Ipswich MA Agawam Tercentenary plaque

Early Ipswich, “A paradise for politicians”

The New England settlers of the 17th Century largely reproduced English institutions from a far earlier time than they knew in the England. Thomas Franklin Waters provided a history of the early formation of the government of the Town of Ipswich:

“It 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 “lot-layers” also appear at this time, a Committee to which was referred the delicate task of assigning lands. 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” (today’s Select Board) are first mentioned in1636. This first board of government consisted of Mr. John Winthrop, Mr. Bradstreet, 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.

The Fence Viewer
The Fence Viewer

In Feb. 1640, the term of office for the ‘seven men’ is specified as six months. Mr. Hubbard, Capt. Denison, Whipple, Goodman Giddings, Mark Symonds, John Perkins, and Mr. William Payne were then chosen “for the Town’s business for six months, provided that they give no lands, nor meddle with dividing or stinting the Commons.”

In Feb. 1643-4, Robert Lord was chosen by the Town, “from this time forward to be present at every general meeting of the Town, and to record in a book what is committed to him by the Moderator of every such meeting, and to tend in some convenient time before the end of the meeting to read over what is written, and he is to have two third parts of the fines for not appearing at meetings, for this service.” Twelve freemen were soon called upon to pay a fine of 12 schillings apiece for absence.

The Hog Reeve
The Hog Reeve

Thus the government of the town was systematized gradually. Every industry seems to have been supervised by some public functionary. Tthe climax of petty officialdom might well have been reached in 1797, when the list of officers chosen at the Town meeting included Selectmen, Overseers, Town Clerk and Treasurer, Tithing-men, Road Surveyors, Fish Committee, Clerk of the Market, Fence Viewers, Haywards, Surveyors of Lumber, Cullers of Fish, Sealers of Leather, Hog-reeves, Gangers of Cask, Sealers of Weights, Measurers of Grain, Corders of Wood, Firewards, Packer of Pork, and Cullers of Brick.

Surely the thirst for public office was easily gratified. The Ipswich of the late 18th Century must have been a paradise for politicians.” –Thomas Franklin Waters

Town of Ipswich, Auditors Report: March 1, 1867

“We find that the system of keeping the accounts of the town in the several departments is not such as is commendable for accuracy or dispatch, which may be accounted for in part, as the town is unwilling to pay the Selectman, Assessors and Overseers a sufficient salary for the service which they are called upon to perform…”

Respectfully submitted, A.D. Wait, Joseph Farley, Geo. R. Lord

Town of Ipswich, Auditors Report: February 1, 1875

“In performing the duty assigned us, we were embarrassed by the fact that the Town’s accounts were not balanced last year, nor indeed have they been for several years. As now kept they cannot be balanced, and be thus verified by any method known to us, and we have not attempted to do it.”

Respectfully submitted, George Haskell, Aaron F. , Brown, A.D. Wait

(Thanks to Tom Murphy for the two auditor reports)

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