Mapping a Poorhouse and Pauper Cemetery as Community Engaged Memory Work
In the nineteenth century, New York State established poorhouses in each county. By the next century, most had been converted to elder care institutions or hospitals. Patients who died without family or means for burial elsewhere were interred on-site in graves marked with small numbered grave stones or wooden markers. After the institutions closed, markers were lost and cemeteries were destroyed by development. This paper describes an exception, the Brier Hill cemetery of the Dutchess County Poorhouse. Approximately 300 original concrete markers are present and remote sensing suggests an additional 500 individuals are in now unmarked graves. Efforts to document, preserve, and protect the Brier Hill cemetery, without disturbing the dead, have revealed how social relationships shaped the cemetery population. While most archaeological studies of poorhouses cemeteries focus on biology of poverty, our work suggests that having friends, literally or figuratively, may have made all the difference in how and where the poor were laid to rest.
Beisaw, AM; Tatum, WP; Buechele, V; McAdoo, BG
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