Throat Distemper in Haverhill, 1735-7

The throat distemper which prevailed throughout the County of Essex in 1735, '6 and '7 so disastrously among the children was particularly fatal in Haverhill. From Nov. 17, 1735, to Dec. 31, 1737, two hundred and fifty-six children, most of them under ten years of age, died in that town from this disease, and in the whole county the deaths of about fourteen hundred children and also a considerable number of adults are estimated to have thus resulted. This estimate is undoubtedly low, as scarcely a cemetery of that time can be visited without seeing the little gravestones bearing dates of this period, and to one accustomed to examining old burying grounds the general appearance of each stone betrays the fact that the child buried beneath it was a victim of the distemper. It would seem that some gravestone maker must have supplied the people of the county with the stones during this period, the demand for them being so great that variation in design was not to be entertained.

In the old parish in Haverhill the number that died during the period named was eighty-eight; in the west parish, sixty-two and in the north parish one hundred and six. Two hundred and ten were under the age of ten; thirty between ten and fifteen; eleven between fifteen and twenty; three between twenty and thirty; one between thirty and forty; and one more than forty years. From Nov. 17 to Dec. 31, 1735, ten died; in 1736, one hundred and sixteen; and in 1737 one hundred and thirty.

The number of families bereaved was one hundred and thirty-nine, twenty-three of whom were left childless. The names of the heads of such families are given below, the names of those having thus lost all their children being printed in italics.

Families that lost one child each: Dea. P. Ayer, Rev. Mr. Bacheller, Capt. Bartlet, Nat. Bartlet, Isaac Bradley, Nehemiah Bradley, Eben. Brown, Ed. Carlton, jr., Widow Clark, Lieutenant Clement, Jonathan Clement, Moses Clement, Nat. Clement, S. Clement, John Corlis, _____ Cothran, Reuben Curier, Samuel Davis, Lydia Dillaway, William Dillaway, James Eatton, Jonathan Eatton, Samuel Eatton, Widow Emerson, jr., Ephraim Emerson, Jo. Emerson, jr., Stephen Emerson, jr., Ed. Flynt, Benjamin Gale, Samuel Gale, Bartholomew Heath, David Heath, Josiah Heath, Sarah Heath, Abner Herriman, John Herriman, Joseph Herriman, Joshua Herriman, Cornel Jonson, Jeremiah Jonson, Stephen Jonson, Thomas Jonson, Abner Kimball, Deacon Little, N. Marble, Joseph Merrill, Nath. Merrill, Samuel Merrill, James Mitchel, Edw. Ordaway, _____ Otterson, Widow Page, Caleb Page, Edmund Page, Thomas Page, Captain Pecker, Jonathan Shepard, Benjamin Smith, Samuel Staples, Aaron Stevens, Benjamin Stone, Elis Thomson, Samuel Webster, W. Whitaker, jr., John White, David Whiting, John Whiting, Ezekiel Wilson, William Wilson, _____ Wood, and N. Woodman.

Families that lost two children each: Daniel Annis, Colonel Bailey, John Black, William Blay, James Bradbury, Dan. Bradley, Jacob Chase, Moses Cop, John Currier, John Dowe, jr., David Emerson, William Hancock, Jo. Hassaltine, Sa Hassaltine, Richard Hazzen, Caleb Heath, Samuel Heath, William Heath, James Hutchins, Jo. Hutchins, Timothy Jonson, William Jonson, _____ Kent, John Merrill, Nat. Merrill, jr., Andrew Mitchel, John Mitchel, Judge Saltonstall, _____ Trumbal, John Warner, Stephen Webster, Samuel White, Han. Whittaker, Eben. Whittier, N. Whittier, and Sa. Worthen, jr.

Families that lost three children each: Rev. Mr. Brown, David Cop, Isaac Dalton, John Davis, Jeremiah Eatton, Abiel Foster, Daniel Gile, Joseph Gile, Samuel Greele, Deacon Kimball, Jonathan Page, Widow Parker, Seth Patee, Benjamin Philbrick, Hugh Pike, Matthew Plummer, Benjamin Richards, Daniel Roberds, Jonathan Roberds, John Stevens, and Stephen Whittaker.

Families that lost four children each _____ Gatchel, John Heathy jr., John McHard, P. Merrill, John Webstery jr. and Daniel Whittaker.

Families that lost five children each: John Bradley, Abner Chase, Thomas Corlis, James Holgate, and Joseph Page.

Rev. John Brown, who was then settled in the ministry at Haverhill, and who lost three children by the distemper, prepared an address to the people of Haverhill, particularly to the bereaved parents, Aug. 14, 1737, prefixing to it "A Brief Relation" of thirty-four "Comfortable and Remarkable Instances of Death" among the children. This was published in Boston by Daniel Henchman, the following year, in a pamphlet of ninety-two duodecimo pages, which is today a rare book. Most of the material for this article has been taken from it and thus has a peculiar interest.

The names of the thirty-four children, whom Mr. Brown cites as showing extraordinary spiritual insight and Christian resignation, and data concerning them which is worthy of being preserved, are as follows:

Lydia Whitey died April 6, 1736, aged eight. She was sick about twenty-four hours, having a violent fever with the distemper. She had been a pleasing child, fond of instruction. Her brother died also a few days later.

Eunice Emerson, died June 13, 1736, aged fifteen. Though she had symptoms of the distemper, it was not certain that she died of it. She bled to death, having been troubled with bleeding before.

Whitely McHard, died at one o'clock in the morning of July 12, 1736, aged four.

John McHard, aged seven, brother to the preceding, died at noon on the same day, surviving him only eleven hours. Two other children of the family died before the month had passed, on the same day. This was the first family in the town to be deprived of all their children by this disease. They had another son born to them during the next year, however.

Daniel Chase, died July 28, 1736, aged seven years and eight days. A brother, aged four, was sick in the bed with him, one at the head and the other at the foot. The younger died, and Daniel survived him an hour and a half. They were enclosed in the same coffin. This family lost five children.

Sarah Chase, died Aug. 3, 1736, aged nine. She was sister to the next preceding. She was a very tender hearted and quiet child of few words. Her younger sister Molly was also very sick when she died.

Thomas Shepard, died Aug. 28, 1736, aged eleven. He was sick several weeks, as was his eldest sister, also, who lived.

David Hassaltine, died Aug. 29, 1736, aged seven.

Ruth Merrill, died Sept. 9, 1736, aged twelve. Her younger brother died a short time before herself.

Samuel Gatchel, died Sept. 20, 1736, aged twelve. He was the eldest of a family of six children, four of whom died with the distemper. He and his brother next to him had been sick of the disease in the preceding spring, and had apparently recovered, but some hard bunches in the throat remained, finally proving fatal. He had a three year old brother, named Jesse, who had died with the distemper. The family was poor, and both parents were alive.

Anne Gatchel, died Sept. 20, 1736, aged six. She was a sister of Samuel above. She was asked if she was willing to die, and answered, "Yes, I'm willing to die to go to my Aunt Johnson and my brother Jesse." This Aunt Johnson was an exemplary Christian, and very much loved, and was the only person above the age of forty years who died of the distemper in the town.

Daniel Gatchel, died Sept. 14, 1736, aged ten. He was a brother to the preceding. He had the whooping cough with the disease.

Joseph Richards, died Sept. 18, 1736, aged eight. A younger brother named Abraham died before him.

Elizabeth Davis, died Sept. 19, 1736, aged twenty-two. She was a quiet young lady, and lived out. She had a sister, whom she requested, the day before her death, to wash certain articles which would be needed for her interment, designating the sheets and head cloths she desired to be laid out with.

Martha Brown, died Oct. 5, 1736, aged fourteen. She was a daughter of Rev. John Brown. She was taken sick Sept. 30th. She had an elder sister and a younger brother, and other brothers and sisters. Early in the morning of the day she died she said to a girl friend of about her own age, Hannah W_____ , "This is the last time, Hannah, that you will ever see me in this world. I shall be with Betty Bailey before night." Betty Bailey was a loving companion of Pattee's (as she was familiarly called), aged fifteen, who with her sister Molly Bailey, aged thirteen, were taken from the family of Colonel Bailey. Betty died of the scarlet fever May 5, 1736, and Molly of the throat distemper May 11, 1736. Pattee died at about eight o'clock in the evening, having considered the date of her funeral, and reminded some of her friends to take a lock of her hair to remember her by. She sat up and was dressed, and ate a raw apple an hour or two before she died.

Methitable Page, died Oct. 10, 1736, aged nineteen.

Nathaniel Brown, died Oct. 21, 1736, aged twelve. "Nattie" was a brother to Martha Brown above, and son of Rev. John Brown.

Sarah Eatton, died Oct. 17, 1736, aged four.

Mary Merrill, died Oct. 27, 1736, aged fourteen. Three other children of the family died with the distemper.

Elizabeth Bradbury, died Nov. 15, 1736, aged six. She gave away her clothing to some poor people whom she thought in most need.

Sarah Chase, died Nov. 17, 1736, aged fourteen. Her younger brother also died and was buried in the same coffin with her.

Obadiah Bradley, died Nov. 26, 1736, aged thirteen. He was sick three days. His younger sister died the day before his own death. He had a brother David, who died the year before. He had also a sister Molly, who was next to him in the family. He gave his playthings away before he died. His father could not see him, "being confined from home." His grandmother was apparently living with the family. All the five children of the family died of the distemper.

Sarah Corlis, died Dec. 30, 1736, aged nineteen.

Mary Hasseltine, died Jan. 2, 1736-7, aged nineteen. She had a weak constitution, and was much given to the reading of books. Her mind was much occupied with religious thoughts all through her youth, and some time before her sickness with the distemper she was wont to say that she had not long to live. The night before her death, in answer to a question from her father, she said that she expected to see in Heaven her grandfather and her Aunt Betty ("good old Deacon Hasseltine and his daughter, a Christian of singular attainments").

Susanna Wilson, died Jan. 26, 1736-7, aged seven. She had an elder sister.

Lydia Hasseltine, died Jan. 28, 1736-7, aged nine. She was a sister of Mary Hasseltine mentioned above.

Sarah Whittaker, died Feb. 22, 1736 -7, age seven. She was the eldest of a family of four children, who all died the same week, the three latter being buried together. The names of the two middle children were Mary and Samuel. The youngest child was two years old. Susannah Emerson, died Mar. 3, 1736-7, aged fifteen. She was always a sober, timorous little girl. She had a sister Judith living in Newbury, and also a brother who were older than she.

Susannah Emerson, died Sept. 2, 1737, aged ten. Her grandmother was present at her death.

Martha Kimbal, died Sept. 13, 1737, aged eleven. She had sisters and brothers, one of whom was named Benjamin. Her sister Abigail died on the same day, at the age of five.

John Appleton White, died Sept. 28, 1 737, aged five. "An only son, and a first born." He had a little sister.

Hannah Webster, died Sept. 30, 1737, aged ten. Her brother Joseph and sisters Mercy and Sarah had died. She was the last. She said to her mother the day before her death: " All the rest are gone: I have been to visit all their graves, and now I am going myself. I don't know what you will do, mother, but if I should be taken away you must not be too much cast down. 'Twas God that gave me to you, and if he take me away you must not be too much concerned. You must not do as some others that have lost all their children; who are afraid to stay in the house, afraid to be in the dark alone; you must hire some little girl to live with you if you are afraid."

Nathaniel Bradley, died Oct. 4, 1737, aged sixteen. He was a dutiful boy. He had sisters, one of whom had married _____ H__th and had a child that was dying when he was sick. His aunt G___le was present in his sickness. He had sisters named Nabbe and Betty, and one who had died eight years before named Ruth. He also had brothers who were older than himself, one of whom was named Isaac.

James Holgate, died Dec. 26, 1737, aged five. He was the last of five children that died of throat distemper in the family, all dying in a little more than a week's time. The names of two of the other children were Judith and Benjamin.

AHGP Massachusetts

The Essex Antiquarian, Volume I, Number , September 1897

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