|We begin a new practice in this newsletter. We will now be having some segments authored by frequent submitters who have shared information about their local poorhouse history. The following contains the reflections of William Saslow who heads up the Portsmouth Asylum project in Rhode Island. The poorhouse was located on what is now the grounds of the Raytheon Company who have given great support to this research and preservation project. Bill has really been bitten by the research bug! And he recently shared some of his insights in an e-mail ... copied below.|
by William Saslow
I hope this email finds you well. A lot has transpired since our last discussion.
I was able to find a memoir from a resident at the Portsmouth Asylum and I’ve started public speaking on the subject of the Asylum both at work and in the community.
There seems to be a lot of interest in this era of our history. At a discussion at the Portsmouth Public library, the attendees were rapt, attentive, asked thoughtful questions and provided some follow-up research. One of them actually found a photo of the Portsmouth Asylum on a Providence Public Library website. I’ve attached it [above] for your consideration. If you use it on your website, please make sure to credit the Rhode Island Collection at the Providence Public Library. The memoir and the picture add a few more puzzle pieces in the picture of how people lived at the Portsmouth Asylum.
The response I’ve gotten, sharing the story, has buoyed my spirits and I’ve been asked to speak to the Portsmouth Historical Society on November 8th. I feel more confident than ever that I can portray the scathing criticism of the State Commissioner of the Poor, for the Town of Portsmouth, tactfully and factually. The crux of the story is the hijacking of compassion by deterrence. A modern town of the time, fashioning itself as the birthplace of American Democracy, unabashedly took steps in the 1800s to marginalize the rights of the pauper poor and criminalize them in attitude and action. This was not done in secret by a cruel keeper or corrupt commissioner, but with the approval of the majority of the populace and codified in rules and regulations.
admitting the extremity of poverty to be a crime – in the name and
behalf of the pauper poor of the State, in all seriousness, I
respectively ask you as conservators of the rights and privileges of the
people of Rhode-Island, to define what the punishment of that crime
shall be. It seems there is one town, at least, in the State, who,
in virtue of authority delegated by you to them to provide for the care
of their own poor, have decided poverty to be a crime of so deep a dye,
that any one found guilty of the offense within its jurisdiction, shall
no longer be deemed worthy to partake of the inestimable privileges of
an American citizen.”
Hazard] “has presented a most melancholy picture of the treatment of
the poor in the Portsmouth Asylum. For the honor of the town, if such be
the painful fact disclosed, we would indulge the hope that an
amelioration of their condition may at once be effected.”
Ourselves, our times, our challenges; how much have we changed since? Can a welfare-to-work system, overstressed by economic pressures, lead to modern workhouses? Will our biology, given the same mix of compassion and deterrence, lead to the same inevitable excesses? The more I research, the more real I view the players in the Portsmouth Asylum saga, the more I am pessimistic in our inevitable result. Our history’s lessons stand before us as a warning of what we are capable of, and how we can delude ourselves into believing that deterrence and compassion can be served on the same plate.
|And here below is a brand new column for the Newsletter. We will be publishing submissions from fellow advocates for the preservation of poorhouse buildings, history, or cemeteries. This month's report is from Sandra Everson, whose efforts in Dane County WI have been featured in our News Alerts and mentioned in previous newsletters.|
REPORTS FROM THE ADVOCACY
by Sandra Everson
"I just took this a couple weeks ago.....isn't it gorgeous? It will probably be a matter of time before this is gone too."
It's been a long time--boy how it gets away from me. The demolition is complete, and now, after months, the crew is back at completing the landscaping and finishing off the remaining part of the old section. I still don't know what is going to actually be done with the empty lot.
Some new developments:
1. Some of the old woodwork that was removed from the demolished section (I found out about this after the fact and second-hand) is being used in an art project at Verona High School which involves framing old documents and photos of the facility in that wood! They just received word that they will be receiving a grant for this, and expect to begin after the first of the year.
2. I met with Minda Powers of IlL a couple months ago. We visited the rural Verona residence where the 70+ "missing" gravestones were found from our cemetery. The owners are very cooperative and would like to see the right thing done with the stones--have them returned and restored to their proper place. We took some nice photos and Minda is considering this story for her book she is writing about cemeteries.
I get very little time to work on any progress with old documents. There still is the occasional genealogy researcher. Just this week I was able to provide quite a bit of valuable information to a lady in WA. I still feel so lucky to have all these documents preserved.
Hope you are fine...
Sandy Everson in Verona
What are these things doing in "Pauper" Graves ?!
(Or: We thought these folks were poor!)
This is a letter written in response to an e-mail from Bill Hastings which you may read here.
Visits to The POORHOUSE STORY
Note: We hit a million visits the same week my car turned over 200,000 miles! What a week! PHL
|MEET THE PRESS|
has done a wonderful service
Too often researchers become discouraged when they cannot find original poorhouse records. This is what can be found ... if someone is willing to go the extra mile!
-- Middlesex County
Inmate Information (1867 to 1887)
extracted from Town Reports.
Clicking on the link above will open an Excel spreadsheet list generously prepared and shared with us by Janet Lyman firstname.lastname@example.org who writes ... "After that the names were not listed in the town reports." NOTE: If you cannot open this on your own computer (because you do not have a spreadsheet program), you should be able to go to your nearest public library which has internet access for the public (which most now have) to open this list ... and even print it out at the library, should you wish to do so.)
photo from the article in The Mountain Laurel
(Click on their logo above to
(Click on the photo at the left to go to The Mountain Laurel's article.)
The Wythe County Poorhouse Farm
article from The Moutain Laurel
We wrote an extensive article
about two years ago when the cemetery for this poorhouse was dedicated
and an historical highway marker was placed there by the state of
Virginia. But Sarah and Abner Bruce Graham have done incredible
work since then ... further restoring and developing the old poor farm
as a Living History Book museum of the institution and the details of
the daily lives of people during that era. This is the only such
extensive poorhouse preservation effort we have heard of by private
individuals. You may also want to visit their own website
to read about their latest developments. They are truly heroic in their
Here is another
great transcription project!
Rock County Genealogical Society
Deaths in the Rock County Insane Asylum & Home for the Poor
Rock Co., WI, 1908-1923 (incomplete)
Edited by members of the RCGS
Remember the horrendous problems encountered in HUDSON County when the
stumbled across thousands of burials from an old multi-use former poorhouse cemetery? No?
(Well, click on the link to the NEWS ALERTS link above to see the earlier stories and this new one..)
Click on these photos to enlarge them.
|Now, Bill Hastings has updated us. This beautiful memorial (with individual names inscribed) is being dedicated in a ceremony to mark the re-interment of these remains in a beautiful cemetery. "The service will be held on October 24, 2004 2:00pm at the Maple Grove Park Cemetery 535 Hudson Street, Hackensack, New Jersey."|
||previous||Belgium / Canada / England / France / The Netherlands / Sweden|
|Picture Postcards/Photos/Illustrations||No new material posted since last newsletter.|
|No new material posted since last newsletter.|
|Historical Memorabilia||No new material posted since last newsletter.|
|Cemetery Lists (or notes)|
|IA||Boone (great photos + WPA list (1937) of those buried there)|
Resident lists from CENSUS
(new material or off-site links to the web)
|No new material posted since last newsletter.|
STATE ARCHIVES Holdings
|Thanks for your continued support.
(aka=The Poorhouse Lady)
Below you can see some of the new
Clicking on them will enlarge them.
(Note: Subscriptions to the Newsletters are now FREE!)