Warning out of town

Warning out of town

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 Harv|Benton|1911|pp=106–113, 115, 117. 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 a person was warned out of a town, they were not necessarily forcibly removed Harv|Benton|1911|pp=51.

The practice was common throughout the early Colonial Period, and died out in the early 1800s. In Vermont, for example, the law was changed to disallow "warning out" in 1817.

Legal foundation

The right of a municipality to "warn out" one of its inhabitants was based on the theory that a city has a common law duty to care for its inhabitants when they cannot support themselves; therefore, it was reasoned, the city had the right to "exclude from inhabitancy persons for whose conduct or support they did not desire to be responsible." According to another theory, the right to exclude inhabitants was derived from the principle that "the estate of any inhabitant of a town is liable to be taken in execution on a judgment against the town" Harv|Benton|1911|p=9.

The practice of warning out replaced an earlier practice in which admission to a town as an inhabitant, or purchase of property within a town, required a vote of the present inhabitants or the Board of Selectmen Harv|Benton|1911|p=18. As cities grew, and it became difficult to enforce the requirement of prior approval prior to residency, municipalities began to make a distinction between residency and inhabitancy: those residents who were not admitted to inhabitancy could be "warned out", and thereby the town would be spared liability for the resident in case of poverty Harv|Benton|1911|pp=50-51. Sometimes, there was a time limit by which, if a resident had not been warned, they would automatically become an inhabitant Harv|Benton|1911|pp=52.


given=Josiah Henry
title=Warning Out in New England
publisher=W.B. Clarke

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