Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Case of the Stolen Turnips

Thanks to Tuck Museum and Cheryl Lassiter

An event in the early life of Hampton


In the latter part of 1670 John Fuller rode up to check on his ‘plantation,’ only to discover that someone had pilfered “about twenty bushels” of his turnip crop. Fuller and his partner in the patch, John Hancock, were appalled. Hancock swore that if they could prove who did it, the “taker of them” would be prosecuted. From the local gossip Hancock had heard that Nathaniel Weare had owned up to taking away part of the turnips, “which if he could prove it he would prosecute the said Weare and make him pay well for them.”
FHL FILM877462 Gove Weare Case 1 1673
Gove’s 1673 Appeal
According to the testimony of John and Martha Cass, now living on the farm they had purchased from Rev. John Wheelwright in 1664, Nathaniel Weare admitted that he had “accidentally” come across Fuller’s turnip patch, and “seeing turnips so late in the year he did take about a bushel and a half.”  If the ground hadn’t been so hard, he said, he “might [have] took a few more.” When John asked Nathaniel if he had had permission to take the turnips, he replied “No,” but his “sister Cox told him that she did suppose he might have some.” And, he said, he had made it right by reimbursing the turnip patch proprietors with a slab of pork.
Given Weare’s prominence as a large landowner in Hampton, the turnip theft may never have seen the inside of a courtroom except for Edward Gove, himself a large landowner, who publicly accused Weare of being a thief. When Gove confronted him with the charge, Weare said, “You fool, you loggerheadedly, boby-headed ass, get you about your business.”
To which Gove replied, “How came I to be your tomfool loggerhead?”
Weare then did what any adult male Puritan in his position would do: he hit Gove with a stick. Apparently sorry for his violent outburst, in an act of contrition he fell upon his knees twice. Gove taunted him by saying, “Get up again like a lubber,” while helping Weare to his feet.
When Gove refused to retract his accusation of thievery, Weare accused him of “reproachful speeches and assaulting carriage.” Nathaniel Clark of Newbury and Henry Palmer met Gove at Henry Roby’s tavern in Hampton to persuade him to come to an out-of-court agreement with Weare. Both Clark and Palmer testified that Gove did not believe Weare had intended theft in the taking of the turnips. Yet Gove refused to drop the matter. Weare had broken the 8th commandment (thou shalt not steal), which was contrary to Law.
“It will be an encouragement to others to go on in such wicked courses, contrary to Christianity and civility,” Gove explained. “For it is easy making an excuse for the theft if after the thing be like to be proved against the person.”  Translation: Weare only confessed because he had been caught.
Two plus years later, on October 8, 1672 and April 8, 1673, the courts at Hampton and Salisbury heard Weare’s case against Gove, including depositions and testimony of several witnesses: Nathaniel Boulter, John Huggins, Caleb Perkins, William Fuller, Sr., John Stevens, and Anthony Stanyan. Gove was also charged with having killed a hawk on the Lord’s day. The jury at Salisbury brought in a verdict of guilty on all counts.
Gove then made his appeal to the Court of Assistants in Boston, saying that ‘Your appellant apprehends himself much disadvantaged” because the jury foreman had remarked that if Gove came to trial he “would warrant I should suffer.” Gove also asserted that he had broken no law in calling Nathaniel Weare a thief…because it had been William Fuller who reported that Weare had taken the turnips from John Fuller’s field. Why then, was it Gove and not Fuller who was charged? In answering his own question he said,”Indeed [it was] better for Fuller to lose his turnips than for he that took them disorderly to lose his friend…as some have said.”
As these things often go with old court documents, the final resolution is unknown. Gove’s appeal did at least make it to the clerk of the Court of Assistants, since the extant case documents are filed with the Suffolk County (Mass) Court Files. Nathaniel Weare was never brought to court for stealing the turnips.
In 1684 Edward Gove was made famous by his attempt–while under the influence of “ardent spirits” and a lack of sleep–at rebellion against the government. Believing it was being run by those who kiss the Pope’s ring, he determined to overthrow the current regime. Riding from Hampton to Exeter with his son and a servant, Gove passed by the house of Nathaniel Weare, now a magistrate. Weare came out and tried to stop Gove from his mission, without success. Gove rode on, had his “rebellion” (mainly riding through the towns shouting like a maniac), and was summarily arrested in Hampton.  He was put on trial and convicted of high treason, the punishment for which was “that he should be drawn to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck and cut down alive, and that his entrails be taken out and burnt before his face, and his head cut off, and his body divided into four quarters and his head and quarters disposed of at the king’s pleasure.” Lucky for him, he was sent instead to England to take residence in the Tower of London, and, after three years and some letters acknowledging his acts of stupidity, he was released and allowed to come home.
Nathaniel Weare, whose reputation as a turnip patch plunderer hadn’t impeded his rise to the top of provincial politics, also made a trip to England in 1684. He had been entrusted to carry the petition from the New Hampshire men to the King, asking for relief from Cranfield’s money-grubbing schemes. While he was at it, he purloined the Hampton town records, taking them to Boston to keep them out of the hands of Cranfield.

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