Editorial Method

Materials Included and Their Arrangement

The records printed in the present volume are from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, with the exception of the 1756 Almshouse Census and Inventory found among the Boston City Records in the special collections at the Boston Public Library. The eighteenth-century documents printed below are only a fraction of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s voluminous collection of Boston Overseers of the Poor, Records, 1733–1925, comprising 19 boxes of manuscripts and 15 corresponding reels of microfilm. The boards were removed from the volumes before they were purchased by the Society, thus titles and descriptive material were lost. Wear and tear along the edge of the manuscripts has resulted occasionally in the loss of some text. The disbound volumes were arranged by the Society. The editors have assigned names to the volumes, as designated below.

A complementary volume catalogued elsewhere within the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and chosen by the editors to be printed here is a thin volume of accounts kept by Overseer Samuel Whitwell for twenty-one years.

MHi: Boston Overseers of the Poor, Records, 1733–1925

Financial Register

One disbound volume, recording the monthly financial disbursements by the overseers, 4 March 1738–1 March 1769. The payments include both charitable disbursements and business accounts. The volume also contains several lists of overseers, blank forms and certificates, and miscellaneous documents on its opening and closing pages. The entries were made by various writers. The volume measures 7 ⅞″ × 12 ½″ and consists of 188 unnumbered pages. Located on Reel No. 1 of the microfilm.

Admissions Register 1

One bound volume, incomplete; 8″ × 13″ in size. Numbered pages 11–57 record admissions into and discharges from the almshouse, 9 Nov. 1758 – 27 April 1774. An alphabetical index of almshouse residents includes entries for the ten missing pages (see [Admissions to the Almshouse, ante 9 November 1758], p. 122, below). The index has been compared to the extant entries and any variations in spelling or additional information are recorded in a footnote to the admissions record.

Although Register 1, which is laid out in table form, contains the earliest dated admissions records in the Historical Society’s collection, it apparently was compiled by a clerk who examined older admissions registers. For this reason only those entries in Register 1 that are not duplicated in Registers 2 and 3 are printed below. Duplicate entries have been compared and any differences or additional information are recorded in a footnote.

Register 1 also contains a list of children bound out of the almshouse, 21 April 1756 – 3 Nov. 1773, 2 April 1785 – 2 Feb. 1790, on 16 numbered pages. Pages 14–16 are by a different writer than the rest of the volume. An index corresponding only to pages 1–13 follows. While the index is not printed below, its entries have been compared to the list of indentures and any variations in spelling or additional information are recorded in a footnote.

Record of births in the almshouse, 17 Aug. 1756 – 1 May 1768, 3 unnumbered pages. As with the admissions records, a portion of the list of children born in the almshouse in Register 1 duplicates similar entries in Register 2. Duplicate entries have been compared and any differences or additions are included by the editors in a footnote to the entry in Register 2.

Located on Reel No. 8 of the microfilm.

Admissions Register 2

One disbound volume, 7 ¼″ × 9 ¼″ in size, consisting of 118 unnumbered pages. The entries consist of almshouse admissions and discharges, 14 Feb. 1763 – 28 June 1768, 81 pages; “Record of Children born in the Alms house,” 29 Nov. 1763 – 21 April 1767, 3 pages; “Account of People Deceas’d In the Alms house,” 25 March 1763 – 10 May 1771, 20 pages; “Account of Children Born in the Alms House,” 6 Sept. 1767 – 5 Nov. 1771, 22 Oct. 1771, 4 June 1767, 3 pages; “Account of Deaths in the House Brot forward,” 17 May 1771 – 13 Nov. 1771, 1 page; almshouse admissions and discharges, 2 July 1768 – 27 Dec. 1768, 8 pages; inventories of personal belongings brought into the almshouse by several residents, 2 pages; and almshouse admissions and discharges, 4–30 Jan. 1769, 1 page. The entries in the volume are written by several individuals.

Located on Reel No. 8 of the microfilm.

Admissions Register 3

One disbound volume, inscribed “Register from 12th. Decr. 1768 to 30 Sept. 1788” on the titlepage. This is a record of almshouse admissions and discharges over 266 unnumbered pages, measuring 7 ⅞″ × 12 ½″, written by various individuals. Located on Reel. No. 8 of the microfilm.

Admissions Register 4

One disbound volume, 8″ × 12 ⅜″ in size. Numbered pages 41–197 record almshouse admissions and discharges 1 Oct. 1788 – 31 Aug. 1795. The entries are all by the same writer. Beginning with the entry dated 7 Feb. 1791 on p. 97 the format of the entries change from brief notations to a table. A 13-page index compiled by another writer follows. The index, not printed below, has been compared to the main entries and any variations in spelling or additional information are recorded in a footnote.

Bound with a list of persons warned out of Boston, 16 June 1770 – 31 Aug. 1773, located on numbered pages 1–39. A true copy attested by Ezekiel Goldthwait, Boston, 20 Sept. 1773. Not printed below.

Located on Reel No. 8 of the microfilm.

Admissions Register 5

One disbound volume, 9 ½″ × 14 ½″, 364 unnumbered pages. A record of almshouse admissions and discharges arranged alphabetically, 4 June 1795 – 29 Aug. 1817, all by the same writer. Also includes a 4-page list of “Notifications,” identifying persons belonging to Massachusetts towns other than Boston who were admitted to the almshouse and a list of expenses charged to the various towns for their keep. Located on Reel No. 10 of the microfilm.

Boston Asylum Ledger

Accounts with the state and various towns for the support of inmates, 1 Oct. 1795 – 3 May 1806. Also includes accounts for supplies and service. One disbound volume, with 127 numbered page openings, measuring 6 ¼″ × 7 ¾″. Debit and credit columns for the accounts are written on facing pages that are each assigned the same page number. Only the eighteenth-century accounts (1795–1800), pages 1–41, are printed below. The entries were all made by the same writer. Located on Reel No. 13 of the microfilm.

MHi: Boston Poor. Accounts of Samuel Whitwell, 1769–1792

One bound volume, 6 ¾″ × 8 ¾″, the cover of which is inscribed: “Town Treasurer’s / Accots. in this Book / & State Treasrs. / Disburstments / For the poor of the Town / Boston / 17[69].” Compiled by Overseer Samuel Whitwell (1717–1801), the volume contains his accounts of disbursements made to the poor in Boston’s Wards 2 (1769–1770), 12 (1770–1771), and 10 (1771–1790), pages numbered 1–74; “Memorandums,” [ante 21] June – 6 Oct. 1790, 2 unnumbered pages; and miscellaneous accounts and drafts upon the treasurer of Boston (1790–1792), 11 unnumbered pages.

MB: Almshouse Census and Inventory, 1756

Both the Almshouse Census (“A List of Persons, Beds &c. in the alms House Augt. 1756”) and Inventory (“a List of Sundrys in the Alms House taken Augt. 1756”) are interleaved in the first of six volumes of Boston Overseers of the Poor, Indentures, 1734–1805. The Census is interleaved before page 1 and the Inventory is interleaved before page 2.

Textual Policy

The primary goal of the textual policy is to provide a readable text while striving faithfully to retain the spelling, capitalization, and punctuation of the original manuscripts. The character of the documents, many of which are tables, the many writers who kept the records, and the nature of the material itself (dominated by proper names) requires that the manuscripts be followed faithfully, with minimal expansion or insertion by the editor.

Spelling. The unnamed individuals who recorded the activities of the almshouse residents and the overseers possessed drastically varying degrees of spelling ability. Regardless of the level of standardization or consistency displayed by the writer, spelling is retained as written.

Capitalization. Capitalization is preserved as found in the original manuscripts. When the intent of the writer is unclear, modern practice is employed.

Punctuation. Punctuation is retained as written, except for the following conventionalizations. Superfluous dashes and suspension points at the end of lines have not been transcribed. The obvious omission of opening or closing parenthesis is silently corrected by supplying the missing partner. Commas employed as apostrophes have been modernized. Punctuation within monetary amounts is regularized by supplying a decimal point after pound, shilling, and dollar figures (£2. 5. 10). The virgule symbolizing shillings (15/) is retained; punctuation following the virgule has not been transcribed.

Abbreviations and contractions. Abbreviations and contractions along with their terminal punctuation are preserved as written. Superscript and subscript letters used to indicate contractions are brought to the line; if no terminal punctuation is employed in the manuscript a period is supplied. The macron or tilde (Hañah) used in on-the-line abbreviations is retained. The ampersand (&) and the tailed ℘ are preserved. The thorn (yt, ye) is always printed as “th.”

Interlineations. Interlined words or passages are silently brought to the line where indicated by the writer. A note is appended if clarification is necessary.

Missing and illegible matter. Missing and illegible matter is indicated by square brackets enclosing the conjectural reading (with a question mark appended if the reading is doubtful), or by suspension points if no reading can be given. If only a portion of a word is missing, it may be silently supplied when there is no doubt about the reading. When the missing or illegible matter amounts to more than one or two words, a footnote estimating its amount is attached.

Canceled matter. Words and phrases struck out by the writer are generally omitted unless the change is deemed significant. False starts, slips of the pen, and obvious repetitions of text are eliminated. Substantive cancellations are italicized and enclosed in angle brackets.

Editorial insertions. Editorial insertions are italicized and enclosed in square brackets.

Format. Financial Register. Ruled lines separating the monthly entries have not been transcribed. The placement of the dateline and heading for each monthly entry has been regularized by placing the dateline flush right on the first line of the entry and the heading flush left on the following line. Each entry within the month is set flush left, if the entry extends beyond one typeset line, succeeding lines are indented.

Admissions Registers. The admissions records are presented in tables and brief notations. In both formats, ruled lines separating the entries have not been transcribed. Table headings are preserved as written at the start of the table in the original manuscripts. Unless the format of the table is changed (column order rearranged, or a new column of information added to the table) the headings at the top of each succeeding page in the original manuscripts have not been transcribed.

Almshouse admissions and discharges recorded in brief notations are irregularly spaced over the page in the original manuscripts. The format for these entries has been regularized as follows: 1. The date is placed on the first line, flush with the left margin. 2. Information on the individual is indented following the date and, if necessary, run into the next line of the entry. 3. If noted separately, the entity being charged for the admission (town or state) is placed flush with the right margin following the description of the admitee. 4. Overseers information is set flush left on one line. 5. Selectmen’s information is set flush left on one line. 6. Commas are inserted to separate proper names. 7. Braces grouping two or more lines of text in the original manuscript are placed at the end of line. Thus, an entry in the original manuscript that is written:

Jany. 24th.

Recd. into the Almshous Sarah Ford with her Two Children


Approved of by Jonathon Mason

one of the oversears

Pr. Ordor of Jno. Andrews

Moses Grant


is rendered as:

Jany. 24th.

Recd. into the Almshous Sarah Ford with her Two Children}


Approved of by Jonathon Mason} one of the oversears

Pr. Ordor of Jno. Andrews, Moses Grant} Selectmen

Annotation. Annotation of the original manuscripts is limited to textual notes commenting on the appearance and physical description of the manuscript (for example, clarifying interlineations, identifying tears, or noting marginalia) and comparing variant copies of the text.

Guide to Editorial Apparatus

Textual Devices


Matter canceled in the manuscript but restored in the text.

[ . . . ]

Word(s) missing or illegible and not conjecturable.


Conjectural reading for missing or illegible matter. A question mark is inserted before the closing bracket if the conjectural reading is seriously doubtful.


Matter editorially inserted.

Location Symbols


Boston Public Library


Massachusetts Historical Society