The Brooker Collection - Additional Materials
daniel r. coquillette rare book room - boston college law library
Debtors, Creditors and the Poor:
Examples of Documents from the Brooker Collection
Letter from a Debtor to a Creditor (Document #1114)
This touching letter, dated November 8, 1763, is written by a debtor named Bradstreet Spofford. He promises his creditor that he will be repaid soon “if your pacence can hold out,” and begs the creditor not to “sue me if possible you can help it.”
A transcription of this letter is provided below. For the clearest view, click on the small image below to see a larger image, then mouse over that image, wait a moment for the small icon to appear in the lower right corner, and click on that icon to further enlarge the image.
Writ of Execution for a Judgment (Document #1424)
This writ, dated August 10, 1839, is interesting for several reasons. First, it is an example of a pre-printed legal form, similar to the print and electronic legal forms available today. Here, the court clerk needed only to fill in the relevant information, rather than copy out the entire document as in earlier times.
It is also interesting that in the underlying financial dispute, a woman, Caroline Bates, prevailed against two business partners, Henry Duntze and Henry Poris. Women were well-represented in documents from the Brooker Collection, appearing as plaintiffs, defendants, beneficiaries, victims, debtors and creditors.
Here, Justice of the Peace Newton Phuler directs the New Haven Sheriff to satisfy Bates’ judgment by seizing property from the two business partners in the amount of $5.92, plus 17¢ for the cost of this writ, plus the Sheriff’s usual fees. If the Sheriff was unable to seize sufficient property to cover that amount, he was to throw the two partners in the New Haven Jail until they could satisfy their debts.
The writ, along with a transcription, appears below.
Two Alms-House Letters (Document #1333 – front and back)
What happened to people in the early days of our country who – for whatever reason – were unable to support themselves? Many of them ended up in their town’s alms-house, which was managed by the town’s Overseers of the Poor. A town’s alms-house was intended as a safety net for impoverished residents who were born in that town. The Overseers took a dim view of non-residents who stayed in their alms-houses and used resources intended for residents. This resulted in a lively correspondence among the Overseers of the Poor from various towns, who billed each other for the cost of supporting non-natives in their alms-houses. Two examples appear below.
The first is a letter from the Boston Overseers of the Poor, dated February 14, 1801. It concerns Elizabeth Monk and her son Francis, who had been abandoned by Elizabeth’s husband some 14 months prior. The Overseers wrote to their colleagues in Waldoboro, the town where Elizabeth was born, directing them to move the family to Waldoboro as soon as possible: “By the laws of this State, she belongs to the Town where she was born.” Until that time, the Boston Overseers charged the town of Waldoboro $3 per week to support Elizabeth and her son.
The letter, and its transcription, appear below.
On the reverse of this document is another letter, this time from the Boston Overseers of the Poor to their counterparts in Roxbury, charging them $31.15 to support “Diana White (a negro) who said that she was born in Roxbury, and Diana her child, who was born the day before she came into our Alms-House.” These charges include the fee of the doctor who delivered baby Diana.
The letter, and its transcription, appear below.
Two Indentured Servants Contracts (documents #1024 and 2019)
What would the future hold for little Francis Monk and Diana White, Jr., the two children whose mothers ended up in the Boston Alms-House? One possible future was to be taken into someone's home as an indentured servant. The Brooker Collection contains several indentured servant contracts, involving both boys and girls, including the two shown below.
The first contract, dated February 15, 1813, was signed in the town of Bristol, Massachusetts (now part of Maine), by the town’s Justices of the Peace and the Overseers of the Poor. John Bootman (age unknown) had been living in town with his mother Susannah, who was “thought by said overseers to be unable to maintain him.” James Blunt agreed to take John into his home as an apprentice “to lern the art of farming or husbandery” until John reached the age of twenty-one. In exchange for serving his master faithfully and abstaining from dice, cards, taverns, ale houses, gaming houses, fornication, and matrimony, John would be fed, clothed, learn a trade, and be taught to read, write and do basic arithmetic. Upon his twenty-first birthday, he would be sent on his way with two suits of clothes and “one good Cow.”
The first contract and its transcription appear below:
Transcription of the first contract:
The second contract, executed in Shawangunck, New York in April 1797, binds over four-year-old Benjamin Evans, “a pauper apprentice,” to Nicholas Hoffman until his twenty-first birthday. Terms were similar to the Bootman contract above, with one notable addition. Here, Hoffman was charged with providing for Benjamin so that “he do not become in any wise a Charge to the said Town of Shawangunck, but off and from all charges shall save the Town harmless and indemnified.” Thus, these contracts were one way to remove impoverished children from public assistance and – one hopes – provide them with a brighter future.
The second contract and its transcription appear below:
Transcription of the second contract: