If you lived in Kentucky during the mid-1850s, you had three choices if you needed to obtain care for a mentally unsound person: The family could provide care, the person could be committed to the local insane asylum or care could be provided by a local resident, who had "won" by placing the lowest bid to the court.
If the person was committed to the asylum, most likely he or she would be sent to the Western State Hospital in Hopkinsville, which had opened in September 1854. Before care could be provided at the asylum or by a local resident, however, the prospective patient had to first go into court and have a jury of local residents - ordinary farmers and possibly neighbors - judge the condition of the patient’s mind.
Such was what happened to Elizabeth Land of Livingston County, Kentucky, whose case was presented in Livingston Circuit Court on Tuesday, the 18th of December 1855. The details are found in Circuit Court Order Book P, pages 226 and 227.
The attorney for the Commonwealth reported that he had been informed that Elizabeth Land of Livingston County was of unsound mind; that she was 17 years of age and had no estate, but she did have a poor sister living in or near Paducah.
J.B. Husbands was appointed to represent Elizabeth, who was brought into court. A jury was present to decide Elizabeth’s fate. On this jury were Samuel Moxley, W.T. Hurley, William Gregory, Thos. Edmonds, C.C. Sullivant, W.T. Champion, William Canada, W.F. Champion, John Hankins, J.N. Paul, Wiley Spell and R.J. Robinson.
We don’t know what evidence was presented, but we do know the outcome. Having heard the evidence, the Jury returned the following verdict. "We of the Jury do find in this cause and say that sd. Elizabeth Land is of unsound mind and a lunatic. Has been partially but not entirely destitute of mind from her infancy or early youth from a cause natural or if otherwise unknown to us; she was born in North Carolina about the year 1838; she now resides in Livingston County, Ky; was brought into this state by her father some 12 or 14 years since & that she was not brought into this state for the purpose of becoming a charge upon the Commonwealth; she has no estate of any kind ... both of her parents are dead, one having died before Elizabeth was brought to Kentucky and the other since; neither of her parents left any estate of any kind whatsoever; she is nearly blind & entirely incapable of laboring & earning part of her support and we also find from the evidence that Elizabeth Land has heretofore & in the year 1852 in Livingston County by verdict and judgment of Livingston Circuit Court been found a lunatic; she is not in as good a condition physically now as at the time of the original inquest but had no estate then or now, her mind is much the same as at the time of the inquest." [signed] W.F. Champion, foreman of the jury. Ordered that James Snow continue to take charge of and provide for her suitable diet, clothing, etc. and that the allowance of $50 per annum be continued."
No record has been found to indicate what happened to Elizabeth after 1855, but we can be sure she did not live a pampered life on just $50 a year.