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Robert Love's Warnings

Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston

By Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger

Publication Year: 2014

In colonial America, the system of "warning out" was distinctive to New England, a way for a community to regulate those to whom it would extend welfare. Robert Love's Warnings animates this nearly forgotten aspect of colonial life, richly detailing the moral and legal basis of the practice and the religious and humanistic vision of those who enforced it.

Historians Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger follow one otherwise obscure town clerk, Robert Love, as he walked through Boston's streets to tell sojourners, "in His Majesty's Name," that they were warned to depart the town in fourteen days. This declaration meant not that newcomers literally had to leave, but that they could not claim legal settlement or rely on town poor relief. Warned youths and adults could reside, work, marry, or buy a house in the city. If they became needy, their relief was paid for by the province treasurer. Warning thus functioned as a registration system, encouraging the flow of labor and protecting town coffers.

Between 1765 and 1774, Robert Love warned four thousand itinerants, including youthful migrant workers, demobilized British soldiers, recently exiled Acadians, and women following the redcoats who occupied Boston in 1768. Appointed warner at age sixty-eight owing to his unusual capacity for remembering faces, Love kept meticulous records of the sojourners he spoke to, including where they lodged and whether they were lame, ragged, drunk, impudent, homeless, or begging. Through these documents, Dayton and Salinger reconstruct the biographies of travelers, exploring why so many people were on the move throughout the British Atlantic and why they came to Boston. With a fresh interpretation of the role that warning played in Boston's civic structure and street life, Robert Love's Warnings reveals the complex legal, social, and political landscape of New England in the decade before the Revolution.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Prologue. A Walking Day

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pp. ix-xii

Late in the morning of Wednesday, July 9, 1766, Robert Love pushed his chair back from his mahogany desk; tucked notepaper, quill, and inkwell into the pouch attached to his belt; and stuck his head outside to assess when the approaching thunderstorm might arrive. Deciding to delay no...

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pp. 1-5

The job Robert Love performed had no name. He was one of several Boston residents appointed in the mid-1760s to walk the town’s streets and wharves ‘‘to warn Strangers out.’’ Despite the fact that such minor officers had been in place for thirty years in the province’s largest ports, New...

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Chapter 1. Mr. Love's Mission

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pp. 6-21

When Robert Love walked out of Faneuil Hall on January 25, 1765, he discarded the veil that hides so many ordinary colonial Boston residents from sight. A few minutes earlier, the gentlemen selectmen at their weekly meeting had placed ‘‘Mr. Love’’—as the minutes would always refer to...

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Chapter 2. The Warner

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pp. 22-40

What are we to make of an early New England immigrant from Ireland who got into trouble as a young man for threatening to break open a man’s head and yet by his late seventies earned public praise for the ‘‘tender Affection’’ residing in his breast? The trajectory of Robert Love was not...

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Chapter 3. Origins

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pp. 41-55

Robert Love’s searches for strangers grew out of early modern European debates over how best to organize public charity and govern cities. The Massachusetts solution drew largely on seventeenth-century English settlement law and parish experimentation. But Bay Colony officials did...

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Chapter 4. Walking and Warning

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pp. 56-74

No memoirist recounted how it felt to be accosted and verbally warned to depart. Diaries, letters, and travel accounts contain no descriptive scenes of warnings. Despite their formulaic character, Love’s notes divulge quite a lot about the warning encounter. They reveal the warner’s rhythms of walking...

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Chapter 5. The Warned and Why They Came

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pp. 75-89

Nearly everyone who earned a warning from Robert Love was a British subject. Unlike New York and Philadelphia, New England at midcentury experienced very little direct emigration from England or Europe. And yet Love’s records uncover a remarkable array of travelers, arriving on foot and...

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Interlude. A Sojourner's Arrival

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pp. 90-94

Imagine an enterprising young man, disembarking on the seven-hundred- yard-long wharf that dominated the inner harbor. Stiff from his passage from Halifax, he decided to perambulate the entire town before seeking lodgings. The Long Wharf, lined on one side with imposing warehouses, led...

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Chapter 6. Lodgings

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pp. 95-115

In his warnings, Robert Love created a prose map that plotted the many kinds of lodgings found by newcomers. Rebecca Anderson and her two children were living in a chamber of John Bartlett’s; Thomas Frasier’s shop was hired as living quarters by a shoemaker and his wife, fresh from London...

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Chapter 7. Sojourners of the Respectable Sort

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pp. 116-133

Susannah Hall came into Boston at age seventeen from her natal town of Newton, the eldest child of Josiah and Abigail Hall. She had been in town three weeks before Love warned her. He found her living, most likely as a servant, in the household of wealthy South Ender Robert Pierpoint...

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Chapter 8. Travelers in Distress

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pp. 134-148

‘‘The man is a mason to traid and verry poor’’; ‘‘she Apears to be a verry Helpless Womon‘‘; ‘‘they say they lost all they had’’; ‘‘he is a young man . . . in distress’’: these traveling folk were among those whom Robert Love flagged as begging, sick, destitute, drunk, dressed in rags, physically disabled...

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Chapter 9. Warning in the Midst of Imperial Crises

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pp. 149-165

Robert Love warned strangers during extraordinary times. Throughout the British Atlantic, people’s lives were changed in the fulcrum of post– Seven Years War reverberations and mounting political protest. Bostonians gained the reputation as the most troublesome of colonial complainants. In...

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pp. 166-168

After the revolution, efforts to warn newcomers slackened in towns across Massachusetts even though high birth rates, increased overseas immigration, and much mobility among the native-born contributed to rising populations. Town officials no longer paid searchers to register...

Appendix A.Traveling Parties and Locations They Were ''Last From''

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p. 169

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Appendix B. Sources for Robert Love's Warning Records, by Date

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pp. 170-176

Love’s surviving warnings for the period January 1765 to April 1774 are housed in several repositories, as indicated below. Love created three copies: logbook entries, warrants returned to the county court, and pages delivered to the Boston overseers of the poor. For some dates, only one of these...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 177-180


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pp. 181-238


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pp. 239-258

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pp. 259-260

In the course of this project, we have benefited enormously from the generosity and support of many institutions. Before the revolution in digitization, we camped out for long stretches of time at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, leaning heavily on their knowledgeable staff, including...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206326
E-ISBN-10: 0812206320
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812245936

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 11 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Early American Studies
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Daniel K. Richter, Kathleen M. Brown, Max Cavitch, and David Waldstreicher See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 876736263
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Robert Love's Warnings

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Subject Headings

  • Boston (Mass.) -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Warning out (Law).
  • Strangers -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History -- 18th century.
  • Migration, Internal -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History -- 18th century.
  • Boston (Mass.) -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Love, Robert, 1696 or 1697-1774.
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