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No smoking, talking or sleeping at work
were top items in the first NH legislature

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.


Legislation in Portsmouth in 1699 -- First Prison -- Mark Noble

PORTSMOUTH was the seat of Government of New Hampshire at the time when the following proceedings took place.

Ancient documents in the office of the Secretary of State contain the records of the formation at Portsmouth of Bellmont's government, and minutes of the proceedings of the first Legislative Assembly under him in the fall of 1699. Under the act passed at this session, the Courts of Justice were originated, and continued to operate under the organization for seventy-two years. The act is copied at length in the ancient records, being the most ancient Legislative document in the possession of the State. The Assembly consisted of fifteen members, three from each of the five towns--Portsmouth, Hampton, Dover, Exeter and New Castle. The "Lord's Speech" at the opening of the Assembly commences thus:

"Gentlemen -- I have called you together at this time to give you an opportunity of serving the common interest of your country by Redressing the Greaveances this province lyes under."

Among "the articles to be observed for regulating the House" is one "Imposing a threepence fine for absence at calling over;" and another, "that none smoke tobacco in the House after calling over, on penalty of threepence for Cleark." Under date of Sept. 15,1699, is the following record:

"Complaint being made to the Assembly by the sheriff that the prison is not sufficient, Voted -- That a strong logg house be built in the Province for a prison of thirty foot long, fourteen wide, one story of seven foot high, two brick chimneys in the midst five foot each, to be done forthwith, strong and substantial, the Treasurer and overseer to be paid out of the next Province Assessment, to be sett in Portsmouth in or near the Great Fort.

[This first prison was built near Market Square. Church Hill was called the Fort.]

In July 1700, it was voted "that Clerk of the Assembly receive 18 pence per day to be paid out of publicque Treasury for writing for the Assembly, finding paper and registering its minutes in this book."

Under date 17 July 1701 is the following: "The Publicque affairs of the House being much obstructed by persons sitting and leying on the bed --Voted that whosoever henceforward either sett or lye down shall forfeit three pence to the House for a fine for every such Default after the House is called over."

On the next day, July 18,1701, is the following record: "Whereas the publicque affairs of this House is much obstructed by reason of several members thereof soe often withdrawing themselves into the chimney to take tobacco and sitt talking and not attend the affairs of the House, Voted, That whosoever shall soe doe for the future shall pay a threepence fine for every such offence except leave be given."

At the same session is the following minute:--"Mr. Timothy Hilliard dismissed, voted a person not fit to be a member hereof. Request sent to Upper House that notice be given to town to fill vacancy."

In the State records we also find the following letter from Mark Noble, asking for the discharge of John Stavers, after the famous riot of the Earl-of-Halifax Hotel. Noble was an insane man for forty years afterwards.

PORTSMOUTH, February 3, 1777. To the Committee of Safety the Town of Exeter:

Gentlemen: -- As I am informed that Mr. Stivers is in confinement in goal upon my account contrary to my desire, for when I was at Mr. Stivers a fast day I had no ill nor ment none against the Gentleman but by bad luck or misfortune I have received a bad blow but it is so well that I hope to go out in a day or two. So by this gentlemen of the Committee I hope you will release the gentleman upon my account. I am yours to serve.

A friend to my country.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design 2002

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