Bidwell Lore – The Warning Out List, Part I

Welcome to week 86 of Bidwell Lore! This week we introduce a new series about something called the Warning Out list in late 18th and early 19th century Stockbridge, which will introduce us, over the next few weeks, to some new and old names to Bidwell Lore.

Barnabas Bidwell Warned to Leave the Town of Stockbridge in 1793
Rick Wilcox, November 2021

 “Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me,
 and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it –
just to stand one minute on God’ airth a free woman – I would.” [1]
Mum Bett, aka, Elizabeth Freeman

Our story begins with background on a property in Stockbridge….

Deed research finds that in 1766 Jacob Tusnuck, a Stockbridge Mohican, acquired from Mohican Mmuthawam a three-acre lot on Plain Street, [2] 13 ½ rods wide and extending from Plain Street [3] back to the English lots on the hill, bordered on the east by a three-rod road, now Pine Street. Mmuthawam was granted the land in 1750 by the Indian Proprietors of Stockbridge.

Timothy Edwards, son of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, acquired the property in a 1772 land swap with Jacob Tusnuck,[4] who was given three acres of meadowland. He eventually built a house and store on the site.

Our Bidwell connection here is through Barnabas. Upon graduation from Yale, Barnabas Bidwell taught in a school for young ladies at New Haven until 1787, when he was appointed to a tutorship at Yale. In 1790, he unexpectedly resigned from this position to study law under judge Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge, Mass. Sedgwick was a staunch Federalist, whose political career spanned from 1780 in the Mass State Senate in Boston to the halls of Congress where he rose to the office of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, later as a U. S. Senator, as President Pro Tem of the U.S. Senate, and lastly as a judge on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1802 to 1813.

Bidwell, feeling disappointed, according to historian Paul Goodman, at failing to secure a position as postmaster, joined the emerging Democratic-Republican Party to become a political archenemy of Sedgwick [5]. I tend to disagree with Goodman, as letters between Barnabas and Mary Bidwell while he was a congressman in Washington City indicate a warm friendship between the two families, strengthened by the fact that Mary Gray Bidwell’s mother, Sarah Spring Gray, was a first cousin of Theodore’s wife, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick. Those letters from Barnabas also reflect a philosophy much more in kinship with the new Democratic-Republican Party than that of Theodore’s Federalist Party.

In 1791 the Court of General Sessions for Berkshire County “…appoint Barnabas Bidwell Esqr to the Office of Treasurer of the County of Berkshire; there having been no choice by the People.”[6] It was the first of a number of public offices held by Barnabas and one that would come back to haunt him later in his political career. 

Image of a yellow center hall colonial house with a mansard roof and white trim. The house has a large tree in front. It was formerly the elms in Stockbrige and owned by Barnabas Bidwell.
Former home of Barnabas Bidwell in Stockbridge

On September 13, 1792, Timothy Edwards sold the previously mentioned property (image above), acquired in 1772, to Barnabas Bidwell: To all People to whom these Presents shall come; Greeting: Know Ye, That I Timothy Edwards of Stockbridge in the County of Berkshire & Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Esquire For and in consideration of the Sum of four hundred & fourteen pounds of lawful money of said Commonwealth aforesaid, to me in Hand, paid before the Ensealing hereof by Barnabas Bidwell of the same Stockbridge attorney at law A certain tract of land lying in said Stockbridge bounded and described as follows (viz.) on the south by the north line of the great road running through said Stockbridge from Lee to West Stockbridge, on the East by the west line of the town road leading from Mrs. Bingham’s tavern to Captain Josiah Jones’s dwelling house, on the north by land of said Capt. Jones, & on the west by land of Josiah Dwight, Esquire bought of said Capt. Jones containing three acres by estimation, with the dwelling house & and other buildings thereon standing – The quantity may be more or less than three acres.[7]    
The following year, on February 21, 1793, The Rev. Richard R. Eliot, Minister of the Gospel, joined Mary Gray, 29, and Barnabas Bidwell, 32, in marriage at Watertown, Mass.  Soon after that ceremony, they journeyed to Stockbridge and their new home, The Elms, the house purchased by Barnabas a year earlier from Timothy Edwards, located at what is now the corner of Main and Pine Street.
The Bidwell Lore reader, at this point, may think I am traveling down the rabbit hole and may never arrive at an explanation for why Attorney Barnabas Bidwell was warned to leave the Town of Stockbridge. However, for new readers of Bidwell Lore, I thought a little biographical background on Barnabas may prove helpful.

Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman ( ca. 1744-1829)
1811 Watercolor on ivory by Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick (1788-1867) 3 in. (7.5 cm) x 2 1/8 in. (5.5 cm) Gift of Maria Banyer Sedgwick, 1884. Original watercolor at the Massachusetts Historical Society, 

The story we will be sharing over the next few weeks is even more complicated. Mum Bett, formerly enslaved by Colonel Ashley of Sheffield, was freed through a lawsuit filed by Attorney Theodore Sedgwick. Mum Bett, who was later a paid servant in the Sedgwick household, made the Warning Out list as well. More on Mum Bett as this story unfolds. The transcriber of the 1793 Warning Out list wrote some years later: “This list contains the names of many ‘solid citizens’; it is not a warning to indigent persons.”[8] There was, however, a process for ‘abiding’ in the town and that unfolds below:
Berkshire Co. To either of the Constables in the Town of Stockbridge in said County – Greeting – You are in the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts directed to warn and give Notice unto ( for example Barnabas Bidwell, Attorney at law): All of Stockbridge in the County of Berkshire, who have lately come into the Town for the Purpose of abiding therein not having the Town’s consent thereof, that they depart the limits thereof (with their children and others under their care, if such they have) within fifteen days, and of this precept, with your doings thereon, you are to Make Return into the office of the Clerk of the Town, within twenty Days, next coming, that such further proceedings may be holden in the Premises, as the Law Directs, given under our hands and seals at Stockbridge aforesaid this fifteenth Day of June AD 1793.
Tim Edwards, Ebenezer Cook, Selectmen of Stockbridge
Berkshire July By virtue of the within warrant, I have left a Copy of said warrant at the last Home or abode of the within named Persons except Matthew Boughton & Silas Wadsworth
Attest Ebenezer Cook, Constable of Stockbridge.
(The complete list of people to be warned totaled about 180 and some names on the list had been crossed out without explanation. Some of them will be listed later in this series.)
It would appear that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in its wisdom, created a law in an attempt to address the burden on towns of indigent people moving in by legally requiring them to have the approval of the Board of Selectmen. That law was enacted in 1789, under Chapter 14, Acts of 1789. It seemed like a good idea in 1789, but by 1793 Chapter 59 of the Acts of 1793 repealed the Warning Out law along with a series of other related laws that would make any town father cringe. Apparently, the burden on the town government was just too great. In Stockbridge, at least, records indicate, there was a well-oiled system for addressing the needs of the indigent residents.

Next week we continue the story with a list of some of the people who were “warned.”

[1] Quoted by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, in Slavery in New England, Bentley’s Miscellany 34 (1853): 421.
[2] Book 9, Page 269, Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds.
[3] Now Main Street.
[4] Book 10, Page 341 Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds.
[5] G.H. Patterson, “BIDWELL, BARNABAS, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 6, 1987.
[6] The 18th century language is unclear to me. Whether that meant no one ran for the office, there was a tie vote or some other reason for Barnabas’ appointment. Town Book 1760 to 1825, Stockbridge Town Clerk’s Office.
[7] Book 31, Page 127 Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds, Pittsfield.
[8]   Link to an article from Mass Moments describing the treatment of indigent people. (Thanks to Rob Hoogs).