This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
Pennsylvania's system of poor relief, in the beginning, followed in general the practice of the English counties. A law enacted in 1682 required the justices of the peace to care for the indigent, *13 and the principle of settlement then introduced has persisted to the present time. In 1693 the Assembly passed a bill enabling the counties to levy taxes for the support of the poor, *14 and in 1705 was enacted an elaborate law setting forth the organization of administration and the entire technique of poor relief. *15 And, although these laws were amended from time to time, no definite attempt was made to relieve the localities of any part of the burden until the second quarter of the nineteenth century, unless military pensions are to be regarded as a form of public charity.
13 Charters and Laws, 1682-1700, p. 115. Abrogated in 1693 by William and Mary and reenacted in the same year. Ibid., footnote.
14 Idem, p. 233.
15 II Statutes at Large, pp. 251-254.
The free-school system, which is today one of the most expensive as well as one of the most important of the services locally administered in Pennsylvania was not introduced until 1834. Penn and the sect to which he belonged placed great stress upon education, however, and schools were established in the province as soon as the community was able to maintain them. But they were not supported by the government. The only public charge connected with education was the schooling of paupers. *16
Acting as the agent of the province, the county was also charged with the administration of justice. During colonial times this involved the payment of the salaries of such officers as were not supported by fees, and the prosecution of criminal cases. In addition the county was required to provide a jail or a house of correction not only for the punishment of petty criminals but also for the detention of those serving long sentences for serious offenses. *17
The principal public works constructed before 1800 were roads and bridges, or streets and bridges within the cities and the boroughs. It is not to be supposed that these improvements entailed large outlays of money: The bridges were crude and the roadways were little more than clearings through the forest. The locality was able to shift the burden of the more costly bridges by permitting private concerns to build them and to charge toll. In some instances the province constructed roads, chiefly for military purposes, through the more difficult parts of the mountains. The control of roads and bridges was vested in the governor and the council by the Frame of Government, *18 but there is no evidence that the province ever attempted systematically to control the highways, and it certainly never attempted to assume the entire burden of their maintenance. The authority exercised by the Assembly in later years over the so-called "king's highways" consisted chiefly in ordering the localities to construct designated roads. For the most part, the localities were given complete control over highway construction and maintenance. *19
Municipal improvements were also a matter of local control, and their cost was borne locally. *20 Several minor charges of little fiscal importance were early delegated to the counties. These had to do chiefly with the protection of property. Thus, for example, the county was required to pay bounties for "wolf's heads" and for the destruction of crows and blackbirds. *21
16 On early educational institutions in Pennsylvania see Wickersham, History of Education in Pennsylvania, Ch. III.
17 Charters and Laws, 1682-1700, pp. 139, 208; Allinson and Penrose, p. xlix.
18 Charters and Laws, 1682-1700, pp. 95, 157, 285.
19 For example, Charters and Laws, 1682-1700, p. 285.
20 Idem, p. 276, and II Statutes at Large, pp. 65, 414; also idem, chapters 389, 411, 479, 636, 743, and 1394 for Philadelphia.
Thus far no statement has been made with respect to the duties of the boroughs. Since these governments were, throughout the colonial period, subject entirely to special legislation, accurate generalizations concerning the scope of their powers cannot be made. On the whole, however, it may be said that their duties included the support of local offices, the opening and the maintenance of streets, the preservation of the public peace, and the provision of a supply of water for their inhabitants. *22
21 II Statutes at Large, pp. 85, 166, 238.
22 Holcomb, "Pennsylvania Burroughs," (Johns Hopkins University Studies, IV), p. 175.
From this very brief survey it appears that the province, by delegating the larger part of the functions of government to the localities, had practically released itself from all fiscal burdens except those that attended military operations and the maintenance of the indispensable provincial offices. Charities and corrections, whatever education was undertaken at public expense, the building of highways, and police came to be looked upon as "local services." This division of duties was not particularly significant during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries because the time had not yet arrived for the elaboration of public charities, the extensive development of free education, or the undertaking of large public works.