Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eliza, Ugly as Satan

While doing research on a Rowell family member who lived in Plainfield, NH, I came across an interesting entry in the Plainfield Town Record. The year of the entry was 1823 and it was a list of the town Paupers.  The clerk listed each pauper, age and reason for needing the town's support as well as how much each pauper would receive.

From the beginning of the Massachusetts Bay Colony until well into the 19 century the New England towns took responsibility for their poor adults and orphans.  Overseeing the care of the poor was the job of the town Selectmen. But the key to getting this support was to be an actual member of the town. Vagrants were run out of town as soon as the Selectmen got wind of them. The town constable was tasked to "warn out" any newcomers that were not able to demonstrate financial security  New families might have to be sponsored by their neighbors in order to stay and family members were held liable for their kin. 

 Each town had a it's own system for providing welfare.  Some towns would pay another town member to care for them in their home.  In 1668 John and Elizabeth Whitaker of Watertown were paid 10 pounds per year to feed "Old Thorpe" and in addition were allowed to farm his property.  Sometimes the pauper would be auctioned off for the lowest possible cost to another citizen. While Christian charity played some role in this system, I cannot help but believe that the "owner" of the pauper was doing it with the  expectation of labor by the pauper. 

The 1823 roster of paupers includes:

John Stevens, age 88, cause: infirmity  added note: spent his property by speculating and being dishonest

Philip Whitaker, 78, indolence and dishonesty

Reuben Pease, 53, Idiot

Sally Smith, 45 and her two children, her husband has been in jail for two years

But the one that really jumped out at me was the following:

Eliza Harrington age 35 and her child age two, cause: Ugly as Sata____
The town records were hand copied at a later date into a new record book.  The copiest indicated with dashes that they could not read some of the script or it was damaged or missing.  I think that the cause should read "ugly as Satan".  Wow, can you imagine writing that. How horrible for Eliza. I decided to look for Eliza in other records.

In a search on I found who I think is her in the 1850 census, Eliza was 55 and single and living with a family in Plainfield. I also found her death certificate.  Eliza died on 17 September 1875 in Plainfield aged 83 and single. A search on shows  both an 1860 and an 1870 census showing an Elizabeth Harrington, of the correct age, living with a Charles Harrington and his family in Plainfield, NH. This Charles was 41 in 1870 so was too young to have been the child in 1823, but he could have been another illegitimate child or maybe a nephew or cousin. I cannot find anything on her earlier child. 

Going a bit further back, a marriage is recorded on 26 July 1793 of Ezra Harrington and Mary Nash of Plainfield.  This would make them likely candidates for Eliza's parents.  Ezra shows up in the 1800 and 1810 census' for Plainfield, but I cannot find him after that.  

We will never know what Eliza's life was like, but it doesn't sound to good. I hope that Charles was her son and that he loved and respected her, even if she wasn't very attractive.

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