The County Poor-House. Facts.

Susan Fenimore Cooper

Harper’s Bazar, July 20, 1872, pp. 478-480

This article is based on Susan’s intimate knowledge of the Otsego County Poorhouse, in Middlefield, New York. While probably not reflecting a specific visit, nor — perhaps — describing identifiable individuals, it should be considered as a sincere attempt to describe conditions there and in similar institutions, and to propose reforms. For this reason, we have added, as an Appendix, the description of the Otsego County Poorhouse from an 1878 history of Otsego County, and a condensed version of the annual report for 1877 which was included in that description.

— Hugh C. MacDougall, James Fenimore Cooper Society

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

{478} Mr. and Mrs. Brown were passing the summer in the village which is my own home. They came to me one pleasant morning with the request that I would take a drive with them.

“Can you spare us a long afternoon? — we have a favor to ask.”

I readily signified my assent.

“They tell me that the poor-house of this county is within a few miles of the village. I am anxious to see it. I have lived in a large city all my life, and my own experience among the poor has lain entirely among the pauper classes of New York. That experience has been most painful, often absolutely heart-rending. But in this prosperous county and in this flourishing village such matters must wear a very different aspect from what they do in a large overcrowded city. I see nothing of poverty about this village, for instance. A poor-house would scarcely seem necessary in a prosperous agricultural region like this.”

I shook my head, and sad smile rose unbidden to my lips as I answered my friend: “Poverty does not appear so much on the surface in the county. It does not stalk abroad as it does in the cities. But it exists with us as elsewhere. The proportion of paupers is much smaller in the country; but the number is larger than you would think possible — very much larger than it should be. We have, for instance, every year a number of men and women begging at our doors for food, clothing, and money. And many of these are Americans by birth and education.”

“You surprise me. It is the theory that Americans are too proud to beg.”

“Alas for theories! Pride is but a broken reed to lean upon.”

After a little further conversation it was settled, that we should spend the afternoon at the poor-house. I asked permission to take with me a friend — Mrs. Gray — who had visited regularly at the poor-house for years, knew the inmates personally, and would be likely to give us trustworthy information on the subject.

It was a lovely afternoon. The drive was charming, through a rich farming country promising a noble harvest, while large herds and flocks were feeding in the meadows.

“You must have many dairy-farms in this county,” observed Mr. Brown.

“Yes, many large dairy-farms. Some of the best butter in the State is made here. We have large cheese factories too. The best cheese made in this county rivals the English Cheshire. It is, indeed, often sold in New York for Cheshire.”

“And what fine hop fields you have!” added Mrs. Brown; “they look like flowering vineyards.”

“Many acres of the county are in hops,” was the answer.

“And here we come to a factory, looking neat and prosperous. What are made here, woolen or cotton goods?” inquired Mr. Brown.

“Woolen fabrics are made here. There are two factories for cottons within a short distance on the other side of the valley.”

“And with all these means of supporting a rural population, you still have paupers!”

“We still have paupers. Theory at fault again, you see.”

“But what can be the chief cause of pauperism in a state of society like this?” asked Mr. Brown.

I turned to my friend Mrs. Gray for an answer. She spoke simply and quietly. She shrunk from speaking on a subject so important among recent acquaintances. But I had already urged her to give Mr. Brown all the trustworthy information she could in connection with the practical working of the present poor-house system: he was a man of principle, character, and influence in the State, and the truth should reach such men.

“I believe pauperism to come more frequently from weak individual self-indulgence than from any other one cause,” she replied; “self-indulgence in idleness, in drinking, in wasteful expenditure, and in other evil habits-gradually undermining the moral character, and taking root as so many vices. The want of a sound moral education lies at the foundation of very much of this evil. You seldom find among our rural population an industrious, conscientious, prudent person sinking into pauperism. In the few exceptions I have known the poverty was brought about by the self-indulgence of others — the misconduct of husband, father, or wife — disease, which may often be traced also to some form of weak self-indulgence.”

“You believe, then, that pauperism is, in a measure, a moral evil?”

As a general rule,I believe it to partake largely of that character in this country. Moral weakness, want of self-control, under one form or another, will generally be found to have cause the evil, at least among our rural population. A sound education would be the best preventive. By a sound education I mean a sound moral education: mere intellectual education will never suffice to prevent this evil. The best readers among the boys and girls of a village school too often waste their time in reading bad books and worse papers — books and papers which are not only trashy and enervating, but, too many of them, absolute poison to the moral system. The sense of individual moral responsibility to God and man must be awakened and kept in living activity if you aim at truly sound, healthful education.”

“There can be no doubt of that,” observed Mr. Brown.

“The same principle applies to all classes of men and women,” continued Mrs. Gray. “I {479} have known this weak self-indulgence to bring virtual pauperism upon educated persons who began life in comparative wealth. Self-indulgence made them extravagant, and extravagance brought them to poverty. Extravagance is a very common weakness of Americans of all classes. We are very seldom miserly; but the number who are extravagant is legion. Teach our people to be truly conscientious, and nine-tenths of the pauperism in the country will vanish.”

“A sound moral education would cure the nation of other evils besides pauperism,” said Mr. Brown.

We had now reached a turn in the road, the entrance to a long lane leading through the poor-house farm to the buildings. The farm was a fine one, and well tilled. It contained 160 acres.

“The house seems well placed,” said Mr. Brown.

“Yes, the position has been well chosen. And the buildings are pretty good, though needing repairs. This poor-house ranks among the best in the State,” Answered Mrs. Gray.

A poor old creature, bare-headed and bare-footed, in a blue gown, was walking at a steady pace, a sort of trot, along the narrow foot-path by the road-side. She looked up with a good-natured smile as we passed, but without pausing.

“Old Mary trots along this path almost incessantly, unless in the coldest winter weather. She is an idiot. No one knows her name or parentage. She was left in the road, near a farm-house, one night, when a child about three years old. The farmer and his wife took her to their home, and kept her as long as they lived. At their death she was brought here, where she has been many years, trotting along the path in this way day after day. She is quite harmless, and a favorite with all. She must have walked thousands of miles over this ground in all the years she has been here,” said Mrs. Gray.

We drove into a court-yard, surrounded by buildings of stone three stories high, with a sort of fountain of running water in the centre.

“It reminds me somewhat of the court-yard of a French auberge,” remarked Mr. Brown.

There were some dozen men and women, and as many children, moving about or sitting on the steps; among them several painfully idiotic faces, generally very filthy, and with a degraded look.

We were introduced to the keepers — worthy, respectable people, occupying comfortable rooms in the centre of the building. They offered to show us over the whole house, but Mrs. Gray took that office upon herself.

“I suppose respectable people are always chosen for keepers?” inquired Mr. Brown, as we moved on.

“Yes, generally they are so. But politics often interfere; and worthy people who have experience in the work are sometimes thrown aside for new-comers who have every thing to learn, and whose fitness has yet to be proved.”

We were first taken to the kitchen. Every thing here was very neat — nicely whitewashed walls, painted tables and benches, and clean floors. Three long tables were spread with plates, knives and forks, and spoons, and a small tin basin — all clean. The stove, boilers, and cooking apparatus, and a dresser, were at one end of the long room. Every thing looked orderly. We were told that there were one hundred and forty to be fed that day. In winter there are sometimes a hundred more. When crowded, they serve the tables three times in succession.

“You shall see them at their supper presently,” said Mrs. Gray.

“Who prepares the food?” asked Mrs. Brown.

“The pauper women help with the cooking, washing, and ironing. But there are also paid workers in the house to superintend.”

Mrs. Gray then showed us the women’s rooms. They occupy one side of the court-yard. The first room we entered was very filthy — floor, beds and inmates.

“Draw your dresses close about you, and do not go too near the beds,” whispered our friend, before opening the door. “There are vermin of all kinds here.”

There were six beds, all most uninviting. There were men, women, and children about. A large brutal-looking man had been a burglar, and some years in the State-prison; his wife was one of the occupants of the room. Two very bright, handsome little ones, their grandchildren, were playing about — born in the house. Several young women with babies were sitting about — illegitimate children these, born in the house. This I had already heard. One of these mothers was a child of fourteen; another was an idiot, an inmate of the house for the last ten years. With the exception of one old Irishwoman, very ill at the time, all these were Americans by birth. Only two women in the room could read.

We passed to the second floor. The stairs were tolerably clean. There was a large room on each side of the hall. These rooms were decidedly cleaner than those below, but we were advised to take the same precautions against vermin. In one room was a young Irishwoman dying of consumption, a most distressing sufferer; three or four little children were hanging about her. There were other children crying in the room.

“Is there no hospital-room reserved for the sick?” asked Mrs. Brown.

“None!” replied Mrs. Gray. “Sick and well are all together. The paupers nurse each other. At times fifteen persons have slept in this room, three or four, perhaps, ill. I have known the air in this room perfectly stifling in winter, with the windows nailed down!And on one occasion we found here an old woman with her grandchild in the same bed, both covered with a terrible eruption from head to foot. It was the itch. Scarce a child in the house that winter but had it, and many of the grown people also. It has often prevailed here.”

“Did you visit them still? Did you not suffer from being near them?”

“We came as usual. Not one of us ever suffered from our visits. If people are cleanly themselves, and are careful not to approach the beds or the people too closely, there seems to be little danger. But precaution is necessary.”

Two or three half-crazy women now gathered around us, looking kindly and smiling, but tricked out with the most childish gewgaws and trifles, bits of ribbon, beads, feathers, artificial flowers, etc. Two of these were quite young.

“One of these,” whispered Mrs. Gray, “is a very good conscientious creature, singularly truthful and honest. She is assuredly a Christian at heart, in spite of her infirmity.”

There was another very sick woman in this room also. Children were playing about. Near a window sat a very aged woman, said, on good authority, to be one hundred and seven years old. Her daughter of eighty sat beside her. A granddaughter and great-grandchild were also in the house. The old woman spoke brightly in answer to Mrs. Gray, and she spoke freely to the strangers also. Her face was one mask of wrinkles, but otherwise she scarcely looked older than her daughter. All were Americans, and the two oldest women had never been taught to read. There were several foreigners in this room, which was a large one — German, English, and Irish.

“What are those two young and healthy-looking women doing here?” asked Mrs. Brown.

“They came here when their children were born. One of them had been deserted by her husband; the other is a woman of bad character who seems to remain here year after year. They sometimes have several children before they leave the house. The children remain here.”

“And what are those half-witted women doing with those little ones? Do they employ them as nurses? I should think that scarcely safe,” observed Mrs. Brown.

“Those idiot women are mothers-mothers of the children in their arms. There are half-witted women here who have been in the house ten years or more, and who have young children.”

A very grave silence followed these words of Mrs. Gray.

The number of idiots and half-witted paupers, men and women, boys and girls, was, indeed a very painful sight.

A sick woman now stopped us in the hall to ask for some Japan tea. When she had left us, Mrs. Gray observed, “There is another American woman who can not read. She has never been to school one day in her life, she tells me; has never been to Sunday-school, and only once in a place of worship. And yet she is American born, of American parentage, and has lived most of her life on the hill yonder, where she sees every day the spires of the village churches. She and her family are said to be a terribly bad set.”

“Do you really mean that the woman with that sharp Yankee face can not read? Asked Mr. Brown.

“She does not even know her letters. Few things have surprised me more in my visits to the poor-house than the number of men and women, native born, who can not read.”

“Theory at fault again,” I remarked.

As we passed a doorway there were a number of men with very hard faces standing together — coarse, vicious, and dissolute in expression. AS we moved along Mr. Brown said that they looked like jail-birds.

“There are many such in this poor-house from time to time,” replied Mrs. Gray. “One of that group has been tried for murder.”

Ascending to the third floor, we found matters looking cleaner and more satisfactory.

“This is the best part of the house,” said Mrs. Gray. “There are some very worthy women here.”

We found the rooms quite clean in appearance — floors beautifully so — but we were still advised to be cautious in our approaches, on account of the vermin. The beds were the worst feature.

“There are a few worthy Christian women here, whom it is a comfort to visit,” observed Mrs. Gray.

There were five elderly women, all appearing more respectable than those we had seen below. Two were half-witted. One of these was reading. After a little friendly talk with them we left the room, when Mrs. Gray told us their histories. One had been partially deranged; her family were in easy circumstances, but rather than be at the trouble of taking care of her themselves, or at the expense of sending her to the asylum, they leave her in the poor-house.

“Both of those half-witted creatures are good women,” continued Mrs. Gray. “They are honest and kind-hearted, and it is touching to see their simple devotion. The cripple sitting in a large chair was ruined by a cunning brother-in-law, who got possession of all her little property, and then brought her here.”

We passed to another room, clean, and in good condition. Here also were five beds, and for worthy women; the fifth was a bad creature, placed as nurse in charge of a bedridden old woman. After leaving the room we heard their story.

“One is a single woman, who stays here from choice; she is a cripple and does not wish to be a charge upon her brothers, who are poor, with large families. The bedridden woman was brought here by her daughters, who have houses of their own, and are capable of supporting her, but they will not spend their precious dollars on the poor old soul.”

We then went into the part of the house occupied by the men. All their rooms were very filthy, their beds in a most comfortless condition. As a general rule, they were a very hard-looking set. There were many faces on which drunkenness and vice were only too plainly written. But there were some exceptions. One old man, in a dying condition, bore a very good character; homeless and friendless, he was brought here to die. Imprudence in money matters brought him here. It was touching to listen to his simple Christian words of faith and piety. It was a case of Lazarus. And oh, how hard and how filthy was his bed! All the personal care and nursing he received was given by another pauper. Two other very worthy old men were pointed out to us — one of them driven here by a hard-hearted son-in-law, whose floors showed Brussels carpets and his parlor a rose-wood piano. The air was particularly bad in all those rooms occupied by the men, even at this pleasant season of the year, when several windows were open. As a general rule, the paupers seem to hold cold water and open windows in great terror.

“Have they no bath-rooms?” inquired Mr. Brown.

“They profess to wash themselves once a week, but you see their condition. They ought assuredly to be kept cleaner,” said Mrs. Gray.

We crossed the court-yard, in which a number of idiots were moving about, many of them young. Several groups of dirty children were playing together, smiling and merry, and all pleased to see Mrs. Gray. She called them together, and they said a hymn and repeated the ten commandments quite nicely.

“They have a Sunday-school, taught by ladies from the village. They like it, and are more interested in what they hear than the children of the village Sunday-schools. It is a variety in their monotonous life.”

“Do you think it will produce any lasting effect on them?” asked Mr. Brown.

“I trust it may. There are children here who say their prayers morning and evening, who learn hymns and passages of Scripture which will go with them through life. The good seed may bring forth fruit in later life, after having been long buried. In Christian faith we must sow beside all waters.”

“No doubt you have the same difficulties here that we have in our Sunday-schools among the most depraved classes in New York; the daily bad example of the parent counteracts the good learned once a week in school.”

“Precisely. Our difficulties are even greater here: it is not only the example of a degraded father and mother which we have to contend against, but the example of nine-tenths of the inmates. All the crime and vice among the poorer classes in the county gravitate here. I suppose there is scarcely a crime known to our laws, no vice or sin of which human nature is capable, which has not had its representative in this house of misery within the last twenty years.”

“And yet these poor helpless little ones are thrown into this den of iniquity by the law of our State!” exclaimed Mrs. Brown.

“Such is the simple truth,” replied Mrs. Gray. “It is a thought to make one shudder.”

“But I suppose these children do not remain here long. Places are soon found for them,” remarked Mrs. Brown.

“Theory again! The fact is very different. Places are not so easily found for these children. They are often sent back, too. Occasionally a child is adopted when very young, and never returns. But the children from the poor-house have a bad reputation. People do not care to take the older ones. They do not know how to work: they are lazy, and too often vicious. Many of them carry this taint of poor-house educationthrough life, and instead of supporting themselves honestly, turn out criminal paupers in early youth.”

“Are they not taught to work here? Are they loafing about in this way every day?”

“Very much as you see. They are taught nothing thoroughly. They have a school during the cold months, and a good teacher for that time. But very few of them know how to read. Too many of them are learned in sin and vice, by the time they are fifteen, but the amount of their useful knowledge seems next to nothing.”

“This is very serious,” observed Mr. Brown, gravely.

“It is simply disgraceful in the State,” was Mrs. Gray’s answer. “The condition of the children in our poor-houses is a perpetual disgrace to us all.”

We then went into the part of the house occupied by the older children — those who have no mothers with them. The room in which they live and eat was dirty, and the air bad. A woman of bad character and high temper — a pauper — had charge of them. The one who preceded her last year was a fearful swearer, using language no child should ever hear. There were twenty-eight children under sixteen in the house. In winter the number is much larger, frequently about forty. The rooms where they slept were close and crowded, but cleaner than some others we had seen. The school-room had all the modern conveniences of desks, benches, and blackboards. We were told that it was only used for a few months in winter. The children, like those in the court-yard, looked filthy and lazy. Every boy looked as if he were in full training for a loafer. And yet there were bright, intelligent faces and pleasing countenances among them. Four or five were idiots, but not beyond instruction.

“It is very touching to see the idiot children and some of the half-witted people in Sunday-school,” said Mrs. Gray. “I have often been much surprised, and even startled, at the effect of religious instruction on them. Their minds seem to open partially to receive it; their poor dull hearts warm under the feeling. I have frequently observed this. And some of the dullest ones learn hymns much more readily than one would suppose, and sing them quite sweetly, too. It brings tears to the eyes to hear them.”

“Do the grown people attend the Sunday-school?”

“There is a Bible-class for them. The women come gladly, but very few of the men attend.”

“They have services of some kind on Sundays, I suppose.”

“Only occasionally. Months often pass without any religious services excepting those of the Sunday-school. We have a library for them, and they are very glad to take the Sunday-school books every week — those, at least, who can read.”

“Do the women appear interested in the Bible-class?”

“The respectable ones do; and even the worst listen with interest. Not one of the women has ever refused religious instruction when offered to her. They invariably listen respectfully and with evident interest. The majority of the men care nothing for it.”

Mrs. Gray led the way to a separate building on one side of the court-yard.

“This is what the people call the ‘Crazy House,’ reserved for lunatics. There are eighteen in the house now.

There was a family of special keepers on the lower floor, not well spoken of. The man — whether justly or not — had been accused of cruelty to the lunatics. It was the usual most painful sight. The cells were tolerably clean, but the air was foul, even with the open windows.

“Have they any special medical treatment for lunacy?” asked Mr. Brown.

Our guide shook her head.

“Recovery of a poor-house lunatic seems never to be expected,” she added. “Many grow rapidly worse here; even slight improvement is rare, and generally lasts but a short time. I have repeatedly seen young people — especially young women — brought here in the first stages of derangement, who would have been very hopeful cases under regular treatment.”

“And there is no regular training, physical or mental, for idiots, I suppose?” said Mr. Brown.

“None whatever. And yet I feel confident that most of the idiots in this house, if properly trained, could have been made useful, respectable, and comparatively happy. So much is now down for idiots.”

Mr. Brown looked grave and thoughtful.

The supper-bell ringing, we crossed the court to see the people at their meal in the kitchen. They were eating mush and skimmed milk for their supper. For breakfast they have tea, bread, and potatoes, or a piece of pork or corned beef. The food was dealt out to the people by an under-keeper. In quantity it was sufficient, and not bad in quality. On Sunday morning each one receives a bit of butter. Tobacco is also given on Sunday to those who smoke or chew. In winter they have only two meals. In sickness they have extra food provided for them by the keepers. Mrs. Gray told us there had been decided improvement in the food of late years. Formerly they had no tea, and bread was very heavy.

As we left the kitchen Mrs. Brown inquired how long was the average stay of a pauper in the house. Mrs. Gray cold not answer the question, and doubted if the calculation had ever been made.

“What is the population of this county?”

“About 48,500 by the last census. There are every year a number of vagrants who do not remain long. Yet, from my own observation, I should say their stay is often a prolonged one. There are frequently several successive generations of the same family here together. They often remain twenty years or more. They become accustomed to this kind of life, and do not care for any other. There is an excitement about it — the bustle and movement, the coming and going, the perpetual stream of dirty gossip flowing through the house, which seem to have a fascination for them. I have known two respectable women, after living ten years in the poor-house, removed to much more comfortable but quieter and better-regulated homes, where they were very kindly treated; and yet these women rather wished to return here. In a few years many of them seem to acquire a sort of vitiated taste for this kind of life, gossip and excitement being the attraction.”

“They are satisfied, then, with this state of things?”

“That does not always follow. They are often loud in their complaints. A few years since a very worthy half-witted woman from the poor-house happened to be at my house. She said there was great dissatisfaction with the food that summer, or, as she expressed it, ‘ The wittals is so bad, some of the ladies threatens to leave.’”

We all laughed, of course, at this absurd threat.

“The food is really much better now than it was then. There have been many improvements in every respect within the last fifteen years.”

“What is the expense to the county for each pauper?”

“The expenses vary, of course, every year with the prices of food, clothing, etc. Last year my estimate was $1.02 weekly for each pauper. In former years it has been 80 cents; occasionally $1.66.”

“What is the number of paupers in this county receiving home relief?”

“Last year it was 195. The rule is to give the applicants fuel, food, or money to a moderate amount. After this sum is expended, if they still need relief, they must go to the poor-house. The amount for temporary relief last year was $3457. The number of paupers in the house was 234. The expense of supporting them was $10,685 above the produce of the farm, valued at some $700. The entire number of paupers was, therefore, 429, at an expense of $14,842. Of this number 29 were lunatics, 33 were idiots, 4 were blind, 3 were mutes, 44 were relieved on {480} account of old age. Of the entire number, 429, some 92 were foreigners; the remaining 337 were Americans.”

“Have you any idea how many of these 429 were reduced to pauperism by intemperance?”

“About one-fourth acknowledge that cause, but there can be no doubt that this estimate is far below the truth. Probably one-half of the men, or even more, have been more or less intemperate at some period of their lives.”

“I should have supposed this to be the case from the faces of these men,” observed Mr. Brown.

“What is the difference between the numbers of the men and women?” inquired Mrs. Brown.

“There were, I believe last year 278 men, and 151 women.[”]

Mr. and Mrs. Brown lingered a while in the court-yard, talking to one or two of the more respectable paupers and chatting with the children. We then left the house.

“And this, you say, is one of the best poor-houses in the State?” asked Mr. Brown.

“It is generally admitted to be so,” was the answer. We all seemed to feel sad. Serious thoughts arose unbidden.

“It is scarcely possible to leave this house without a sense of depression,” said Mrs. Gray. “No matter how often one comes here, one always carries away a heart-ache. Sin, suffering, and misery abound here under so many forms.”

“We shall feel more thankful for cleanly quiet, peaceful Christian homes of our own,” I observed.

“The best way to show that thankfulness must always be to aid these poor people, so far as we can, to better their condition, moral and physical,” said Mrs. Brown. “What, for instance can we do for them?” she added, turning to Mrs. Gray, with a kind smile.

“If you will drink tea at my house this evening, my husband will answer your question. He will then be at home. He has thought much on this subject, and will gladly give you any farther information,” said Mrs. Gray.

The invitation was made a general one, and thankfully accepted by all.

After a pleasant drive home we met again about the tea-table. Our friends from New York had still many questions to ask about poor-house matters. In fact, the entire evening was passed in discussing points connected with this subject. Mr. Gray had now joined us.

“This whole poor-house system should be broken up!” he observed, earnestly at the close of a long conversation.

“I begin to think you are right. I had never before though much upon this subject,” said Mr. Brown.

“No one man in fifty thousand does give it a though. It should be broken up, and the sooner the better.”

“But what would you put in its place?”

“I would put many good things in the place of one bad one. The paupers should be classified.

Step the Firstshould be to open a thoroughly good industrial school in every county for all pauper children above the age of two years. There the children should be brought up in an atmosphere healthful for body and mind. They should be taught to work, fitted to support themselves respectably, to become useful members of society.

Step the Second. — There should be a suitable hospital in every county to receive all sick paupers. With proper care at the right moment, many of these people could be restored to usefulness in the course of a few months, instead of lingering idlers for years at the expense of the public.

Step the Third. — The asylums for the insane should be much enlarged, or the number increased, so as to receive every insane pauperin the State. Here, again, kind and judicious treatment would restore many, especially among the younger ones, to usefulness and family life.

Step the Fourth. — Every idiot child should be immediately placed in a good idiot asylum. It is absolutely wonderful to see the improvement in this afflicted class under early and careful training. Some of them become actually useful members of society.

Step the Fifth. — All the blind and the deaf and dumb should immediately be carried to especial asylums, where they would be more healthy, more happy, and more useful.

Step the Sixth. — The pauper men and women who are not included in any of these classes should be placed in separate houses, at a distance from each other; and in each of those houses some one simple tradeshould be carried on, at which all those who are declared fit for work by medical certificate should be obliged to labor for certain hours every day-the requisition to be moderate, but steadily enforced. By such a course you would probably find the tolerably healthy pauper diminish to one-fourth of the present number. Too many now crowd the poor-houses from sheer laziness.

“And each one of these separate institutions should be carried on with the utmost thoroughness of details with firm but kind and considerate fidelity.”

There was a silence of some moments after Mr. Gray had spoken.

“You have planned a great deal of work,” observed Mr. Brown.

“It is work entirely within the reach of Christian civilization and Christian charity, in this nineteenth century, when combined with the immense wealth and the great physical and intellectual power of the State of New York,” was the answer.


[Added by Hugh C. MacDougall — not in original article]

D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Otsego County, New York. (Philadelphia: Everts & Fariss, 1878), pp. 39-40.

Chapter XVII. ELEEMOSYNARY INSTITUTIONS. County Poor-house. ...

The Otsego County poor-house is located in the town of Middlefield, on lands purchased of William Temple. The meeting at which was considered the feasibility of erecting the poor-house was held at the office of General Morell, in Cooperstown, December 13, 1826, General Morell, Levi Gray, Jerome Clark, and Henry Phinney being present. It was decided that the wants of the county demanded the erection of a building for the poor, and General Morell was appointed to visit the counties of Rensselaer, Albany and Columbia, and inspect the poor-houses in said counties, for the purpose of ascertaining the most approved plan for the erection of the building. The building was erected in 1827, and an addition for the accommodation of insane persons was built in 1847.

As an interesting statistical document, the following report of the superintendent for the past year (1877) is subjoined: [ Note: We have condensed this report for purposes of this appendix — the original includes more detailed financial statistics and a list of all the paupers housed in the year ending November 1, 1877. — Hugh C. MacDougall]

To the Honorable Board of Supervisors of Otsego County:

The undersigned, superintendent of the poor of said county, would respectfully report:

Received from county treasurer $5000.00; From sales $759.68; From L.W. Rathbun, later superintendent $2163.45; Balance $204.90. TOTAL $8128.03

Expended for physician $132.00; Transportation of Paupers $94.89; Keeper’s salary $500.00; Permanent repairs $835.00; Supplies purchased $4805.98; Expended for Children’s home $1760.25. TOTAL $8128.03

The whole number of paupers supported at the county poor-house during the past year was 201, of which 86 were county, and 115 were town paupers. There were 6 births ... ; 16 deaths. ... Discharged, 92. At county house, November 1, 93. Insane, 13. ... Idiots, 12. ... Mutes, 1. We have at the Utica asylum 8, at an expense of $4 per week. We have at the Willard asylum 16, at an expense ... for the ensuing year ... of $2775.73.

I believe it would be good policy to erect a suitable building in which to keep the incurable insane belonging to the county, and I would earnestly recommend that your honorable body take an appropriation for that purpose into consideration. It would probably take about $2500. ...

The whole number of weeks’ board furnished at the county poor-house was ... 5265 weeks, 5 days. The weekly expense of each pauper to be assessed upon the towns and county is $1.51 4/10. ...

I would further report that on the 1ˢᵗ of January, when I took possession of the property, there was about 1000 pounds of ham that were spoiled and unfit for anything but soap-grease; about 400 pounds of spare-rib that was spoiled and had to be thrown away; also 4 pigs, weighing about 150 pounds each, which had been frozen and thawed a number of times, and were sold at a low price, as poor meat.

I also report the farm in fair condition. The crops were all fair, the corn good. On the county farm we have sowed 7 acres of rye and 2 acres of wheat, which is looking well. On the farm known as the county wood lot we have fenced in the cleared land at the west side of the road, and have used it for pasture. We have also cleared up and plowed and sowed to rye about 10 acres on the east side of the road, on which the rye is looking good. We have seeded on the farm about 45 acres, most of which is looking well. Our wood for the past year has all been cut by the family.

All of which is respectfully submitted. Dated Nov. 16, 1877. ANDREW SPENCER. Superintendent of the Poor.

Stock on Farm: 9 cows, 3 horses, 2 yoke of oxen, 1 fat cow, 1 yearling heifer, 1 yearling bull, 12 shoats. ... $924.00

Produce on Farm: 1700 bushels of corn, 675 of oats, 550 of potatoes, 70 of beets, 40 of onions, 30 of turnips, 35 of carrots, 10 of tomatoes, 10 of sweet corn, 32 of beans, 60 of heads cabbage, 1350 lbs. butter, 35 tons hay, 30 bushels grafted apples, 60 bushels cider apples, 10 tons straw, 18 tons cornstalk, 10 bushels peas, 15 loads pumpkins, 15 barrels cucumbers, 3000 lbs. pork. ... $2401.75. ...