A Most Unpuritan Offer

Robert Tuck was one of Hampton’s first settlers and the keeper of its first ordinary, or tavern. Long gone is the six-room, one (or possibly two)-story house with its “leantoo,” barns, and stables, but from court records, deeds, and tradition we know that it was once located on a ten-acre lot in the area of Hampton where Drakeside Road joins Lafayette Road. It was conveniently situated on the main road for travelers and close to the meetinghouse, which served as both church and county courthouse. Tuck kept the ordinary for over twenty years, with a year’s hiatus to England in the mid-1650s. His was a quiet and well-ordered Puritan establishment; the townsfolk did not “lie tippling” in his house, the place was cleared by 9 p.m., the food was good, and the beer, while plentiful, was always brewed according to law. In 1645 a licensing law was enacted, and Tuck paid 2 shillings 6 pence a year for the privilege of keeping his ordinary.

In 1656 the Massachusetts General Court enacted legislation that made towns liable to a fine for not sustaining an ordinary. When Robert Tuck returned to Hampton sometime in 1657, the town invited him to reestablish his ordinary. “[N]ot doubting that the existing ordinary would soon be closed,” he reopened immediately, without waiting for approval from the county court. As he said, he had “greatt Incoridgement to sett it up againe.”

He received his license at the next sitting of the court, but was also fined five pounds for violating the licensing law. Tuck disagreed with the imposition of the fine and appealed to the General Court in Boston to have it remitted. On May 26, 1658, the General Court judged it “meet that three pounds of his said fine be remitted to him.”

Tuck was troubled no further by the courts, but in 1663 two of his lodgers, Dr. Henry Greenland and Dr. Cordwin of Newbury, were. The two men created a minor scandal in Puritan Hampton when they offered to pay Tuck’s servant, Richard Smith, five shillings each to procure “a couple of women” for them. When the news of their escapade reached Newbury, Dr. Greenland, the embodiment of the arrogant English gentleman, brought a suit of slander against Newbury resident and servant, Henry Lessenby, for spreading the story.

At the ensuing trial, Smith testified that around midnight of the night in question, the doctors desired him to go and get “Mary Wedgwood, saying that she was the prettiest maid in town, and if she would not come to get Sary Tayler or Mary Wall, as he had a letter in his pocket for the latter.”

Three Hampton men—John Redman, Morris Hobbs, and schoolmaster John Barsham— testified that it was common knowledge around town that the two doctors had offered the money to Smith. John Redman and Christopher Palmer testified that they had heard Smith speaking of being hired by the doctors. Richard Dole of Newbury, Lessenby’s master, testified that Dr. Greenland’s Hampton escapade was commonly known in Newbury and Hampton. Greenland subsequently lost his suit.

The doctor was quite a rogue, certainly not the sort the Puritans of Hampton knowingly invited into their town. He was also brought to court for seducing Mary Rolfe, a Newbury woman whose husband was then at sea. Although one juror argued that Greenland was a “gentleman” and as such “must have [his] liberties,” the doctor was found guilty of adultery and ordered to be whipped and imprisoned. He was saved from punishment by his friend Walter Barefoote, who paid his bond. Greenland went on to further exploits and was finally banished from Essex County the following year.

Feb. 3, 2013

-One of the stories from A Meet and Suitable Person: Tavernkeeping in Old Hampton, New Hampshire, 1638-1783 by local writer Cheryl Lassiter.

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