In going over the records of the Billtown Poor House, I noticed a number of names of people who spent a long time in the poor house. Sarah Huntley, however, caught my eye and broke my heart.
Her story started with her marriage.
She and her husband first show up in the 1871 Kings County Census as being in the Billtown Poor House. Sarah’s husband, Daniel, is age 57 and his occupation is listed as Ships Carpenter. Chances were they were from nearby Scots Bay as there were a great deal of Huntleys there and there was a shipping industry there. My own ancestors of the Jess line were from Scots Bay.
So what happened to put them in the poor house? A Ships Carpenter was a decent paying job still in demand in 1871. Perhaps Daniel Huntley had an accident or an illness that meant he could no longer work. As the local poor house was the only form of a social safety net, and as Daniel was the sole financial support for the family, they would have had to resort to the poor house.
Sarah Huntley is listed as Daniel’s wife. Her age is only 32; 25 years younger than her husband. The next person listed as a family member in the poor house with them is William Huntley, aged 22. This leads us to conclude that Sarah Huntley is a second wife. What happened to Daniel’s first wife?
Then there is Annie Huntley, aged 20 and then Daniel Percy Huntley (who went by the name Percy), aged 3, Gills Huntley, who was 2 years old, and Maud Huntley, 1 year old. We can probably safely assume that Percy, Gills and Maud were the children of Sarah and Daniel’s marriage.
The next line we see in the records is Maud Huntley; born October 3, 1865 died February 12, 1867. So little Maud did not actually make it into the poor house as she died before they went into the house but Daniel and Sarah listed her as one of their children. We do not know what Maud died of or why she was listed as being in the poor house when she had clearly died years before, however, her short life was acknowledged in the 1871 census.
In the 1881 Kings County census we see that three members of the family are still in the Billtown Poor House:
Daniel Huntley – aged 66, Sarah Huntley (Lamont) (now we have her unmarried name which is valuable for genealogists) aged 42, and Percy, aged 13. What happened to William and Annie, children of Daniel’s first marriage? Can we assume that they left the poor house during those years with either a marriage and/or a job? Neither of them show up again on the poor house records in Billtown.
Gills, son of Sarah and Daniel, is also missing. What happened to 2 year old Gills? He would have been 12 by now. He could have died while in the poor house or he could have been adopted out to another family. Children in poor houses were often adopted when a family who was in a better financial situation and wanted a child went looking in a poor house. Everett Lewis, husband of famed folk artist Maud Lewis, spent part of his youth in a poor house and his one year old brother was adopted out from there. Parents may have had a ‘choice’ but would have also recognized that their baby had a better chance of living a decent life if they allowed their child to be adopted by this financially stable couple. Gills could have also been ‘apprenticed’ out to learn a trade with a local craftsman. Why wasn’t Percy also apprenticed out then?
In 1891 we see Sarah Huntley is still in the Billtown Poor House with her husband, Daniel, and her son, Percy who is now 23 and listed as a ‘student’. Where was he a student at age 23? Acadia University is a fair distance away in terms of transportation in those days. Was there a post secondary school close by to Billtown Poor House?
In the 1901 census, Sarah is still in the Billtown Poor House but is now listed as “widowed”. She is 62 years old. What happened to her husband Daniel? He would have been 86 or 87 so we could assume that he had died of old age or diseases associated with old age prior to this census. Sarah, however, is still with her remaining child, Percy, who is now 34 years old.
In the 1911 census, Sarah and Percy Huntley are still in the Billtown Poor House together. Percy is listed as “labourer”.
By 1917, however, Percy Huntley has died at the age of 49. His cause of death is not listed. He is buried in the Billtown Poor House Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Sarah Huntley is now in the Billtown Poor house without any family members.
Eight years later, in 1925, Sarah Huntley dies. She is 94 years old. She is buried in the Lakeville Cemetery in Kings County in an unmarked grave.
It is sad that Sarah lived most of her life in a poor house. Was she happy there? Did she accept her situation and lived with whatever happiness she could find? Or was she deeply unhappy, regretting that she had married a man whose situation put her in a poor house for most of her life? Did she have friends in the poor house?
I have thought a lot about Sarah Lamont Huntley. What was her life like before she went into the poor house? What was her life like in the poor house? We do not know as she did not leave any personal records behind. But the census tell us that Sarah was the longest staying resident of the Billtown Poor House. What a thing to be remembered by.