Warned out of Colonial America

Warned Out

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

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. From the beginning, suspicion always attached to a prospective settler of any other nationality than English.

The Puritan founders of Massachusetts granted large farms to the elite, the educated, wealthy merchants and their families whom they deemed to be desirable to the community: Appleton, Bradstreet, Cogswell, Denison, Dudley, Paine, Rogers, Symonds, Saltonstall, Wade, 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, while recreating the aristocracy of the English towns from which they had departed.

The Body Politic

The Town voted in 1634: “There shall no foreigner amongst us come into our meetings, unless he will subject himself unto the like orders and penalties that we the freemen of the Towne have established for our peace and comfort in our meetings.”

It was ordered by vote of the first General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, May 14, 1634: “To the end the body of the commoners may be preserved of honest and good men,…for the time to come, no man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politic, but such as are members of some of the churches within the limit of the same.”

The Court granted the privilege of freemen to such as were deemed suitable under this law. Every freeman thus elected, took the freeman’s oath, prescribed by vote of General Court: ” I, being by God’s providence an inhabitant and freeman within the jurisdiction of this Commonwealth, do freely acknowledge myself to be subject to the government thereof, and therefore do here swear by the great and dreadful name of the everlasting God, that I will be true and faithful to the same, and will accordingly yield assistance and support thereunto with my person and estate.”

The commoners had the privilege of voting on all questions relating to the common lands. The majority of commoners were also freemen, but the privileges of the two bodies were distinct. Some freemen were not commoners, and commoners were not all freemen. A third body of inhabitants, and by far the largest, was distinguished as “residents.” Every man, twenty years old was to take the “Massachusetts’ Oath” and was then recognized as a duly qualified inhabitant. The Statute of 1647 allowed such to be chosen on juries by the freemen and to vote for selectmen. Beyond this they had no political privilege.

“The Town being full”

In 1639, the Ipswich Town record shows the following: “The Town doth refuse to receive Humphrey Griffin as an inhabitant, to provide for him as inhabitants formerly received, the town being full.” Griffin became an inhabitant despite this uncomplimentary reception. 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.

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 itself of 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 were authorized by the court 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.” In 1700, Peter Frost of Ipswich, Laborer, voluntarily indentured himself to William Cogswell Jr. of Chebacco with consent of the overseers of ye Poor of Ipswich, with instructions to “faithfully to serve, & all his Lawfull commands to obey, during the whole term of his natural Life, commencing from ye date hereof.”

Warned Out

In 1673, an explicit order was written to keep out settlers of modest means: “No person shall suffer any stranger from other towns to continue or live more than one week in his own dwelling house or any tenement of his, unless satisfaction be given the Selectmen.” An order soon followed that “the constable shall give notice unto William Nelson and Abner Ordway, and an Irish man that married Rachel, Quarter Master Perkins’ maid, that the Town will not allow them to inhabit here in this Town, but that they depart the Town, unless they give security to save the Town harmless from any charge the Town may be put unto, by receiving of them.”

In 1764 the Town warned out several more 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.

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 routinely 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. Poor families were often 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.

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. 25 years later, the men of Chebacco petitioned the Legislature for incorporation as a separate town.… Continue reading 1793 and 1818: the “Burden of the Poor” divides Ipswich into 3 towns, Ipswich, Hamilton and Essex

Sources and further reading:

4 thoughts on “Warned Out”

  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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