Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who Let The Sheep Out? The Town Pound

The town pound in Lyndeborough, NH dates from 1774
The modern animal shelter that houses homeless or abandoned animals owes its beginnings to the animal pound which dates to medieval times.

Photo of sheep grazing the common at Old Sturbridge Village
by Thomas Neill
By the early seventeenth-century in New England the grazing of animals on common lands was coming to an end as resident husbandmen improved pasture land on their own farms.  Where stone and wooden fences were once used to keep animals out of tilled land, they were now used to keep grazing flocks in.  However, stray sheep, cattle, pigs and geese were a common sight.  Almost every town in New England had a town pound, or pinfold as they were referred to in England, to hold stray animals until their owners could claim them.

Town Pound, Wilton, NH  1773

The pound was overseen by the pound-keeper whose job was to feed and water the impounded animals as well as to collect the money when animals were reclaimed.  Not only was there a fine to be paid to the owner whose land had been violated by the stray animal, but also a daily fee to the pound-keeper for the animal's upkeep.  If animals weren't claimed within several weeks, they were sent to local markets where they were sold, with the proceeds going to the pound-keeper.  Needless to say, being the village pound-keeper was a sought after job; an esteemed position right up there with the fence viewer.  Today, most of the original town pounds in New England have disappeared but several, like those in these photos, have been maintained through the years to remind us of the connections to our early agricultural roots.

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