An Act for the Relief of the Poor (1601): The Elizabethan Poor Law
Be it enacted by the Authority of this present Parliament, That the Churchwardens of every Parish, and four, three or two substantial Housholders there, as shall be thought meet, having respect to the Proportion and Greatness of the Same Parish and Parishes, to be nominated yearly in Easter Week, or within one Month after Easter, under the Hand and Seal of two or more Justices of the Peace in the same County, whereof one to be of the Quorum, dwelling in or near the same Parish or Division where the same Parish doth lie, shall be called Overseers of the Poor of the same Parish : And they, or the greater Part of them, shall take order from Time to Time, by, and with the Consent of two or more such Justices of Peace as is aforesaid, for setting to work the Children of all such whose Parents shall not by the said Churchwardens and Overseers, or the greater Part of them. be thought able to keep and maintain their Children: And also for setting to work all such Persons, married or unmarried, having no Means to maintain them, and use no ordinary and daily Trade of Life to get their Living by : And also to raise weekly or otherwise (by Taxation of every Inhabitant, Parson, Vicar and other, and of every Occupier of Lands, Houses, Tithes impropriate, Propriations of Tithes, Coal-Mines, or saleable Underwoods in the said Parish, in such competent Sum and Sums of Money as they shall think fit) a convenient Stock of Flax, Hemp, Wool, Thread, Iron, and other necessary Ware and Stuff, to set the Poor on Work : And also competent Sums of Money for and towards the necessary Relief of the Lame, Impotent, Old, Blind, and such other among them being Poor, and not able to work, and also for the putting out of such Children to be apprentices, to be gathered out of the same Parish, according to the Ability of the same Parish, and to do and execute all other Things as well for the disposing of the said Stock, as otherwise concerning the Premisses, as to them shall seem convenient:
VII. And be it further enacted, That the Father and Grandfather, and the Mother and Grandmother, and the Children of every poor, old, blind, lame, and impotent Person or other poor Person not able to work, being of a sufficient Ability, shall, at their own Charges, relieve and maintain every such poor Person in that Manner, and according to that Rate, as by the Justices of Peace of that County where such sufficient Persons dwell, or the greater Number of them, at their General Quarter Sessions shall be assessed ; upon Pain that every one them shall forfeit twenty Shillings for every Month, which they shall fail therein.
An Act for the Better Relief of the Poor of this Kingdom (May 1662):
The Settlement Act
It is agreed and ordered, by this present Assembly, that each Towne shall provide carefully for the reliefe of the poore, to maintaiyne the impotent, and to employ the able, and shall appoint an overseer for the same purpose. See 43 Eliz. 2.
Virginia: Act of 1728
…”all persons, able in body, and fit to labour, and not having wherewithal otherwise to maintain themselves, who shall be found loitering, and neglecting to labour for the usual and common wages.” (Hening, IV, 208-214 (1728)
New Hampshire: An Act to Invest the Overseers of the Poor with Power More Effectually to Employ Them (1776)
Whereas there are many poor people who spend their time idly, and neglect to provide for themselves and those who depend upon them for Subsistence by any lawful means, and neglect the care & education of their Children, but suffer them to spend their time in play, idleness and a total neglect of those means by which they might be made useful members of society, notwithstanding the advantages for their improvement; by which neglect the number of Beggars as well as thieves and strollers, are increased and many disorders committed—For remedy whereof,—
Be it Enacted by the Council and Assembly—That the Select-men or overseers of the poor, where such are annually chosen in any Town or parish in this Colony, or the major part of them, be and hereby are impower’d with the Assent of two Justices of the Peace for the County to set to work and employ all such persons, though of full age, married or unmarried, of whatever age they may be, if able of body to work, or perform the service to be so appointed them, who live idly, and use or exercise no ordinary and daily lawful trade or business, by which they might get an honest livelihood and subsistance.—And no single person of either sex under the age of twenty one years, shall be suffered to live at their own hand, or as they please, but under some orderly family government— [Passed July 2, 1776. Original Acts, vol. 7, p. 6 ; recorded Acts, vol. 3, p. 242. Laws, 1780 ed., p. 10; Perpetual Laws, 1789 ed., p. 172. See act of Jan. 17, 1776. Repealed June 20, 1792.]
“any person able of Body who shall absent themselves from publick worship of God on the Lord’s Day shall pay ten shillings fine.”
Massachusetts: An Act Providing for the Relief and Support,
Employment and Removal of the Poor (1794)
Sect. 6. And be it further enacted, That said Overseers shall have power to set to work, or bind out to service by deed, as aforesaid, for a term not exceeding one whole year at a time, all such persons residing and lawfully settled in their respective towns or districts, or who have no such settlement within this Commonwealth, married or unmarried, upwards of twenty-one years of age, as are able of body, but have no visible mean* of support, who live idly, and use and exercise no ordinary or daily lawful trade or business to get their living by ; and also all persons who are liable by any law to be sent to the house of correction, upon such terms and conditions as they shall think proper.
… [The Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Passed from the Year 1780, to the End of the Year 1800, (Boston: Manning & Loring, 1801), 621.]