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  • Haywards and Bridegrooms

    Betty Bandel

    Published Date : February 1984
    Weighty social histories pay little attention to haywards -- and thereby miss evidence of a pervasive sense of humor in supposedly dour New England.

    Anyone who has delved into the early town records of New England knows that hayward is another term for hog reeve -- the official charged with the duty of seeing all swine had rings in their noses, sometimes yokes on their necks and a proper regard for fences or even open fields of grain. They were to be "warded" off the "hay," and in the days before fencing, towns required owners to keep their pigs penned during the growing season.

    When fences became common in increasingly settled communities of New England during the eighteenth century, the job of hayward seems to have become less and less important: Finally it occurred to some genius that it would be funny to elect all newly married men -- all men married in the previous year -- to the job of hayward, or hog reeve. The boys had been, it seems, successful in placing rings, if not in the noses at least upon the fingers of the girls and had led them into the confines of matrimony.

    If social historians have missed this joke, some town historians have not. Henry Hobart Vail's Pomfret, Vermont (1930), remarks regarding Isaac Dana, "The date of his second marriage is marked in 1813 by the usual town joke - newly married men were elected haywards." The beauty of the jest is that no one ever seems to say a word about it. They just go on electing all the new Benedicts Haywards.

    For instance, take the situation in Burlington, Vermont. In 1847 the town grew sophisticated and for the first time since 1793 failed to elect any haywards. The question is: in the fifty years before 1847, was Burlington seriously electing haywards or was it joking?

    The answer is not far to seek. In 1845 the Town of Burlington elected twenty haywards -- and if anyone can figure out why the thriving lumber port would have needed twenty young men to shoo pigs off the streets, he or she will be able to believe that the town took the appointments seriously. In 1815, little Burlington elected twenty-six haywards (homecoming soldiers from the War of 1812 must have been in the marrying mood), in 1810, thirteen, and in 1809 eleven.

    The first Burlingtonians to hold this office, those elected in 1793 as "hog haywards," were Samuel Lane, Jr., Jabez Penniman, Dubartis Willard, William Ward, John Doxey and Daniel Castle. In that year the town voted "that swine well ringed and yoked with their yokes extending six inches above and two inches below the neck are lawful commoners. Presumably pigs so yoked could not venture off "the common" through somebody's fence into his ripe corn. In 1794 the town elected Nahum Baker, Elias Forbes, Isaac French, Isaac Pitcher (all sworn), Ira Barney and Benjamin Ferris. For a score of years it was customary to swear two or more of the haywards into office and leave the rest unsworn. Perhaps those sworn were expected to do a hayward's job and the rest were simply being recognized as bridegrooms.

    The fragmentary vital records of the 1790s do not reveal marriage dates for any of the 1793 or 1794 haywards. In later years, however, a comparison of the vital records with the election of haywards makes clear the connection. In 1809 John K. Baker was elected; on 27 November he had married Betsy Ross. In 1810 new haywards included Asahel Spoor, married to Mary Doxey 23 July 1809; and Peter Castle married to Hannah Wilson of Shelburne, 15 Oct 1809. In 1815 Samuel Mills was sworn in having married Mary Damon, 27 November 1814.

    The book of marriages kept by the Reverend John K. Converse helps to clarify the hayward situation in the 1830s and thereafter. In 1833 new haywards included Sylvanus M. Parsons, married 3 November 1832 to Eliza P. Bostwick; Miles A. Everts, married 23 October 1832, to Hannah L. Blood; Henry B. Stacey, married 23 October 1832, to Maria A. Coming; Edward C. Loomis, married 2 August 1832, to Serotia Weatherby. The year 1834 seems to have been a banner season for the Reverend Mr. Converse as a marrying parson. Haywards in 1835 included George Barstow, married 28 October 1834 to Caroline Farnsworth; William Barns, married 26 February 1835, to Mary Weeks; H. Smith, married 3 October 1834, to Jane (____); Edgar Brinsmaid (a James Brinsmaid was married to Persis Day 9 September 1834); Henry Hickock (the Reverend Henry P. Hickock was married 22 September 1834 to Maria Buell); William Austin, married 19 October 1834 to Eliza Barrington; Jed Barrington, married 19 October 1834, to Rebecca Newall. In 1845 we find C. C. Parker a hayward (married as The Reverend C. C. Parker to Elizabeth Fleming, date omitted). In the same year G. H . Bostwick, who was married to Elizabeth Hunt, 8 January, was elected.

    If anyone cannot find the marriage date of his great great grandfather he could do no better than to consult the records of the town in which the gentleman lived during the proper season for his marriage. If he was elected hayward, subtract one year and carry the remainder to the family Bible.

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