had the boat in the tent as usual. The rain and wind came so hard they thought the tent would blow down any time. Father stepped out to look to find how deep the water was when he went over to his boat. The grass being so green and heavy it didn't even rise and no hay was lost.

I just missed that scythe mowing for when I was 12 years old in 1903, that's when father began the machine mowing with horse. I liked that much better. No more camping or going by boat from the Seabrook Rocks dock. We had a much longer distance to walk but now everything was put on a drag so we didn't have anything to carry.

Frank Herman Beckman told how he went scythe mowing with his father when 13 years old. That was in 1911 on the Seabrook marshes.

When mowing with those scythes, they whet the scythe with a rifle, a piece of wood with sand or emery on it, and when those rifles got nearly down to the wood, that's what we used on a new ground scythe. They ground these scythes leaving edges concaved and very thin with the thin part quite wide. Now with the grass wet and using a worn-out rifle or piece of shingle, as Amos Chase used to say, and when grass was getting dry, they would use a new rifle and make the scythes as good as the early morning.