Second poor house
built in 1895
This is the 152nd in a series of
historic articles about Anderson County presented as a part of the
county's participation in the American Revolution bicentennial and the
county's 175th anniversary.
By Katherine B. Hoskins
Part II p. 156-157
| As late as the 1880s and 90s, when Anderson County
was planning to establish a modern poor farm or find another and better
way to care for her needy and destitute people, the practice was still
being carried on on binding orphan children, by indenture, to families to
work for their board and keep. This was a legal binding of minor
children who had no one who could or would care for them and was a form of
At times it has been classified as one way of caring for the indigent. Other times it has been considered simply as a means of obtaining household or farm help. However, many children learned a useful trade in this manner and the county was relieved of the expense of caring for orphan children who had no relatives to support them.
The indenturing of persons, minor or adult, was one of the many customs brought to the American colonies by the English, and colonial laws governing indenture were patterned somewhat after the English law.
Before black slaves were brought to America in large numbers, servile labor was mainly performed in the colonies by indentured white servants, usually adults. Some were of good character who had fallen into bad luck. Others were transported convicts or street beggars from London. And in some instances they were children who had been kidnapped by lawless adventurers in the streets of English cities.
It was, therefore, necessary that the laws concerning indentured servants were harsh. They could not marry without the consent of their master, and to run away was to lengthen their term of service. For a second same offense they were branded on the cheek.
For certain other offenses their service could be extended and their masters keep them four [sic] years beyond the term fixed by law in their bond.
It is possibly from this custom that the practice evolved of binding orphan children, by legal process, to someone who would clothe and feed them and teach them their own trade, in return for work the children would be able to perform, until they were of age to be on their own. Laws had to be modified to suit the apprenticeship type of indenture of children and to protect the interest of both master and apprentice.
Indentures of orphan children are found in Anderson County records as early as 1805 and on through the years for a century or more. Two instances were noted ordered by the Anderson County Court in 1893. One of these was a boy 6 years old, the other a girl child 7 months and 10 days old.
A girl was usually bound until she was 18, during which time, in return for her work, she was to be furnished with good and wholesome diet, lodging and wearing apparel sufficient and suitable, both in sickness and in health, and was to be given the equivalent of a common public school education.
At the age of 18 she was to be given three good suits of clothing and $25. Boys were generally bound until age 21 and were taught their master's trade.
Apprenticeship by indenture was done very little after the turn of the century, but apprenticeship by mutual consent and choice is done to some extent today.
The early 1890s found Anderson County without a centralized method of caring for the indigent. The old poor house farm was sold in 1888, and for a few years the displaced persons were housed with various families throughout the county, mainly at the expense of the county.
In January 1895 a committee was appointed by the County Court to select and purchase a suitable poor house farm. The committee consisted of Arvil Taylor, C. R. Lowe and S. L. Moore.
They selected the Bradley farm five miles south of Clinton in the old Fourth Civil District on the Clinch River where it crosses the mouth of Blockhouse Valley. They purchased the farm in February of that year at a cost to the county of $11,000. Work was begun immediately on new houses for the inmates. These were built in an "L" with the superintendent's house in front.
Mr. and Mrs. Rufus M. Dew served as the first superintendent and matron. They looked after the farm and cared for the comfort of the inmates when they were sick. They had the help of the inmates in running the farm and, during the first year, harvested more than enough produce to feed the needy of the county.
Their produce consisted of 2,500 bushels of corn, 100 bushels threshed oats, 3,500 bushels of fodder and a plentiful supply of pumpkins, turnips, beans, peas and sorghum, etc. Hogs, cattle and other stock were bought, which supplied milk, butter, lard, meat and eggs and included work animals.
The superintendent of the poor asylum and farm was required to make $500 bond and take oath to manage the farm under the direction of the commissioners and to carry out the duties required of him. The duties included "caring for the inmates of the farm in a careful and businesslike manner and treat them humanely." He was also required to account for all receipts and disbursements of money coming into his hands.
The county physician was required to make regular visits to the farm to look after the inmates and to report to the Court as to their general health and cleanliness of the facilities.
The commissioners visited the farm regularly and made quarterly reports to the County Court. They took pride in making the farm "pay out," that is, raise enough produce for food, with a surplus to sell so that clothing and other necessities could be purchased. Some years were bad and the county had to furnish cash assistance. For instance in 1903 it cost the county $450 cash to run the farm with 19 inmates -- approximately $24 per person for the year.
The commissioners were allowed $1.50 each for every day required to look after the affairs of the farm. A partial list of Court members who served as commissioners, usually for several years each, included
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