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The March of the British Slave State
A Chronology of Poor Law and Relief Ordinances, Britain, 1344-1697

1215: the Magna Carta limits the powers of the English King, laying the foundation for the eventual rise of a hyper-exploitive mercantile elite. This document will be examined, with amplification notes later in this series of inquires.


1344: Royal Ordinance decreed that London lepers shall "betake themselves to places in the country".


1388: The Statute of Cambridge concerning Labourers, Servants and Beggars strengthened the powers of the justices of the peace; distinguished between "sturdy beggars" capable of work and "impotent beggars" incapacitated by age or infirmity; forbade servants to move out of their "hundred" without legal authority; and made each "hundred" responsible for housing and keeping its own paupers, but made no provision for maintaining the sick.

1389: Justices of the peace given powers to fix the wages of labourers.


1391: The second Statute of Mortmain ordered that upon the appropriation of a benefice a proportion of its fruits should be reserved for distribution among the poor of the parish.

1494:Vagabonds and Beggars Act. “Vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the Hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid”. Beggars too infirm to work were to remain in their Hundred and be permitted to beg.


1530-40: Suppression of the monasteries. Until this time the almshouses and hospitals of the Church dispensed charity to those who could not benefit from the help given by the craft guilds to their sick or aged members. When the State was forced to intervene, the parishes under the supervision of the justices of peace, under the Privy Council, were made the agencies for the collection of voluntary alms and their distribution. Later, London levied the first compulsory poor rate and organised a system for poor relief through four institutions - Christ’s Hospital for children (1552), St Bartholomew’s and St Thomas Hospitals for the sick and Bridewell for the able-bodied destitute (1553). Other cities developed their own measures.

Act (22 HenVIII, c.1 2): directed “how aged, poor, and impotent Persons, compelled to live by Alms, shall be ordered, and how Vagabonds and Beggars shall be punished". The former were to be licensed to beg (see 1531), the latter if caught begging, were to be whipped or put in the stocks for three days and nights with bread and water only and then to return to their birth-place and put to work.

1531: Justices of the peace were ordered to issue a licence to beg to the infirm poor, thus making begging by the able-bodied a crime.


1535 Act: required that “all Governors of Shires, Cities, Towns, Hundreds, [1] Hamlets and Parishes shall find and keep every aged, poor and impotent Person, which was born or dwelt three years within the same limit, by way of voluntary and charitable Alms ... for as none of them shall be compelled to go openly in begging. And also shall compel every sturdy Vagabond to be kept in continual labour ... “and gave powers to apprentice children aged between 5 and 13. Voluntary contributions for the relief of the poor were to be collected by the justices of the peace and churchwardens.


1547: Branding and to be sold into slavery were imposed as the punishment for persistent vagrancy, and “foolish pity and mercy” for vagrants condemned.

1552 Parishes were ordered to register their poor. Relief of the poor was placed on parish councils. The parson was to exhort his parishioners to show charity to their neighbours. Each parish, Parliament suggested, should appoint two collectors of alms to assist the churchwardens after service on Trinity Sunday to “gently ask and demand of every man or woman what they of their charity will be contented to give weekly towards the relief of the poor”.

1562 Act: required that charity for the relief of the poor should be collected weekly by assigned collectors and distributed to the poor; those who refused to give voluntarily may be taxed by justices of the peace, and if still refusing to pay may be imprisoned.

1572 Vagabond Act: [2] made each parish responsible to provide for its own aged, impotent and sick poor; appointed “overseers” of the poor and empowered them to assess the parish; introduced compulsory poor rate; and made refusal to work for lawful wages or work provided by the overseer punishable offences.

1574: Scottish ordinance in line with the 1572 Vagabond Act.

1576 Act: authorised counties to establish houses of correction for vagrants; and set out the “Punishment of the Mother and reputed Father of a Bastard."

1593: Act for the Necessary Relief of Soldiers and Mariners stated that “Every parish shall be charged with a sum weekly towards the relief of sick hurt, maimed soldiers and mariners”.

1597 Act: consolidated and extended previous acts and provided the first complete code of poor relief. Re-enacted the requirements for raising local poor rates, replacing voluntary giving by taxation decided by the overseers, and required the local justices of the peace to appoint, annually, and to supervise “Overseers of the Poor” for the purpose of setting to work those in need, apprenticing children, and providing “the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind and such other being poor and not able to work”. The scheme was centrally supervised by the Privy Council to whom the justices had to report and send returns. The act affirmed the mutual liability of parents and children to support each other.

Act for Erecting Hospitals, or Abiding and Working Houses for the Poor permitted the founding and erecting of hospitals by charitable gifts provided that they be endowed for ever with sufficient means for an adequate yearly income.

Soldier and Mariner relief act amended.


1601 Act: consolidated and replaced all earlier acts, but did not innovate. This act remained the basis on which the poor were helped until 1834. Although administration was sometimes lax and sometimes heartless, it was often well intentioned and recognised that poverty was a problem requiring social action. The parish was the unit of administration. This caused difficulties in large urban areas and in the scattered hamlets in the north and west.

Soldier and Mariner relief act amended.

1662 Act: empowered churchwardens and overseers, with the approval of the justices of the peace, to remove any stranger likely to require relief within forty days of his arrival in their parish, unless the stranger occupied house and lands worth at least £10 a year or could provide satisfactory security to ensure that he would never require help from the poor rates. The act also provided that where a parish was exceptionally large, each township within it should be responsible for its own poor. This act regularised procedures and actions already being taken in many areas. The act arose in part because of the considerable movement of population due to the Civil War.

1685 Act: continued the 1662 act, but defined the period of 40 days residence as starting from the date that the incomer gave written notice of arrival to one of the churchwardens or overseers.

1689: Dr Hugh Chamberlen, court physician, submitted a “Proposal for the Better Securing of Health” suggesting that medical treatment should be available to “all sick, poor or rich ... for a small yearly certain sum assessed upon each house”, and, “that the laws already in being may be revised, which provide against the sale of unwholesome food; that bread may be well baked; beer well brewed, and houses and streets well cleaned from dirt and filth; all these being common causes of diseases and death”. [3]

1691 Act: introduced the registration of parishioners in receipt of poor relief.

1696: Gregory King (statistician) calculated that 63 per cent of the population had incomes below the poverty level which he put at £40 p.a.; “cottagers and paupers” had only £6 l0s.

1697 Act: introduced badges to be worn by paupers.

First dispensary opened in the premises of the Royal College of Physicians in Warwick Lane, where the poor were oven free consultation and advice, and prescribed drugs dispensed from a special stock.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731, journalist and novelist) proposed that the insurance principle should be applied to the social problems of the poor, including disability pensions and medical and institutional care.


1. The System of Hundreds would be maintained in Plantation Virginia, beginning circa 1617

2. The Vagabond Act, much to the horror of Francis Bacon, was a blatant pact between the pirate Queen, Elizabeth and her noble buccaneer captains, who intended to "plant" people in Ireland and the New World as a servile workforce to displace the hated Irish and serve as bases of resupply for operations against the Spanish in the West Indies. The Vagabond Act and the idea of the servant plantation occurred within a year of the establishment of the Slave Ministry in Czarist Russia, and, more than any other single action, heralded the beginning of the Mercantile Age of exploiting humanity for the one and only broadly recognized social good, increased prosperity for the merchant class and power of the state.

3. From this point on poor laws tended to focus on humanitarian efforts to curtail abuses in the home country, and were mirrored by rulings in the Colonies reflecting the will of the king by his magistrates that servants would not be tortured or killed by their owners, with beatings to be limited and conducted by a court official. It is this author's opinion, after rereading the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States, that one of the motivating factors of the Founding Fathers for separation from Great Britain was a desire to continue and expand the exploitation of the servile classes. A practice which was steadily coming under attack in England and Scotland, due partially to celebrated memoirs and court cases by returning servants such as Jemmy Angelsey and Peter Williamson, and the popular lurid accounts of Thomas Hellier and those of a handful of Englishmen, such as Thomas Pellow, escaped from Moorish slavery in North Africa. The growing sense of national identity in Great Britain was eroding the support for systems of colonial slavery—to which even a nobleman like Jemmy could be consigned by criminal hands.

Stillbirth of a Nation: Caucasian Slavery in Plantation America: Part One

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LynnMarch 25, 2017 11:35 PM UTC

This is very important. Thank you, James.