7576RE: Certificates from Town to move out or in-
- Feb 9, 2014
I've found some earlier records from Providence records that were similar, and though I haven't read through any primary sources from Exeter it does seem to me that they were particularly concerned with who came and went in their town. I feel like it was the Quaker tradition that really pushed the concern of "Friends" for their neighbors, but it's certainly not exclusive to them. People were -very- concerned with the personal lives of their neighbors in those days, there wasn't any such thing as privacy. This is why we have so many records of things like wills, deeds, and marriages in town meetings, they weren't just private contracts between two parties it was also the business of the town to approve of such things.
Town selectmen felt compelled to pay close attention for a couple of reasons, the first is that there were lots of people who were wanted for crimes in other towns. Exeter being one of the most remote areas around I think there were plenty of people who thought they could run away to the woods and escape the penalties of other courts, or run off on debts and obligations to others. The second concern was for women and children, often the families of convicts -- or widows, or those whose men simply couldn't provide the most basic sustenance or who had themselves run off on their families. This was a moral issue for the town, but it was also financial. I think also that towns wanted to insure that those who did have means stayed in town, and not take their money elsewhere.
If any townsmen noticed an unknown single man staying in town, they were immediately suspect and called to court to explain themselves and their intentions in town -- and if they saw single women, especially pregnant ones or those with small children, or men with families they didn't appear to be capable of supporting for whatever reason, townsmen would quickly take notice. Taxes would have to be levied on all freemen in town if they had to take a child and find an apprenticeship or indenture for him/her, and the same goes for the care of the sick or infirm. The cost of supporting a person for a decade or more was just as high then as it is now, and towns didn't want to take on that responsibility if they could avoid it. This was the job of the "overseer of the poor," an elected position in most towns. Transient strangers were expected to be just that, transient -- yes people did come and go a lot and to an extent they were allowed that freedom. Not everyone could afford to buy property and plant themselves, but they mostly kept moving and if you stayed in town long enough for selectmen to notice then the meter starts running and you had to pay up. Towns didn't want large insular families supported by single heads of households either, they wanted everyone out buying their own property and paying their taxes. There was no real sales tax or income tax, the only substantial contribution you could make to the town was through owning property.
If you wanted to move into a new town, you had better know somebody there who could vouch for you or put up a bond to hold the town immune from cost, and you had better present yourself as someone who has something to contribute to the coffers, not someone who is going to cost the town money in support or cause the constable to have to chase you around on behalf of some other town. And you definitely better not be the type who could undermine the authority of the selectmen or divide the town. Throughout the colonial times, there were all kinds of shenanigans with land speculators and political rivalries to consider as well, and towns were on guard to keep outsiders from pulling the rug out from underneath them. The basic legality of town and colonial government in RI, and even state government after the revolution, was in question well into the 19th century, even after the revolution. Massachusetts and Connecticut men resented RI's success for generations and continually made efforts to cut us off in the hopes that our towns would wither and collapse, and the unity of our individual towns within RI was tentative at best. It was the system at work, towns had to keep themselves looking good in order to report to the colony, the colony had to keep itself looking good in order to report to the crown (or federal government, later) -- this was true both morally and financially, and the best way to keep the bureaucracy off your back is to have lots of paperwork.
There's a long string of examples from the 1680's in The Early Records of Providence, Volume 8.
---In RI_Ancestors@yahoogroups.com, <nmsue@...> wrote:While reading the latest microfilm on Exeter, Rhode Island's town meeting minutes (1700s), I noticed that people who wanted to move to another town had to get written permission from Exeter to move. And, anyone who wanted to move into Exeter had to bring paperwork with them. More than once when the town fathers learned that someone had moved in without the necessary paperwork, they would order that person out of town.I always thought folks came and went in early America. Didn't realize things were so controlled in early America.Has anyone else found this when looking through early records?
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