Warned out of Colonial AmericaStories

Warned Out

(with excerpts from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Vol. II by Thomas Franklin Waters)

The Elite

In the first year of its settlement, the Freemen of the Ipswich established “for our own peace and comfort” the exclusive right to determine the privileges of citizenship in the new community, and gave formal notice that “no stranger coming among us” could have place or standing without their permission. They divided the land among themselves, giving to every man a house lot, tillage lots, and rights in the common land.

They granted large farms to the elite, the educated, wealthy merchants and their families whom they deemed to be desirable to the community: AppletonBradstreetCogswell, Denison, DudleyPaine, Rogers, Symonds, SaltonstallWade, Wainwright, Whipple etc, many of whose homes and descendants are to be found in Ipswich today. Within four years of its founding, Ipswich had become an important and influential town second only to Boston in wealth and population.


In 1663, complaint was made by the selectmen of Ipswich that Isaack Ong had not removed from town after being warned. The court ordered that he depart whence he came.

Puritans warned out strangers and announced that the "town is full" The Town is Full! - In 1673 the constable of Ipswich gave notice to William Nelson, Abner Ordway, and "an Irish man that married Rachel, Quarter Master Perkins’ maid" that the Town would not allow them to inhabit the Town unless they gave security to render the Town harmless from any charges by receiving them. In 1689, the Town refused to receive Humphrey Griffin as an inhabitant, or " to provide for him as inhabitants formerly received, the town being full.”

An Ipswich Town Meeting on March 7, 1699 adopted a law by which to guard the Town against “undesirable” prospective citizens:

“Whereas sundry persons, for their particular advantage, are ready to entertain into their houses or to Let out Lands or tenements to such persons as are no ways desirable and may prove burdensome in several respects to this Town, For the preventing whereof it is ordered that not any person inhabiting in this Town or the bounds thereof shall suffer any stranger coming from other Towns to continue or live more than one week in his own Dwelling house or any tenement of his, under ye penalty of Twenty shillings for every week…unless such persons do give satisfaction and security of their honesty and ability to the Selectmen. Provided always this order shall not restrain any of ye Inhabitants from entertaining any of their friends or Relations who come to visit them at their own Dwelling Houses, or household servants that are single persons.”


Kyle Zelner wrote in A Rabble in Arms: Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen During King Philip’s War that Ipswich founded the town of Brookfield in 1660 in order to purge undesirable residents, and that conscription during King Philip’s War (1675-1678) presented a further means by which to rid the town of undesirable citizens. Of the 88 men sent to fight from Ipswich, 60 were from lower socio-economic families. A quarter of the conscripted soldiers had previously been tried for serious legal infractions, and others had ongoing debt problems. The elite members of the militia, such as Samuel Appleton, served as their commanders.


In 1686, the Selectmen of Ipswich petitioned the Court for permission to “put out such children as are in the Town that are like to suffer for want in their families, unto such persons as they may Judge Careful & honest & like to bring them up as the Law provided, so that the Towne and people may not be both exposed to sufferings.” The Selectmen were authorized so to do and to make the proper Indentures.

In one case, a poor Ipswich man indentured himself for life to escape his poverty:

“This Indenture made May ye third in the year of our Lord, 1700, between Peter Frost of Ipswich, Laborer, on ye one part and William Cogswell Jr. of Chebacco in Ipswich, Gentleman on ye other part:

“Witnesseth that the said Frost with consent of ye overseers of ye Poor of Ipswich under whose protection and care ye said Frost now is, hath with free and full consent Let himself, considering his own weakness & inability to guide himself and affairs, to the said Mr. William Cogswell, his heirs, executors and administrators, faithfully to serve, & all his Lawfull commands to obey, during the whole term of his natural Life, commencing from ye date hereof.”

“In consideration whereof the said Cogswell doth hereby covenant & engage the said Peter Frost to keep & maintain & at all times to provide all services suitable for him in sickness & in health, both Meat, Drink, Clothing, Washing & Lodging, & all things necessary and convenient for such an apprentice during the whole time of his Life; and when Providence shall so dispose that ye said Frost shall Decease, the said Cogswell shall be at the charge of a decent Burial.”

Hanging of a Puritan for abuse of a child William Franklin of Newbury, hanged for the death of an indentured child in 1644 - Nathaniel Sewell, a child taken from England, was with continual rigor and unmerciful correction, exposed in the winter season with diverse acts of hardship.
Samuel Symonds, gentleman: complaint to Salem court against his two servants, 1661 - Philip Welch and William Downing, both children, were kidnapped from Ireland in 1654, and sold to Samuel Symonds in Ipswich. After 7 years they refused to continue working on his farm and demanded their freedom. They were arrested and brought to trial.

18th Century

By an act of the General Court in 1692-3, any person staying or residing in any town for three months, and who had not been warned out, would be considered as legal inhabitants of such towns. The result was that towns began rioutinely issuing warnings against newcomers in order to reduce future liability. On Jan. 1, 1729, the Court approved the action of the Selectmen in “warning out” a half-dozen families.

In 1764 the Town warned out several families:

  • Timothy Souther arrived with his wife in 1763 but was warned out, and the town’s lack of hospitality served him poorly. A gravestone at the Old North Burial Ground tells us his sad story: “Here lies the remains of Mr. Timothy Souther who departed this life August 5th, 1766, in the 27th year of his age.
  • Rice Knowlton of Wenham, but resident in Ipswich, married Elizabeth Smith of Marblehead in 1750. They were warned out in 1764.
  • Peter Smith, then a resident of Ipswich, married Sarah Appleton, March 29, 1753. Sarah with her children Anna, John, Daniel, and William were among those warned out in March 1764. There is no record of the birth of the children in Ipswich, but she died in 1804 and is buried in the Old Burying Ground in Essex.

On March 31, 1767, the Court approved the warning out of 38 persons from Ipswich, including families with three and four children, some of foreign birth, but others bearing names of established families.

  • Retire Bacon, then a resident of Boxford, was warned out on Aug 15, 1764 with his seven children. He was not of Ipswich birth but Margaret Burnham married him 12 days later. This auspicious change in his domestic affairs delayed his departure until 1767.
  • Zebulon Lane of Gloucester, his wife Hannah Cogswell and children Zebulon, Hannah, Anne and Benjamin were warned out in March 1767.
  • Samuel Pickard of Rowley, his wife Mary and four children were warned out at the same time. His wife was the daughter of Daniel Dresser of Ipswich Village. They were married at Rowley in 1752 and their children may have been born there.
  • John Rogers of Reading married Abigail Lamson in 1762. He, his wife and three children were warned out in March 1767.
  • The case of John Bly wife and child, warned out in 1767, is peculiar in that there is no record of his residence elsewhere. His wife Sarah Day was an Ipswich woman and their daughter Sarah was baptized in 1750.

Often a poor family was cast out to a neighboring town only to be sent back, and this back and forth continued until appeal was made to the Court to ascertain their legal residence.

Finally on February 11, 1793, an Act was passed by the Massachusetts General Court repealing all laws regarding town settlements, including warning out of town. No such warning has since existed in Massachusetts.

1793 and 1818: the “Burden of the Poor” divides Ipswich into 3 towns, Ipswich, Hamilton and Essex - As the people of the Hamlet were financially stable, the burden of taxation for the support of the poor in the old town of Ipswich was considered to be an unjust imposition. The leaders of the parish petitioned Ipswich to be allowed to incorporate as the new town of Hamilton. 25 years later, the men of Chebacco petitioned the Legislature for incorporation as a separate town, and to not be held for any part of the new establishment for the relief of the poor in Ipswich. The following year, Chebacco Parish became the Town of Essex
Photo of the Ipswich Town Farm by George Dexter The Ipswich Town Farm, 1817-1928 - Ipswich established its first poorhouse in 1717, and until then the poor and incapacitated were simply let out to the lowest bidder. In 1817 the town voted to build a town poor farm on what is now Town Farm Road.

Further reading: 

Categories: Stories

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4 replies »

  1. This is a fantastic article and may be the clue I’ve been looking for. In fact it’s possibly the clue that my family has been seeking for many generations. I am a descendent of John Parish (0f Braintree , Groton, Ipswich, Chebacco, Preston and Stonington Connecticut ) whose first real records show up and 1664 when he is an adult (Braintree marriage records before 1699 ). We know he was born in 1642 but there is no record of his parents or his early life. ( no record of where he was born ) I also know that my family, for many generations , has had a history of adopting large numbers of children. ( though the names of the adopted children are never listed in records ) I wonder if the early life of John is a clue to why this is true? Many thanks

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