The Precinct Book

Review by PHL

This is a wonderful book... a work of both genealogical and historical value! 

Here are some of the author's comments from the introduction:

"This document is a transcription of the accounts of some of the Overseers of the Poor in the lower Hudson Valley of New York, kept by hand over a 45-year period in a tall, unlined notebook.  The Overseersí work was to "put out" the poor -- placing many of them in the care of whatever citizens would charge the least to house them, by an annual bidding process.  

From May 1768 through March 1772, the account book covered activities in the entire South Precinct of Dutchess County.  The South Precinct was subdivided into the Philips, Middle and South East precincts on April 1, 1772. The book was continued in just the South East Precinct.  When the new county of Putnam was created in June 1812, the old account book ends.  The work of the Overseers was continued, in a new volume, for 18 more years.

The Precinct book as an historical document first came to light in the 1880s ...
In recent years, the Precinct book was rediscovered in the records of the Carmel Town Clerk, and conveyed to the Town of Carmel Historical Society.  Three bound photographic preservation copies were produced for the Society in 1996-1997 at Bridgeport National Bindery, Inc., using paper meeting the ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 archiving standard.  The original volume is preserved in the Society's archives at Mahopac, New York; its condition is marginal.  Now that it has been photographed, it is no longer opened for reference.

The Society retains two of the copies, while the third was purchased for the County Historian's archives in Brewster in 1999.  Bound in red, these are entitled Early Records of the Southeast Precinct of Dutchess County on the spine, and labeled with the Society's name.  One of these copies has been read to make this transcription.

While many poorhouse records have been preserved throughout the United States, few actual records of the Overseers of the Poor (community officials who distributed tax funds to people who needed assistance ... such as money for fuel, food, clothing, medical treatment, etc. ... as "outdoor relief" (relief available to them in their own homes) ... have survived. And it is extremely rare to find such records existing from as far back as pre-Revolutionary times!

Initially one might expect "bookkeeping" records to be dry and uninteresting; but as primary historical data, they can make fascinating reading to anyone with the heart and imagination to "read between the lines." And they can be a genealogical goldmine! Because, if there is one thing that taxpayers are real prickly about, it's paying taxes! And as a consequence, if there is one thing that they are real "nosey" about ... it's how their taxes get spent! Taxpayers have always tried to hold their leaders accountable for every penny spent on the poor. And that is what makes the account books of Overseers of the Poor yield many, many names and facts about all of the people in a community who provided good or services for paupers (or to poorhouses) ... as well as the names of the poor people to whom they were provided.

And Mr. Troy's book provides us with a very comprehensive and usable index, which he describes as follows:

" ... a 29-page index has been compiled, listing about 1,100 individuals with over 500 family names as well as over 300 cross-references to these family names from spelling variations.  This index is appended." ... "NAME INDEX. Entries consist of: - Last name, if known, and variations; - First name, if known, and variations; - Occupation, relationships or other identification; - Pages where the name may be found; - Range of years for all the entries."

This book is extremely well organized!  It contains many cross-referencing features and clearly explains the transcribing practices utilized. It even explains the monetary system(s) ... yes, that's plural ! ... utilized during those time periods. 

To help you figure out whether people you are researching might have been mentioned (based on where they lived) ... we are including Mr. Troy's geography review. (Which I, personally, found very helpful.)


The South Precinct of Dutchess County was subdivided in 1772 into the Philips, Middle, and Southeast  Precincts.  The entire parcel was broken off from Dutchess in 1812 to form Putnam County.

The Philips Precinct became Philips Town (referring to the Philipse family, chartered landlords of much of the area.).  Today it is, redundantly, the Town of Philipstown.

The Middle Precinct became the Town of Quincy, a family name that proved too political to satisfy everyone, and so was changed to the Town of Putnam Valley.

The Southeast Precinct became the Towns of Fredericks, Franklin and Southeast.  (Fredericks was another reference to landlord Philipse.)  Fredericks Town was subdivided in May 1795 into the Towns of Fredericks and Carmel, the latter a biblical city name which had been adopted by the local Baptist church.
Since the place name of Franklin was already in use in New York state (11), that town was renamed Patterson
for a local settler.   Fredericks became the Town of Kent.  Southeast has retained its historical name.

The only local community mentioned in these towns is Fredericksburg, overlapping the border of Fredericks and Carmel, and centered in what is now the hamlet of Carmel in the town of that name. 

In short, "The Precinct Book" is very well done and represents an extremely useful resource, adding significantly to the body of knowledge we now have about poor relief history, and providing genealogical information for a period of time for which it has previously been very scanty. We are sure you will enjoy it!   PHL

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