Overseers of the Poor, Schenectady County

Cover Image:
Receipt for monies to be paid from Overseers of the Poor, Schenectady, NY, 1845 - Image Source

Collection Facts

Dates of Original:

Historical Context

Overseers of the Poor were elected or appointed officials responsible for administering relief and supervising the care of those poor persons, or “paupers,” in their local jurisdiction. One of the chief responsibilities of the overseers was financial oversight, including collecting funds from the general public, managing ‘poor houses’ and ‘poor farms,’ and arranging payments for the care of people under their charge. The overseers were also responsible for the welfare of the orphaned children and children living in impoverished homes. Often, overseers’ primary method of handling needy children was to bind them out as servants or apprentices to another family that could feed and clothe them. The overseers' role included legal guardianship of both children and adults, including representing their charges in court. Another significant responsibility was to keep “paupers” out of Schenectady in the first place, resulting in disputes of residency and orders of removal from one jurisdiction to another.

Schenectady County is the smallest county in New York and part of the Capital region. The area was first settled by white colonists in 1667 and had previously been occupied by the Mohawk. It was primarily an agricultural area until the mid-1800s when it developed at a rapid pace because of its location to the Erie Canal and Mohawk River, making it a transportation corridor. The city also grew into a significant manufacturing center from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s.

Scope of Collection

These materials relate to the Overseers of the Poor of Schenectady, Glenville, and Rotterdam, and capture important information about the treatment and condition of poor people in Schenectady County in the 19th century. The collection includes ledgers, receipts, indentures, reports, correspondence, and legal documents such as pleas, summaries of court proceedings, witness statements in legal disputes relating to charges in the care of the Overseers, citations, demands of support from fathers of non-marital children, and more.

The ledgers track the support from the municipal taxes and the expenses of running the Schenectady Poor House as well as payments to individual families for care of poor relations and neighbors. The legal documents include cases of contested residency, efforts by the overseers to move the burden of care onto other towns and cities, and the status of children, particularly those removed from their households and indentured or apprenticed.