Marlborough meetinghouse

COURTESY

Marlborough meetinghouse, where the 1793 record of Alexander Fish’s ear would have been recorded.

Alexander Fish was a longtime resident of Marlborough, New Hampshire. He first came to the town after deserting from the British army during the Revolutionary War. It is said that Fish enjoyed his liquor and retained his fighting ways even after he left the army.

Marlborough’s town record book contains an unusual statement concerning Fish, dated Jan. 24, 1793. It reads as follows: “These may certify all persons whom it may concern that Nathan Frost Lawson did in anger willfully bite off Alexander Fish’s ear, this instant, Jan. 1793.” Fortunately, the story behind this curious statement has survived.

It seems that Lawson had committed a crime during his youth for which he was punished by having a portion of his ear cut off, a common penalty in those days. One day in January of 1793, both Lawson and Fish were drinking freely at the tavern.

During their conversation, Fish teased Lawson about his cropped ear. Lawson became so upset that he threw Fish on the floor and bit off Fish’s ear so that it then looked much like Lawson’s.

After sobering up a bit, Fish feared that his own damaged ear might make it appear that he had also broken the law and had been punished by having his ear cropped. Consequently, he went to the selectmen and asked them to place the unusual entry in the town record book so that he could always prove exactly how he had received his own cropped ear and that he was not, in fact, a criminal.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.