In June of 1776 the town of Rindge paid the town constable 2 pounds and 13 shillings for “warning forty people out of town,” according to the town records.
“Warning out of town” was one of the more unwelcoming customs practiced by our ancestors. If a new family arrived in a town during the 17th and 18th centuries and did not own their own land, the constable would often pay them a visit and warn them to leave town.
This custom was not as cruel as it might seem. Laws were in force that required that people who could not care for themselves would be cared for at the expense of the town where they settled. If a new family arrived which the selectmen thought might become a welfare burden, they would send the constable with a warrant to warn the family out of town. In reality, this was a legal maneuver and the people were not truly expected to leave town. If a warrant of this type was recorded within one year of the date when a family arrived, the town could not be held responsible for their care in the future.
A New Hampshire law of 1719 regarding warning out was in effect when the towns of Cheshire County were settled. The law required that new inhabitants should be warned to leave the town within a specific number of months after their arrival or they would be considered a resident of the town, and therefore the town could be held liable for their care. Furthermore, if an inhabitant failed to leave within 14 days of being formally warned out, the local justice of the peace could have the constable remove the person to “the town where he properly belongs, or had his last residence …”
Most local towns used this procedure. The constable would deliver an official warrant from the selectmen to the recently arrived inhabitant and the warning would then be recorded in the town record books. The records of warnings out of Keene are still on file at the city clerk’s office. Original warning out records also survive for Surry. In October of 1794 the selectmen of Surry ordered more than 20 people to depart from the town and to return from whence they came. The selectmen of Dublin warned more than 100 families out of town between 1777 and 1788.
This unkind practice of warning people out of town was generally discontinued by 1800. Many of the people who were warned out because they might become a financial burden to the towns eventually went on to become leading citizens and taxpayers. Nathan Bixby in Dublin, for example, was warned out of town in 1778. Three years later he was elected selectman and for several years was the highest taxpayer in town.