Speaker to discuss poor of Otisfield

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OTISFIELD — The Otisfield Historical Society will meet and host a speaker at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Otisfield Town House, 53 Bell Hill Road.

Following a short business meeting, Jean Hankins will speak about the town’s poor, a subject she first tackled shortly after moving to Otisfield in 1993.

Hankins will first read an article she published in 1996, titled “A Cage for John Sawyer: The Poor of Otisfield, Maine.” The paper discusses just why the town built a cage for Sawyer and how they supported the less fortunate citizens before the Civil War.

According to Hankins, who holds a PhD in American history, Otisfield treated its poor much the same way every small Maine town did. In the early years, the poor were often auctioned off at the annual town meeting to individuals who promised to give them good care. Later the town established a poor farm, staffed by a superintendent and his wife.

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Otisfield’s town farm lasted from 1865 to 1924, when the selectmen ordered it closed because it was proving too costly to operate. In the mid-20th century, most responsibility for supporting the poor shifted to federal and state governments.

The program is free and open to all. Refreshments will be served.

The Otisfield Town Farm building on Swampville Road is now a private residence. It replaced an earlier Town Farm building used to house the town poor from 1918-1924.

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