"a dispute concerning the right of property in a pig"
Nefarious pig-stealer of the nursery rhyme,
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNefarious pig-stealer of the nursery rhyme, "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son" - Credit: The Henry Ford

This controversy took place in 1642 when one Mrs. Sherman accused Captain Robert Keayne of stealing her pig. This pig, who was apparently of a gallivanting bent, had wandered away from its foraging spot and gone to rootle around the grounds of Keayne’s estate. Keayne advertised that the animal was in his possession and bade the owner come and collect it. When no-one did so, he decided to kill it for pork. Sherman, finding her pen empty and hearing of Keayne’s actions, accused him of stealing, concealing and killing her livestock.

At court, the case pitted the twenty-two elected deputies against the governor and his twelve assistants, the former sympathizing with Sherman and the latter with Keayne. At the time, both sat together as one body and, since the deputies had the greater number, their vote carried the day. The result made plain the fact that the deputies would act according to the sympathies of those who had elected them (town feeling was very much on the more likeable Sherman’s side) rather than on true judgment, and that the court needed to be reformed. In 1644, the deputies and assistants were constituted as separate bodies that were to function independently but had to agree on any new act before it could be enshrined in law.