Nellis [1 ] states that in colonial Boston, “the responsibility of the poor was mostly a public responsibility – private charity did not play any kind of significant role until after the Revolutionary War and even then only offered to ‘deserving poor’. From the founding of the first church in 1630 to 1792 at least nineteen churches were established in Boston, thirteen of which were established after 1692, the year when the Overseers of the Poor was established. The proportion of poor relief that came from public money appears to have risen even as the numbers of churches increased.”
In 1711, Boston’s South Church provided relief for the victims of the Great Fire of 1711 and the small pox epidemic of 1752. The inter-congregational “Quarterly Charity Lecture” was established to raise alms for up to a dozen families a month. Some private charities were designated to aid the needy respective members of specific ethnic or religious groups, such as the Scots Charitable Society , the Charitable Irish Society and the Episcopal Society. Other notable private efforts to deal with poverty were Daniel Oliver’s [2 ] Spinning School in 1721 and the Society for Encouraging Industry and Employing the Poor in the 1750’s and 1760’s. See also 1752 Flax Advertisement.
Description of religious schools established by the society. Ends with a statement of receipts and expenses for the past year and a list of the religious books sold to Sunday Schools.
Sermon by Samuel Cooper (1705-1787) preached August 8, 1753 before the Society for Encouraging Industry and Employing the Poor, concerning the nature of prudent charity and why the poor in Boston should learn to spin flax.
This society functioned more as a form of self-insurance than as a charity. The purpose was to relieve “those among us whom Providence may relieve to a state of poverty and want.” “Us” referred to members who subscribed to the Society. The Society invested the members contributions.
Preached August12, 1752 before the Society for Encouraging Industry and Employing the Poor. The Reverend Charles Chauncy quoted biblical aphorisms: Proverbs 12:24 ‘Drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags, but the diligent hand maketh rich’ and II Thessalonians 3:10 ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.’ The sermon finds religious reasons for demanding labor from able-bodied persons helped by charity. At the end of the printed sermon, the Society for Encouraging Industry and Employing the Poor listed its purposes.
By-laws of the Irish Society in New England. Ends with a list of members who paid their quarterly dues in 1738.
Ends with a list of the society’s presidents, starting with John Hancock in 1780 and ending with Uriel H. Crocker in 1891.
Charter and By-laws, adopted at its founding Sept. 6, 1762, incorporated March 15, 1780.
Description and By-Laws
Includes a description of the charity, the act of incorporation, the by-laws, the list of subscribers, and forms for a surrender or legal release of a child to the asylum and for indenture of boys by the asylum. A sermon by Mr. Lowell given on the asylum’s first anniversary is also included. The Boston Asylum for Indigent Boys was incorporated in 1814 and modeled after the Female Asylum. It was supported by annual subscribers and intended to give children of the virtuous poor some education, habits of industry and piety, and a home where they would be protected from bad examples.
After 1772, overseers of the poor were authorized by the Massachusetts General Court (Legislature) to act as sole agents for the distribution of any private donations to the poor.
1. The Eighteenth-Century Records of the Boston Overseers of the Poor (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts). Edited by Eric Nellis and Anne Decker Cecere. Charlottesville: University Of Virginia Press, 2001.