|Historical notes regarding the community of HINGHAM which is in the County of Plymouth, but was never a part of the Plymouth Colony. It was a part of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay.|
|NOTE: This excerpt is from the final chapter, Miscellaneous Matters
(pages 379-386), of the
History of Hingham, Massachusetts, by Francis H. Lincoln
The entire book will soon be available on-line through the NE Free Books Online Effort which is currently relocating its website. At that time we will provide readers with a link to the site. PHL
ALMSHOUSES AND WORKHOUSES.
| There were two classes of people whose condition
affected the general welfare, to which the colonists gave early
consideration; and the same classes exist to-day as they always have and
always will in society. They comprise, in the words of the early laws
and the later statutes, those who are "poor and indigent and want
means to employ themselves," and those "who neglect and refuse
to exercise any lawful calling or business to support themselves."
In other words, society recognizes the justice of helping those who
would work but cannot, and of compelling those to work who can but will
A colony law of 1639 gives authority to certain magistrates to dispose of poor persons in "such towns as they shall judge to be most fit for the maintenance and employment of such persons and families for the ease of this country."
Further colony and province laws relating to the care of the poor were passed in 1659, 1674, 1675, and 1720, and one in 1692, providing for the compulsory employment of "idle persons and loiterers."
In 1743 [17 George II. Ch. 2] there was passed "an Act for erecting work-houses for the reception and employment of the idle and indigent." This was the first general law authorizing towns to erect such houses, and it was essentially the same as the Massachusetts Act of 1788, Chapter 30, which has been practically in force to the present time, being modified from time to time as advancing civilization required.
This is so well-known a department of our social system that it is not necessary to recite the details of the laws relating to it. It is sufficient to say that the common law of humanity prompts all Christian people to lend a willing, helping hand to the helpless, and the exact and inexorable law of justice demands that every able-bodied member of the human race should perform his part in maintaining and promoting general prosperity.
Until 1785 the poor of Hingham were boarded out in private families at the town's expense.
In 1784, or early in 1786, "the House for the poor of the town" was erected. The building, which is now private property, stands on its original site, on the westerly side of Short Street, and the account rendered by the committee, dated March 3, 1786, shows that it cost, including the well, £373 17s. 2d. Among the disbursements in 1786 authorized by the selectmen is one of £14 14s., paid to Joshua Loring "for Overseeing the Poor." He was the first keeper of the Almshouse. The Selectmen's Records for the annual town-meeting, March 6, 1786, show amounts paid to John Cushing for carting goods to the workhouse, and to Charles Cushing for wood for the workhouse. It seems probable that this house was first occupied in 1785.
The second house was a brick structure which stood on the triangle of land bounded by Main, Pond, and Pleasant streets, and was built in 1817. It was destroyed by fire Nov. 19, 1831. The following account of the fire is from the Hingham Gazette:----
"Our village was alarmed on Saturday morning last, at about one o'clock, by the cry of fire in the Almshouse. The fire had advanced so far when discovered that the few individuals who were on the spot, after an ineffectual attempt to extinguish it, thought it most prudent to remove immediately all the inmates of the house, the town paupers, records, furniture, etc., in which they were successful. The engine companies were on the ground promptly with their engines, but the progress of the flames was so rapid that they could do nothing more than protect other property which was exposed. Within two hours from the time they arrived the building was consumed and its brick walls fell in. By this calamity the town sustains a loss estimated from $4,000 to $5,000, and at a season of the year when it will be impracticable to repair the loss. The Overseers of the Poor have caused the dwelling-house belonging to the town, on the Almshouse lot, to be fitted up for the reception of a considerable portion of the poor, which, together with the accommodations hospitably tendered by the overseers of some of the neighboring towns and the kindness of friends, will enable them to place them all in a comfortable situation during the winter."
Steps were taken by the town to supply the place of the Almshouse thus destroyed, and at a town-meeting held Feb. 14, 1832, a committee made a detailed report in relation to the site and kind of a building proposed to be erected. This committee recommended to the town "the purchase of a tract of land lying upon Weymouth Back River, adjoining the Hingham and Quincy turnpike, containing about 43 acres, consisting of tillage, mowing, pasture, woodland, and salt marsh, at an estimated cost of $2,000, and the erection of a brick building 70 feet in length, three stories in height (including the basement), with a projection in front, and two brick partition-walls separating the centre from the wings, at an estimated cost of $4,749.02." The report was accepted and the recommendations adopted. The land was purchased, since known as the "Town Farm," and contracts were made for the building which was erected in 1832. It was the same building which has since been in use as an almshouse and workhouse.
The entire cost of the "Almshouse Establishment," according to the published reports of the town, which include land, almshouse, well, pump, yard to house, shed and other outbuildings, barn, cholera-house, and cells, amounted to $10,839.94.
As these houses were established mainly in the interest of industry, it would be interesting to know how the inmates were employed before the purchase of the farm. The farm gives those inmates who are willing to work an opportunity to do so, and compels those who are naturally idle to contribute something towards their support. The products not consumed on the premises are sold, and the income thus produced decreases somewhat the annual expense to the town. These houses were also retreats for the insane, whose condition was greatly changed for the better upon their removal to the Town Farm. Instead of being confined as they had been, it was found that the policy of giving them greater freedom operated favorably, and it proved in many cases that a considerable amount of labor could be performed by them.
A liberal sum has always been appropriated yearly by the town for the support of the poor both in and out of the house, and it is with pride that we point to the comparatively small amount of actual poverty in the town.