Milton Township and the story of the Saratoga County Almshouse in 1900

Saratoga County Alms House served Saratoga’s paupers for almost ninety years. Women lived in the east wing, men lived in the west wing, and administration operated in the center. Possibly salvaged from the 1827 Poorhouse, was a two-story frame house. Barns and farm outbuildings were located to the north. The Almshouse was demolished in 1960. Today, on the site, are located both the Saratoga County Jail and Sheriff’s Department, along with the Saratoga County Highway Department. Photograph is courtesy of the Saratoga County Historical Society. Here is a related postcard.

Recently as I was doing research updating genealogy of my mom’s family by my grandfather, using varied resources on the internet and photographs I have at my disposal, I stumbled across a list of “inmates” in Milton Township, within New York’s Saratoga County. These men were part of the “Saratoga County Alms House.” The 1900 U.S. Federal Census gives an opening into this history of this facility, telling more of the story.

This census shows 62-year-old married man named Charles Spaulding as the superintendent of the house, along with his 36-year-old wife Carolina as a matron. He is also living with his daughter Elizabeth (age 22), a dress maker, his son Charles G. (age 16) at school, a 27-year-old named Edward Lapoint as Assistant Superintendent, Florence Morehouse as a 28-year-old cook, Margaret Willis as a 31-year-old housekeeper and her recently born daughter, Edith M. Most of these individuals, with the except of Spaulding, were born in New York, who was born in Vermont.

Then we get to the 70 inmates of this poorhouse/almshouse. Most of them, apart from five Black Men, were White. The majority of those in this facility were also male (46 of them), but a significant number were female (23 of them). In terms of their age, of those whose age was known, they averaged at 66 years old, if you round down. [1] Of the eight individuals whose year of immigration was known, they generally came in approximately 1851 to the United States. The facility, however, consisted of many foreign-born individuals:

*only includes those whose birthplace is known.

In 1864, this same almhouse was crowded, with “lunatic inmates” with some in restraints, a supply of water but “no bath tub” along with no “ventilation or uniformity of heat in winter” and the house is “old and badly dilapidated” with rooms that are “out of repair, and the air in the sleeping rooms most foul and noisome” but it is is “kept in as good order as possible.” This same assessment said that there was no improvement between 1857 and 1864. It is known how much these conditions changed or stayed the same between 1864 and 1900. The placed seemed to change, since one 1907 article titled “Supervisors in Session” declared that the facility is one the best in New York State, saying:

“the general air of the almshouse is homelike and not institutional, and the institution is managed economically and thoughtfully.”

Add to this a 1907 report by the State Board of Charities of New York State notes the facility sits on a 127 acre farm and has a capacity of 150 people. This report notes that the facility consists of varied buildings, with recent improvements, steam heating, electric lighting, and adequate ventilation. Buttressing this a 1904 note that the facility was exhibited by the State Board of Charities. Being that the case, it was not “hellish” like it had been in 1864. Other reports add that there were many persons they considered “feeble-minded or idiotic” (whether they were accurate or not in this assessment is not known) within the facility, but that this is not the majority. This facility was also different than that in 1864 because this almhouse replaced the one is disrepair in 1876, the same one described as horrible in a paragraph noted above.

Other than this, little is known about the almshouse. It clearly occupied a “central position” in Millston, aiming for the “accommodation of the poor of both towns” with an “agent resident in the house, who keeps an account of all disbursements which he is to render to the overseers.” A 1910 table of the U.S. Census table of “Paupers in almhouses” lists 100 individuals as within, an increase from 70 in 1900, in the Saratoga County Almshouse. One photograph of the almshouse in 1903 makes it seem desolate but tidy, if that makes sense:

Courtesy of Harvard College.

 

Even though little is known, with not many hints on genealogical websites, the historian’s office of Millstone, New York, Ballston Spa Public Library’s collections, even a back-and-forth discussion on an ancestry.com forum gives some clues, but doesn’t provide much. There is no doubt that those who were considered “different” like those who were transgender but seen by medical and enforcement bodies as having “mental issues.” However, if the facilities were anything like the almshouse in Schenectady County, the keeper of the poor house (in this case  the superintendent) provided “food and clothing for the inmates” and there were weekly examinations of “the management, condition, and usage” of the area by inmates. These facilities were also, like those in Maryland, “primary public institution[s] for the destitute,” lasting for many years. This facility was undoubtedly different than the Philadelphia Bettering House in which sickened Maryland soldiers spent time during the Revolutionary War. Virginia Commonwealth University succinctly summarizes poorhouses or almshouses, while relating it to New York in a sense:

In 1824, New York State enacted the County Poorhouse Act, a measure that directed each county to erect one or more poorhouses to care for the “worthy poor.” Expenses for building and maintaining these institutions were to be paid by tax funds levied by the county government. About the time the Civil War ended, a number of state institutions were being erected to care for specific populations deemed unsuitable for being cared for in county poor houses, e.g., the insane, the disabled, children, women.

That does not mean that the facilities were always in the best interest of these individuals but they served a societal purpose to those who wanted to keep “different”/”unsuitable” people off the streets. In that way, it pushed away social problems to a place where people couldn’t see them, allowing them to ignore glaring inequities and inequalities in their societies.

While the New York Censuses of Inmates in Almshouses and Poorhouses from 1830-1920 could contain valuable information about the Saratoga County Almshouse (like this entry), in this case, it is better to look at the census itself. [2] This census shows that those in the town were working class. They were lumbermen, saw mill laborers, teamsters, farm laborers, farmers, miller, ice taker, and so on. This article is only dipping one’s toe into the sea of research, but it provides a start into this important topic.

Notes

[1] If you round down from 66.3555555555555556.

[2] Then historian of Saratoga County, Lauren Roberts, even found “a book of the county’s poorhouse records dating back to mid-1800s. The book is kept in a basement vault with other irreplaceable records and lists the names and vital information of hundreds of children who were left at facilities in Saratoga County and surrounding areas because their parents died or were unable to care for them.” Sadly, this cannot be used here as it is in the wrong time period, but is worth study in the future. However, one ledger of “Paupers Admitted to the Poor House” of Saratoga from November 1893 to October 1935 has been given to the county historian of Saratoga County. That could add more information about this facility’s inmates.

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Favoring the British Crown: enslaved Blacks, Annapolis, and the run to freedom

This watercolour sketch by Captain William Booth, Corps of Engineers, is the earliest known image of an African Nova Scotian. He was probably a resident of Birchtown. According to Booth’s description of Birchtown, fishing was the chief occupation for “these poor, but really spirited people.” Those who could not get into the fishery worked as labourers, clearing land by the acre, cutting cordwood for fires, and hunting in season. Image and caption are courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives, used within fair use limits of copyright law.

In 1777, William Keeling, a 34 year old Black man ran away from Grumbelly Keeling, a slaveowner on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which covers a very small area. [1] The Keelings were an old maritime family within Princess Anne County. William, and possibly his wife Pindar, a “stout wench” as the British described her, would be evacuated July 1783 on the Clinton ship from New York with British troops and other supporters of the British Crown (“Loyalists”) likely to somewhere in Canada. [2] They were not the only ones. This article does not advocate for the “loyalist” point of view, but rather just tells the story of Blacks who joined the British Crown in a quest to gain more freedom from their bondage rather than the revolutionary cause. [3]

Black families go to freedom

There were a number of other Black families that left the newly independent colonies looking for freedom. Many of these individuals, described by slaveowners as “runaways,” had fled to British lines hoping for Freedom. Perhaps they saw the colonies as a “land of black slavery and white opportunity,” as Alan Taylor put it, seeing the British Crown as their best hope of freedom. [4] After all, slavery was legal in every colony, up to the 1775, and continuing throughout the war, even as it was discouraged in Massachusetts after the Quock Walker decision in 1783. They likely saw the Patriots preaching for liberty and freedom as hypocrites, with some of the well-off individuals espousing these ideals owning many humans in bondage.

There were 26 other Black families who passed through Annapolis on their way north to Nova Scotia to start a new life. When they passed through the town, they saw as James Thatcher, a Surgeon of the Continental Army described it on August 11, 1781, “the metropolis of Maryland, is situated on the western shore at the mouth of the river Severn, where it falls into the bay.”

The Black families ranged from 2 to 4 people. Their former slavemasters were mainly concentrated in Portsmouth, Nansemond, Crane Island, Princess Ann/Anne County, and Norfolk, all within Virginia, as the below chart shows:

Not included in this chart, made using the ChartGo program, and data from Black Loyalist, are those slaveowners whose location could not be determined or those in Abbaco, a place which could not be located. [5] It should actually have two people for the Isle of Wight, and one more for Norfolk, VA, but I did not tabulate those before creating the chart using the online program.

Of these slaveowners, it is clear that the Wilkinson family was Methodist, as was the Jordan family, but the Wilkinsons were “originally Quakers” but likely not by the time of the Revolutionary War. The Wilkinson family was suspected as being Loyalist “during the Revolution” with  “Mary and Martha Wilkinsons (Wilkinson)… looked on as enemies to America” by the pro-revolutionary “Patriot” forces. However, none of the “Wilkinsons became active Loyalists.” Furthermore, the Willoughby family may have had some “loyalist” leanings, with other families were merchant-based and had different leanings. At least ten of the children of the 26 families were born as “free” behind British lines while at least 16 children were born enslaved and became free after running away for their freedom. [6]

Beyond this, it is worth looking at how the British classified the 31 women listed in the Book of Negroes” compiled in 1783, of which Annapolis was one of the stops on their way to Canada. Four were listed as “likely wench[s]” , four as “ordinary wench[s]”, 18 as “stout wench[s]”, and five as other. Those who were “likely wench[s]” were likely categorized as “common women” (the definition of wench) rather than “girl, young woman” since all adult women were called “wench” without much exception. [7] As for those called “ordinary” they would belong to the “to the usual order or course” or were “orderly.” The majority were “stout” likely meaning that they were proud, valiant, strong in body, powerfully built, brave, fierce, strong in body, powerfully built rather than the “thick-bodied, fat and large, bulky in figure,” a definition not recorded until 1804.

Fighting for the British Crown

Tye Leading Troops as dramatized by PBS. Courtesy of Black Past.

When now-free Blacks, most of whom were formerly enslaved, were part of the evacuation of the British presence from the British colones from New York, leaving on varying ships, many of them had fought for the British Crown within the colonies. Among those who stopped by Annapolis on their way North to Canada many were part of the Black Brigade or Black Pioneers, more likely the latter than the former.

The Black Pioneers had fought as part of William Howe’s army, along with “black recruits in soldiers in the Loyalist and Hessian regiments” during the British invasion of Philadelphia. This unit also provided “engineering duties in camp and in combat” including cleaning ground used for camps, “removing obstructions, digging necessaries,” which was not glamorous but was one of the only roles they played since “Blacks were not permitted to serve as regular soldiers” within the British Army. While the noncommissioned officers of the unit were Black, commissioned officers were still white, with tank and file composed mainly of “runaways, from North and South Carolina, and a few from Georgia” and was allowed as part of Sir Henry Clinton‘s British military force, as he promised them emancipation when the war ended. The unit itself never grew beyond 50 or go men, with new recruits not keeping up from those who “died from disease and fatigue” and none from fighting in battle since they just were used as support, sort of ” garbage men” in places like Philadelphia. The unit, which never expanded beyond one company, was boosted when Clinton issued the “Phillipsburgh Proclamation,” decreeing that Blacks who ran away from “Patriot” slavemasters and reached British lines were free, but this didn’t apply to Blacks owned by “Loyalist” slavemasters or those in the Continental army who were  “liable to be sold by the British.” In December 1779, the Black Pioneers met another unit of the same type, was later merged with the Royal North Carolina Regiment, and was disbanded in Nova Scotia, ending their military service, many settling in Birchtown, named in honor of Samuel Birch, a Brigadier General who provides the “passes that got them out of America and the danger of being returned to slavery.” Thomas Peters, Stephen Bluke, and Henry Washington are the best known members of the Black Pioneers.

The Black Brigade was more “daring in action” than the Black Pioneers or Guides. Unlike the 300-person Ethiopian Regiment (led by Lord Dunmore), this unit was a “small band of elite guerillas who raided and conducted assassinations all across New Jersey” and was led by Colonel Tye who worked to exact “revenge against his old master and his friends” with the title of Colonel a honorific title at best. Still, he was feared as he raided “fearlessly through New Jersey,” and after Tye took a “musket ball through his wrist” he died from gangrene in late 1780, at age 27. Before that happened, Tye, born in 1753, would be, “one of the most feared and respected military leaders of the American Revolution” and had escaped to “New Jersey and headed to coastal Virginia, changing his name to Tye” in November 1775 and later joined Lord Dunmore, The fighting force specialized in “guerilla tactics and didn’t adhere to the rules of war at the time” striking at night, targeting slaveowners, taking supplies, and teaming up with other British forces. After Tye’s death, Colonel Stephen Blucke of the Black Pioneers replaced him, continuing the attacks long after the British were defeated at Yorktown.

After the war

Many of the stories of those who ended up in Canada and stopped in Annapolis are not known. What is clear however is that “an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 black Americans left the 13 states as a result of the American Revolution” with these refugees scattering “across the Atlantic world, profoundly affecting the development of Nova Scotia, the Bahamas, and the African nation of Sierra Leone” with some supporting the British and others seized by the British from “Patriot” slaveowners, then resold into slavery within the Caribbean sea region. Hence, the British were not the liberators many Blacks thought them to be.Still, after the war, 400-1000 free Blacks went to London, 3,500 Blacks and 14,000 Whites left for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where Whites got more land than Blacks, some of whom received no land at all. Even so, “more than 1,500 of the black immigrants settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia,” making it the largest free Black community in North America, which is why the “Birchtown Muster of Free Blacks” exists. Adding to this, these new Black refugees in London and Canada had a hard time, with some of those in London resettled in Sierra Leone in a community which survived, and later those from Canada, with church congregations emigrating, “providing a strong institutional basis for the struggling African settlement.” After the war, 2,000 white Loyalists, 5,000 enslaved Blacks, and 200 free Blacks left for Jamaica, including 28 Black Pioneers who “received half-pay pensions from the British government.” As for the Bahamas, 4,200 enslaved Blacks and 1,750 Whites from southern states came into the county, leading to tightening of the Bahamian slave code.

As one historian put, “we will never have precise figures on the numbers of white and black Loyalists who left America as a result of the Revolution…[with most of their individual stories are lost to history [and] some information is available from pension applications, petitions, and other records” but one thing is clear “the modern history of Canada, the Bahamas, and Sierra Leone would be greatly different had the Loyalists not arrived in the 1780s and 1790s.” This was the result of, as Gary Nash, the “greatest slave rebellion of North American slavery” and that the “high-toned rhetoric of natural rights and moral rectitude” accompanying the Revolutionary War only had a “limited power to hearten the hearts of American slave masters.” [8]

While there are varied resources available on free Blacks from the narratives of enslaved people catalogued and searchable by the Library of Virginia, databases assembled by the New England Historic Genealogical Society or resources listed by the Virginia Historical Society, few pertain to the specific group this article focuses on. Perhaps the DAR’s PDF on the subject, the Names in Index to Surry County Virginia Register of Free Negroes, and the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada (UELAC) have certain resources.

While this does not tell the entire story of those Black families who had left the colonies, stopping in Annapolis on the way, in hopes of having a better life, it does provide an opening to look more into the history of Birchtown, (also see here) and other communities in Canada and elsewhere. [9]

Notes

[1] Grumbelly was related to Capt. Keelings (of Princess Ann/Anne County, VA), x of whose people in bondage ran away to join the British lines” Argyll (joined Roal Artillery Department) and Robert. Grumbelly is also within this book. It would make sense it is Virginia’s Eastern Shore rather than Maryland’s, although this cannot be confirmed. William was undoubtedly one of many who was part of a small plantation within this area.

[2] Other would be evacuated on the La Aigle. His bio says that “William Keeling is assumed to be the husband of Pindar Keeling. They travel near to each other on board the Clinton and despite the presence of other Keelings, they are not listed in the Birchtown Muster.” Perhaps they settled in a different area or died on the voyage North. Pindar was formerly bound to a Norfolk slaveowner named Willis Ball. One transcript of the manifest says  “William Keeling, 40, feeble fellow. Formerly the property of Grumbelly Keeling of the East Shore, Virginia; left him 6 years ago. GBC.” This being the case, then it makes sense that he cannot be found in Maryland records. It also clarifies that on 31 July 1783 the Clinton was Clinton bound for Annapolis [Royal, Nova Scotia] & St. John’s [Saint John, New Brunswick]. This means it was going to Nova Scotia ultimately. The GHOTES Genealogy and History of the Eastern Shore group on Facebook lists 38 enslaved blacks who had left New York, originally enslaved in the Eastern Shore (presumably Virginia’s).

[3] The word “loyalist” is used in quoation marks as it is an inexact term, and like Patriot it was used positively by those supporting the British Crown. Instead, the term supporter of the British Crown or any of its derivatives is used instead.

[4] Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016), 21-22; A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., In the Matter of Color: Race & The American Legal Process: the Colonial Period(New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 91-95, 98-99

[5] Specifically referring to Abbaco (John Rootes, Benjamin Guy), and unknown location (Solomon Slaughter, William Causins, Francis Wright, John Morris, Thomas Fisher. Here the locations of those included in the above chart: Norfolk, Virginia (John Hirst, Matthew Godfrey, Robert Gilmore, Samuel Bush [Boush], John Willoughby, David McClaurin, William Mallery, William EgersonJames Hunter, Edward Hack Moseley [Mozely], Joseph Mitchell, Thomas Newton Snr, Robert Barns, Charles Connor, Samuel Elliot Simon Hogwood, William Hancock, Archibald Campbell or Arthur Campbell., Thomas Hoggart/Hogwood, Mr. Scarborough, Stephen TankardWilliam Hogwood/Hopgood Sr.);  Nansemond, Virginia (Mills Wilkinson, Henry Burgess, Solomon Sheppard, Willis Wilkinson); Crane Island, Virginia (William Connor, George Robertson, Andrew Stewart [Stuart]); Portsmouth, Virginia (Willis Wilson, Andrew Sproule, Richard Brown); South Carolina (Captain Hullet, Bland Steward);  Princess Anne/Ann County, Virginia (Edward Moseley John Loveat); Pennsylvania (James Stewart); Mecklenburgh, Virginia (Richard Sweepston); Dismal Swamp (James Wright Moore); Petersburg, Virginia (John Holloway); Tanners Creek, Virginia (Anthony Walker [Walke]); Isle of Wight (Richard Jordan, Andrew Mckay); Suffolk, Virginia (Lambert Reddick); Greatbridge, Virginia (Alexander Foreman).

[6] The ten children born free were: Jonny, Patty, John Ceasor, Peter, Robert, George, Harry, Jonathan, Sally Nelis, and Agnes Reddick. The 16 born enslaved were: Sam, Ned, Lettius, Mary, Prudence, Edward, Valentine Nanny, Judy, Joseph ReddickElsey Reddick, Joseph, Jenny, AndrewPhebe,and Dempse.

[7] The “likely wench[s]” were Phillis, Seelah, Kitty, and Phillis Gordon. The “ordinary wench[s]” were Pleasant, Betsey, Molly (incurably lame of left arm), and Rose Wright. The “stout wench[s]” were Esther, Dorothy Bush, Mary Perth, Hannah Flemming, Fanny Brown (“Stout Lump of a Wench“), Wynce Gordon, Jane Halladay, Barbara Hancock, Peggy (“stout wench with 3 children 8, 5 and 4 months”), Rachel, Tilla Mosley, Patty Mosley (“stout wench,with child 2months“), Dinah Mitchell (“Stout healthy Negres with child in her arms. Left Charlestown from whence she was ordered by Dr. Humphry of the York Volunteers. then the property of Mitchel”), Jane Nelis, Nancy, Tamar Stewart (“stout wench, 3 small children“), Peggy Richards, Judith Johnson, and Dolly Wilkinson (“stout wench on her own bottom“). Patience was called a “likely girl,” Nancy Howard was called a “neat wench,” Chloe Johnson was called a “fine girl,” Nancy Sparrow was called a “feeble wench” and Mary Steel was called a “fine wench.”

[8] Gary Nash, Red, White & Black: The Peoples of Early North America (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000, Fourth Edtion), 276. On pages 274-279, Nash focuses on Black “Loyalists,” while on pages 280-284 he focuses on Blacks who stayed in America.

[9] The Nova Scotia archives has varied results when one searches for “Birchtown.”