HEBRON — Jean Hankins of Otisfield recently addressed the Hebron Historical Society on the history of the “poor” of her town.

Her chronology began in the early 19th century as she recounted her acclaimed publication, “A Cage For John Sawyer.” She noted that 1816, “The year without summer,” proved disastrous for all farmers as virtually no crops were grown and harvested, thus adding to the town’s burden of assisting the poor.

In 1817 the Town Selectmen were voted to be the “Overseers of the Poor.” They recommended that some children be indentured or put out for wages. In 1821 Otisfield established a “Poor House” (as did other towns as well) to assist those townspeople who could not provide for themselves. Those designated as poor surrendered their right to vote and the town had the authority to sell their property.

In 1826 the town actually “auctioned off” the town’s indigent to the lowest bidder who then assumed the responsibility of providing care for those individuals with subject funds from the town. Records show that in 1812 the town had actually had a cage built to house an indigent named John Sawyer. At one point he escaped the cage and went to a neighboring town but was later returned to Otisfield, after which he too was one of those “auctioned” individuals.

Caring for the poor was quite expensive for the town and accounted for approximately one-third of its budget and even more than was spent on school.

The next society meeting will feature Hebron Station School teacher Sarah Otterson who will talk on William Barrows, the co-founder of Hebron Academy and the Hebron Community Baptist Church. This will be at the Hebron Town Office, 351 Paris Road, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 25. The public is invited.


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