I am transcribing the VRs of Mount Vernon, Maine, and have recently discovered many pauper records from the 1840-1870 era. This has led to much curiosity about how paupers were treated during this period. It looks like people bid at the town meeting to keep paupers in their homes. However, the curious part is that it looks like they were bidding to take care of their own parents or other relatives. Another curious aspect is that sometimes they were paid in shillings - why would this happen mid 1800s? One of the most curious events is a man who is being supported as a pauper from another town and yet he bids and supports another pauper in Mt Vernon; furthermore, he is listed in the census as a farmer with quite a bit of worth.

Does anyone know of any research in this area? Would appreciate any help.

Sally Furber Nelson

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Comment by Chris Dunham on July 25, 2015 at 5:05pm

This was called the "vendue" system, and it was phased out by the mid 1800s when towns started building poorhouses and town farms. The paupers were "sold off" to the lowest bidder, but it seems that in many cases, if the family was willing, they would be allowed to "win" the auction and keep their relative in their own home. In effect, the family would receive a subsidy from the town to care for the pauper, who might have been suffering from mental illness or some other disability or debility. It was a cruel system, but these cases show that there was some neighborly compassion at play.

Shillings were indeed used in Maine in the early 19th century. English currency would have been readily available in Maine, given our proximity to the Canadian provinces. Foreign coins were accepted as legal tender in the United states until the passage of the Coinage Act of 1857.

Comment by Sally Furber Nelson on July 26, 2015 at 9:18am

Thanks so much. Do you know if this "vendue" system was a law or merely a custom?

Comment by Chris Dunham on July 26, 2015 at 2:16pm

It appears to have been merely a custom. A town was required to provide for its paupers, but it was left to the selectmen and voters to decide how that would be accomplished. I found a good article here on the practice, which was outlawed in Maine in 1847.

Comment by Sally Furber Nelson on July 26, 2015 at 2:37pm

Thanks again. This is a great article. I found others by googling "paupers in New England" - thinking about doing an article about pauper practices in Maine. Looks like Mt Vernon continued the bidding practice long after Maine passed in 1847 law.


Comment by Pamela Carter on August 5, 2015 at 2:44pm

Sally, I am very interested in learning more about my ancestors from Mount Vernon. They are Benjamin Perley Philbrick and his wife, Jane Matthews, and their descendants and ancestors. Are you publishing your work somewhere, either currently or in the future? I really enjoyed this thread about paupers and as always, Chris added to my knowledge base! 

Comment by Sally Furber Nelson on August 5, 2015 at 4:40pm

The Vital Records of Mount Vernon will be published soon by the Maine Genealogical Society. We keep finding more data to include. I checked the file and could not find Benjamin Perley Philbrick and wife Jane. I did find lots of other men named Benjamin Philbrick - one is married to Hannah Greeley and has a son Benjamin, known as 2nd, b 3 May 1814. This Benj is married to Nancy Sanborn and they had a son named Benjamin Franklin b 17 July 1840. There seems to be another Benjamin Philbrick who is married to Betsey. Does any of this seem familiar?



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