Public Charity, How Dispensed — Town Farm for Poor.


Great caution was used to prevent people from becoming paupers in the early days; but when public support was demanded, and a settlement established, the poor were well treated. When a citizen admitted members to his family he was obliged to report to the selectmen and secure the town against their support as appears by the following:

“Bedford, June 21^st, 1736.

I, Jacob Kendall, of Bedford, do promise and engage for me and my heirs to free and secure the town of Bedford from any charge that shall arise from the maintenance of my father and mother, Jacob and Alise Kendall, as witness my hand.

Jacob Kendall.”

People coming into town to settle, whose record was not fully clear, and means of support perfectly evident to the selectmen, were warned out of town in a legal manner, and caution entered at the Court where a record could be consulted. Thus families were compelled to go from town to town in a most unfriendly manner. The following is the form of warning used in this town and served by the constable on the order of the selectman:

“Middlesex, S. S., to A. B., one of the constables of the town of Bedford.  Greeting:

In His Majesty’s name you are hereby required to warn D. E. and family that they forthwith depart this town, the selectmen refusing to admit them as Inhabitants. You are also to inquire from whence they last came, and what time they came to this town, and make return hereof under your hand with your doings therein, unto the selectmen or to the town clerk. Dated at B. the ——— day of ———, Anno Domine. In the year of His Majesty’s Reign.

Per order of the Selectmen,

G. H.,Town Clerk.”

The records prove that parties were often warned from the town.

“Seth Putnam and his family warned out of town and caution entered at March Court, on ye second Tuesday of March, An: Dom: 1748–9.”

A warning cannot be considered as unquestionable evidence against a family; for we find the record of warning against parties that appear in subsequent records as occupying places of trust in the community. Young ladies were legally warned out of town who became, in subsequent years, wives of leading men.

That the selectmen were faithful in complying with the law is apparent by the following record:

“Feb. 9,

[ tipped-in page ]

[ portrait photo ]
John Merriam.

[ p 33 ]

1767— Mr. Thomas Page, who had received Dr. Ballard into his family, as a boarder, in March or April last, and never had informed thereof, being then present before the selectmen, it was proposed to him, by the selectmen, whether the Dr. Joseph should be warned out of town; and he, not desiring the same, the selectmen therefore agreed not to caution against the Dr. Joseph, nor yet to admit him as an inhabitant.”

Dr. Ballard was the second physician of the town, coming from Lancaster. He became a valuable citizen; was a delegate to the Provincial Congress, in Concord, 1774, and was a distinguished man. He died Jan. 29, 1777.

In the list of orders drawn upon the treasury it appears that the constables were liberally paid for “Entering Cautions;” one charge was seventeen shillings. [^1] In 1737 the town had its first lawsuit. It was with the town of Concord, over the support of a family by the name of Ross. Bedford lost the case, but a feeling of unjust dealing appears, from a record made later, when a committee was chosen

“to attend to the witnesses who appeared against the town in the suit before the Superior Court.”

How Ross got a settlement in Bedford is not clear. The Lexington records show that he was warned from that town. The original of the constable’s return is evidence that Bedford did not fail in trying to locate him in Concord:

“Middlesex, S.S. Concord, May 30^th, 1737. [^2]

In obedience to this warrant, I have conveyed ye within named Daniel Rose and his wife unto the said town of Concord, & delivered them to one of ye constables of sd. town and at ye same time delivered him a copy of ye within written warrant.

Ephriam Davis,

Constable of Bedford.”

The inhumanity of such dealing with a man at the age of ninety years can but arouse the indignation of a reader at this day.

That the town furnished more than the necessaries of life for this family appears from the treasurer’s report of 1742.

“For keeping of Ross £21 3s. 0d. For tobaka for Ross 15s.,”

and another charge in the same year

“For tobaka for Ross 8s., and for a jacket £1.”

Rev. Mr. Bowes’ register of deaths shows that Daniel Ross died

“Oct. ye 27, 1748, aged 100 yrs.”

leading to the conclusion that the appetite, so generously gratified by the town, may have been acquired of the Indians long before the struggle with King Philip. For some years the care of the poor was let out annually by “public vendue,” the contract being closed with the lowest bidder. [*1] As late as 1804 we find the following action:

“Dorcas Bacon put to board with Simeon Stearns, until next March meeting, at sixteen cents per week, they to get what service from her they could.”

At length this plan gave rise to dissatisfaction, in that the worthy poor were liable to fall to the charge of irresponsible parties, and the duty of assigning homes for the paupers was referred to the selectmen with discretionary power. In 1823 a written contract was made with Thomas Page for the support of the poor, and bonds were required to the

amount of $300. Some of the specifications of the contract are as follows:

“With regard to their diet, they are to be provided with a sufficiency of good and wholesome food, with tea or coffee twice in each day, if they choose, with sweetening; cleanly and comfortable lodgings, seasonable medical aid in case of sickness, and other things to make them comfortable as their condition may require.”

Paupers were boarded by other towns in Bedford families. In 1741 twenty of such are recorded here, some of whom were from New Hampshire. The long distance from their place of settlement made it possible for great injustice to be done them by those who promised faithful care. In the early years of the town’s history the needs of paupers were discussed in open town-meeting, and a detailed report made by the treasurer of each bill of charge for their relief.

The records show that the needs of a poor widow were annually discussed in town-meeting, for many years, without the slightest regard for her feelings. Further on the charge appears,

“for Coffin, grave & gloves £1 5s., and a credit for the sale of her property at Vendue £2 13s. 4d.”

The treasurer’s account of 1802 has the following charge to the town:

“Paid John Page for making a coffin for child and fetching the corps, $2.25.”

In 1833 the town voted to buy a

poor farm and stock it.”

This being done, the care of the farm and support of the poor was placed in the hands of a board of overseers, who at the town’s expense, employ a superintendent and matron, and public charity is dispensed according to the most approved plans. By a vote of the town, a simple stone, suitably inscribed, is placed at the grave of each pauper, thus preventing the increase of unknown graves in the burial-grounds.



  1. seventeen ∨ seventeeen
  2. 1737. ∨ 1737.”


  1. “public vendue”: public auction
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