Warning Out In Vermont

The New England tradition of warning newcomers out of town had its roots in 300 A.D. with Diocletian’s order that all Roman citizens remain where they were born. It was the English use of the right to expel granted in 1495 however, on which the early New England towns based their use of “warning out” undesirables. The Poor Law of 1530 and the Acts of 1597, 1601, and 1662 further refined this law. [NEHGS]

In colonial Vermont, as in all other parts of New England, each town was responsible for the care of its citizens including the poor, the infirm, the elderly, orphans, widows, and the like. The town governments therefore, were not anxious to allow new people to move into town who might at some future point become a burden on the town coffers. “Anyone not a legal inhabitant was not eligible for welfare and could be warned out. A constable or some other official would be dispatched to formally deliver the warning out. In this process, each member of the impoverished family down to the infant would be named and served.” [WOCOP]

Definition of an individual as a legal inhabitant of a town was NOT based on the simple fact that they lived there. The standard definition of citizenship was often stated as being the town in which a person was born. This often caused truly poor families to be broken up as mother, father, and children might each have been born in a different town as they moved around trying to find a place where they could support themselves. Other legal definitions of residency such as the length of time an individual had resided in a town; whether they served on the Town Council; or owned a business were often used as well.

Vermont’s inhabitancy laws were based mainly on the Connecticut laws of 1769 which were among the strictest inhabitancy laws of the New England states. On 15 February 1779 the Vermont General Assembly passed two laws dealing with the poor and transients. These were “An Act for the Ordering and Disposing of Transient Persons” and “An Act for Maintaining and Supporting the Poor”. [NEHGS] These acts were further clarified on 9 Mar 1787 with the passage of “An Act Providing for and Ordering Transient, Idle, and Impotent and Poor Persons” which declared that each town was responsible for supporting and maintaining its own poor. [WONE] It further clarified the definition of a resident: “That no person shall gain a settlement in any town in this State, and be liable to be supported thereby, unless such person was born therein, or has owned, or shall own, Estate in such town of the value of two hundred pounds, clear of all Demands against him or her, or of the yearly value of ten pounds.” [NEHGS]

“In Vermont, if a non-legal resident came into town the authorities had usually one year to warn the person that they were not legal residents and that they should leave town and could not expect the town to support them in any way. This became a legal record of the town where these people were residing, but were not legal residents and counted on a census. Often the people warned-out did not actually leave the town in question. Other times they might have been forcibly removed. These legal notices are used by genealogists to follow people who didn’t leave other traces like census records or deeds of land purchases.” [CARY] “Warning out appears to have been most frequently practised in the new towns, probably because there were more new-comers in those towns, and the towns themselves were less able to bear the expense of supporting such persons as might become in need of public support. This was especially the case in those portions of Vermont along the Connecticut River into which a large immigration took place just after the War of the Revolution.” [WONE][…]

Warning Out In Vermont — Addison County VT

Warning out of town — VikingLifeBlog

Warning out of town was a widespread method in the United States for established New England communities to pressure or coerce “outsiders” to settle elsewhere. It consisted of a notice ordered by the Board of Selectmen of a town, and served by the constable upon any newcomer who might become a town charge. When persons were warned out of a town, they were not necessarily […]

Warning out of town — VikingLifeBlog


Biddeford — New England First