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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - February/March 2005
Tales of Colonial Scots


the case of the purloined pigs
By Diane Rapaport

Anyone familiar with Lexington, Massachusetts, has seen the name Munroe—on the Munroe Tavern, the Munroe Center for the Arts, and Munroe Road, to cite a few examples. The first Lexington Munroe, then spelled Munro or Munrow or sometimes just Row, was a Scotsman named William, who arrived at Boston Harbor with a shipload of other Scottish war prisoners in 1652. He worked as an indentured servant in Menotomy (today’s Arlington), earned his freedom, and settled in Cambridge Farms, as Lexington then was known. 

Most of what we know about William Munro—where he bought land and whom he married and when his children were born—tell us little about the kind of man he was. But underused old court records still preserve stories from the lives of people like Munro, often in their own words. One such file from the Massachusetts Archives, Row v. Bacon, tells of Munro’s stubborn quest for justice against an arrogant foe. I call this lawsuit “The Case of the Purloined Pigs.”

The problems started on a Monday in late November 1671, after a heavy snowfall in a remote corner of Cambridge Farms, near today’s intersection of Lowell and Woburn Streets. Here, at the house where Munro lived with his wife Martha and three small children, a neighbor arrived looking for his hogs.

Michael Bacon (his real name!) had a reputation for letting his hogs run wild, and this time they had wandered all the way from Bacon’s house (in present-day Bedford) to enjoy the companionship of Munro’s own pigs. Munro and his wife, wanting only to be rid of the uninvited swine guests depleting their meager forage, helped Bacon to separate his hogs from their own. Bacon then headed off through the woods with his swine, and the Munros returned to their daily chores.

But Bacon’s hogs apparently did not want to leave their friends, and they soon came back. This time, when Bacon returned to retrieve them, he did not bother to sort them out; he just drove off the whole lot. Seeing most of the family’s worldly wealth hoofing away, Martha shouted at Bacon to stop, but he ignored her. William, who was occupied feeding the oxen or fetching firewood, had to drop everything, strap on snowshoes and take off in pursuit.

Munro was not a man to be trifled with. He had endured many hardships—on the battlefield, in a prison camp, during the long Atlantic crossing, and as an indentured servant. Now he was free to farm his own little piece of land, and those pigs were crucial to his family’s survival. Hogs meant meat on the table and income to buy other necessities of life, and Munro could not afford to lose a single animal. 

He also knew that Michael Bacon could not be trusted. If the old court records are any indication, Bacon was known throughout the county for making trouble. His hogs had damaged crops for miles around, but he always denied responsibility, blaming others for failing to keep their fences in repair or claiming that the hogs belonged to someone else. Bacon’s name appears repeatedly in land disputes, cases of wandering horses and cattle, slander and forgery accusations, breach of contract, even a paternity case. Thus, when Munro set off in the snow after Bacon and his pigs, he had good reason to expect problems.

Munro trudged north through three miles of drifted snow, following hog tracks until he finally overtook Bacon and found most of his livestock. One pregnant sow was "so tired and spent that shee could not come back," and he had to leave her with Bacon. Another sow, also "big with pig," was missing. Munro was angry, but nothing more could be done before nightfall. He drove the rest of his hogs back home. 

The next day, Munro sought out constable’s deputy John Gleison and his brother William. He showed them the hoof‑trodden farmyard and the path through the woods, and together they trekked back to Bacon’s house to retrieve the last two swine. Bacon’s response was predictable. First he pretended the incident never happened. Then, when the Gleisons clearly were not accepting that story, he “confessed that William Rows swine was with him in the drift the day before, but...he did them no wrong,” and he had none of them “in his hands” now. “If Row lost them, he must go look for them.” Bacon, of course, did not offer to help.

On Wednesday, the weary Munro turned to his neighbors John and Benjamin Russell, and together they scoured the woods for the missing hogs. They found one, stuck in a drift, amazingly still alive, and with "much difficulty" they brought her home.

One sow was still missing, and Munro’s patience was running out. He took the law‑abiding next step, which required yet another long journey on foot through the snow. He walked to Cambridge, to magistrate Thomas Danforth’s house overlooking Harvard College, where he filed a claim against Bacon. The amount in controversy was small enough that the magistrate could resolve the dispute without resort to the courts. Danforth took up quill pen to issue a warrant, ordering Michael Bacon "to appeare before me at my house, the last day of the weeke at 12. of the clock to answear the complaint of William Row, for violence done him in taking away his swine out of his yard, & driving them away...."


Complaint of "William Row and Martha his wife" against Michael Bacon, December 2, 1671,
as recorded by Cambridge magistrate Thomas Danforth. Courtesy of Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Division of Archives and Records Preservation."

At the appointed time, six people—William and Martha Munro, the Russells, and the Gleison brothers—crowded into the magistrate’s study to testify. Danforth recorded the evidence with careful penmanship, and the witnesses all signed with their marks. Michael Bacon was not there and he lost the case. The constable’s deputy set out to seize a "branded steere" from Bacon to ensure payment of Munro’s damages. 

Shortly thereafter, before Munro could collect a single shilling, his missing sow reappeared at his door. She was “lamed and went but upon three legs,” delivered by a man who claimed that he "found" her and was asked by Bacon to bring her home.

Bacon probably hoped that returning the sow would get him off the hook for damages, but Munro stood firm. In late December, Bacon asked for a rehearing, which Danforth granted on January 29. The result was the same, only now Bacon owed more, reflecting the added costs for witness time and constable’s fees. 

Still Bacon refused to pay, and he mounted a vigorous appeal, seeking a jury trial in the Middlesex County Court. He hired Concord lawyer John Hoare to draft a tedious petition with a long series of technical arguments, from improper service of the attachment on his steer to misfeasance by the well‑respected Danforth. The trial took place in Cambridge on April 2, 1672, probably at the local Blue Anchor Tavern (as was customary in those days, since only Boston had courtroom facilities). Someone apparently represented Munro at the trial (although his identity is not known), for an elegantly‑written legal argument appeared in the court records on Munro’s behalf.

The final result, after more than four months of legal wrangling, was judgment again in favor of Munro: “One Pound sixteen shillings & foure pence,” plus court costs, a goodly sum, but probably less a financial boost than a moral victory for the dogged Scotsman. Presumably Bacon paid up, for here the paper trail of Row v. Bacon ends. Munro returned to a quiet farming life, but Bacon continued to keep the courts busy in disputes with other neighbors. Anyone who thinks that the “litigation explosion” is a modern phenomenon should read the seventeenth-century court records!


Diane Rapaport is a former trial lawyer who has made a new career as a writer, historian and genealogist. One of her special interests is the little-known story of Scottish war prisoners exiled to the American colonies in the mid 1600s. She has spent years tracing the fate of these Scotsmen, and her articles have appeared in New England Ancestors, The Highlander, History Scotland and other publications. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

© 2002 Diane Rapaport - all rights reserved

Note: This article appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of New England Ancestors magazine and is reprinted by permission of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. (See Diane Rapaport, New England Ancestors 5 (Winter 2004): 54-55.) For more information about New England Ancestors and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, please visit www.NewEnglandAncestors.org.


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