When Wolf-Killing Was Legal, and Paid Well

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 25 2014 9:00 AM

When Wolf-Killing Was Legal, and Paid Well

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This slip of paper shows how settlers were compensated for killing wolves in New Hampshire during the time of the American Revolution. Side 1 is a signed statement from the constable of Abner Ally’s small town of Chesterfield, attesting to his having killed a “grown woolf.” Side 2, dating to several months later, is a receipt for 10 pounds, signed by Nicholas Gilman, then the state treasurer.

The blog of Dartmouth’s Rauner Special Collections Library, which holds this document, notes that in 1778 10 pounds was “just a little less than a sergeant in the British Army would have earned in a year.” The richness of the sum reflects the state’s desperation to eliminate the predators, who then ranged across the state. At a time when colonists had far more land than manpower, and often had to leave livestock unattended, the wolves’ depredations seemed particularly threatening.

Advertisement

As historian Jon T. Coleman writes in his book Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, colonial New Englanders regarded the animal with such loathing that they often beheaded wolves killed for the bounty, “nail[ing] the canine’s bloody skull to the side of the town’s meetinghouse for the residents to ponder and admire.” The constable may be referring to a similar act when he writes on this receipt that he has “taken the hed” of the wolf that Ally killed.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF), wolves were extirpated from the New Hampshire woods by the late 19th century.  

WolfKiller1Final

Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College.

My transcript: “This may testify that on the 12 day of December 1778 Abner Ally of Chesterfield killed + brought in to me one grown woolf [sic] which I have taken the hed + disfiggered it for me – Andrew Haistings [sp?], Constable of the ?? of Chesterfield” (In separate, later hand: “A cancellation hole proves bounty was paid & cancelled so it could not be cashed twice.”)

WolfKiller2Final

Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College.

My transcript: “March 13 1779. Receiv’d of Nicholas Gilman Ten pound, being the sum allowed by an Act of the General Court for Killing a grown wolfe [sic] … for abner Ally - £10.0.0 …”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.