The Poor Farm
The Poor Farm

Mary Beekman is a four-year-old ghost who resides in The Beekman Mansion, and considers Brent and Josh her “imaginary friends.” Follow Mary Beekman’s Diary each week to learn what it’s like to be a young child in early 19th century America

Father told us about a different kind of Farm.  I had never heard about this kind of Farm. It does have animals and crops. Josh and Brent were listening too. We were all sitting on the floor by the hearth. Father could not see them; he never can.  They are always very quiet when he is speaking.  I felt very lonely when he was telling us all about this Farm.  Sometimes it is called an Alms House.  I will be very happy to hold my rag dolly tight when I go to my  little bed tonight.  I will have on my very own petticoat and know I will get a kiss from Mother before I close my eyes.

People can become very poor very quickly Father said.  And it is not because of anything they may have done. Some people arrive from another country and cannot find work before their savings run out, some women become widows and they have too many children to take care of alone, some men become too ill or are hurt and can no longer work.  A farmer’s barn may burn down and all the crop is gone overnight.  Some people just grow too old to work and earn their living.  If children become orphans and have no one to care for them, they must go to the Alms House too, until they are apprenticed out.  These people are allowed in the Farm because they are the “worthy” poor.  (people who will be paupers for only a short time, “unworthy” poor means they will require assistance for a longer time).

Father said the Alms House is not as costly as the local government having to care for all these people. He said some counties provide cash to poor people still living in their homes. (outdoor relief)  But some counties support Poor Farms or Alms Houses.  This was called “indoor relief”. I think he said “indoor relief” was not as costly to the taxpayers. This made me feel very sad.  The people who live at the Poor Farm and are able to work, grow most of the food for the Poor Farm.  The older people there take care of the children and the inside of the house. There are doctors and preachers who visit on a regular basis.

Josh and Brent and I were were thinking about the orphans who may be at an Alms House tonight. We wondered if they had enough bed clothes and what kinds of things they had for their supper. I hope someone remembered to find their marbles or their rag dolly and take them along too.  If there is no Mother to hug you good night, you must have your dolly.  When I say my prayers at the end of this day, I am going to be very thankful for Mother and Father…….and everyone in my family.  I will say a prayer for all the orphans who won’t get a kiss tonight. If I were bigger, I would bring one of the older women a cup of tea.  That is what Nell and I do when her Grandmother comes to stay at Nell’s house………………amen.

by Mary Beekman

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