Merrimack Town Meetings – The Early Years

Keep in mind that spellings varied considerably in the written reports. Notice that many of these family names are still around town.

When Merrimack was granted its first charter in 1746, Col. John Blanchard was instructed to hold a Town Meeting within 30 days. It’s interesting to note that the charter was signed on April 2, 1746, but the first meeting was held March 4. Capt. Jonathon Cumings was chosen Moderator, Phineahas Underwood Town Clark (clerk). The first selectmen were Phinehas Underwood, John Usher and Zachariah Stearns. Phineas Underwood remained a selectman for the next ten years until his death. The other positions were: Constable, William Patten (duties to main order and to “warn” (announce) meetings): Tithinman, Ephraim Powers (maintain order at church); Savier of Highways, Jonas Barrot (plan and repair roads); Field Drivers, William Lund and Jonathan Powers (control animals); Fence Vears, James Karr and Timothy Underwood (vears = viewers), verified property boundaries). The only item for discussion and vote was to use the Town Commons for “grazin” horses and cattle for the cost of one shilling to cover the cost of maintaining the lists and records. Where were the “commons”? The town, at that time, went from the Pennichuck Brook to the Souhegan River, and there were only 25 families on record.

In 1747, Constable, William Patten, “warned” of the meeting to be held at Phineas Underwood’s home on March 7th. Phineas Underwood was chosen as Moderator as well as Town Clark, Selectmen were Phineas Underwood, Zachariah Stearns and William Lund. Votes were recorded to build a POUND to hold cattle illegally grazing on the town common, raise 70 pounds (old tenor) to hire preaching, pay 7 pounds to John Harvell and Joel Dix to “measure the rods” (survey) the boundaries, pay Benjamin Hassell 4 pounds to find a minister, pay Timothy Underwood 10 pounds to ‘keep” : the minister, Mr. Chever. On July 13 of 1747, another meeting was held, where they voted to move the Pound from Phineas Underwood’s, consider to build at Jonas Barret’s field and to pay Underwood 6 pounds for “pounding any crechers” (creatures).

On March 6, 1748, Capt. Phineas Underwood, Capt. Jonathan Cumings and William Patten were chosen as selectmen and a new official, Hogreave, was created, with Ebenzer Hills and William McCluer, Jr. in that position. Then on August 24, 1748, another meeting was held to decide about raising 60 pounds to hire a preacher, to pay Rv. Daniel Emerson for preaching, and to form a committee to find a minister.

On Jan. 22, 1749, they voted to pay Henry Boldwin, Capt. Thomas Colburn and John Goff to lay out a highway in this town and collect funds to pay for it. They also voted to raise 27.5 pounds for “use of the town”. On June 13, another meeting was held to find a man to “do preaching”. They sought to hire a preacher for three or four days and to have two days preaching at the Litchfield Meeting house. They elected Constable, Selectmen, “Severvaer” of Highways, Field Drivers, Fencevears, Tithermimann, and Hogreaf.

On Feb. 1, 1750, Constable, Zachariah Stearns, was instructed to give notice and collect taxes from the current residents, based on property and “chattle”. He was instructed to sell goods or chattle after giving public notice. If the sums are not paid, he was instructed to “siz the bodies and commit them to the Common Goall in the said province” That same year, on June 5, 1750, the King granted a new charter for the Town to add land to the north, because the acreage previously granted was “very mean and ordinary and therefore incapable of supporting such a number of in habitants as will enable them to support the charter of a town without a further addition of land and inhabitants.”. This ran from the bridge over the Souhegan River three miles north with boundaries clarified. This continued to reserve all white pines already growing or will hereafter grow for the use of the King. On March 5, 1750 another Town Meeting was held to elect officers, raise money to hire preaching and to set taxes. On July 11, another meeting to set a line with the town of Bedford, vote for a new Constable for the northern section of town and to raise 300 pounds to repair roads. Preaching was also be done at Col. Joseph Blanchard’s home. There was a protest by 5 residents against requiring Church Government.

In 1751, it was decided to create a listing of all roads in the new town district, choose new officers to include all the new territory and to build bridges at Turkey Hill and at Capt. Chamberlain’s house, pay for preaching and build a meetinghouse,. At another meeting, it was decided to take the funds for building a meetinghouse to use it for the bridges. Two people were paid 4 pounds for killing wolves and a resident was “warned” out of town. No reason given, but he had to leave with his family and effects by Dec. 16th.

1752 found new officials; Sealer of Weights and Measures, Sealer of Leather and later of Lumber. A Town Pound was built at Thomas Farmer’s property. Another resident was “warned’ out of town. There is a record of a youth being indentured for 14 years to learn to be a “miller”.

1753 saw new officials, recorded roads, purchased books to keep town records, purchased set of weights and measures, paid for preaching, set tax rates for non-residents. They set four school districts, although schooling was still done in private homes.

In 1754, was decided to allocate funds to build a meetinghouse 30 rods from Turkey Hill bridge at the location found by Matthew Patten to be the geographical center of town. The tax list was published at at this time.

On March 11, 1755, election was held for officers, now setting a season for hunting deer, and paying Phineas Underwood to enforce this. They set taxes on non-residents to pay for building the Meetinghouse. Another resident “warned” out of town with his effects and family. Voted to invite Mr Josiah Stearns to be the first Gospel Minister.

By 1756, our Town was ten years old. It had 25 families in the Southern section and 40 in the Northern section , were building two bridges and a meetinghouse. Pole taxes and Real Estate taxes existed. Roads were being built and maintained with residents responsible for repair or roads passing their properties. If they could not pay for this, they were able to deduct tax fees for labor they performed. Taxes could be paid in old tenor, Spanish gold or silver or some local products, including iron bars. Another family was “warned” out of town.

Think of this as we participate in our current Town Meetings, where we will elect officials, approve taxes and budgets, although school expenses are separate from town ones. Every taxpayer can still speak up at meetings, although some meetings are held at multiple sites or virtually with the current restrictions due to COVID 19. We no longer “warn” people out of town or put them in “goall” –(jail) for non payment of taxes.

The Historical Society is still closed, but we are still doing research and answering questions. Call Anita Creager at 424-5084 or anitacreager58@comcast.net.