Friday, January 4, 2013
If I believe what I’m hearing from the media this morning, I’m already poor and about to become more so.
That’s okay with me. I’m in the company of millions. The Bible, in Matthew 26:11, quotes Jesus as saying, “The poor you will always have with you...”
So how did Georgetown County handle the poor in the nineteenth century before food stamps, supplemental housing, and Medicaid? I used the Georgetown County Digital Library to find out.
Like much of the nation, Georgetown County had Poor Houses and Poor Farms. They were governed by the Commissioners of the Poor and funded by the sometimes hefty Poor Tax.
The Commissioners often disagreed about how to best help the poor.
In 1853, one of the Commissioners argued to do away with the Poor Farm. He was of the opinion that the paupers were better served by handing them money wherever they may be. They were called out-door paupers.
He discovered that it cost more to house 20 paupers at the Poor Farm than it would to hand out money to meet the needs of 70 to 90 out-door paupers.
For example, a widow with three children would receive $10 to $60 a year. Two bed-ridden paupers could be boarded somewhere for $100 a year.
In 1854, the Commissioners sold the Poor Farm, the buildings attached, and the farming utensils for $1,016.41. The expenses of operating the Poor Farm had risen to $3,673.12 that year. That included caring for an average of 35 paupers, the keeper’s salary and the physician’s salary.
The Pee Dee Times, on Nov. 14, 1855, listed the names of all of the paupers who were housed and listed other expenses such as: clothes, shoes, bacon, molasses, corn, hogs, medicine, a coffin ($6), and the physician’s salary for the year ($100.)
Apparently, the Commissioners had a change of heart.
In December, 1856, they made the decision to reestablish the Poor House.
In 1857 they purchased land on the Sampit River for $900 for a new Poor Farm.
The land had a house, barn, outhouses, and a mill house. The Commissioners provided $1500 for the building of 5 double tenement houses and $20 for a school house. Each adult was allotted 4 pounds of bacon and 1 quart of molasses per week. The children were allotted half that.
Through the decades that followed, there was regular mention of Georgetown County’s Poor House and the Commissioners of the Poor. The Poor Farm was relocated several times.
The number of paupers served changed year-to-year and the names of the paupers were always listed in the newspaper.
In 1884, it was reported that a “tramp” from Petersburg, Virginia was seen on the streets of Georgetown. “In spite of the odium attached to his ‘profession,’ his destitute condition excited sympathy and he was given shelter in the Poor House until Monday.”
In 1894, it was reported that only 2 persons were housed at the Poor House – one negro man and one white man.
The Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times ran this ad in December, 1899: “For Rent – The Poor Farm on Gapway Road, 8 miles from Georgetown. Bids to be sent to the County Supervisor’s Office.”
I don’t know what happened to the Poor House after 1899, but the Georgetown County Digital Library will soon have newspapers published after 1900 online, so I’ll be following up on this column.
My favorite Poor House story was published in the Georgetown Times in November, 1889.
The story came from Greenville County, where a former slave, David Hicks, rescued his former owner, a once prosperous woman.
She had fallen into abject poverty and her family had abandoned her to the Poor House.
Mr. Hicks, remembering her kindness, took her from the Poor House, cared for her in his own home until she died, and then had her decently buried.
Once again, to the Georgetown County Digital Library ... thanks for the memories.
I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.