Poor Houses and Town Farms: The Hard Row for Paupers

From its earliest settlements New Hampshire has struggled with issues surrounding the treatment of its poor. The early Northeastern colonies followed the lead of England's 1601 Poor Law, which imposed compulsory taxes for maintenance of the poor but made no distinction between the "vagrant, vicious poor" and the helpless, and honest poor. This confusion persisted for generations and led directly to establishment in most of the state's towns of alms houses and poor farms and, later, county institutions which would collectively come to form a dark chapter in New Hampshire history. Steve Taylor will examine how paupers were treated in these facilities and how reformers eventually succeeded in closing them down.