The Commons of Hartford, NY
From: The Story of Hartford, A History
Compiled by: Mrs. Isabella Brayton, Town Historian
in collaboratin with John B. Norton.
Hartford, NY 1929


For a long time there was much uncleared and unoccupied land that by necessity had to be held in common. Its use was regulated by the freeholders in town meeting. When the town was formed, it was voted to restrict its use to cattle. The ban on its use by sheep, hogs and horses was generally passed annually until 1802, and in 1796 geese were added to the list of animals that could not be "free commoners." The above rule was made evidently for the protection of the enclosures, which at best were but rudely fenced for some time. Roving stock were a constant menace to crops. Cattle, sheep and hogs were marked, and the marks were recorded with the town clerk. Each freeholder had his individual mark and records of them go back as far as 1791. This was a means of identifying any strayed animals that might break through the enclosure of another. Amasa Brown's mark (the Elder) was a hole through the right ear; Asahel Hodge's, a slit in the end of the right ear. Other marks were less simple, as Alexander Arnold's, whose mark was a hole through the right ear and a crop off the end of the left ear, and a half circle out of the upper side of the same.

At the first town meeting, one of the first items of business was the appointing of committees to erect two pounds, one in the east section and another in the west section of the town, where strayed animals were kept until identified by their owners. Two pound-keepers were elected the next year. This office was not discontinued until 1818, when Stephen Jilson was elected the last pound-keeper. As late as 1800, it was voted to repair the pounds sufficiently "to hold creatures" for one year. The west pound was not discontinued until 1820, and the east pound not until 1821. The east pound was located somewhere in the present village of North Hartford, between the Durkee place and the monument; the west pound between the four corners beyond the farm of Duane Hall, Jr., and the old Straight place, where Manning Bull lived long ago. Their location on the map is indicated by the letter P. This notice, recorded in the Town Book, is of interest in this connection: "Hartford, November 1st, 1799. Broke into enclosure of Henry Brayton in Hartford, two steers, supposed to be two years old last spring. No artificial mark to be discovered. One of them mainly black with white face, the other red with white face. Entered this 9th day of November, 1799, by me, David Austin, Town Clerk."

Lawful fences were required to be four and one-half feet high and among the early town officers were fence viewers, who were generally also the damage appraisers. At this time fences were made of rails and stumps, as for many years after, and the stone walls that became a feature of the later landscape began to appear. The clearing of the land was not limited to getting rid of the trees and stumps, but also the large stones and boulders that cumbered the soil of the section had to be disposed of.

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