‘The earliest recorded appearance of the Boston Overseers of the Poor as an official branch of the town administration is in the Boston Town Records, 7:206, for March 9, 1690/91. This was the first election of Overseers by the Town Meeting and included a petition to the General Court that led to the formal legislation that actually created the office. That legislation of 1692 was not specific to Boston but Boston was the only town for nearly a century to use Overseers as a separate town office. In all the other Massachusetts towns the local Selectmen administered poor relief […] The election of Overseers was recorded annually in the town records along with all the civic administration lists. Before 1707 the Overseers appear to have been chosen by the Selectmen, but thereafter it seems that the Town Meeting did the appointing indicating a separate if collaborative status for the Overseers and the Selectmen, The earliest extant citation from the Overseers’ own records is 1742. The list that follows is drawn from Boston Town Records, volumes 7, 8, and 12, and from Robert F. Seybolt’s invaluable The Town Officials of Colonial Boston, 1630-1775 (Cambridge, Mass., 1939) for the years before 1742 and thereafter from the Overseers’ records themselves. Seybolt’s compilation is exhaustive, and while it is derived mostly from the published Boston Town Records and the manuscript volumes of the Boston Town papers (at the Boston Public Library), it does use a very broad range of contemporaneous sources including newspapers. Seybolt is especially useful in cross reference and in establishing consistent spellings for the Overseers’ names, and in the use of titles such as “Esquire,” “Captain,” “Honorable,” “Mister,” and so on. Seybolt is also useful for comparing the Town Papers with the transcriptions in the Boston Records, and in clarifying the idiosyncracies and omissions of the various recording and transcriptions clerks. Town officials were chosen annually at the March Town Meeting, usually held during the first half of the month. Until 1752 the official Anglo-American year ended on March 25. Thus the use of 1690/91, and 1691/92 and so on, in the records. The Overseers’ own lists from 1742 to 1752 do not use the split yearj form but refer to March 8, 1741/42, for example, as March 8, 1742. This list does not include the few men who were appointed and “refused” the appointment and did not serve for even one year as Overseers.’
The Eighteenth-Century Records of the Boston Overseers of the Poor (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts). Edited by Eric Nellis and Anne Decker Cecere. Charlottesville: University Of Virginia Press, 2001.