Fire-EngineEnforcement of LawsDrink Custom
WitchcraftBounty for Crows, etc.


The first action of the town towards procuring a machine for extinguishing fire was in October, 1827,

[ p 42 ]

when $225 was appropriated for that purpose,

“providing the sum could be increased to an amount sufficient to purchase an engine with equipments for service.”

This was done by organizing a stock company of nineteen members, each owning a share, the par value being $15. [^1][^2] Each owner of a share held a certificate which, by vote of the town, entitled the bearer (provided he be deemed eligible) to a preference in the appointment of engine-men, who were annually appointed by the selectmen, agreeable to the statutes of Massachusetts. In 1845 hooks and ladders were added to the apparatus, but fortunately there was but little use for the machinery, and but little attention was paid to it after a few years.

In 1879, after a disastrous conflagration, the town voted to buy a suction hand-fire-engine, and the sum of $475 was appropriated for it. [^3] This being done, the “Shawsheen Engine Company,” of forty members, was formed, and paid an annual fee of $2 each. [^4]

The “Winthrop Hook-and-Ladder Company” was also organized, and in 1883 the annual compensation was increased for the members of both companies to six dollars. Cisterns for the storage of water were built in 1888, and the town is well protected against the ravages of fire, at an annual expense of about $300. [^5]

Bedford has always been jealous of its good name, and made haste to mete out justice to any who, by violation of law, have brought reproach upon it. In March, 1797, and for several succeeding years, officers were chosen to prevent theft, with instructions to pursue offenders to justice at the public expense. At this time there was a family in town so addicted to larceny that its members would steal from each other. The vigilance of the officers is apparent, as one of the family was brought to condign punishment by being tied to an apple-tree (in the absence of a whipping-post) in the village, and publicly and legally whipped with thirty stripes. [*1][*2] This was the second offence; a third was punishable

“by the pains of death without the benefit of clergy.”

This act of justice was not sufficient to deter other members of the family from similar offences, and the town was not rid of the family until two farmers, whose estates joined that of the offenders, purchased their farm, upon condition that they should not relocate in the town.

A greater evil, the sale of intoxicating liquors, met with but little opposition until 1828. The customs of society here, as elsewhere, gave full endorsement to the free use of ardent spirits in public and private. The “flowing bowl” was prominent on both solemn and joyful occasions. The records are remarkably free from itemized bills for liquors, but the oft-repeated charges for “entertainment,” together with

traditions, leave no room for doubt as to the nature of the entertainment furnished at the public charge. In 1804 the use of liquor at funerals was abolished by vote of the town. In 1822 a committee was chosen to repair the Common, free of expense to the town for Labor; but they were allowed to furnish

“those that do the work with some spirit at the expense of the town.”

It is doubtful whether it would not have been more economical to have paid for the labor. In 1834 the overseers of the poor were instructed not to furnish ardent spirits for the poor unless directed by a physician. The first temperance society was organized in 1830, and moral suasion was faithfully applied, but it was not until 1888 that the State law was made effectual, through the vigilance of the “Law and Order League.” To remove unfortunate possibilities, public-spirited men purchased the Bedford House property and organized a stock company.

The witchcraft delusion, that had been such a scourge in the Colony, had left its effect upon credulous minds in this town. There were those who attributed every mysterious occurrence to an eccentric old woman. They believed she was responsible for the power that is now seen in a balky horse— refusing to advance, or a wheel to revolve on a neglected axle. [*3] There is a tradition that in the early years of the Revolution, when the British troops were stationed in Boston, this woman, in the disguise of a Tory, had a concerted meeting with some of the proud officers of the army. She represented to them that she had a great secret, which she would reveal upon their paying a heavy fee. The officers, anxious to engage in the enterprise, met her, upon agreement, at midnight near her own home. On being satisfied that the booty was in the chaise of the officers, she led them, by the dim light of a flickering candle, across a narrow plank which served as a temporary bridge over a swollen stream into a dark recess; she then extinguished her light, recrossed the bridge, which she pulled after her, secured the bags of English coin and went home. The ambitious officers, foiled in their undertaking, gladly left the town, but not until they had aroused a family and obtained aid in the search for their team and guidance back to Boston. [*4]

It appears that the early farmers of Bedford were greatly annoyed and their crops seriously damaged by the crows, blackbirds and squirrels. This was a prevalent evil in the Province, so much so that the General Court enacted a law in 1740–41 authorizing towns to pay a bounty on the heads of the little creatures, and were reimbursed from the Province treasury. There was allowed

“for every dozen of blackbirds taken in their nests, and not fledged, twelve pence; [*5] for the like number of blackbirds grown and fledged, three shillings; for each crow, six pence, and for every water rat, gray squirrel and ground-squirrel, four pence.”

The town indorsed this law at once, and the boys, stimulated by a bounty for the work of destruction, entered upon a competi-

[ tipped-in page ]

[ portrait photo
with signature repro ]
Lewis P. Gleason
Lewis Putnam Gleason
. [^6]

[ p 43 ]

tive war of extermination. The treasurer’s report of 1741 shows twenty-two orders

“given to parsons for squirrels and birds,”

amounting to £12 14s. 8d. [*6]

The list includes the names of the leading men of the town. As orders were only drawn for the parents, the number of individuals enlisted in the work of destruction is not determined, but there were, doubtless, as many as one hundred, and the records show that the practice was continued for years. One boy, William Webber, in his eagerness, mistook an owl’s nest for that of a crow’s, and when about to capture the fledglings was attacked by the mother owl, which plucked out one of his eyes, subdued the youth and provided a priceless meal for her brood. In 1823 the town voted

“not to allow Robbins to be killed in the town this year.”

In 1829 voted

“to pay twenty cents for old and ten cents for young crow’s heads, caught and killed within the limits of the town.”



  1. $225 was ∨ $225 (two hundred and twenty-five dollars) were
  2. $15. ∨ $15 (fifteen dollars).
  3. $475 ∨ $475 (four hundred and seventy-five dollars)
  4. $2 ∨ $2 (two dollars)
  5. $300. ∨ $300 (three hundred dollars).
  6. Gleason. ∨ Gleason


  1. “condign”: fitting
  2. “stripes”: lashes
  3. “balky”: stubborn
  4. “aroused”: roused
  5. “fledged”: (feathered so as to be) able to fly
  6. “parsons”: persons
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