Robert Love's Warnings
Searching for Strangers in Colonial BostonUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Early American Studies
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.
Prologue. A Walking Day
Chapter 1. Mr. Love's Mission
Chapter 2. The Warner
Chapter 3. Origins
Chapter 4. Walking and Warning
Chapter 5. The Warned and Why They Came
Interlude. A Sojourner's Arrival
Chapter 6. Lodgings
Chapter 7. Sojourners of the Respectable Sort
Chapter 8. Travelers in Distress
Chapter 9. Warning in the Midst of Imperial Crises
Appendix A. Traveling Parties and Locations They Were "Last From"
Appendix B. Sources for Robert Love's Warning Records, by Date
List of Abbreviations
"The extent and depth of research found in Dayton and Salinger's book is impressive and the work itself engaging. . . . Robert Love's Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston is an insightful examination of the New England practice of warning and offers a rich social history of mid-eighteenth-century Boston."—American Historical Review
"Dayton and Salinger, two very distinguished historians, challenge much of the conventional scholarly understanding. . . . This marvelous book deepens and broadens historians' knowledge in significant ways. It is also beautifully written. It reshapes our conceptions and makes us ask new questions about Boston, New England, and early America in general. It is hard to ask much more of any book."—William and Mary Quarterly
"My admiration for what the authors have done in Robert Love's Warnings grew with each chapter. They have made the streets of colonial Boston come alive in ways no other scholar has done. And their achievement in research is simply amazing. . . . What a book!"—Alfred F. Young, author of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution
- Awarded the 2015 Merle Curti Award by the Organization of American Historians
- Winner of the Littleton-Griswold Prize sponsored by the American Historical Association