SELECTMEN ON THE TRAIL!
Years ago, one of the more practical festivals of the Christian Year was Rogation. A moveable holiday that occurred the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday, Rogation was when each town organized a procession to trace the parish or borough boundaries. Civic and religious leaders led a perambulation which stopped at each boundary marker where a prayer was given (in part to prevent evil spirits from spreading diseases and spoiling the harvest) before returning to the church for cakebread and ale. Another feature was the practice of "beating the bounds" which was done both figuratively by pacing them off and literally with peeled willow wands to both the boundary markers themselves and to little boys brought along for the purpose in order to impress upon their memories the exact location of the true parish boundaries so that when they grew up they could attest to the boundaries even if the markers went astray, and carry on the tradition. They were also often given a small coin for their troubles.
I bring up the old ceremonies of Rogation because the custom, if not the holiday, for "beating the bounds" came to the New World, and was not all that long ago still expected of the Selectmen of Massachusetts towns. Although such a march is still legally required of the Selectmen, in Plymouth at least the old custom has apparenly been more or less passed over to the Town Engineer's office. Their predecessors weren't so soft. The following article from the Old Colony Memorial (Oct. 9, 1941) described the Plymouth perambulation of that year:
Perambulating Of Town Lines
Important Every 5Yr. Job of Selectmen
Officials of Plymouth, Carver And Kingston Hike Miles Through Brush To Establish Lines.
Mass. General Laws, Chapter 42, Section 1: directs that "the Selectmen shall perambulate, run and mark the boundary lines of towns every five years or appoint substitutes and erect monuments at angles on boundary lines, also where a highway crosses lines".
Plymouth being bounded by Duxbury, Kingston, Bourne, Wareham and Carver and the several divisions perambulated in separate years, the 1941 assignment involved the bounds between Plymouth, Kingston and Carver.
The date is mutually agreed upon by the Selectmen of the towns concerned and on Wednesday, October 1st, Selectmen James A. White, James T. Frazier and Town Engineer Arthur Blackmer substituting for Selectman William H. Barrett, left the Plymouth Town House at 7:45 a.m. supplied with a can of black paint, a brush, a comlpete description of the bounds and a map, and went to the Plymouth-Kingston line, where at the north end of the Plymouth Cordage property they met and exchanged greetings with Selectman John J. Moore and Town Accountant Roland Bailey, substituting for Selectman William Post.
The two groups then proceeded to trace over the letter "K" for Kingston and the letter "P" for Plymouth with the year 1941 on the first bound, which was situated at the shore line and was readily located.
The second bound visited was located on the main highway at the Plymouth-Kingston line, where the same procedure of marking was made.
The remaining twelve boundary markers were more difficult to locate because of the wild growth of scrub brush and undergrowth which had changed the appearance of the terrain completely since the last perambulation five years previous.
The boundary markers are usually in the form of a square post hewn from field stone and about four feet high, above ground, with the exception of one bound known as "Nick's Rock," which is approximately the size of a small house and although located less than one hundred feet from the woods road, the rock was the most difficult to locate because of its moss covered surface blending in with the scrub woods that surround it. [Unfortunately, the ancient landmark, Nick's Rock, has been ground up to gravel by P. A. Landers Co., who own the land it sat on.]
On more than one occasion it was necessary to leave the autos at the nearest clearing and travel through the woods for a mile or more through brush and briars so often found in untravelled parts of the woods.
It was often necessary to determine the distance from certain bounds by the aid of the auto cylometer in order to locate the succeeding bound, which was frequently concealed by bushes.
Selectmen Arthur W. Peterson and Frank E. Barrows joined the group in the village of Darby and the bound dividing Carver, Kingston and Plymouth was located and marked.
Following this marking, the Kingston Selectmen signed the necessary documents attesting that the bounds were in their proper locations and properly marked, then took their departure.
The remainder of the perambulation concerned the towns of Carver and Plymouth in the direction of Wareham, through the Myles Standish Reservation. One boundary marker in the Reservation was discovered to be under water at a distance too great to reach from shore without a boat and it was decided that an iron pipe should be driven in at that point when that body of water is frozen sufficiently to permit it.
The bound dividing Carver and Plymouth on the southwest was reached by walking about a half-mile through a swamp overgrown with brush.
The inscribing on this bound being duly executed, a return was made to the autos where the documents relating to Carver and Plymouth were signed and the perambulation for 1941 was completed.
Although this episode of a Selectman's duties may not be spectacular or sensational, it is however, interesting, important and obligatory upon the office holder."