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The Wilson Museum Bulletin
Spring 2002, Vol. 4, No. 22
Castine Poor Farm   |  Special Summer Activities & Exhibits  |  Bagaduce Engine Co. No. 2

Castine Poor Farm

It has always been our responsibility in this country to care for those who are unable to help themselves. Sometimes the needs are acute, at other times long-lasting. Ideally, we wish all citizens to become self-sufficient, but sometimes circumstances make that impossible. For whatever reasons and for however long, we are obliged to give assistance. Of course, the most expedient method is to circumvent the problem; one measure taken was to pass a law penalizing any master of a ship or vessel for bringing into and landing within the Commonwealth, persons convicted of crime, or who were notoriously of dissolute, infamous and abandoned life and character. (The Perpetual Laws Of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1780-1789 ). Coastal areas still young in their settling were easy targets and sharp eyes were always kept for potential “squatters.” Clerk’s Records from Penobscot (the present towns of Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot) disclose the actions of the town when confronted with such situations: . . . to either of the constables of the town of Penobscot. . . in the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [you are] directed to warn and give notice unto Ebenezer Booden Senr. & his Wife Rebecca Booden and Ruth Booden, Sally Booden, Hannah Booden, Ebenr. Booden Junr., and Rufus Booden, Henry Bridges & his Wife Patty Bridges - George Darrow & his Wife Abigail Darrow and Palmer Darrow, Isaac Robins & his Wife Sarah Robins, John Ring, David Ring, Isaac Robins and Sarah Ring - Labor Hunt & his Wife Sarah Hunt, Betsy Hunt and Labor Hunt Junr. - James Butler & his Wife Polly Butler, Ruth Butler & Nelly Butler - Daniel Hilton & his Wife Sarah Hilton, Sarah Hilton, Elizabeth Hilton, Alley Hilton, & Rachel Hilton - Abel Hosmer & his Wife Lucy Hosmer, Jona. Hosmer, Abel Hosmer Junr., Esther Hosmer, Samuel Hosmer & Lucy Hosmer - Benja. Rea & his Wife Lydia Rea, Benja Rea Junr., Hannah Rea, John Rea, Lucy Rea, Nancy Rea, Sally Rea & Lydia Rea - Jerusha Butler, all now residing in Penobscot in the county aforesaid, and who has lately come into this town for the purpose of abiding herein, not having obtained, the town consent therefore, that they depart the limits, thereof within fifteen days . . . (signed) Oliver Parker, Joseph Hibbert, Oliver Mann, Selectmen. Joseph Hibbert, also holding the position as constable, reported on Aug. 19, 1790, that such notice was given. That next year Thursy Eaton was given notice to leave the town limits, as was Anna Clerk in 1792 and twenty-eight others in 1793 which included Curtises, Bridges, Clements and one person by the name of Swain. Many of these families may well have been able to support themselves and were simply looking to establish roots. It is obvious that many returned, for these are familiar names in the history of this area. What the process did was prolong the inevitable and eventually, as with every community, officials were faced with meeting the needs of dependent citizens. The first official record of this may be found in the clerk records of 1796, the same year in which Castine broke away from Penobscot. Penobscot made three decisions concerning the poor: to raise fifty-five dollars to support the poor, to have Mr. Conner board Andrew Webster until the next annual meeting, and to employ a lawyer to settle the dispute of Webster’s prior care. The precedence was set and from then on individuals or families needing care were brought before town meeting for the purpose of determining their fate.

Early on, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts established that towns were to appoint an overseer(s) of the poor. Generally, the positions of the selectmen and overseers of the poor were combined, and often the responsibilities were passed along to someone else. The following article in the Penobscot town warrant, dated, March 14, 1799, was typical: To see who will take and board Mr. Andrew Webster the cheapest the present year.

That particular year, Thomas Binney agreed to board Mr. Webster for one year at 9 shillings per week. Mr. Webster was passed off to at least five different care givers from 1796 until his death. The townspeople then voted to have Capt. Thatcher Avery as the agent to dispose of the goods left by Mr. Andrew Webster late. In later records, Castine is found to have “knocked off” its permanent paupers to the lowest bidder. Several men in the area were given the commission of auctioneer from 1821 through 1834: Richard Hawes served eleven one-year terms, S. L. Volantine served three one-year terms and Doty Little, Rowell Mead, and William H. Bartlett, each served one year. Such direction was given by the voters each year, as in 1833, when the permanent paupers were to be sold at auction on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Otis Little’s corner under the direction of the Selectmen.

Taken form Hancock County, Maine, 1860.
Actual Surveys under the Direction of H.W. Walling.
Published by Lee and Marsh, N.Y. Wilson Museum Archives
1860 Map

It is interesting to note the qualifications to vote in Castine: in 1807, one had to be male, at least 21 years old, a resident of the town for one year, owning land in town, and having an annual income of 3 pounds, or any estate of 60 pounds; in 1824, one was required to be a male at least 21 years of age, excepting paupers, persons under guardianship and Indians not taxed, having their residence established for three months.

A more practical method for caring for the poor was invariably sought after, and as early as 1818, Penobscot voted to send Elijah Littlefield to consult with a committee formed in Castine to study the feasibility of a common poor house. Repeated efforts were made between the towns, but to no avail. It is not until 1833 that Castine commits to purchasing a house and farm for the use of the poor.

Castine clerk records December 18, 1833: The Committee appointed at the Town meeting in April last to ascertain whether a suitable House & Farm could be obtained for the accommodation of the Poor - ask leave to report - That they have examined several Farms & have made inquiries respecting others, and have not, until very recently, been able to find one for sale, where the price & other necessary requisites were such, as in their opinion, would justify a report to the Town in favor of purchasing. We now have an offer of a Farm in Brooksville, adjoining the Haney [John Henry] Farm, owned by Maj. Hodsdon for 1500$ (a plan of which is herewith submitted) containing about 187 acres, with a House about 30 by 36 feet - 4 rooms on the lower floor - well finished & painted - 1½ stories high - second story, not finished, excepting that there is a good Floor laid - Cellar under the whole House well stoned and pointed - a well handy to the House-, & a good Barn. -

The quantity of Hay cut on this farm, the present year was probably, from 20 to 25 tons - but it is thought to be capable of producing 35 to 40 Tons, with proper cultivation.

There is a large quantity of young wood on this Farm, but of small size - sufficient, however, we think, for the consumption of 3 fires. The Farm is well watered & has on it a mill privilege. Two of your Committee have within a few days, examined a part of this Farm, with the Buildings, and from our own opinion & the opinion of others, who are well acquainted with this Land, we think the price not unreasonable.

Taking it for granted that the Town wish to procure a Farm, it is the opinion of your Committee that this Farm should be purchased. A man who is very generally recommended as an agent for a Poor House & Farm, and one whom we believe to be better qualified for this situation than anyone that can, probably be obtained is now disengaged, and will accept of this situation for 3 years - for a compensation, which we think reasonable. - (Signed) Samuel Adams For Committee

Taken from Penobscot River and Belfast Bay, Maine. Issued 1882. U.S.C. & G.S. Topography ... between 1871 and 1875. The superimposed blue line defines the approximate area of the Castine Poor Farm. Wilson Museum Archives
1882 Map

The vote was affirmative with the instruction that the selectmen and treasurer be a committee to carry the decision into effect, and also, to purchase stock and farming utensils, make necessary repairs, and employ a superintendent. There were some misgivings, for on January 2, 1834, the purchasing of a Poor House was indefinitely postponed, yet, the deed shows that it was definitely purchased December 31, 1833 for $1,500.

The land was purchased in two parcels from John Hodgdon of Bangor. The first parcel was bounded northwesterly by land now or late of Thomas Adams, the heirs of Sylvanus Upham, deceased, the heirs of Josiah Hook, Jr. and land late of Benjamin Hook, Jr., Northeasterly by land in the possession of Thomas Stevens, Southerly by land of Elias Shepardson and David Wasson and Southwesterly by the waters of Castine Harbor containing one hundred & thirty-six acres the same more or less. The second tract of land was bounded westerly by Castine Harbor, northerly by land formerly owned by John Rea and Southerly by land formerly of Sylvanus Upham, deceased, being the southerly half of Wm Markes lower lot, so called containing fifty acres the same more or less.

In the next year and a half, Castine expended a little over $1,600 to equip the farm. D. Norton was paid $588 for his stock, farming utensils and provisions. Other purchases included: 10 barrels of corn, 100 barrels of potatoes; salt, indigo, tools, bedding, labor, etc.

An interesting item purchased from “W. & Jarvis” was Junk for $4.16. Webster’s dictionary offers three possibilities for this “junk”. Would it have been old cable or rope used for making oakum, mats, etc? Oakum was a familiar item used in this coastal area for caulking in the hull of ships; a small cove, located across the bay from the Poor Farm was named Oakum Bay. Or, perhaps what was purchased was the kind of salt pork supplied to vessels for long voyages, so called from its resembling old ropes ends in hardness and toughness. Salt pork, in any form, has earned its place in the lives of New Englanders, the quality, though not as appealing, may have sufficed given the right price. A third explanation may have been that mass of cellular tissue in the head of a sperm whale, containing oil and spermaceti. Whale oil and spermaceti was used in early lighting, but, surely this was too dear when suitable oil could be rendered from the poggies (menhaden) in the bay. A study into the inventory of “W. & Jarvis” might shed some light onto what this particular junk might have been.

During the next several years, attempts were made to improve and manage the Poor Farm to its best advantage. The selectmen leased a mill privilege on the farm in 1839 to David Wasson and some others. Still, in 1841, some of the town’s people were obviously ready to give up, but when a vote was taken it was determined not to sell. Instead, a committee was established to contract with some person to take over the Farm and its poor for one or more years. A list of those residing at the Poor Farm in 1841 includes gender, age and length of stay; from this we have some insight into the responsibilities a superintendent would assume. There was a total of twenty: three females whose ages were 2, 16, 23, and twelve females between the ages of 33 and 81; the remaining male inmates were ages 5, 8, 38, and two aged 62. There was a five-member family and two pairs of women with similar surnames - perhaps they were mother and daughter, as their ages were 53, 23 and 56, 33. The person having spent the least amount of time on the Farm was sixteen - she had been there 12 weeks and five days. Eleven had lived there the entire year, including the family of five.

The situation of the poor may have been settled for a time, but the simple fact that the farm was located somewhere other than in Castine did not settle well with everyone. In 1848 the town directed the selectmen to look into what could be had for the poor house and farm and to pursue a place within Castine. The Castine Poor Farm continued to function throughout the next two decades under these unsettling conditions, until, in 1867, the townspeople finally agreed to sell the farm. We know, by the diaries of Doctor Joseph Stevens, of Castine, that he continued to make professional visits to the farm as late as February 3, 1867. Officially, the property was sold on July 8, 1867, with the signatories of Josiah B. Woods, Thos. E. Hale, and Jefferson Devereux (Agents). The boundaries had been adjusted, in 1839, to meet the satisfaction of its abutters, Thomas Stevens and John Henry. The two maps within offer a look at the area and its neighbors.

The town deed reads: A lot of land lying in said Brooksville beginning at the shore at the southeasterly line of the homestead farm of the late John Henry, thence northeasterly by said farm to its east corner, thence northwesterly by said homestead to the shore, thence northeasterly by the shore to land of Job Tapley, thence southeasterly by said Tapley line to his south corner, thence northeasterly by said Tapley lot to land of Tho. Stevens, thence Southerly by said Stevens lot to land formerly owned by Elias Shepardson and thence southwesterly by said Shepardson lot , and land of David Wasson to the shore and thence westerly by the shore to the first mentioned bound . . . excepting however and reserving to said Inhabitants and their successors forever the poor farm grave yard lot amt forty feet square.

We recently visited this area in Brooksville and Dean Cousins graciously walked much of the land with us. The old foundations remain and in a wooded area are four gravestones. Two are inscribed: a headstone “DAVID AUSTIN/DIED/Sept. 16, 1850/AE 48 yrs” and his footstone “D.A.” Two graves are marked with large naturally formed slabs having no engraving. Perhaps other stones will be found, but it seems likely that some graves simply were not marked or had markers that disintegrated with time.

Castine Poor Farm   |  Special Summer Activities & Exhibits  |  Bagaduce Engine Co. No. 2

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(207) 326-9247    info@wilsonmuseum.org