Town Records

Answers, questions, thanks

This section of the Westport Historical Society web site contains copies of town meeting records dating to the town’s incorporation in 1787. Copies were typed into word processing format by Claude A. Ledoux, the Town Clerk’s office and other volunteers.(Click “Who and how” at right for more information.)

The first 24 years came from a booklet, now out of print, prepared by the Westport Historical Commission in 1991. The introduction to that booklet serves as an excellent introduction to all these records and why they’re both important and enjoyable.

This booklet contains Westport’s earliest town meeting records from 1787, the year of Westport’s incorporation, through 1810, a period of twenty-four years. They show the annual warrant “in which selectmen ordered the town constable to post in prominent places the articles” and to warn citizens to assemble on a certain day to vote on the “articles.”

They show the votes taken at town meetings and the citizens chosen for town offices. Elections for all county, state and national offices occurred and votes were counted during town meetings. Also the names of citizens were “drawn” to be jurors on county courts at town meetings. A “jury box,” a small wooden box still in Town Hall, held slips of eligible citizens’ names, and names were drawn out.

The Historical Commission undertook to type and index these handwritten records to make them more accessible to officials who must sometimes consult them. Since the records illuminate the world of our early town in intriguing and delightful ways, we decided townspeople should be able to share them.

There are no shocking scandals laid out here; in fact, a cloak of formality obscures many proceedings. Though written to obligate present and future citizens, they assume people will always know the whys and wherefores. They knew why, but we may often wonder why they did certain things.

    • Why would the town direct the town constable to carry a young child back to Portsmouth and prompt that town to sue Westport?
    • Why were certain highways accepted and others not? Indeed, what highways were they talking about!
    • Why were they moving the intended location of the first Town House?
    • Why were animal ear croppings inadequate?
  • Why did they jail the “deficient” tax collector and then release him?

On the other hand, the record book makes some things very clear. Town government was a world of men, who readily volunteered their efforts. The absolute number of men involved then nearly equals the number today. The portrayal of how men built and supplied materials for the first Town House is a fascinating example. Also clear is how scarce cash was, so that many men prefered to labor on town roads, using their oxen and carts, for daily wages or for credit toward their own road taxes. Maintaining highways was a form of redistributing income, and explains why more money usually went for that purpose than for all other town costs.

Also remarkable was the concern for caring for the poor and elderly of the town. Not that citizens did that for free either; in fact, paying for board and bed of the poor and elderly, paying for their clothes and burial wraps, what they called the “venuing of the poor”, took a major part of the town’s non-highway tax in early years.

Little went for schools. The town dithered for years before hiring a schoolmaster, which explains why Paul Cuffee began a school for his own and neighbor’s children. When districts began after 1800, schools received a small fraction of revenue, and that was apportioned so that school-mistresses were paid exactly half what schoolmasters were.

And then, there are puzzling practices and delightful names. What, of all things, did a town official called a culler of fish, or a culler of hoops and staves, do? And what of the man appointed “searcher and packer of pickled pork and beef’? Or “hog reeve”, or “field driver”, or “tythingman?” We have transcribed what was on the page, including the varieties of spelling and archaic expression, but sometimes paraphrased duplicative and formulaic language. At the back of this booklet is an index of contents and of proper names.

Historical Commission, October, 1991

Thank you!

Many thanks are deserved by those who made these records accessible. The complete story can be found by clicking the “Who and how” in the upper right corner of this page. The work took several years, being finished in 2002 and made available then on a computer disc. Claude Ledoux did much of the early work and saw the project through. Marlene Sampson and Beverly Kut of the Town Clerk’s office entered the records from 1927 to present. Claude Ledoux has transferred the records to a CD which can be copied for use by interested researchers. Greg Stone then reformatted the information to make it more accessible on this Web site.

For the story behind this modern copy of the records, click here.