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Timeline of Poor Relief Legislation

Dutch Rule: 1609-1664


One-third of fines for crimes committed on New Year’s day would go to the poor.


Each village or settlement was to support their own poor. This was usually done through the church where collections for the poor would be made.

English Rule: Early 1660s-1783


If a person came into the New York province and did not have a house or job, then they would need to prove they would not be a “burden or charge” to their place of habitation. If any poor person went from town to town to seek relief, the constable possessed the authority to bring the pauper back to the town from which they came. When a ship arrived into New York with new passengers, the master of the ship was required to give a list of the conditions of everyone onboard to the local magistrates. If it was determined that someone would be a burden to the town, the master of the ship had to transport this person back to where they came from.


Counties and towns were required to take care of their poor. A supervisor, collector, and two assessors were to be elected. The way in which poor taxes were levied and collected was also outlined and explained.


Every city or town in the counties of Ulster and Orange were to elect Overseers of the Poor and a Clerk. This was due to the large number of paupers residing in the counties. Additionally, job descriptions of the Overseers of the Poor and Clerks were explained.

March 8, 1773

If either a churchwarden or Overseer of the Poor complained about a pauper attempting to settle in a town, two Justices of the Peace were to “receive and convey” them. The Justices could then rule that a person needed to be relocated back to where they previously resided.

April 3, 1775

The Tax Collector was to pay money directly to the Overseer of the Poor instead of it first going to the County Treasurer.

Jan. 31, 1775

In 1776 and every year after, the date the poor taxes were levied changed to the first Tuesday in May and was to be collected before August first. This alleviated the inconvenience of having to collect the tax during the winter.


The Overseers of the Poor within the county was to attend the annual meeting of Supervisors and relay the number of poor people residing in their towns. The Supervisors would then provide the amount of money to collect from each town for the poor, thus creating a poor tax. The act also stated that any county that had not elected Overseers of the Poor must elect either two or three. The Overseers were to give an account of the money received and paid to the poor to the Justices for auditing before the Supervisor meeting.

Post-American Independence


Reinstated many of the English poor laws that were already in place. No drastic changes occurred except it officially eliminated poor relief through churches in some of the more significant colonies.


Every city and town was responsible for their own poor. This act presented who was considered a poor person of a particular town and also created new laws about the settlement of paupers. It also explained the jobs of the Overseer and Justices of the Peace. The Overseer was also to procure a book that would list every person that received relief and the amount of aid or services that were provided.


The Justice of the Peace could rule that if an unsettled person was extremely sick or indigent, it would be improper to remove them. Instead of removal, the Justice could give the Overseer of the Poor a written note with a weekly allowance the pauper should receive.


No one from any state other than New York or Canada could acquire settlement unless they bought property in any New York town that exceeded the value of $250, or rented a house for at least $100 a year for the duration of four years.


Specific counties were to establish a poor-house. Thirty-eight counties (including Ulster) out of fifty-six were exempted from this act. The act also put strict limitations on who could be removed from a city or town. The act states, “the county where such person shall become sick, infirm and poor, shall support him.”