COMMENTARY on the Yates Report Excerpts for Albany County

The poor laws of New York State were a shambles by the 1820s. They had been based on the English poor laws. But they fundamentally assumed that the populace was not generally mobile -- that people would live in the communities in which they were born -- or that if they moved, they would quickly relocate in a community in which they would live for the rest of their lives. Obviously, that is not the way the United States of America was expanded and developed.

The industrial revolution made the situation much worse! For the first time in the generations-long history of their families, many were enticed to work for wages which involved temporary work. They followed the opportunity to work, and often found themselves far from any family or established long-term friendships when they became ill or injured.

The term "settlement" referred to a person's "legal residence". And according to the existing laws of settlement ... it was often impossible to determine to which community his care should be "chargeable" (or billed). 

As a consequence, there was the constant temptation for communities to carry paupers to the edges of their jurisdiction and just "dump" them (and the responsibility for their care) in a distant location. They were often transported when sick or pregnant or infants ... and in the dead of winter ... and left in a totally unfamiliar location with no food or money or adequate clothing or shelter. (This was often done secretly under cover of darkness.)

The overseer of the poor of Albany (in this essay) really "told it like it was"! Attempts to deal with the situation through a legal process of removal were ludicrously inefficient and expensive and unfair to many parties. The cost of lawyers, travel expenses, etc. made it ridiculous. It actually often cost more to remove paupers than it did to support them.

It was the survey of poor relief practices such as these that the Yates Report exposed and proved -- and it was as a result of these situations that the system of county poorhouses was established.
The issue of  "settlement" was wrangled over for a few more years and some towns and cities elected to maintain their own local poorhouses; but generally, relief for the poor was considered a county responsibility rather than a town responsibility. And there was recognition that the state would have to assume responsibility in some cases. However, for a long time people whose legal residence was outside the state continued to be  referred to as "foreign". But the inhumane practice of cruelly "dumping" people who were crisis was largely ended once the poorhouses were established.    PHL

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