Fence Viewer

Richard Alley (2015)
Marilynn Kirby (2015)

The origin of the position of Fence Viewer in the towns of Massachusetts dates from 1647 when the Massachusetts Bay colonial government recognized that corn crops had to be protected from cattle by good fences. (The General Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts Bay. Chapter XIX Section 6) The Selectmen of all towns were ordered to ensure that fences be upheld and maintained. Fines were authorized, and the Selectmen were ordered to appoint 2 or more persons "…to view the common fences, of all their corn fields, to the end, to take due notice of the real defects and insufficiency thereof…" Procedures were established by which Fence Viewers were to deal with landowners, to determine who paid the costs for construction and repairs, and how to handle complaints about cattle that caused damage because they were not properly constrained.

The law regarding appointments of Fence Viewers has not been changed in any material way since 1647, or 1793, when Samuel Freeman described the duties of town officers. Although their general responsibilities, and the laws governing who is responsible for fencing and how the costs are met, have changed, many of the original colonial phrases can still be found in the current state statutes.