Before the Poorhouse


Prior to 1784, the Church or Parish was in charge of distributing money to the poor in New York. While many towns already had an Overseer of the Poor, it wasn't a mandated position until the Law of 1784. Each town in Ulster County elected two Overseers of the Poor annually.

In 1824, New York passed a law requiring that each county construct a poorhouse. Click here to read the content of this law. Although Ulster was exempted from this law, in the winter of 1827 the county began purchasing property to use as a county poorhouse. By June of 1828 a poorhouse was established in New Paltz, where it stood for the next 150 years.

In 1827, the County Board of Supervisors and the judges of the Court of Common Pleas were directed to appoint the Superintendents of the Poor, except in Ulster County where they were appointed by the state legislature. By 1847 Superintendent of the Poor became an elected position. One man in each county was allowed to hold the position for a term of three-years.

Treatment of Paupers
Prior to the establishment of county poorhouses, paupers were dealt with in one of the following ways:

  • Contract - Friends or family members signed a contract to take care of a pauper for a set price.
  • Binding out - a pauper was contractually given to a person as an indentured servant. For boys until they were 21 years old, for girls, until they were 18. See examples of indentures.
  • Public auctioning - paupers were auctioned off to the lowest bidder. The county was then responsible for paying an annual fee for the upkeep of this pauper.
  • Outdoor relief - a pauper would be given a certain weekly allowance for their support.

Purchasing the Land

The two plots of land, and buildings thereon, that made up the site of the County Poorhouse were purchased by the County of Ulster in 1827 from the Merritt family. Fifty and one-half acres, including the winter grain, were purchased from Thomas Merritt for the sum of eighteen hundred dollars. Another sixty acres, with the exception of the site of the family cemetery, were purchased from Jeremiah Merritt for the sum of two thousand dollars.

Article of Agreement

Click here to view the 1827 Article of Agreement between the County of Ulster and Jeremiah Merritt with transcription

Article of Agreement
Enlargement of Agreement
page 1 (112k)

Article of Agreement
Enlargement of Agreement
page 2 (52k)

The Merritt Family Cemetery

The Article of Agreement with Jeremiah Merritt excludes the forty eight square foot plot of land that is the site of the family cemetery

Merritt Family Cemetery
Many thanks to the people at the Ulster County Archives for their help with this material.