History of the Town Clerk
The Municipal Clerk is the oldest of public servants in local government, along with the tax collector. The profession traces back to Biblical times. In fact, the Hebrew translation means town Reminder. The early record keepers were called Remembrances as their memory served as the public record.
The title “Clerk” developed from the Latin word “clericus”. During the Middle Ages when scholarly pursuits were limited to the clergy, “clerk” came to mean a scholar, especially one who could read and write, and thus serve a secretary, accountant, or recorder.
In ancient England the townships developed a strong system of democratic local government and one of the first officials the freemen elected was the clerk.
The beginning of the office of town clerk can be traced back to 1272 A.D. The “Remembrancer” was called upon to remind the members of council what had transpired at their previous meetings, since the meetings of early councils were not recorded in written minutes.
By the 1500’s in England, there were not only town clerks but also “clerk comptrollers”.
When the early colonists came to America, they set up forms of government to which they had been accustomed and the office of the clerk was the first to be established. The first settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts quickly appointed a person to act as recorder. That person kept all the vital records for birth, marriages and deaths as well as other records of appointments, meetings, and the election of officers. The settlers were well aware of the importance of keeping accurate written records of their agreements and actions including grants of land, regulations governing animals, the collection of taxes, and the expenditure of town funds.
The person given the responsibility for recording these orders was also often given other duties, such as sweeping the meeting house, ringing the bell, and selling seats. By the mid 17 century, the title “Town Clerk” appears in town records and this title has continued to the present.
Over the years, municipal clerks have become the hub of the government, the direct link between their town residents and their government. The Clerk is the historian of the community for the entire recorded history of the town and its people is in her care.