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ings. In a few cases it will be found that the records of the warning out notices state the occupation of the persons warned, and in all cases the records show the names of the selectmen or persons who issued warrants for warnings, of the constables who served them, and of the town clerk who recorded them on the books of the town, thus in some cases giving information not otherwise obtainable from the town records.
If we judge these warning out statutes by the standards of the present time, they seem to have been strange and unjust. Now that persons are at liberty to move into and live in any municipality, we cannot quite understand why it was either necessary or right to exclude them from coming into and living in any town in the old times, nor can we understand why, if persons did come into any town and make it their home, they could properly be deprived of the benefit of being relieved by the town in case they became poor and in need of help.
But if we consider the condition in which the early settlers were placed, and especially the fact that each town was by the ancient law responsible for the support of such of its inhabitants as became poor and in need of help, we see that this obligation, as well as the obligation of the towns at that time for the good conduct of their inhabitants, made it necessary that the towns should be able to exclude from inhabitancy persons whom they did not desire to receive as inhabitants.
This was the fundamental law underlying the establishment of towns in New England, and was the only rule upon which in the sparsely settled condition of the country at that time the poor could be provided for at first. The towns were united into effective colony and State government by slow degrees, as
roads and bridges were built, means of intercommunication were opened between the towns, and trade and commerce increased throughout the colonies and the early States. The only efficient method of taking care of the poor at that time was by requiring the towns to take care of them. In the very beginning the towns were able to exclude persons from inhabitancy whom they did not want by refusing to give them lands, and by refusing to allow those to whom lands had been granted to sell them to others whom the towns did not wish to admit as inhabitants. Later the towns sought to protect themselves against liability for the support of new inhabitants by requiring them to give security, usually by a bond from some other persons, to indemnify the town if it should ever be required to support the new-comers. This was carried so far that physicians to whom persons from out of the town came for treatment were required to become responsible to the town for any liability to support such persons if they became poor. But, as the population increased and means of communication multiplied, people came into towns and lived, and became inhabitants in spite of these precautions.
People came into towns notwithstanding these restraints and without giving security. Some of them became “sick or lame” to use the language of the law of the time, and they needed help. How were they to be helped? The colony law said: “The towns must help them. If the towns admit people as inhabitants, they must take care of them if they need help.” The towns said: “We have not admitted them. They have come in without our consent. We do not want them, but we cannot keep them out, and there is no way by which we can effectively protect ourselves against liability for their support if they come in. The
burden is likely to be too great for us to bear in many towns.” Then it was provided by colony law that, if the towns warned new-comers to depart within three months after they came into them, the towns should be under no liability for their support, but they should be supported at the expense of the colony if they came to need support. The towns soon complained that three months was too short a period within which to warn out new-comers, because knowledge of their coming in did not in all cases come to the towns during that time. Then the colony law was changed to make the period within which the new-comer could be warned out twelve months, and, to make it certain where the responsibility for the support of persons who might come to be in need was to rest, the law required that these warnings should be recorded on the books of the towns or on the records of the court.
These warning out statutes were, as it will be seen, only a step in the economic development of the colony and the state from a condition where towns could practically exclude new-comers, and therefore ought to be responsible if they did not, to a condition where they could not practically exclude them, and, therefore, ought not to be held responsible simply because such persons came to live in the towns. The statutes were a part of the growth of the poor-laws of New England, which were afterwards put into form in the various settlement acts or laws of which I have spoken, providing how settlements could be obtained in towns.
There was a reason for these warning out statutes and for warning people out under them. The people were poor, the towns were sparsely populated, their people for a long time had little property, if any, except that which they produced from the soil or wrested from the sea. The average well-to-do person prior to 1800
did not have an estate equal to more than $750 at the present time. I do not mean by this the average of all persons, but the average of all persons who were considered well off. These people were naturally unwilling to be burdened with the responsibility of support for anybody who might come into the town, whether responsible or irresponsible. In addition to this there was at that time a large emigration of poor people from the Old World, and there was the flotsam and jetsam of a degenerate population coming up from the islands of the New World and flocking into the towns and villages of New England. It was right that these persons should become chargeable to the colony rather than to the towns. Warning out accomplished this purpose, and these statutes, as applied to the conditions under which they were passed, were reasonable and proper.
1497. Cabots' Discovery of North America. 1583. Gilbert's Possession of Newfoundland. 1601. First English Poor Law. 1602. Gosnold landed in New England. 1606. James I., Virginia Patent. 1620. James I., Grant to “Council established at Plymouth,
in the County of Devon, for the Planting, Ruling, and
Governing of New England in America." 1629. Charles I. grants Massachusetts Bay Charter. 1629. Charles I. grants New-Plimouth Charter. 1631. Grant to Connecticut Colony. 1638. Roger Williams's Settlement in Rhode Island. 1671. First Plymouth Warning Out Law. 1673. First Connecticut Warning Out Law. 1692. First Massachusetts Warning Out Statute. 1718. First Warning Out Act in New Hampshire. 1787. First Warning Out Act in Vermont. 1793. First Massachusetts Settlement Act. 1796. First Connecticut Settlement Act. 1796. First Settlement Act in New Hampshire. 1817. First Vermont Settlement Act. 1821. First Settlement Act in Maine.