Foxes, Wild Cats, Crows & Woodchucks – Negros, Indians & Servants: The Battle for Control in Early Rhode Island as reflected in South Kingstown Records
The joy and horror of reading original colonial town records is the discovery of everyday life in the Colonies. On a recent visit to South Kingston, [Originally named for the Naragansett Indians and later known as Kings town], Rhode Island Town Record office I stumbled upon these records, which were both illuminating and disturbing. What comes through is the constant fear of survival and the need to subjugate others who they feared, whether they be man or beast. Placing our ancestors in context is important to telling the full story. That means sometimes confronting the uncomfortable truths.
“Voted that any parson or parsons befound brenging of any heads of any part of the head of either of foxes, wildcats woodchucks or Crowes to any officer in town in order to have a receipt or note for the same denoted to the town treasurer and if it should appeare be done any assist. or Justice of the Peace of this town that the sd heads ware killed in other town that then it shall be Lawfull for the asst or Justice or any of them to cause any person or persons so offending to payment of twenty shillings with cost of prosecution and any person or persons that shall informe against any person so offending and make [illegible] shall have ten shillings out of the fine and the other half shalll be put in to the town treasury and so this town meeting is disolved.”
As much as I might be unsettled by the killing of wildlife the following view into early colonial life is a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man and the brutality with which judgement was rendered.
“Whereas it hath been A Custom For Several Years Past for Indians and Negroes servants and others to Meet to Gather on the Third Week in June Annually In this Town Under the Pretence of Keeping a Sort of Faires, Which hath Proved V ery Prejudicial to the Owners of Such Servants as well as other people , It is therefore voted and enacted by this Town Meeting that For the Future If any such Indians, Negroes Do Meet to Gather in and place in the Town On any of the Days of sd Weack Under a pretence to uphold sd Faire or scandalous Meeting that it shall be Lawfull For any constable to sease such offenders and Carry them before Authority for sd offences Shall be Publick whipd and any One Justice of the Peace May order such offenders to be whipt at his discretion Not exceeding Twenty Stripes, And the offenders to Pay ye Lawfull charge of free persons and if slaves then their Masters to Pay sd charge. ”
“At a Quarter Meeting held at the house of Ichabod
Potter Sheffield in So. Kings Town by adjournment of the 13 day of June 1726.“
“In a Town Meeting held at the County House in South Kingstown On our last Tuesday in August being the 28th day of said month Annon Dom. 1739. Ephraim Gardner Esq chosen moderator of said Meeting...
“Voted that Isaac Sheldon Esq. and Wm. Jeffrey Watson be chosen Deputys to sit in the Govt. Assembly to be held in said County House within and for the Colony of Rhode Island on the last Wednesday in October next...”
“Whereas the inhabitants of South Kingstown have suffered great Damage by having their corn pulled up and destroyed by the large sort of Black Birds, which are called Crow Black Birds. And in order to further prevent their doing such vast damages as herefores For the future the Freeman of said Town, have thought proper to endeavour to have them destroyed. Therefore it is voted and enacted by the Freeman of said Town, at their meeting and by the Authority of the town it is enacted, That from and after the first day of March next, And untill the Twentieth day of June next after, And yearly between the said times of the first day of March, and until the Twentieth day of June, if any Person or Persons being inhabitants of said Town, shall kill any of the old Birds of the aforesaid Black Birds, shall receive as a Reward therefor the Sum of three pence pur head for every such old Black Bird as they shall kill as aforesaid in said Town in the aformentioned times, To be paid out of the town treasury os said South Kingstown. Provided the Fact be proved by the Oath or Engagement of the party or otherwise to the satisfaction of the Asistant or Justice of the Peace of said Town. And that such Birds were killed in said time and within said times, And upon its being proved the Asistant or one of the Justices of the Peace shall give a certificate to the Town Treasurer of said Town of the Number of them, which shall be sufficient for him to pay the same Reward.”
“Whereas the Woodchucks is found to be very prejudicial to the inhabitants of South Kingston by eating and tangling their grasp for the preventing weherof for the future Be it voted and Enacted by this Town meeting, And by the Authority of the same, It is voted and enacted that any Person or Persons of South Kingstown that shall kill or destroy any of said Woodchucks as above said, Shall have Six Pence pur head for same. To be paid out of the Town Treasury of said South Kingstown, They first producing a Certificate from some of his majesty’s Justices of the Peace in said Town, And that said person or Persons shall carry said heads of said Woodchucks as they shall Kill, to the Justices as abovesaid, And then make Oath, that they was killed in said Town or some legal Proof equivalent to said Oath or to the satisfaction of said Justice or Justices that the abovesaid Justices shall give a Certificate to the Town Treasurer or as abovesaid in order to receive their pay, And that the Certificate shall be affidavit for him to pay the same. This Town Meeting is disolved. God Save the King.”
The date specific sanctioned killing of crows is interesting as it reflects the days that newly planted corn would be most vulnerable, but also shows a curious acknowledgement that their intention was not to kill all crows, only those that had the misfortune of being caught between the first day of March and the Twentieth day of June. The poor woodchuck had no such reprieve and the bounty was twice as much as that of a crow (3 vs 6 pence) and year round. I would suppose they were a bit harder to find too!
[Note: The Isaac SHELDON3 (1686-1752) noted above was of John1, John2 SHELDON. He is my 7th great grandfather. More on this family in the future]
Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All RIghts reserved.