- Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston by Cornelia H. Dayton, Sharon V. Salinger
CORNELIA H. DAYTON AND SHARON V. SALINGER
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014
Robert Love, the historical figure at the center of Cornelia H. Dayton’s and Sharon V. Salinger’s book Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston, is a fascinating character. After immigrating with his parents from Ireland (but being of Ulster Scottish descent), Love moved around several colonies before he settled in Boston. There he engaged in business enterprises with little to modest success, became a full member of the First Church, and had minor encounters with the legal system. Love was never able to rise beyond the social status of the lower middling sort, which meant that he was unable to vote due to property restrictions and which also set him apart from those who had previously occupied the office of “warner.” Despite his lower social status, Love was well known in the city, earning him several obituaries when he died in 1774 at the age of seventy-seven. Unbeknownst to him, during his tenure as Boston’s warner he created an invaluable and unique historical source in his journals, where he recorded details about handing out warnings to strangers in Boston. Based on Love’s journals, Dayton and Salinger were able to reconstruct the many facets of life in the city’s streets, lodgings, and private residencies, which in turn contributes to the historiography of early American social classes, local governance, material culture, military history, and studies of race and gender.
The authors argue that the system of warning out was nothing more than a bureaucratic mechanism to allow strangers to stay while at the same time serving as “an act of fiscal accounting and a recording device to establish the line between a town’s budgetary responsibilities and the province poor account” (20). Throughout the book, Dayton and Salinger invite the reader to accompany Love on his walks through Boston and the late colonial period up to 1774. The first three chapters are dedicated to the office of a warner, to Robert Love himself, and to the historical background of the practice of warning out. Chapter 1 focuses on the purpose of Love’s office, tracing the history of warning out in New England and explaining the qualifications necessary for the office and the bureaucratic system that [End Page 798] created legal inhabitancy requirements. Chapter 2, in focusing on Robert Love, gives great insight into the life of a member of the lower middling class. As a young man, Love had some run-ins with the law, experienced captivity by Native Americans, and eventually moved to Boston in late 1727 or early 1728, where he worked as a tailor and later as a small retailer. In his journal, the authors found evidence of Love’s great love for Boston and for his office, which he executed with great commitment and care. While Love was never able to rise in social or economic rank, his children were somewhat more successful. Chapter 3’s explication of the historical development of the practice of warning out in New England compares it to European practices. The authors explain that warning out was a practice “not to prohibit mobility but to help communities protect their resources and channel poor relief to deserving locals and, when circumstances demanded it, impoverished outsiders” (49). Warnings targeted a large variety of people including those traveling alone, demobilized soldiers, young colonists looking for employment, and the strolling poor. To some extent, warning was a New England and Puritan practice that rarely occurred in other regions. It was, however, based on ideas of reform and supervision that were not uniquely Puritan.
The next six chapters address Love’s execution of his office (chapter 4), the background of those warned in terms of who they were and where they came from (chapters 5, 7–9), and the kind of lodgings in which strangers stayed (chapter 6). Because the authors address not only those who were warned but also those who...