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THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR TOWN
COMMON LANDS AND COMMONAGE.
BY T. FRANK WATERS.
PROCEEDINGS AT THE ANNUAL MEETING,
DECEMBER 4, 1899.
THE SALEM PRESS CO., SALEM, MASS.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR TOWN GOVERNMENT.
Ir was an easy matter, we imagine, for the little handful of original settlers to talk over their affairs and agree on measures of public policy. They might have gathered in a body and selected a spot for their meeting house, located the earliest roads and apportioned themselves home lots and tillage lands. The simplest form of pure democracy was adequate to all their needs; but, as their number increased, some system of representative government was found necessary.
The first public official appointed was the Clerk. As the Town Record begins with November, 1634, the Recorder or Clerk had been chosen before that date. The "lotlayers" also appear at this time, a Committee to which was referred the delicate task of assigning lands: Henry Short, John Perkins, Robert Mussey and John Gage. The grants, however, were determined in open meeting, and the function of the lot-layers was merely to determine locations, and fix "by metes and bounds" the lot apportioned. "The seven men" are first mentioned under the date Feb. 20, 1636/7, but they are alluded to in such an incidental way, that it would seem that they were already an established feature of town polity. This first board of government consisted of Mr. John Winthrop, Mr. Bradstr. et, Mr. Denison, Goodman Perkins, Goodman Scott, John Gage and Mr. Wade, and they were chosen to order business for the next three months. Mr. Denison was chosen to keep the Town Book, enter the Town orders, and "set a copy of them up in ye meeting house." He was to keep a record of land grants as well, and a fee of sixpence for every entry was granted him.
But the sturdy democracy seems to have been suspicious of detriment to its own power and dignity, accruing from the new officials, and forthwith they proceeded to hedge in their authority by ordering that “they shall have no power to grant any land in that which is commonly reputed and accounted the Cow Pasture, nor above twenty acres in any other place." The older board of lot layers was made to feel its subservience to the popular will, by the addition of Mr. Appleton, Serg. Howlett, John Perkins and Thos. Scott to assist them in laying out the large grants made to "Mr. Dudley, Mr. Bradstreet and Mr. Saltingstall" before the 14th of May 1637.
"The seven men" seem to have become "the eleven men" in January 1637/8, but in 1639, "the seven men" reappear, and in Feb. 1640/1, their term of office is specified as six months. Mr. Hubbard, Capt. Denison, Jo: Whipple, Good. Giddings, Mark Symonds, John Perkins and Mr. Wiliam Payne were then chosen "for the Town's business for six months, provided that they give noe lands, nor meddle with dividing or stinting the Commons Thus the lengthening of the term of service was balanced by curtailing their authority in regard to lands. In 1642, further "direction to sim