E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
A race of mendicants. The Bethlem Hospital was made to accommodate six lunatics, but in 1644 the number admitted was fortyfour, and applications were so numerous that many inmates were dismissed half-cured. These ticket-of-leave men used to wander about as vagrants, chanting mad songs, and dressed in fantastic dresses, to excite pity. Under cover of these harmless innocents, a set of sturdy rogues appeared, called Abram men, who shammed lunacy, and committed great depredations.