Poor School Children Records, 1810-1842
“An Act to provide for the education of the poor gratis” was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1809. The act required county commissioners to direct township tax assessors to receive the names of all children between the ages of 5 and 12 who resided in the township whose parents were unable to pay for their schooling. This information was recorded at the end of the tax assessments for each township. The names of the children would then go through an appeals process to determine their eligibility and once confirmed they were entitled to free schooling provided at the county’s expense.
To take advantage of this program, children would attend subscription schools located throughout the county. The law did not establish a central “poor school” to teach children eligible for this program. Generally, once a quarter, the teacher or school directors of the individual subscription schools would submit a bill to the county commissioners for reimbursement. These records are indexed separately under Teacher’s Bills.
In 1834 the Public Education Law was passed. This law provided for the establishment of free public schools, which made the 1809 law obsolete. However, Chester County still continued to pay for the schooling of poor children until 1837. Most townships stopped returning the names of poor children after 1837, though several still submitted names until 1842.
The Poor School Children index was created from the Commissioners’ and Treasurer’s Account Books, which record the final lists of children qualified to receive free schooling, in conjunction with the original tax lists. The account books are arranged by year and then by township. The lists of poor school children are typically found on the last pages of each township’s tax lists, usually following the list of freemen. It is recommended that researchers look at both the tax lists and the account books for each entry unless otherwise noted.
The entries always include the full name of the child, township, and date. An extended explanation of some index categories and terms can be found below.
Last Name – In most cases, this is the last name of the head of household who is likely the parent or guardian of the child/children. Some years clearly identify the head of household as the parent, but not in all instances. In some cases a child residing in a household does not share the same surname as the head of household. In an attempt to ensure that these children can be found, they were indexed under both surnames. Most of these entries can be readily identified by looking at the Comments field and seeing a statement to this effect “Living with …”
Tax Only – These entries are only found in the tax lists and were not recorded in the account books.
Spouse – This information was rarely recorded. If a name was not index, then it will not be found on the original record.
Comments – Entries in this field that include “(See tax list for this entry)” typically indicate that more information can be found on the tax list than what is supplied in the account books.
The bills submitted to the Commissioners' Office by teachers seeking reimbursement for teaching and providing supplies to the poor school children designated by the township assessors. The bills may contain the following information:
Full name of teacher
Full name of child
School and township
Number of days child was taught