HOW MRS. SHERMAN’S PIG ALMOST UPSET
In the very year in which young Sir Harry Vane was
governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony—that is, in
1636—there came to Boston a traveling
salesman who represented an English business house. His name was George
Story, and he lodged at the house of a Mrs. Sherman.
He had samples from which to take orders, and he was,
in fact, what we call in America a "drummer." He hoped to get
many orders for his goods in Boston, send them home to England, and make
a comfortable commission on his sales.
But George Story, the drummer, was not welcomed in
Boston. The Boston people had a common, neighborly interest in one
another, and preferred to keep all business and all commissions among
themselves, instead of sending them off to England.
We'll patronize home industries,"
they said, "keep what money there is here, and let our merchants do
their own business with England, rather than through a stranger who does
no benefit to the town."
So the merchants and magistrates of Boston made it
most unpleasant for George Story, the drummer. They considered him a
most undesirable person, and as there
was a law against obnoxious or objectionable persons
staying more than three weeks in the town, they haled George Story
before a magistrate, who fined him as an "alien."
Now this magistrate was one of the solid men of
Boston, Captain Robert Keayne, —a prosperous merchant, a rich
landowner, and the first captain of the famous "Ancient and
Honorable Artillery Company," which still exists as one of the
peculiar institutions of Boston.
But George Story was very angry at the way in which
he had been treated, and was especially angry at Captain Keayne as the
magistrate who fined him.
"I’ll get square with him some day," he
said; and he did.
It seems that Widow Sherman, at whose house George
Story boarded, kept a pig, and this pig, like most of its kind, was of a
roving disposition, very irresponsible, and had a troublesome habit of
not staying where it belonged.
It took to wandering off, and rooted and grunted
about the grounds of Captain Robert Keayne, who had a comfortable house
on the corner of what are now Washington and State streets, just
opposite to where the old Statehouse stands.
Captain Keayne saw this pig wandering along State
Street, and as that was most unpermissible, he took the pig in hand, had
it " cried"
through the town, and then, as no one claimed it, put it into his own
pigpen, and gave notice that the owner could have the pig by proving
But for some reason Mrs. Sherman never attempted to
prove property or identify her pig. So when nearly
a year had passed by, Captain Keayne thought he had kept the pig long
enough, and as undisputed possession was ownership, he counted the pig
as his, and killed it for winter pork.
That action was watchful George Story’s opportunity
for revenge. He knew of the whereabouts of Mrs. Sherman’s pig, even if
she did not, and as soon as the pig became pork, he induced Mrs. Sherman
to believe that Captain Keayne had defrauded her of a pig by kidnapping,
concealing, and killing it.
This was more than Captain Keayne could stand. He, a
magistrate of Boston, objected to being called a pig stealer and pig
murderer; so he became very angry, and brought suit against both Mrs.
Sherman and George Story for slander and defamation of character.
Of course, as Captain Keayne was one of the magistrates, when
his case came before the court the magistrates believed his story, and
fined the Widow Sherman twenty damages.
Then George Story went about among the town people,
telling Mrs. Sherman’s sad story, and asking if it was not outrageous
that a poor woman should be fined by the magistrates twenty pounds just
because she had tried to get her rights from a rich, grasping
Finally he persuaded Mrs. Sherman to appeal for
justice and protection to the Great and General Court.
The Great and General Court was not only the
lawmaking and governing body of the Massachusetts Bay colony; it was
also the highest court of appeal, and its decisions were final. It was
composed of twelve Assistants (or magistrates), who were elected by the
freemen as a whole, and twenty-two Deputies, who were elected by the
different towns. They all sat together—Assistants and Deputies—in
the General Court, and acted as a single voting and lawmaking body; and
the governor had not even the power of veto.
When Mrs. Sherman’s appeal for justice for the
killing of her white pig came to a vote, the Great and General Court was
divided. Thanks to the work of George Story among the people, although
the Assistants were on the side of Captain Keayne, the sympathies of the
Deputies were enlisted in behalf of Mrs. Sherman, and the Deputies being
in the majority, Captain Keayne lost his case, and George Story had his
But this did not end the matter. Both sides kept
arguing and quarreling over the affair of Mrs. Sherman’s pig. Even
good Governor Winthrop took a hand in it, and because he sided with the
Assistants he had to apologize to the people, although he would not
change his opinion. He admitted that he had spoken perhaps too strongly,
"arrogating too much to myself," the good man said humbly,
"and ascribing too little to others." He would, he assured
them, "be more wise and watchful hereafter." But even this
manly avowal of his own overzeal did not save him from the peo-
pie’s resentment, and next year he failed of
reelection as governor, all on account of the pig.
The wiser heads in the colony saw the impossibility
of an elective assembly acting as a judicial tribunal; in other words,
the Deputies would decide as the people who elected them desired, and
not as the real justice in the case demanded. At last, after a year of
dispute and clamor, a compromise was arranged. The Assistants were to
sit by themselves, the Deputies by themselves; they should act
separately, but any new act introduced in one body must have the consent
of the other before it became a law.
And that was the origin of the State legislature: the
Assistants are the Senate; the Deputies are the House of Representatives
(or the Assembly, as it is sometimes called). And so the Great and
General Court of Massachusetts, which was almost thrown into
demoralization by Mrs. Sherman’s pig, was saved from disruption, and
the colony along with it, by the simple and practical compromise brought
about by the wisdom of Governor John Winthrop, often called the
"Father of Massachusetts."