A Piglet and a Pound
Did you ever wonder why animal shelters used to be called pounds? The word is related to the Old English term “pyndam,” meaning to damn up, and while the old-fashioned term has nearly fallen out of use, town pounds once were common in New England. The Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered their construction as early as 1635, and a New Hampshire law from 1718 required the construction and maintenance of pounds at public expense.
“Live Free or Die” apparently didn’t apply to livestock. The structures were used to house animals that wandered around getting into trouble. Pigs were particularly problematic, often being let loose to fatten up on acorns and other nuts that fell to the forest floor. Unfortunately, their behavior was so destructive that swine were required to be yoked to limit their wiggly access to private property, and to have rings in their noses so they couldn’t dig up crops with their snouts. Pigs that were not thus encumbered were rounded up by elected wardens called “hog reeves” and held in the town pound until the owner paid damages and the cost of animal care. Pounds also were used when livestock was “impounded” by the town as compensation for unpaid taxes.
The earliest town pounds were made from briars or wood. None of these have survived. But stone pounds, which came into use later, can still be found in the Merrimack Valley, including in the New Hampshire towns of Atkinson, Auburn, Chester, Hampstead, Hudson, Londonderry and Sandown.