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Laws barred the homeless,
even if they were relatives

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Town Security against foreign paupers - Orders for strangers to leave - Promptness of town officers - Who built the forts.

THE citizens of Portsmouth in old times, although not very aristocratic, were yet very choice in having such men for citizens as would be able to support themselves. The following town records show that emigrants had much more difficulty in obtaining a residence in former times than at the present day:

"1686, July 20. The Selectmen gave a warrant to the Constable to warn John Kelley, Peter Harvie, John Reed, Mis Stocker, before the selectmen to give an account of their being in towne, and for Harvie's entertaining strangers without liberty.

"July 24th. John Kelley being examined for bringing his wife and two children into town without leave, was warned by the Selectmen to give security for saving the town from any charge of himself and wife and children, or to depart. He then promised he would within a week. Peter Harvie being questioned for entertaining his sister and two children, said he would get security speedily. So did Mis Stocker and John Reed the licke.

"July 30. The Selectmen then appointed Goode Chasely that shee should remaine in this town but a fortnight from this day, being no inhabitant.

"Aug. 27. It was ordered that Peter Harvie do no longer entertain his sister and her two children in his house, in penalty of the law for so doing; and that she forthwith repair with her children to Boston from whence she came, or otherwise to be convaied by the constables from town to town till shee come thair.

"Then ordered that John Reed do forthwith hire himself out to service by the year, or otherwise must expect to be put out by the selectmen according to law. Then ordered that Jacob Lavers give security for his two servants the time they reside with him.

"1692, Dec.29. The selectmen being informed that wido Markwell being in town contrary to law and order, have issued out a warrant to John Snell constable, to warn her to go out of the town to the place from whence she came--also to forewarne them that entertain her, not to entertain her any longer without good security to save the town harmless from all charges that should accrue thereby, on penalty of paying 5s. per month for every month.

"Roger Thomas makeing request to the inhabitants for admission to be an inhabitant in the town, their answer was they would not doe it without he gave good security to save them harmless from all charges--he providing none, the selectmen in behalf of the towne did then warn him forthwith to return to the place from whence he came."

They had a way of securing attention to business by town officers in old times, which might be profitably adopted in the modern:
"May, 1692. It was agreed that every one of the Selectmen are to meet together on the first Thursday of every month--if any selectman shall fail to appear at time and place, unless providentially hindered, shall pay five shillings unless the major part of the selectmen shall see fit to remit the same. The time of meeting is one o'clock--if any come after the hour to be at the mercy of those selectmen there met together how much to be abated."

Who Built Fort Point?

The records of old times in Portsmouth show who built the early Forts on our coast.

"In 1666, June 19. At a general towne meeting, for the better carrying on of the fortifications at Fort Poynt, it was consented unto and voted, that every dweller and liver in the towne above sixteen years of age, whether house-holder, children, servants or any other residing in the towne, shall and doe here promise to worke at the same one whole weeke betwixt this and the last day of October next ensuing, and shall appeare on such days as they shall have notice given them from time to time untill they have accomplished their severall sayd weekes worke, and to be allowed out of their subscriptions three shillings per day, and to be at the Fort by seven o'clock in the morning and to give over at six in the evening, to begin on the Great Island and so round by Sandy Beach, and thence through the whole towne."

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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