|Title||Laws on Poverty and Poor Relief, Manual|
|Type||Primary Sources: Other|
Massachusetts state law required that towns assist poor persons by supervising their activities and paying their expenses if the person had 1) established a legal residence, referred to as a settlement, in the town and 2) if that person’s family was not able to provide support. Elected town officials could refer to a handbook such as Goodwin’s Town Officer to insure they were following the law. These excerpts explain how to determine legal settlement, which town officials were responsible for poor relief, what type of support was required and how workhouses would be regulated. Poor farms were a type of workhouse.
Excerpts from Goodwin’s Town Officer
Settlement of Paupers.
1. Legal settlements* may be acquired in any town, so as to oblige such town to relieve and support the persons acquiring the same, in case they are poor and stand in need of relief, in the manner following, and not otherwise, namely:
A married woman shall always follow and have the settlement of her husband, if he have any within the state…
2. Legitimate children shall follow and have the settlement of their father, if he have any within the State, until they gain a settlement of their own; but if he have none, they shall, in like manner, follow and have the settlement of their mother, if she have any…
4. Any person of the age of twenty one years, being a citizen of this or any other of the United States, having an estate* of inheritance or freehold*, in any town within the state, and living on the same three years successively, shall thereby gain a settlement in such town.
5. Any person of the age of twenty one years, being a citizen of this or any other of the United States, having an estate, the principal of which shall be set at two hundred dollars, or the income at twelve dollars, in the valuation of estates made by assessors, and being assessed for the same, to state, county, or town taxes, for the space of five years successively, in the town where he dwells and has his home, shall thereby gain a settlement therein.
6. Any person, being chosen and actually serving, one whole year, in the office of clerk, treasurer, selectman, overseer of the poor, assessor, constable or collector of taxes, in any town, shall thereby gain a settlement therein…
Overseers of the Poor.
1. See pages 35 and 36. [Refers to section of the book on Town Officers and Their Election, which states that at each annual meeting, the town shall choose three or more overseers of the poor.]
2. The selectmen are to be overseers of the poor where other persons are not specially chosen to that office.
3. The overseers of the poor may bind, as apprentices or servants, the minor children of any poor person, who has become actually chargeable to their town, as having a lawful settlement therein….
4. Such children… may be bound, females to the age of eighteen years, or to the time of their marriage within that age, and males to the age of twenty one years; and provision shall be made in the contract, for teaching such children to read, write and cypher*, and for such other instruction, benefit and allowance, either within or at the end of the term, as the overseers may think reasonable…
7. Overseers shall inquire into the treatment of all children, bound by them, and of all who shall have been bound by their predecessors in office, and defend them from all cruelty, neglect, and breach of contract, on the part of their masters.
Support of Paupers
1. Every town shall relieve and support all poor and indigent persons, lawfully settled therein, when-ever they shall stand in need thereof, and may raise moneys therefor, and for their employment, in the same way, that moneys for other town charges are raised.
2. The overseers of the poor shall have the care and oversight of all such poor and indigent persons, so long as they remain at the charge of their respective towns, and shall see that they are suitably relieved, supported and employed, at the charge of such town, either in the workhouse, or almshouse, provided by the town, or in such other manner as the town shall direct, or otherwise, at the discretion of said overseers.
3. The overseers of the poor shall have the same power and authority over persons who may be placed under their care, which directors or masters of workhouses have over persons committed thereto, by force of the provisions concerning workhouses. See “Workhouses.”
4. Any town may erect or provide an almshouse, for the reception and employment of their poor; or any two or more towns may, at their joint charge and for their common benefit, erect or provide such a house, in like manner as they are authorized to join in providing a workhouse.
5. The kindred of any such poor person, if any he shall have, in the line or degree of father or grandfather, mother or grandmother, children or grandchildren, by consanguinity, living within the state, and of sufficient ability, shall be bound to support such pauper, in pro-portion to their respective ability.
16. The overseers of the poor of each town shall also relieve, support and employ all poor persons, residing or found in their towns, having no lawful settlements within this state, and in case of their decease, shall decently bury them; the expense whereof may be recovered of their kindred, if they have any, chargeable by law for their support, in the manner herein before provided; otherwise, it shall be paid out of the treasury of the Commonwealth, as thereinafter provided.
18. Every town shall be held to pay any expense, which shall be necessarily incurred, for the relief of a pauper, by any person, who is not liable by law for his support, after notice and request made to the overseers of the said town, and until provision [for the pauper’s care] shall be made by them…
32. All accounts against the Commonwealth, for the support of paupers, as aforesaid, shall be made out and charged at a fixed price by the day, and the allowance shall not exceed in any case seven cents a day, for the support of paupers over twelve years of age, and four cents a day, for the support of paupers under that age, and five dollars for the funeral expenses of each pauper over twelve years of age, and two dollars and fifty cents, for the funeral expenses of each pauper under that age.
1. Any town may erect or provide a work house, for the employment and support of the following description of persons, that is to say; all poor and indigent persons that are maintained by, or receive alms from the town; all persons, who, being able of body to work, and not having estate or means otherwise to maintain themselves, refuse or neglect to work; all persons, who live a dissolute, vagrant life, and exercise no ordinary calling or lawful business; and all such persons, as spend their time and property in public houses, to the neglect of their proper business, or, by otherwise misspending what they earn, to the empoverishment of themselves and their families, are likely to become chargeable of the town or the Commonwealth.
21. Every person committed to any work-house shall, if able to work, be kept diligently employed in labor during the term of his commitment…
23. Of the profits and earnings from the work of persons committed to any work-house-, one third part shall be appropriated to the support of the master, in addition to such annual salary as the directors of the house may think fit to allow him; and the other two -thirds, together with the stock remaining on hand, shall be disposed of as the overseers of the several towns shall think proper, either to the use of their towns, or of the persons committed, or their families.
Glossary*cypher - also spelled cipher; to use figures, or to practice arithmetic: add, subtract, multiply, divide and figure ratios
*estate - In law, the interest, or quality of interest, a man has in lands, tenements, or other effects. Estates are real or personal. Real estate consists in lands or freeholds, which descend to heirs; personal estate consists in chattels or movables, which go to executors and administrators. There are also estates for life, for years, at will, &c.
*freehold - In the United States, a freehold is an estate which a man holds in his own right, subject to no superior nor to conditions.
*settlement - Legal residence or establishment of a person by birth, length of residence or payment of taxes in a particular parish or town, which entitles him or her to maintenance to certain rights and access to services, such as poor relief, and subjects the parish or town to his support. In England, the poor were supported by the parish where they had a settlement. In New England, they were supported by the town.
SourceBenjamin F. Thomas, Goodwin’s Town Officer (Worcester, Mass: Dorr, Howland & Co., 1837), 149-151, 159-160, 164-165, 168-169, 174, 278, 281-282. Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.