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Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History: Electronic Edition.

Johnson, Guion Griffis, 1900- 1989


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           THE HUMANITARIAN movement gradually increased as the ante-bellum period wore on until it became a general movement to lighten the burdens of the afflicted and the oppressed. In early colonial days when life was that of the frontier, there were no great extremes in fortune. Poverty or abundance depended largely upon one's health, energy, and the success of his crop. From the first, however, there were undoubtedly hangers-on, indentured servants who were not worth their hire and when left to shift for themselves had a hard time of it, ne'er-do-wells who could no more swing an ax in the new country than they could make an honest living in the old.


           Although a bill for the "relief of the poor and the prevention of idleness" had come up in the General Assembly in 1749, it was not until 1755 that North Carolina made some attempt to care for its paupers. This bill, 1

like those which followed, was based upon the poor laws of England. In order to make a community responsible for its own poor, the act of 1755 forbade a newcomer's being entertained or hired longer than two days unless he had a certificate from the sheriff of his county showing that he had paid his taxes or was not taxable. The church wardens of the parish, upon learning that a person had arrived who was likely to become a burden to the community, might complain to a justice of the peace who, in turn, might order that the person be returned to the parish where he was last legally settled. In case the pauper was sick, the church wardens were required to provide for him and to collect later from his legal parish. Vagabonds were required to find work, to go into servitude, or to be whipped to the extent of thirty-nine lashes, a law strikingly similar to that passed in 1826 to control the free Negro population.

           The choice of the vestry as the administrative board for the care of the poor was a recognized English custom, but it was an

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unfortunate choice for the colonial poor. Each poor law subsequent to that of 1755 was a part of an act also making provision for the support of the clergy. This fact alone was enough to condemn the poor law in the eyes of the average North Carolinian. In 1759 the General Assembly thought it "absolutely necessary that a Vestry be Immediately appointed for each parish within the Province to make provision for the Clergy and support of the Poor." An act of 1760 permitted the freeholders to elect twelve vestrymen and attached a fine for their failing to vote. But even to the time of the Revolution many parishes were without vestrymen and funds for the poor just as they were without chapels and clergymen of the Established Church.

           It was not, however, that the people were altogether insensible to the sufferings of the poor, for no sooner had the Colony become a state than it passed an act, in 1777, "making provision for the poor." 2

Except for a few slight changes, this act was the same as the colonial poor law. The freemen of each county were to elect seven overseers of the poor who were to serve three years. The overseers, in turn, were to elect two of their members "to execute the office of county wardens for one year" and "some person of skill and probity," not of their number, to act as clerk. The overseers were to keep a journal of their proceedings, and the wardens had authority to call a court or meeting of overseers. The overseers had the same authority in the care of the poor as the vestry formerly had. They had power to lay a tax for the support of the poor not exceeding 6 pence for every hundred pounds value of taxable property and 6 pence on the poll. To prevent disputes as to the liability of a county for the support of its poor, the act declared that one year's actual residence constituted a legal settlement. 3

           The office of overseer of the poor, or warden, as all overseers came to be called by act of 1783, was one which most men shunned. Nevertheless, almost any list of wardens to be found among antebellum records contains the names of the leading men of the county, planters, doctors, editors, merchants, men who would refuse

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to serve in a political office but who would act as warden from a sense of public duty. Among the wardens of the poor for Orange County in 1832, for instance, were such distinguished names as Colonel Cadwallader Jones, Dr. James Webb, James Mebane, Esq., and Jon P. Sneed, Esq. 4 In 1816 the wardens of Craven County expressed a complaint to the General Assembly which might have been duplicated in many other counties. "The fine of Twenty dollars is so small," ran the petition, "that three out of seven [wardens] elected refused to qualify; and then we voted on nearly a dozen other gentlemen to supply their places, and one is still vacant, the most of them refusing to serve. It is an unthankful office, and most of men shun it. We, therefore, lest the poor be neglected, humbly suggest the propriety of increasing the fine to one hundred dollars." 5

           The act of 1777 gave a penalty of £5 against an overseer for refusing to serve and a penalty of £20 against a warden. An act of 1783 provided that all overseers should be wardens of the poor and that all duly elected wardens, refusing to qualify, should forfeit £10. The Revised Statutes of 1837 placed the fine at $20. In 1846, however, when the General Assembly changed the method of choosing the wardens, taking the privilege of electing them from the people and giving the county courts authority to appoint wardens for three-year terms the new law failed to fix a penalty for refusing to serve. 6

           Throughout the ante-bellum period, friends of the poor sought to make the office of warden more attractive by giving it certain emoluments. In 1816 and on several occasions thereafter, bills arose in the Legislature proposing to exempt wardens from jury duty. 7

A bill of 1838 proposed to pay wardens one dollar for every day spent in discharge of their duties and traveling expenses at the rate of 3 cents a mile up to $12. In 1838 Wayne County did obtain a law giving its wardens a compensation of $12 a year. Later, wardens, along with justices, constables, patrollers, and teachers, obtained exemption from road duty. In 1854 the Legislature passed a general measure authorizing county courts to pay

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wardens out of the poor fund "not otherwise appropriated" for services rendered, "each warden first making appear to the satisfaction of the court, by his oath, the character and extent of the services" for which he claimed compensation. 8 The ante-bellum period closed with friends of the poor still seeking to lighten the burden of the wardens. A bill of 1859 sought to pay them a per diem of $2 and to appoint a treasurer of the warden's court who should receive 2½ per cent on the amount of his vouchers. 9


           An act of 1786, declaring that "the poor have of late years considerably increased, and large sums have been annually levied for the charitable purpose of their support, the due application of which the people have no account or knowledge," called on the wardens to set up annually at the courthouse an itemized account of their receipts and expenditures. In 1817, the Legislature provided that the county courts should, upon application of the wardens, lay a tax sufficient for the maintenance of the poor. This act merely authorized a practice which had long been a custom in North Carolina. Any county or group of counties dissatisfied with the state law regulating the poor tax might easily obtain a special law exempting them from its execution. For instance, in 1802 the Legislature passed a bill declaring "the poor tax now allowed by law within the counties of Martin and Robeson is found to be insufficient to defray the expenses of the poor" and authorized a tax of one shilling on the poll, four pence on the hundred acres, and one shilling on the hundred-pound valuation of town property. 10

           The poor-tax laws permitted such a wide discretion in the amount of money to be raised for the poor that it is necessary to go to the county court records to determine what amounts were actually assessed for their support. In 1800 Duplin County had a tax of three shillings on the poll and a like amount on the hundred acres, and raised about $2,000 for the use of the poor. 11

In the same year Cumberland County laid a poor tax of one shilling on the poll and the same amount on every 300 acres of land and

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on every hundred pounds of town property. 12 Thirty-two years later, after the passage of the first satisfactory poor law of the antebellum period, Cumberland was laying a poor tax of 10 cents on the poll and 10 cents on the hundred-dollar valuation of landed property, Orange County a tax of 12 cents on the poll and 6 cents on property, Pasquotank 80 cents on the poll and 40 cents on property, Edgecombe 20 cents on the poll and 6 cents on property, Rutherford 10 cents on the poll and 4 cents on property. 13 In 1852, twenty years later, Cumberland County was laying a poor tax of 15 cents on the poll and 9 cents on property; Orange 10 cents on the poll and 7 cents on property; Pasquotank 20 cents on the poll and 7¼ cents on property; Edgecombe 20 cents on the poll and 7 cents on property. 14 At the same time the Edgecombe County Court authorized the treasurer of the court of wardens to give his bond for $1,000, "for the payment of which the faith of the county is pledged . . . it appearing to the satisfaction of the county that the wardens of the poor have not sufficient funds to defray the necessary expenses in supporting the poor." 15

           In addition to the funds raised by the poor tax, the county wardens also received certain fines for the use of the poor. All penalties imposed for violations of the poor laws, for instance, the fine of $20 for refusing to serve as a warden, went into the funds for the poor. An act of 1779, confiscating cattle belonging to slaves, gave half of the proceeds from the sale of such property to the county wardens for the support of the poor. An act of 1839 imposed a fine of $5 on residents of Virginia for permitting more than ten head of cattle to range in Currituck County and gave half the fine to the wardens. In 1784 the Legislature gave to the use of the poor the proceeds from the sale of all condemned, tar, pitch, and turpentine and in 1807 the fines arising from drunkenness or disorderly behavior at a meeting house.

           In at least two instances, county wardens received bequests for the support of the poor. The will of Thomas D. Bennehan of Orange County gave to Duncan Cameron $1,000 "to be appropriated to Christian and benevolent purposes, at his discretion." In

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1848 Cameron gave the sum to the wardens of the poor of Orange County as the beginning of an endowment for the care of the poor. 16 In 1847 Colonel L. D. Wilson, who died at Vera Cruz, left a sum estimated at the time to be $40,000 to "the chairman of the County Court of Edgecombe for the use and benefit of the poor (paupers) of said County." 17 In 1855, however, the Edgecombe County Court reported the endowment to be about $15,000. 18 In 1850 there began in the Tarborough Press a long-continued quarrel over the use of the Wilson Fund. "Veritas" argued that Colonel Wilson intended the bequest as "a donation to the county of Edgecombe for the purpose of relieving the people, by lessening or dispensing with the poor tax." Some wanted to add the money to the county free school fund; others to apply it to the establishment of a special school for the poor; but "Prompter" wanted it used for the erection of a model "pauper system" whereby poor families would be given a private building, small but comfortable, . . . with one acre attached for a garden." 19

           There was always some uncertainty as to the sum which the wardens would have each year for the care of the poor regardless of the amount of the poor tax. The amount of the fund frequently depended upon the efficiency and the honesty of the sheriff in collecting the tax and upon the wardens in administering it. Sometimes the tax meant for the use of the poor was put to other purposes. In 1832, for instance, the Carteret County Court applied a part of the poor-tax fund to the debt incurred in building the courthouse. 20

           Various petitions from wardens reached the Legislature asking for changes in the methods of collecting the poor tax and in the administration of the fund. In 1813 the wardens of Rutherford County asked for a law requiring the sheriff to pay the poor tax promptly to one of their number, who should be under bond to account for its use, instead of the present law which forced the wardens to write due bills. "The wardens," ran the petition, "have found much difficulty to get the poor maintained without agreeing to give those who take them in charge very Extravagant prices, by reason of the Money being so long lying back before they can

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collect it, and have many times to sell their due bills at a considerable sum under the value." 21 An act of 1808 required sheriffs to settle annually with the wardens as they did with the county trustees under penalty of a £50 fine. But the sheriffs had difficulty in collecting the taxes; they were unable to make their payments promptly; and their fines frequently were not imposed. As a result, the county funds were slow in coming in and uncertain in amount. J. A. Cameron of Fayetteville attempted in 1820, without success, to obtain a special law in behalf of the wardens requiring sheriffs to settle with them earlier than with the county trustees. 22

           It was not until 1824 that the Legislature became interested in the poor tax. In response to a letter from the state of New York inquiring into the administration of the pauper system, the Legislature called on the counties to send to the comptroller a statement of the amount of taxes levied and appropriated for five years past for the support of the poor. 23

When these statements came in they were referred to a special committee which reported in December, 1825, that "the laws concerning pauperism and parishioners might, by a revisal, be much amended," but "at present so many counties have private laws on the subject, that it would be difficult to establish any general plans"; and the committee begged to be discharged from further consideration of the subject. 24

           The Legislature considered two resolutions in 1827 looking toward an improvement in the collection and administration of the poor fund, a lengthy bill on this subject in 1828, 25

and at various times thereafter, but refused to make any alterations. The Judiciary Committee, which usually considered these proposed changes, consistently held that the fault was not in the law but in the administration of the law and in the poor business methods of the wardens. In 1860 the State was spending by the county system $83,486 for the support of 1,922 paupers. 26

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           The poor law gave the court of wardens a wide discretion in the application of the funds intrusted to their care. Judge Manly pointed out in 1859, in reviewing a case before the Supreme Court involving the administration of the poor fund, that "the objects of the public bounty, the periods of enjoyment, the several amounts to be allotted, the manner of their application--whether by means of public institutions or directly to the needy in their respective homes"--were all matters left to the discretion of the wardens and that no court had a right to interfere with this discretion. 27

           Legally, the poor were the unpropertied class, persons incapable in the opinion of the wardens to earn a living by reason of physical or mental incapacity to labor. A child was not permitted to become a pauper even in infancy if it was possible to apprentice him to someone who was willing to give him maintenance in return for the labor rendered. As a rule, therefore, the legal poor were afflicted children, idiots, insane persons, invalids, cripples, and aged persons.

           "It is the policy, I believe, of Legislators," wrote "B" in a letter to the Tarborough Press published in the issue of December 14, 1850, "to graduate the support of paupers to the very lowest point fit for mankind, otherwise they would offer inducements to pauperism." In another letter published in the Press of January 18, 1851, "B" declared that providing for the poor was analagous to providing for slaves. Some masters required more clothing for their Negroes than others, thinking that more was necessary for their comfort. In the same manner different counties and different wardens' courts varied the comforts which they dispensed to the poor.

           Another critic of the "pauper system" was one who styled himself "Prompter." "It is at best," said he, "but a clumsy contrivance of the law to keep the poor from perishing--resembling full as much a . . . prison regime, as it does a good system of wholesome and vital charity, which it ought to be. Indeed something must work very wrong in the system, when we know the poor will suffer almost any privations before they will accept its provisions." He thought the whole system was wrong and that the poor ought to have assistance before they became legal paupers. "It is well

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known that the poor very often live on the lands of their wealthier neighbors as long as they please, generally in wretched cabins, struggling with poverty and ignorance until they . . . die, go to the poor house, or to Texas." "Prompter" would have large county farms with comfortable homesteads to which he would remove all the border cases, "where if health permitted they could still pursue their ordinary crafts" and might in time become self-supporting. 28

           As "Prompter" pointed out, a great many poor persons were reluctant to accept the public bounty, some from "that laudable pride fostered in every bosom by our free institutions" and some, after "this noble pride . . . had long yielded to the chastening hand of poverty," from a repulsion to the administration of the system. Despite agitation in behalf of reform, the poor system of North Carolina had to await the humanitarian impulse of another century for a change in methods of administration. From the settlement of the Province in the last decades of the seventeenth century until 1919, the methods of administering the poor funds were practically the same. Some one appeared before the court of wardens and stated that a certain person needed assistance; whereupon the court, after little or no investigation, issued an order to that effect; or someone stated that he had already given assistance to a needy person and asked to be reimbursed out of the public funds. 29

           The activities of the wardens of the poor of Duplin County for 1811 will give some idea of the administration of the poor fund in the early nineteenth century:

           There were four general methods of caring for the poor in ante-bellum North Carolina: allowances to the individual pauper, letting the pauper out under contract, selling the pauper to the lowest bidder, and the care of the pauper in a poorhouse. The method which a county used varied from time to time. In fact, some counties had two or three different methods in operation at the same time.

           The practice of issuing small allowances to needy persons, perhaps only a few dollars during the year, was a common method of dispensing relief even after the establishment of poorhouses. For instance, in 1807 the wardens of Duplin County allowed a certain Mary Heath $15 for maintaining her father for six months. In 1808 they ordered that "Absolom Strickland be allowed the sum of 40 s. p.r mo. until next Court for the support of his wife, and that he apply to Alexander Dickson & Edward Armstrong or either of them, and should they conceive it necessary that she have any clothing or any Bed cloathing the sd. Dickson or Armstrong may furnish her & produce an acct. for the same, which shall be accounted for by us." 31

The wardens of Pasquotank County allowed a certain Hepsebeth Cook sums varying from 40 shillings to $24 a quarter for a period of fourteen years. 32

           When a pauper or group of paupers was let out under contract, the wardens usually found someone who agreed to provide for the needy persons for a stipulated sum. Sometimes one of the wardens

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was the person with whom the contract was made and sometimes the pauper himself was permitted to locate a lodging place. In 1805 the wardens of Duplin County ordered that Andrew Rouse "be allowed to contract with any person who will find him sufficient victuals, washing & lodging until the second day of July Court next, . . . at the same rate he was hired out at last year, & further, if it should be considered necessary to furnish sd. Rouse with a few clothes, they shall be also accounted for by said Board." 33 In 1832 the wardens of Ashe County "contracted with Stephen Mullis to keep Susannah Sparks twelve months at $100." 34

           The method of selling off the poor to the lowest bidder was the practice most frequently employed by ante-bellum wardens who did not have a poorhouse in which to place them. The wardens of Duplin County, for instance, issued allowances and also let out individual paupers under contract, but they found the practice of selling out the poor to the lowest bidder by far the most convenient and economical form of providing for them. In 1812 the wardens let out four persons to the lowest bidder at the January meeting and ten persons at the October meeting, most of them to different bidders and for varying amounts; for example, Benjamin Lanier to William Watson for £30 for a year's maintenance, Moses Moore to Reddin Bowden for £20, Priscilla Miller to William Hughes for £52, Mary English to William Salmon for £13. 35

           In 1848 when Dorothea Dix traveled through the State collecting data on the care of the insane, she wrote as follows concerning this method of providing for the poor: "The custom so worthy of entire condemnation, that of selling off the poor in mass, by lots or singly, to the lowest bidders exists in Moore County. The poor are fed, clothed, supplied with bed clothing, and fuel and waited on at the rate of eight cents the day each; a sum which cannot pay those who undertake this charge. That I found the poor well supplied with food and well clad, I repeat, was certainly ascribable to the liberality and Christianity of the present keepers, rather than to the just guardianship of the public." 36

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           It was not until 1785 that the Legislature passed a bill authorizing the erection of poorhouses in the State. The act empowered the wardens of the poor in Northampton, Nash, Halifax, Chowan, Carteret, Wayne, and Onslow counties to purchase land, erect almshouses, and levy a tax to cover the expenses involved. Within the next few years other counties also obtained such laws, and in 1793 the Legislature enacted a general law empowering wardens to build houses for the poor in their respective counties. The mere passage of a bill authorizing the erection of a poorhouse was no indication that the house would be built. The Pasquotank County poorhouse, for instance, was not built for more than thirty years after the enactment of the first law empowering its erection.

           In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the State had few if any poorhouses, but legislative agitation for their erection continued. In 1802 James Rhodes of Wayne County attempted to get through the Legislature another general bill authorizing wardens to erect houses for the poor. In some years, as many as four or five local bills authorizing poorhouses passed the Legislature. In 1809, for instance, the Legislature passed bills concerning poorhouses in Craven, Pasquotank, Tyrrell, Washington, and Buncombe counties. The Craven County bill went into great detail concerning the tax, the house, and the management of the poor. After the house had been built the wardens were to "appoint" an "overseer or keeper of the poor" whose duty it should be "to preserve good order, see that they are humanely treated, and sufficiently provided with suitable diet, cloathing and fuel, and to enforce all such regulations as shall be established . . . for the well ordering and governing of said poor." The keeper was also required "to keep at moderate labour" all who were able to work and to account on oath to the wardens at the end of each year "for all sums which may have arisen from the labour." 37

           The idea of making the poorhouse also a workhouse was early popular in North Carolina. No doubt every county in the State would have erected a poorhouse in the first decade of the nineteenth century had the taxpayers believed that the system could have been made to pay for itself. Even some of the first bills before the Legislature called for farming operations in connection

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with the poorhouse, and some of the bills passed in the thirties called for farms as large as 200 acres.

           In 1817, the year in which the act was passed leaving the amount of the poor tax to the discretion of the wardens and the county courts, a bill originated in the Senate to authorize the building of a poorhouse in Currituck County. After its first reading it was amended so that it became a bill "concerning the poor and for the better management of disorderly persons within the entire state." The county wardens were empowered to build "Suitable Apartments for the Accommodation and employment of poor and disorderly" persons. The section for the poor was to be called the almshouse, and for the disorderly, the house of correction. Each county unit was to have a "farm of convenient size." The poor were to be "supplied with suitable Material for Labour and kept at such employment as Shall Suit their respective Ability or Conditions." Commitment to the house of correction was to be by sentence of the county or superior courts. Any person guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment was to be sentenced to hard labor in a house of correction. The bill also particularly specified a certain group of persons who were to be liable to commitment: vagabonds; persons eating, drinking, and keeping company with slaves; gamblers; prostitutes; and drunkards. 38

This revolutionary measure, amended in the handwriting of Archibald D. Murphey, the outstanding social thinker of the ante-bellum period, was promptly rejected on its second reading.

           In 1826, as a result of the inquiry the year before concerning the amount of public money spent in care of the poor, a resolution originated in the Senate asking for another state-wide law to supplant that of 1793 providing for the erection of county "Poor and Work Houses." To this resolution, the Committee on the Judiciary replied: ". . . inasmuch as many of the Counties have already erected such houses and as a diversity of opinions prevails in different counties, and in some instances in the same county, regarding the advantages and policy of such establishments, your committee deem it inexpedient to pass a general law on the subject." 39

           Despite such objections, the Legislature did pass another general bill concerning poorhouses in 1831. The new act authorized

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the county courts to erect houses and purchase lands "for the maintenance and support of the poor" and required the wardens of the poor either to let out annually the poorhouses to the lowest bidders or to employ overseers under bond to superintend the business. 40

           Little is known about the rules which the wardens laid down for managing the poor. In 1826 a pauper, wishing to be removed from the Rutherford County poorhouse and cared for instead by a friend in her former neighborhood, petitioned the Legislature for a special act in her behalf, saying that a poorhouse was "a very disagreeable place to a religious person." 41

In 1848 a speaker in the Senate insinuated that most poorhouses were ill-managed. "Mr. Speaker," said he, "you and I know very well how these are generally conducted." 42

           Dorothea Dix, however, found that all the poorhouses were by no means poorly run. The Iredell County poorhouse "is a model of neatness, comfort, and good order," she wrote, "having a most efficient master and mistress, . . . All in all, this was in much the best condition of any poor house I have seen in North Carolina, neat, plain, and decent, it would do credit to any State." She found the Caswell County poorhouse to consist of "a series of decent one story buildings, kept remarkably clean and neat, . . ." The Rockingham poorhouse was well kept, "the inmates sufficiently well-clad," but they might have been given more comforts and the buildings needed repairs. The Orange County establishment was "neither clean nor comfortably furnished" although the poor had sufficient food. The Stokes County poorhouse was "extremely comfortless." The rooms of the poor were ill-furnished and out of repair. In Surry County the superintendent of the poor lived in Rockford and kept several Negroes to look after the thirty inmates of the poorhouse, which was located three miles from town. The Guilford County poorhouse, "utterly comfortless and out of repair" was being abandoned for a $4,000 brick structure. The building in Rowan County was so dilapidated that it would have been difficult to enumerate its deficiencies. In Burke County the buildings were out of repair and "ill-arranged within for either comfort or convenience"; but the superintendent was

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kind and faithful. "Here," wrote Miss Dix, "as at most of the poor-houses in North Carolina religious services are frequently holden." The Cumberland County poorhouse was well situated and excellently kept. In Duplin County the wardens had the reputation of giving "uncommon attention" to the care of the poor. The poorhouse in New Hanover County, which at one time had the reputation of being one of the best in the State, was "in a miserable dilapidated condition."

           Miss Dix found that thirty-two out of the thirty-six counties which she visited maintained poorhouses. She reported that conditions in eleven of them were bad and in thirteen good. In only one instance did she list the cost of maintaining the poor, $2,500 in Northampton County; and in only three, the number of inmates in the poorhouses: thirty in Surry County, three in Lincoln, two in Mecklenburg. 43


           "Such always has been, and probably always will be, the allotments of human life, that the poor will form a large portion of every community," wrote Archibald D. Murphey in 1817, "and it is the duty of those who manage the affairs of a state, to extend relief to this unfortunate part of our species in every way in our power." But those who managed the affairs of North Carolina saw fit to give relief only to the legal poor. There is no way of determining what percentage of the poor this class composed; the presumption, however, is that it formed only a small part. The care of the remaining portion was left to private philanthropy.

           The number of the destitute varied from year to year, for, as it has already been pointed out, poverty was closely related to the condition of the crops and the state of the weather. A drought in the spring and summer of 1826 reduced "many of the good people of this state" to "threatened want and starvation." A bill before the Senate in the winter of 1827 stated that "many have been already compelled to migrate to parts more highly favored, and without some relief many more must with the approaching spring leave the land of their nativity." 44

This bill proposed to reduce the state taxes by one half, while a resolution in the House would

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have appropriated $500 from the public treasury for each of the eight counties most severely affected: Halifax, Nash, Warren, Franklin, Johnston, Granville, Orange, and Wake. The money, had the resolution carried, would have been used to relieve the necessities of those who "are reduced to a state of suffering."

           It was during this drought that the Raleigh Register praised "the genuine benevolence" of two planters who habitually supplied their poor neighbors with corn in the failing seasons. "Need we apprehend that the poor of our country will want bread, though the crops be ever so scanty, whilst those who are blessed with plenty" possess such "kindness of feeling?" asked the Register. 45

           During the drought of 1845, which especially affected the lower piedmont, the Carolina Watchman of Salisbury called upon "the substantial and influential citizens" of the State to help the needy: "There is no time for delay. Many at this time are without money or bread and they must have their necessities provided for or perish. Many would move away to where provisions are abundant, but they are not able to get off . . . if humanity cannot stir the wealthy up to a sense of their duty, interest and the prevention of crime will certainly cause them to move immediately in this matter." 46

           Individual planters did attempt to care for their poor neighbors and the churches gave some aid to their drought victims, but there was no concerted effort to provide for those most affected by the crop failure. The Milton Chronicle wrote in January, 1846, "Why attempt to conceal the fact--it cannot be disguised--that there is a lamentable want of attention--not only to the sick-bed of the poor . . . but even to following them to the grave and depositing them in the ground . . . our heart sickens at the sight and our pen falters to tell the tale" of suffering that we have seen recently. 47

Yet, the following year, the entire State wept over the starving poor of Europe. Raleigh, Wilmington, and Fayetteville alone contributed nearly $2,000 to the cause. 48

           The severe winter of 1855-1856 caused much distress in the State. A "Friend of the Poor" wrote through the North Carolina Standard of January 16, 1856, calling upon the people of Raleigh for help. "It has been nearly or quite impossible for the laboring

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classes of the community who depend entirely upon their daily labor for the means of support, to do work of any kind, and consequently, . . . there has been probably more suffering for the want of the absolute necessaries of life than has ever before been known in any part of the country; and particularly for fire-wood, an article that has been both scarce and high. . . . The cases of suffering . . . are among those that under ordinary circumstances are able, willing, and do support themselves." A "benevolent gentleman" of the town had visited as many families as he could and had collected some funds for their relief. In one case he found a mother, with her shoes frozen on her feet, sitting by a scanty fire made from the bread tray and a drawer from the clothes chest. In Fayetteville the men's clubs gave two concerts and a soirée, from which they made $223, for the relief of their poor. 49

           The winter of 1857 was followed by a crop failure and a resulting scarcity of corn the following spring. On this occasion, various county courts in the State bought corn and supplied the public wants at cost. Guilford County led the way "in this benevolent work" and Edgecombe, Warren, Orange, and other counties followed the example. The directors of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad transported corn and other provisions at half the usual rate from June until October to any county west of Johnston. 50

           Thus the needs of the "worthy poor" were in part cared for by private benevolence. The planter, as it has already been pointed out, felt some responsibility for the tenant on his plantation or for the small farmer in his neighborhood. The planter's wife was frequently doctor and nurse not only in her own establishment but also in the homes of all her poor neighbors. The Edenton Gazette of October 15, 1807, wrote of Mrs. Sarah Littlejohn, "the virtuous consort of William Littlejohn Esq.," after her death that "she embraced every opportunity to soothe the sorrows of the desponding and afflicted, to administer comfort and relief to the sick, and to stretch forth the hand of benign charity to the unhappy child of poverty and misfortune."

           Doctors themselves, then as now, did a great amount of charity work. In 1833, Dr. James Norcom, of Edenton, writing to his son who was a medical student in Philadelphia, said: "For want

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of your aid, I have been obliged to neglect some of our poor patients, which I have no disposition to do; For, indeed, my son, my heart has not yet been so obdurate & unfeeling as to let me reflect on such neglect without pain & mortification. . . . I cannot turn a deaf ear to the sufferings of the indigent sick . . . even in its connection with vice & infamy. . . . If, under Providence, I have been the instrument of preserving the lives of the vicious, I may have been also the means of leading them to amendment & reformation." 51

           Impelled, no doubt, by a similar motive, John Rex, a planter of Raleigh, left in 1838 a large part of his estate in trust as a fund "for the erection and endowment of an infirmary or hospital for the sick and afflicted poor of the city of Raleigh." 52

By the conditions of the will, the hospital was to have been built when the city appointed the proper trustees to administer the fund, which amounted to some $8,000 in cash and twenty-five acres of land. In 1850 the city had not yet built the hospital, probably because the fund had not accumulated sufficiently. A "Citizen," however, called upon the town authorities, to provide a dispensary or some outdoor relief for the poor, if they considered the erection of a hospital too expensive. The doctors of Raleigh had too long been compelled to bear most of the burden of caring for the sick, not only furnishing them with their medicines but also with food and clothes as well. "The number of parishioners," wrote Citizen, "is rapidly increasing around our town, and I learn that they are and have been no small tax to the Physicians." He thought that the town also needed a "house of correction for destitute and unfortunate females." 53

           In the forties the public mind seemed to turn more and more toward the care of unfortunates. Newspapers urged their readers to participate in the "delights" which benevolence afforded. Charity to the poor, wrote a Raleigh paper, "is a luxury . . . which the miserly and penurious mind can never enjoy." The editor suggested during Christmas of 1848 that the wealthy visit the sick and destitute of Raleigh, "administering from your abundance to their suffering and wants." 54

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           The "worthy poor" were not left entirely to the uncertainty of individual philanthropy. A few public-spirited persons in the largest towns of the State early realized that this class of the poor could be provided for only by group effort. In 1815 a group of citizens of Raleigh formed a voluntary society known as the "Raleigh Association for the suppression of vice and for the promotion of morality and good order." While the "great object" of the association was to put a stop to "Drunkenness, Profanity, Gambling, Straining Horses, Negro dances and frolicks, Keeping disorderly houses and dram-shops, and Sabbath-breaking"; the Committee of Vigilance also was instructed "to inquire into the State of the poor inhabitants of the City; to report such as are proper objects of charity to the General Meeting; and to request the Physicians of the City to administer to all such of them as may, at any time, require medical aid." 55

           At various times, certain of the men's societies 56

took up the cause of the poor. For instance, a group of "young gentlemen" of Raleigh organized a Thespian Society with the object of "rendering comfort to the misfortunes of the afflicted" and in February, 1838, gave their first performance to raise money. 57

           The seaport towns, especially Wilmington, made some attempt to care for the sick and disabled seamen who arrived in port. In 1817 the Legislature passed a bill to create a fund for the erection of a state marine hospital, 58

by taxing each vessel entering the port 30 cents per seaman, but the act was in operation only five years and the money which had accrued was insufficient for the purpose. About 1835, influential citizens of Wilmington organized the Seamen's Friend Society "to improve the social, moral, and religious condition of seamen." The society conducted an "economical, moral boarding house" for sailors which was also "an asylum for shipwrecked and destitute seamen and a hospital for such sick seamen as are not provided for by the Government." In 1854 the buildings were valued at $15,000. During the year, the Home had cared for 494 sailors, 86 of whom were ill. The trustees of the Society made an unsuccessful attempt at this time to get the

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State to assist in building a hospital unit. 59 As early as 1800 Edenton was attempting to get through the Legislature a bill for the support of sick and disabled seamen belonging to its port. 60

           Early in the ante-bellum period various "mechanical societies" 61

for "the promotion of the arts and sciences, the encouragement of domestic manufactures, and for charitable and benevolent purposes" sought incorporation. They were local societies similar in purpose to the Masonic order. The relief work of the Order of Odd Fellows was largely responsible for the popular response which the organization received. In 1856 the Grand Lodge reported that it had spent almost two thousand dollars on relief during the year. The money was used for burials, for aiding destitute members and widowed families, and for the education of orphans. 62

           Upon the women fell a great share of the work in caring for the "worthy poor." The activities of the women's religious societies 63

and of the undenominational benevolent societies 64 have already been pointed out. The Newbern Female Charitable Society, incorporated in 1812, seems to have been the first of these societies. The Raleigh Female Benevolent Society had in operation a school for "destitute female children" in 1822 and kept the school up until some time after 1838. In addition to the school, the Raleigh society also spent considerable time in "procuring and preparing work for those females whose helpless families depend upon their daily labor for support." 65 The society obtained money for carrying on the work by taking up an annual collection on the occasion of the anniversary sermon, by selling articles which the children made at the school, and by conducting a fair each year during the sitting of the Legislature. In 1831 the Fayetteville Female Society of Industry raised $300 at a fair conducted for the charity school of that town. 66

           Despite the increasing interest of the public in the care of unfortunates, these pioneer charitable societies had considerable prejudice to overcome. Public sentiment applauded the effort of the

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individual housewife in caring for her poor neighbors, but it looked askance at female societies incorporated to care for the "public poor." Some declared that the societies were "encouraging vice by supporting the vicious." In the issue of January 7, 1830, the Register came to the defense of the Raleigh Female Benevolent Society, saying, "Many persons, we know, affect to ridicule these efforts to aid in the great cause of humanity, but they are certainly attended with happy consequences, and frequently cause the widow and the orphan to sing with joy."


           The State threw innumerable protections about orphans left with property, but its chief concern with destitute orphans was in preventing their becoming public charges. From the colonial period until 1919 the apprenticeship act of 1715 was the basis of dealing with orphans who had little or no property. Orphans subject to indenture were those whose estates were so small that no one would educate or maintain them for the profits, children whose fathers had deserted their families and left them without support for a year, those who needed relief in the opinion of the wardens of the poor, children of mothers who had acquired the legal right to property after separation from their husbands, illegitimate children, and all free Negro children whose parents did not habitually employ them "in some honest, industrious occupation." Boys were bound to their masters until they were twenty-one and girls until they were eighteen, sometimes until twenty-one. The binding was by indenture executed by the county court. A tradesman, merchant, mariner, or other person approved by the court was eligible to become the master of an orphan. He was to "find" the apprentice "diet, clothes, lodging, and accomodations fit and necessary" and teach him to read and write. At the expiration of the apprenticeship the master was to give the orphan $6 and furnish him with a new suit of clothes and a new Bible. 67

           The law gave small protection to the apprentice. It permitted the county court to remove him from one master to another in case he was not being taught the trade agreed upon in the indenture or if he was not being taught to read and write. It also permitted any person injured by the indenture to bring suit and recover damages. The law protected the master by authorizing the indenture

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to be withdrawn in case the orphan had mental or physical disabilities. If an apprentice ran away after he was eighteen, the master could recover damages to the amount of $60.

           The pages of the county court records of the ante-bellum period are crowded with information about destitute orphans. In 1800 the grand jury of Cumberland County Court presented a list of "Orphan children & others likely to become chargeable to the County" and the court ordered that "the Clerk give notice to the persons who appear at present to have the care of said children to appear and answer respecting them." 68

In 1805, when the Rutherford County Court ordered the sheriff to bring the children of a certain Clemmy Grant to court "to be dealt with according to law," two persons came forward at the next term of court and entered bond to the amount of £75 that the children would not become chargeable to the county. 69 The Pasquotank County Court ordered the constable in 1801 to bring ten-year-old Mary Cook and her seven-year-old brother Joshua into court to be bound out because the children were "going about at large without any person to take care of them." 70

           In 1805 the grand jury of Cumberland County presented "the deplorable situation of the widow and children, seven in number, of the late C. B. Miller" and the court ordered that the children be brought into court and bound out or "otherwise disposed of." 71

In 1832 a certain John Lankford presented an affidavit to the Rutherford County Court "setting forth that the widow Catharine Bridgman is abusing & beating her children in a barbarous & inhuman manner" whereupon the court ordered that the sheriff take the children into his care forthwith and bring them into court the next day to be bound out. 72 In 1834 a certain Caleb Lindsey appeared in open court in Orange County and affirmed that "5 children of Cain Brown are in peculiar circumstances." The court ordered that "the Sheriff dispose of them as early as possible--2 to be bound out & the other 3 to be carried to the Poor House." 73 Sometimes the court had difficulty in placing children and the

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sheriff was ordered to look about for a temporary master who would keep them until the next term of court. If he could not find such a master, and the county had no poorhouse, he might be compelled to keep the children himself.

           The courts usually had little difficulty in disposing of a free Negro boy. Some masters even bid against one another for the free Negroes, and in at least one instance the litigation over the apprenticeship continued for years. 74

In 1854 the Carteret County Court ordered as a rule of court that the mother or nearest relative of a free Negro child should be notified of the application to apprentice the child before the court would agree to order the indenture. 75

           The age at which children were apprenticed varied from early infancy to about eighteen years. Of the thirteen children whom the Cumberland County Court apprenticed in 1800, for example, six were between the ages of eleven and seventeen; and four were between three and nine. The ages of three were not given. 76

The trades which masters proposed to teach were varied: farmer, hatter, tanner, brickmason, chair maker and turner, cooper, shoemaker, house carpenter, wheelwright, cordwainer, mariner, tailor, blacksmith, butcher, saddler, spinner, tar maker, cabinet maker, weaver, seamstress, housekeeper, joiner, hostler, pilot and lighter, shipwright, miller, fisherman, merchant, bookkeeper, coachmaker, house servant, musician, waterman, house painter, tinner, potter, millwright, wagon maker, coach trimmer, barber, gunsmith, plasterer, machinist, printer. By far the greatest number of masters proposed to teach their apprentices "the art and mystery of farming" or "the art and mystery of housewifery." The next most popular profession was that of carpentry for the boys and spinning for the girls.

           The agreements into which the masters entered "over and above the law" were almost as varied as were the crafts taught. Some masters agreed to educate their apprentices "as far as the rule of three," some "to read well in the Bible," while a great many others promised schooling for a definite period of time, such as six months, a year, or eighteen months. The Rutherford County Court was especially careful in protecting the interests of its orphans.

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It usually insisted that the master make greater provision for the apprentice at the expiration of his term than called for by law, for example, a horse, bridle, and saddle valued at £20; two suits of clothes, good feather bed, spinning wheel, and furniture; a cow and calf; horse, saddle, and cash to the value of $100; two suits of clothes, ax, and mattock; tools valued at $20 and two suits of clothes; $60 in cash, one suit of homespun, and one suit of storebought goods.

           The county courts were by no means as casual in apprenticing orphans as it might be supposed. They were usually honest in their efforts to see that the master was "a fit and proper" person, and there are cases on record in which the court refused application for an orphan because of the applicant's bad reputation. In the minutes of almost every county court in the ante-bellum period there may be found instances in which the court cited a master to appear and answer for his ill treatment of an apprentice. For example, Mary Whalen came into the court of Carteret County in 1802 and "made complaint that John Benthal to whom her daughter Rebecca, a minor orphan, is bound . . . useth his said apprentice very ill." The court ordered that Benthal show cause at the next sitting of the court "why said apprentice may not be finally taken from him and further that the said mother take her child into custody till the matter be determined." 77

In 1802 the Cumberland County Court removed Simon and Ann Ingram from William Turner "on account of his ill and unmerciful treatment," and the following year ordered Lewis Johnston to court "to answer to the inhumane and otherwise improper treatment toward Anna Ham, orphan child bound to him." 78

           A court might also remove a child from one person to another if either the child or the master was dissatisfied or if the trade was injurious to the child's health. In 1801 the Cumberland County Court recorded: "It appearing to this Court that John Brady, an apprentice bound to Daniel McIntyre, Esqr. to learn the Taylor's trade, being dissatisfied to live with him and said McIntyre being desirous to give him up, Ordered that the said McIntyre be released from his Indenture on said apprentice and that said Apprentice have liberty to live with John McCormick until he can

Page 707

be bound out to learn the balance of his trade." 79 In the same year the court "upon examination" found that a child bound out in 1800 "proves to be an idiot," and ordered that the master be released from his indenture and the child be turned over to the wardens of the poor. 80 In 1801 a certain Price Penuel of Carteret County prayed to be discharged from an indenture because a wound which his apprentice received made him "unfit for hard labour." The court refused the request unless another master could be found and ordered that Penuel provide for the child and keep him at school. 81 In 1855 the Cumberland County Court rescinded the indenture of John Lawson to a brickmason because his health was being injured by the work and bound him to a coach and carriage maker. 82

           From the ante-bellum county court records available for research, the minutes of five courts were selected as typical of various sections of the State: Carteret, Pasquotank, Edgecombe, Cumberland, and Orange. 83

The number of children apprenticed in three five-year periods, 1801-1805, 1831-1835, 1851-1855, in each of the counties is shown in the following table:



County 1801-1805 1831-1835 1851-1855
Carteret 59 28 29
Pasquotank 39 101 67
Edgecombe 69 53 25
Cumberland 61 92 106
Orange 83 79 66
Total 311 353 293

           In the three periods studied, Cumberland County led the list with a total of 106 children apprenticed in the period from 1851 to 1855, an average of 21 children per year. In the same period Edgecombe County apprenticed only twenty-five children, an average of five a year. When it is considered that these children were "destitute orphans," a total of 353 apprenticed in the period from 1831 to 1835 seems surprisingly large. Yet when it is considered

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that in one county alone, Orange, there were 9,236 children under twenty in 1840 and only 79 apprenticed in the period from 1831 to 1835, the number seems surprisingly small.

           At various times, especially after 1830, there was some agitation in the State for orphanages maintained at public expense. The Legislature of 1838 adopted a resolution calling upon the governor to open correspondence with governors of other states to obtain "all the information he can . . . in relation to Houses of Refuge for Orphan children and minor offenders," 84

but the resolution came to nothing. In the issue of November 13, 1850, a correspondent of the North Carolina Standard urged Raleigh to establish a public hospital or dispensary for the poor as an incentive to the wealthy to give their money to benevolent objects, as, for instance, "a Female Orphan's Asylum," similar to "institutions which now adorn many of our sister towns in other States." But the State did little to care for its orphaned poor until the twentieth century, leaving the matter of orphanages entirely to religious and private enterprise. 85 Afflicted orphans went to the poorhouse and all others maintained themselves by their own labor as apprentices. 86


           The nineteenth century opened with the superstitious fear of the insane, which had characterized other centuries, still prevalent in North Carolina. The ignorant thought that an insane person was "possessed of the devil" or cursed by divine dispensation. The Raleigh Register of March 14, 1803, in describing the condition of an insane man, wrote, "The unfortunate man . . . had been for some weeks in a state of insanity, and had excited by his conduct a fearful kind of curiosity among his neighbours." Many doctors thought that insanity was caused by some disturbance of the blood flow, too much blood collecting in the head led to an upset of the reason. Accordingly, doctors bled an insane person in several places about his head and neck and shaved off his hair. 87

           The State authorized the county courts to appoint guardians for insane persons with a view to the protection of their property, but

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until late in the ante-bellum period it refused to assume any further responsibility in their behalf. A special jury summoned by the county court determined the question of sanity.

           Since there was no privately or publicly supported institution for the insane in the State, families had to care for their own afflicted members as best they could. When the family could afford it, they delegated a slave or hired a Negro to care for the unfortunate one. Violent cases were often confined in the county jails and most of the destitute cases were sent to the poorhouses. Wealthy families usually sent their insane members to hospitals outside the State. Virginia had such a hospital as early as 1773 and South Carolina as early as 1822. In 1848 Virginia had two State-supported hospitals for the insane.

           In 1803 the Raleigh Register related that a man who had been chained in the Salisbury jail was burned to death when the jail caught fire. Four criminals who were in the jail had been "awakened to a sense of their imminent danger by the cries of the unfortunate sufferer" and had escaped in time to save themselves. "We think regret will not be the predominant sensation," wrote the Register, "at the final termination of this most unfortunate creature's sufferings." 88

           In 1804 the family of Dr. John Cole, who had been "deranged about 14 months," advertized for him in the State papers. A guardian had been appointed to look after his property and his family had undertaken to attend to his wants, but he had escaped and had been at large for more than a month. 89

           In the issue of July 6, 1809, the Raleigh Star described the case of a certain Mrs. Biddle who, having been "depressed by a religious melancholy" and confined to her room and "straitwaist-coated" for "two or three weeks," put "a period to her existence by strangling herself with a rope."

           In 1817 the Legislature considered a bill to fine and imprison any husband who should fail to "take proper care of his lunatic wife or suffer her to struggle through the country." 90

The following year a bill arose in the Legislature to confine to the debtors' room or any other secure place in the public jail a "lunatic or idiot" who had become dangerous to the community. The period of

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confinement was to last "until he or she shall return to a lucid interval and no longer." 91

           Such inadequate means of caring for the insane meant that many were cruelly, even barbarously, treated. Indeed, a great many people thought that the insane did not feel pain or physical discomforts as normal persons did. Dorothea Dix found many cases of cruelty in North Carolina in 1848.

           "In Lincoln County, near a public road, stands a decent dwelling," she wrote; "nearby is a log cabin, strongly built and about ten feet square, . . . no windows to admit light; the square logs are compactly laid; no chimney indicates that a fire can be kindled within, and the small low door is securely locked and barred. . . . the shrill cries, and tempestuous vociferations of an incarcerated maniac will arrest you on the way." Within is "a ferocious, filthy, unshorn, half-clad creature, wallowing in foul, noisome straw, and craving for liberty. . . . This creature, is a man--insane for more than thirteen years. . . . For assuring public and private safety, his family have adopted the only alternative of confining him upon their own farm, rather than seeing him thrown into the dungeon of the County jail." 92

           Miss Dix did find insane persons in many jails in the State, and she made the statement after a tour of North Carolina that in nearly every jail in the State insane persons had been "grievous sufferers" at different times and in varying periods of duration. 93

In Rockingham County an aged crazy man had been the inmate of the jail for more than thirty years. "In a dark, dreary, and filthy dungeon, in Northampton County" Miss Dix found an insane man who had been confined closely for several years. Another was in "a noisome, damp, cold dungeon" in the Craven County jail.

           In the Orange County jail there were no insane persons, but there were six in the poorhouse, "three in close confinement, and much excited." In the Granville County poorhouse a man had been chained for years to the floor of a wretched room, "miserable and neglected, his now deformed and palsied limbs" attesting the severity of his sufferings; "flesh and bones . . . crushed out of shape by the unyielding irons." In eleven of the thirty-six poorhouses

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which Miss Dix visited, she found persons in varying stages of insanity; "some vociferous and offensive in the extreme," others tranquil and roaming the premises at large. 94

           The movement in behalf of a hospital for the insane began in North Carolina with the passage of a resolution in 1825 calling upon the two speakers in the Legislature, Bartlett Yancey and John Stanly, to collect information and report a plan for the establishment of "a lunatic asylum." 95

           The committee made no report the following year because of the illness of John Stanly, and the Legislature renewed the commission, appointing James Iredell in his stead. 96

In 1827 the Legislature referred the report to a joint committee which in turn reported that they were sure it would "add lustre to a government . . . to protect and cherish the unfortunate individual who by the visitation of God has been deprived of his reason"; but the joint committee was fearful of the cost of such an asylum. Perhaps an asylum and a penitentiary could be maintained as one institution. At any rate, the committee respectfully asked the governor to collect information to that end and report the following year. 97

           Here the matter seems to have rested for about ten years. It was not until the closing month of the Legislature of 1838-1839, that the friends of the movement were able to push through the Legislature a resolution in behalf of a hospital for the insane in connection with a resolution seeking information about a penitentiary and an orphans' home. 98

The resolution asked for information as to the number of insane in the State, whether they were "at large or in confinement and where and how long confined." 99

           But it was another ten years before the State actually had a law looking toward the erection of such a hospital and another five years before the construction actually got underway. In 1844, in response to Governor Morehead's recommendation that the State erect "asylums" for its unfortunate insane, blind, and deaf, the Legislature appointed a special committee which drew up an able report recommending that the asylums be established out of money to be taken from the Internal Improvements Fund. Pointing out

Page 712

that there were 801 insane persons and idiots in North Carolina in 1840, the report pleaded with the Legislature to take them out of their cold and noisome cells where they had been shut up "to drag out the miserable remnant of their days, without fire to warm their benumbed limbs . . . and without friends . . . to soothe and calm the tempest raging within their distempered imaginations." 100

           Despite this stirring report, the Legislature, unwilling to tamper with the Internal Improvements Fund and unwilling to incur unpopularity at home by voting a tax to raise the necessary funds, again let the issue die. The matter might have dragged on through the rest of the ante-bellum period as did other movements for reform had not Dorothea L. Dix 101

of New York come to North Carolina. She was a philanthropist and reformer, especially in behalf of "the suffering insane." For three months she traveled through the State visiting the jails and poorhouses where the insane were imprisoned. During the sitting of the Legislature in the autumn of 1848 she made her able report already quoted. 102

           She urged that the insane be removed from their dungeons to a State hospital where they might have physical and mental occupation. "Short excursions, resort to the workshops, carpentering, joining, turning, the use of a good library, are aids in advancing the cure of the patient." Despite Miss Dix's able report and her ability as a lobbyist, the bill came near to being lost amid political and financial brawls. 103

During her stay in Raleigh, Miss Dix had visited and cheered Mrs. James C. Dobbin who lay incurably ill. On her death bed a few weeks later, Mrs. Dobbin asked her husband, a political leader and member of the Legislature, to support the hospital bill. Four days after the death of his wife, Dobbin brought up an amendment to the original bill and in a great emotional speech united Whigs and Democrats to obtain passage of the measure.

           "The speech of Mr. Dobbin," wrote the Raleigh Register, "was one of the most touchingly beautiful efforts that we have ever heard. Its noble and eloquent conception, impressive delivery,

Page 713

and the circumstances which prompted it--all combined to render it truly worthy of the occasion." 104 The bill called for a fund of $87,000 to be raised by a tax of 1½ cents on the hundred dollar valuation of land and 5½ cents on the poll for the erection of a hospital to accommodate 150 patients. As a sop to that large portion of the State's population which had always opposed reform because of its cost, the bill provided that the county courts might make a corresponding reduction in the poor tax. Many who had advocated the erection of an asylum came actually to oppose the measure after the bill had been passed, for it "robbed the poor to care for the insane."

           After the tax had accumulated for four years, the Legislature renewed it for another three-year period, and work was begun on the building in 1853. 105

In honor of the service which Miss Dix rendered to the State, the site on which the hospital was erected was named Dix Hill. Dr. E. C. Fisher of Staunton, Virginia, was the first superintendent of the hospital. In 1856 the Legislature made its first direct appropriation of $20,000 per annum to the institution and increased the amount in 1858 to $25,000. Between 1856 and 1858 the hospital treated 242 cases. 106


           It was long a presumption of law that one deprived from birth of the power of speech and hearing was an idiot, and a county court of North Carolina as late as 1845 rendered a decision upon that presumption. 107

In 1806 the Legislature considered a bill "for the protection of women who are unfortunately deaf and dumb" which stated that deaf mutes were "incapable of forming a correct idea of any laws but those that are natural and instinctive." 108 In 1838 a bill arose in the Senate to include deaf mutes in the general law providing for idiots and lunatics so that "those who are deaf and dumb and thereby incapable of managing their own property" might have a guardian appointed by the county court. The bill would have had a jury render a verdict of "dumbness" as in cases of insanity and idiocy. 109

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           Archibald D. Murphey had included provision for the education of the deaf in his famous report on education to the Legislature of 1817. 110

The movement in behalf of educating deaf mutes began in North Carolina in 1822 when Governor Gabriel Holmes received a lengthy letter from the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, setting forth in detail the work of the Philadelphia school in "reclaiming the deaf and dumb to the human family." 111 Five years later a group of social-minded men, those usually to be found on the side of humanitarian reform, the Reverend Dr. McPheeters, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, Joseph Gales, editor of the Register, President Caldwell of the University, met in Raleigh and organized the North Carolina Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. 112 The Legislature incorporated the society the same year. Between 1827 and 1845, when a school for the deaf was actually established, friends of the movement inserted a plea in its behalf in every resolution which occurred in the Legislature concerning asylums for the unfortunate. 113

           Early in 1844 William D. Cooke, principal of the Virginia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb at Staunton, came to North Carolina to attempt the organization of a private school in this State. Governor Morehead had already recommended to the Legislature in 1842 the establishment of such a school, and he gave ready support to Cooke's plan. He advised the teacher to visit the Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina, then in session in Raleigh, to obtain its support, and the governor again made a stirring appeal to the Legislature of 1844 in behalf of a school for the deaf and blind. 114

           The census of 1840 listed 354 deaf mutes in North Carolina, 280 of whom were white, but it was generally believed that the number was nearer 400. 115

The Legislative Committee of 1844 which had made such an able plea in behalf of the insane also pleaded for the instruction of the deaf and blind. In this instance the committee was successful. The Legislature appropriated $5,000

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from the Literary Fund for the instruction of deaf mutes and the blind and provided for a supplementary county tax of $75 for each student. The trustees of the Literary Fund authorized Cooke to begin the work and agreed to pay him $150 a year per student for all expenses. The school opened in May, 1845. Deaf mutes between the ages of eight and thirty were eligible for instruction.

           Cooke assumed entire responsibility and risk for the operation of the school. He rented a residence in Raleigh for the purpose and before the end of 1846 he and two assistants, Totten and Allbright, were instructing twenty-three mutes in reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and domestic and industrial arts. By such an arrangement, wrote a legislative committee in 1846, "the expense of the establishment to the State has been much less than that of any similar institution in the country." 116

The Legislature of 1846-1847, however, appropriated $10,000 117 for the erection of a permanent building in Caswell Square in Raleigh and in 1852 increased the annual appropriation from $5,000 to $8,000 and in 1857 to $10,000. In 1854 John Kelly, "a benevolent gentleman" of Orange County, left the institution $6,000. 118

           This generosity on the part of the Legislature was in large measure due to Cooke's efficiency as a teacher and his ability as a lobbyist. His school had been in operation only a few months when he began demonstrating what his pupils had accomplished. In March, 1846, he gave a public examination at the Presbyterian Church in Raleigh before "a crowded auditory of both sexes," after which Governor Graham delivered "a neat address" urging all present to help overcome "the ignorance, incredulity, and apathy" of parents who would not permit their children to attend the school. 119

In 1847 Cooke began taking a group of his pupils to every sitting of a county court within easy reach of Raleigh. After Cooke had visited the Johnston County Court, an "influential citizen" wrote in praise of "that most excellent and philanthropic institution," calling upon every county court in the State and every parent of a mute to send their deaf to Raleigh if they "would discharge a solemn duty which they owe to God, their country, themselves, and their own offspring." 120

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           The act of 1844 authorizing instruction of the deaf also made some provision for instruction of the blind, but no teacher qualified to instruct them was available; and, as the Raleigh Register pointed out in February, 1845, "It may, perhaps, prove most advantageous, for the present at least, to send them out of the State to be instructed." 121

In July, 1851, however, Cooke included a department for the blind in his school and the newspapers at once began a campaign to seek out and enlighten the blind as to the possibilities of their education. 122 The census of 1840 listed 390 blind in North Carolina, 223 of whom were white. In 1852 the Legislature incorporated the school as the North Carolina Institution for the Education of the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind.

           The State had refused to assume any direct responsibility for the poor and had left the matter of their care entirely to the discretion of the counties. It had refused to give a State-supported home to destitute orphans, but in the closing years of the ante-bellum period it had extended help to another class of its unfortunate citizens, the deaf, the blind, and the insane. Those who had long since dreamed of lightening the burdens of these physical and mental defectives looked upon the State institutions with a mellow pride. "It is a cause," wrote the Weekly Post, "which appeals directly to the finest feelings of the human heart." 123

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