Friday, July 27, 2012


By Sheila Connolly

No, this is not about the current contentious battles, local, state and nationwide.  I thought it might be fun to see what elections looked like in 1684.

As I've probably said ad nauseam, I do a lot of genealogy.  One of my earliest ancestors, John Floyd, my eighth-great-grandfather, born around 1636, was living in Lynn (then Romney Marsh), Massachusetts as early as 1662, and since there was a limited pool of able-bodied men back then, he served in various public offices over the years. Since Massachusetts was very scrupulous about keeping records, I can trace his political career.

Actually he's one of my favorite ancestors, not because he was brilliant and successful, but because he got into trouble a lot.  He was a lieutenant in King Philip's War (and may well have trodden the earth upon which I now dwell) and his men mutinied—twice.  In 1692 he was arrested as a witch (but not convicted). He died in Lynn in 1701 and is buried there.

So I'm always looking for interesting details about his life, and that's how I stumbled upon the Boston Town Records of 1683-84, which report,

At a publique meetinge of the inhabitants of Bostone upon lawfull warning for the election of officers of the towne for the yeare ensueinge were chosen for:

[Now, here's the fun part.  Old Captain John was elected as Surveyor of Rumny Marsh, but that was pretty tame.  However, among the other offices filled were:]

Clarkes of ye Market (four men, including Isack Goose and Benjamin Breame)

Sealers of Leather & to inspect the cuttings & Gashings of Hydes

Water Bayliffes

Packers of Fish & Flesh

Measurer of Salt

Scauengers (Scavengers)

Hogg Reeues (Reeves)


Also, "Voted, That the Custome of practice taken vp by ye Towne at the chooseinge of Jurors, not to choose any to that service yt were present at the Meetinge, be hence forth made Voyde, & that it be free to choose as well of those present as out of such as are absent."

If I'm reading this right, up until March 1684, if you weren't at the meeting you could be called as a juror.  Maybe they weren't finding enough people for a jury, if they had to include the elected officials as well. (In April of that year it was noted "That for a more orderlie choice of Jurors for the time to come there should be a committee chosen to take a list of such pesons in all ptes of the Town, as are able & discreete men fit for that service…for amore orderlie choice then formerly that ye Courts may be the better supplied with able & suffitient men, & the burden of yt seuice not lie vpon a few." 

For all of that, there are also officers whose title we (at least in Massachusetts) would recognize today:  Moderator, Selectmen, Constable.  The group voted on road repairs and surveying of town boundaries.

I won't guess how many of the above positions were officially eliminated or which still linger on the books of various municipalities, but I haven't seen a hog reeve lately (nor any wandering hogs).  But if you live in Massachusetts, there a comforting sense of continuity: attend your town meeting and you're participating in a tradition over three centuries old. I guess we'll survive another year's worth of elections.


Mare said...

This could well be where the "don't miss the election meeting - you don't know what office you will hold" originated. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing it.

Kathy Lynn Emerson said...

What? No fence viewer? One of my ancestors was the first to hold that post in a town in New York state in the 1790's. Actually, I'm guessing it's the same as surveyor. I've always had fun with genealogy, too, and it doesn't hurt that it's a great source for plot ideas.