AUTHOR: KATHERINE HERMES
On November 5, 1724, an epidemic broke out in Hartford, Connecticut, lasting until February 1, 1725. The sickness killed rich and poor alike. Among the 54 persons who died, it took 27 white men and 19 white women. It took 8 non-whites: two Native men named Peter, three unnamed Indians of unknown sex, and three men of African descent, York, Midway, and Ben.
One of the women who died was Mrs. Mary Whiting, the wife of Col. William Whiting, a man of standing who had served as the jailer, a magistrate, a deputy in the general assembly, and a military commander in Queen Anne’s War. It was while I was looking at the Connecticut State Library for more information about her that I stumbled upon this broadside, noted on a small card in the vast card catalogue in the genealogical section of the CSL.
Dr. Ernest Caulfield, a graduate of Trinity College and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, practiced in Hartford and was chief of pediatrics at Hartford Hospital. In his essay, “The Pursuit of a Pestilence,” (pp. 39-40) notes, “The broadside shows that at least two persons died in each of nine families, and it also states that ‘most were in their prime.’ Probate records exist for twenty of the twenty-eight males whose names were mentioned, which means that children must have withstood the disease better than adults. The broadside, however, discloses no clinical information. …. The administrators of the estates of Joseph and Mary Meakins paid eleven shillings for ‘Suggar & Rhum . . . in their Sickness,’ and since sugar and rum was a fashionable cough remedy throughout the eighteenth century it looks as if Joseph and Mary died from some respiratory disease. Thus there is both clinical and epidemiological evidence in favor of influenza.”
Historians have assumed, as Caulfield did, that the epidemic was influenza. “The probate papers for the William Buckland who died during the great influenza epidemic of 1724-1725, for example, list in great detail all the appurtenances of the weaver’s trade; they also show that he had been unusually successful … ” (Bulletin, Connecticut Historical Society, v. 41-44, p.33)
Disease was no stranger to colonial towns. In Jan. 1712, 700 persons in Connecticut, including twenty-four members of the General Assembly, died of a “Malignant Distemper” within two months. (Caulfield). A decade later, Rhode Island suffered a devastating epidemic. According to Noah Webster in A brief history of epidemic and pestilential diseases, “In the same year 1723 prevailed in many parts of the colony of Rhode-Island, a fatal disease called the ‘burning ague.'” It was a particularly deadly illness that emerged near Providence, between Pawtucket and Pautuxet. Webster opined that “In proportion to its patients, no disease in America, was ever more mortal. It did not prevail in a large town, but in villages, and perhaps the clearing of some neigh|boring swamps might have been one cause of the disease” Webster also noted that “[t]he year 1724 in England was mostly wet and cold; the whooping cough prevailed; but the year was generally healthy.”
In the following decade, a throat distemper affected all of New England between 1735-1740. “The contagion struck first in New Hampshire, killing almost 1% of the population. The epidemic spread south through the Massachusetts Bay Colonies, and eventually into Connecticut. Across New England some 5,000 people died of diphtheria between 1735 and 1740. Three out of four were children.” (Caulfield)
I will add more information to this post once I have completed a chart on the demographics.