The Charleston Orphan House: Children's Lives in the First Public Orphanage in America (Markets and Governments in Economic History)

The Charleston Orphan House: Children's Lives in the First Public Orphanage in America (Markets and Governments in Economic History)

John E. Murray

Language: English

Pages: 296

ISBN: 0226924092

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The first public orphanage in America, the Charleston Orphan House saw to the welfare and education of thousands of children from poor white families in the urban South. From wealthy benefactors to the families who sought its assistance to the artisans and merchants who relied on its charges as apprentices, the Orphan House was a critical component of the city’s social fabric. By bringing together white citizens from all levels of society, it also played a powerful political role in maintaining the prevailing social order.
 
John E. Murray tells the story of the Charleston Orphan House for the first time through the words of those who lived there or had family members who did. Through their letters and petitions, the book follows the families from the events and decisions that led them to the Charleston Orphan House through the children’s time spent there to, in a few cases, their later adult lives. What these accounts reveal are families struggling to maintain ties after catastrophic loss and to preserve bonds with children who no longer lived under their roofs.
 
An intimate glimpse into the lives of the white poor in early American history, The Charleston Orphan House is moreover an illuminating look at social welfare provision in the antebellum South.

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by dozens of children will see its share of chaos. This chapter describes daily life within the Orphan House. Between commissioners’ desire to control the pace and content of daily activities and the ability of those who actually lived in the institution to do more or less as they pleased, most of the time, was a tension that remained unresolved. Descriptions of the two main Orphan House structures, the Orphan House and the chapel, can be easily found in any number of architectural and local

Wilson provided little support for anyone in his desperately poor family. During her last pregnancy, Mrs. Wilson had worked with her needle and even went “out to scour houses when her health permit[ted] it.” Despite her industry, the children were “obliged to go to the neighbors for bread.”103 Rarely, the remarried mother abandoned the child. In one case, the Poor House applied for admission for John Connolly, whose mother “deserted him” upon her remarriage.104 These were the unfortunate women;

compare it to the sharp increase in literacy rates among girls at the same ages within the Orphan House. Clearly the Orphan House was instrumental in providing preteenaged girls with literacy skills; the implication of the graph is that a very large share of these girls would not have learned to write had they not entered the Orphan House. At the same time, compare the trends in literacy among boys over the same age groups. Outside the Orphan House, boys rapidly attained literacy over the preteen

lifetime immunity. As a result, its attacks tended to be cyclical. It passed through previously unexposed populations quickly, leaving some dead and others immune from further attacks. Charleston’s history with smallpox was part of the wider American experience, and had unique elements due to its role as a major seaport. The 1760 epidemic sickened perhaps three-fourths of the city’s residents, killing 700 of them.33 At that time, the best available response was inoculation. This term, literally

concluded that Henry could not be trusted to run a store, the training his indentures called for, Lowndes recommended, with Crittenden’s endorsement, that Henry be re-bound to a tradesman.68 The commissioners were aware of the consequences for a child of living with an abusive master. As the widow Elizabeth Hatter reminded them, she was searching carefully for a master for Thomas Torrens, because she wanted to prevent his meeting a similar fate as his brother, who “died under great hardships from

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