On March 31st, 1817, Josiah R. Elting, an Overseer of the Poor for the town of New Paltz, compiled a ledger filled with the town's relief records as well as other documentation beginning in the year 1805. This ledger included the name, condition, location, and relief given to individuals needing assistance ordered by the local Justice of the Peace. Often, the physical condition was listed as well as the amount of money allotted to each person or family per week. Mothers and their children, former slaves, illegitimate infants, the sick, the maimed, and the elderly often fell victim to economic distress and found themselves without financial security. Through a system of required taxation in both the county and the town, Overseers of the Poor along with town Justices of the Peace would decide upon the relief and distribute it accordingly.

This exhibit initially began as a transcription project of the Overseer of the Poor Ledger and eventually expanded into a study of the history of poverty and social welfare in the town of New Paltz during the early nineteenth century. Common history curricula often neglects the study of poverty and its impact on the United States’ current social welfare system. Hoping to shed light on this overlooked subject, “Poverty in Early New Paltz,” seeks to bring attention and evoke thoughtful discussion on such a prevalent topic.

I hate this grinding poverty—
To toil, and pinch, and borrow,
And be for ever haunted by
The spectre of to-morrow.
It breaks the strong heart of a man,
It crushes out his spirit—
Do what he will, do what he can,
However high his merit!

I hate the praise that Want has got
From preacher and from poet,
The cant of those who know it not
To blind the men who know it.
The greatest curse since man had birth,
An everlasting terror:
The cause of half the crime on earth,
The cause of half the error

 ~Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

Credits:

This online exhibit was created through a partnership between the Town of New Paltz Historian’s Office, the Ulster County Clerk's Office, and the State University at New Paltz History Department. Interns: Kaitlyn Way, Sean McGill and Peter Randazzo were instrumental in all aspects of the exhibit.

Project development and design by Town Historian: Susan Stessin-Cohn.

This project was made possible by the support of the following organizations and individuals:

• The Ulster County Records Center, Kingston, New York and the Ulster County Clerk's Office, Nina Postupack, Ulster County Clerk;

• Carrie Allmendinger, Archivist Librarian at Historic Huguenot Street, for technical support photographing the New Paltz Town Ledger;

• Special thanks to Jennifer Palmentiero, Hudson River Valley Heritage and Southeastern New York Library Resources Council for their enthusiasm, assistance and support.