The Pursuit of a Pestilence



Source Information

  • Title  The Pursuit of a Pestilence 
    Short Title  The Pursuit of a Pestilence 
    Author  ERNEST CAULFIELD 
    Source ID  S2 
    Text  The Pursuit of a Pestilence
    BY ERNEST CAULFIELD

    AMERICAN history offers exceptional opportunities for
    l \ . the study of diseases which spread by personal contact
    because of some unusual conditions peculiar to the develop-
    ment of this country. Here, for example, the people were
    protected from these diseases by a broad ocean which became
    a less effective barrier as the transportation time was
    shortened; here people were subject to great differences in
    climate; and here, too, can be traced step by step the de-
    velopment of large cities. To express this more simply and
    in other words, American history can be utilized to throw
    some light on the everlasting warfare between disease
    organisms and their hosts because in this country one
    factor, the disease organisms, remained fairly constant
    while the other factor, the hosts, underwent significant
    changes. And most important of all, thanks to American
    historical societies, the medical records of those changes are
    surprisingly good and all that is needed is the desire to
    search them out.
    The early epidemics should be of interest to other than
    medical historians because of the effects of these repeated
    and sometimes terrible "visitations" on other phases of
    colonial social life. Occasionally they had grave economic
    consequences, for when an epidemic swept through a small
    community and left "not enough well persons to tend the
    sick or bury the dead," as was so often literally true, not
    only was the economy of that community disrupted, but
    many of the survivors were left in dire financial straits.
    Boston was closed up once by the British, but four or five


    22 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    times by smallpox. And not infrequently colonial news-
    papers, or town authorities through the newspapers,
    deliberately attempted to minimize epidemics in order to
    counteract the stifiing effects upon the country trade.
    Students of colonial military affairs are no doubt aware
    that the epidemics which broke out frequently in camps
    should be more thoroughly investigated. At Louisburg in
    1745, to cite but one example, the name of the enemy that
    killed less than 100 men during May and June is known
    while the name of the enemy that during the following winter
    killed 560 men, or about one-quarter of the total fighting
    force, remains unknown. Sometimes these camp distempers
    were directly responsible for frightful epidemics among
    civilian populations, the diseases having been carried back
    home by sickly soldiers. This was true particularly of
    dysentery as can be amply demonstrated by the Mas-
    sachusetts epidemics of 1745, 1756, and 1775.
    The impact of epidemics on the religion of the times is
    refiected in the numerous sermons that were preached to the
    terrified and suffering people, for the clergy considered such
    disasters opportune occasions to drive home their solemn
    warnings. "I incline to preach a Sermon," wrote Cotton
    Mather on one of these occasions, "at a time when God
    makes their Hearts soft; and the Almighty Sends Troubles
    on them, that may awaken them to hearken unto the Maxims
    of Religion." For medical historians it is indeed fortunate
    that Mather's idea was shared by many of his fellow clergy-
    men, for these sermons are now exceedingly valuable sources
    of information on colonial diseases. In at least two instances
    the epidemiological parts of the sermons are so valuable as
    to make them worthy to be considered among the foremost
    scientific contributions of the times. The first of these was a
    statistical account of throat distemper in New Hampshire
    by Jabez Fitch whosefigurescan now be interpreted as proof


    I9SO-] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 23
    not only that diphtheria was not a "new" disease as was sup-
    posed, but also as proof that immunity to it increased with
    age. The other was the younger Joseph Emerson's thanks-
    giving sermon preached at Pepperell in 1760 at the con-
    clusion of four annual epidemics of what may have been
    typhoid fever. Had Emerson's observations been reported
    to a scientific society he would now be honored as a great
    American scientist, for not until that year had the epidemi-
    ology of a single disease been so well defined.
    The particular pestilence which is the subject of this
    paper has had many difl"erent names but is nowadays known
    only as influenza. That name, influenza, coined by the
    Italians to signify the influence of celestial bodies on man's
    affairs, was first used in England during the epidemic of
    1743, but was not used in this country, so far as I could
    determine, until after the Revolution. The colonial epi-
    demics when given definite names at all were usually called
    "uncommon colds," "very deep colds," "pleuritic fever," or
    "malignant pleurisy." Since pleurisy usually implies painful
    respiration or coughing, and since the disease may occur
    when fever, not pain, is the presenting sign, there must have
    been some outbreaks when the nature of the disease was
    totally unsuspected. Before the history of influenza in this
    country can be complete there must be a re-examination of
    those epidemics that are known to us only as burning,
    malignant, mortal, wasting, or nervous fevers. These
    descriptive names were not applied to specific diseases; they
    mean only that the diseases could not be identified beyond
    their most noticeable characteristics—malignant or mortal
    fever when signs were ominous and the case-fatality rate
    was high; wasting fever when a great many persons died; or
    nervous fever when delirium was the outstanding clinical sign.
    An indefinite descriptive name should never discourage the
    researcher in his attempt to discover the underlying cause of


    24 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    an epidemic. Except for some seventeenth-century epidemics
    he can usually find ancillary data, such as town and church
    vital records, from which he may learn some gross charac-
    teristics of the disease. Such data, although frequently
    nothing more than lists of names, sometimes reveal enough
    information to allow one to say that a particular epidemic
    probably was or probably was not influenza. As an illustra-
    tion, the Plymouth epidemic of 1620-1621 has on occasion
    been considered as influenza, and, indeed it had many char-
    acteristics of that disease. But the list of deaths shows that
    it took six months to spread through that small colony and
    therefore it very probably was not influenza because most
    colonial influenza epidemics swept through small towns in
    two or three months, seldom as many as four, even though
    the towns were five to ten times the size of Plymouth.
    Whether the victims of an epidemic were mostly children
    or adults, which can frequently be determined from vital
    records, is sometimes helpful in distinguishing influenza from
    other common contagious diseases. During diphtheria and
    scarlet fever epidemics very few of the victims were adults.
    Adult victims of dysentery epidemics amounted to about
    one-quarter of the total. Although influenza attacked all age
    groups children withstood it much better than adults, for
    statistics when available usually show that adults comprise
    about two-thirds of the total deaths. During many colonial
    epidemics the fact was stressed that this disease was un-
    usually fatal to those in the prime of life, the group that was
    expected to withstand epidemic diseases best of all.
    Multiple deaths, or the deaths of two or more members of
    a family within a few weeks of each other, are also helpful
    in determining the nature of the disease. Influenza was one
    of the few diseases that frequently caused the deaths of two
    adult members of a family. The deaths of one adult and of
    one child were also common, but seldom does one find more


    I9SO-] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 25
    than two children in one family dying of this disease. Multi-
    ple deaths can also be used to determine the duration of the
    fatal illness. Tuberculosis frequently caused two or more
    adult deaths in a family, but deaths from tuberculosis and
    other chronic diseases were usually weeks or months apart.
    When two or more members of the same family died within
    a few days of each other the cause was usually a disease of
    short duration.
    The season during which the epidemic occurred may also
    be helpful in determining the nature of the disease, because
    New England epidemics of intestinal diseases usually reached
    their peaks from August to October whereas respiratory
    diseases occurred more often in the other months. There are,
    of course, exceptions to the rule; nevertheless, one should be
    wary in accepting influenza as the cause of any late summer
    epidemic unless other evidence is pretty strong.
    Although there may be good reasons to suspect that
    influenza caused many of the indefinite "mortal fevers," a
    final diagnosis should not be made without some clinical
    details concerning the disease. This does not mean that it is
    necessary to have exact descriptions written by doctors; on
    the contrary descriptions written by laymen and particularly
    by clergymen are much more valuable because medical men
    usually had theories to prove, treatments to justify, or
    (more often than not) reputations to establish. Not infre-
    quently the physicians colored their observations to fit their
    fanciful theories, whereas a layman, writing to a distant
    friend or in his diary, had no reason to distort the basic facts.
    This clinical evidence need be only a one-line description of
    the disease or of its complications. In searching for influenza
    the mention of pleurisy or of peripneumony—the most
    common complications of this disease—clinches the diag-
    nosis provided that there is at the same time ample evidence
    of an epidemic.


    26 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    In the following account of influenza in colonial New
    England an attempt has been made to exclude epidemics of
    the common cold. It was said that some of the Pilgrims,
    after wading ashore from the Mayflower, came down with
    "grievous colds." References to colds appear with increasing
    frequency after 1660; and there is evidence that in the
    eighteenth century the common cold was as common as it is
    now. Joshua Hempstead, for example, caught colds two or
    three times a year after 1748; and David Hall also recorded
    his frequent colds particularly when he was unprepared for
    his Sunday sermons. It is sometimes difiicult to distinguish
    these common colds from influenza and especially in the
    inadequately described seventeenth-century epidemics and
    more especially when mortality statistics on which the
    differential diagnosis frequently depends are missing or
    incomplete.
    The early New England colonists, although familiar with
    coughs, colds and pleurisies, were apparently not familiar
    with a disease which could, as did the epidemic of 1647,
    appear in so many widely separated towns at nearly the
    same time "as if there were a general infection in the air."
    Beginning late in May this disease spread rapidly "through
    the country among Indians and English, French and
    Dutch," meaning presumably from Canada to New York. It
    spared no one, old or young, good or bad. The Reverend
    John Eliot thought it "exceeding strange . . . to have such
    colds in the height of the heat of sumer," and also strange
    that nearly every one should recover, some after having
    been made very weak, but most after only a few days of
    light fever. Had it not been for the deaths of two of "the
    choysestflowersand most precious saints," John Winthrop's
    wife and the Reverend Samuel Hooker, it is doubtful if much
    would have been written about this epidemic for otherwise it
    seems to have been taken very lightly. "Everyone has


    1950.] THE PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 27
    gotten a cold," wrote John Brock just as if that was all
    there was to be said about it. It was generally agreed that
    the angel had been sent with a rod to chastise and not with
    a sword to kill.
    Unfortunately the few available vital records for 1647 do
    not show the effects of this epidemic, but John Winthrop
    made a crude estimate of the total casualties. "Few died,"
    he wrote in an off-hand manner, "not above forty or fifty
    in the Massachusetts, and near as many at Connecticut."
    Eighty to one hundred deaths from one disease in an
    estimated population of 25,000 may not have seemed very
    unusual in those days, but by modern standards this
    epidemic will have to be classified as moderately severe.
    There is a chance, of course, that Winthrop's estimate may
    have been much too high.
    It is impossible to evaluate references to colds during
    1649 and 1650 because of the prevalence of whooping cough
    at that time. But the epidemic of "inward colds" that broke
    out in New Haven during the winter of 1654-1655 was with-
    out doubt some form of infiuenza because many of the
    patients had chills, fever, sweats, and headache along with
    their painful and difficult respirations—signs and symptoms
    indicating something more severe than the common cold.
    There were about ten or twelve deaths in New Haven. The
    same disease prevailed in Hartford during March; and in
    Windsor the deaths that year rose from an annual average
    of five to seventeen, about half of them adults.
    Massachusetts also had an epidemic of colds this year,
    but the peak was reached apparently in late spring and early
    summer. Adult deaths in Boston increased slightly during
    June. When the Reverend Nathaniel Rogers of Ipswich died
    July 3, 1655, it was said to be the result of an epidemic
    cough. In Roxbury the "epidemicall sickness & faintness"
    reached its peak in July. Although written many years later.


    28 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    Cotton Mather's statement that in 1655 "an epidemical
    sort of cough had arrested most of the families in the
    country" suggests that all of these New England epidemics
    were caused by the same disease. If so, it follows that in-
    fluenza was sometimes very slow in spreading from one
    colony to another, which is what one would expect in those
    days of slow communications.
    Letters written during the winter of 1660-1661 by many
    persons living in different parts of New England confirm
    John Hull's observations on an "epidemical cold" prevailing
    not only in every town but "almost upon every person."
    Hull did not seem greatly impressed with the seriousness of
    the disease, no doubt because his family had it "very
    gently," but John Davenport, possibly influenced by his
    son's alarming attack of pneumonia, wrote that in New
    Haven some were "very ill and in great danger." The con-
    flicting clinical evidence makes this epidemic difficult to
    classify although an incomplete list of deaths in Boston
    tends to confirm John Hull's opinion.
    Of the next epidemic, that of 1670, the only information
    is to be found in a letter written by Richard Smith to John
    Winthrop, dated New London, May 2, 1670:
    Here is many pepoU deed att Rode Island the Later hand of wintar
    and this springe 30 or 40: Mr John Gard the Chife: others those you
    know not and verey sickly: still it takes them with a payne in hed &
    stomok & side on which folowes a fevor, & dyes in 3 or 4 days.
    This will have to be considered as a probable influenza
    epidemic since there are not many fulminating fevers with
    pain in the side as a salient feature which can cause 30 or 40
    deaths in a population of 5000. It may be an early example
    of a number of colonial influenza epidemics that now seem
    very peculiar in that they were confined to sharply cir-
    cumscribed areas.
    An unusual number of different "sad diseases" prevailed
    throughout New England during all of 1676. A few cases of


    I9SO'] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 29
    smallpox had appeared in Boston during December, 1675,
    and soon thereafter an epidemic of this disease broke out in
    Gloucester. Most of the deaths that occurred during the
    latter half of the year can be attributed to the bloody fiux
    which began in August, especially in Boston. Aside from
    these two diseases, however, there were numerous out-
    breaks of a "mortal contagious fever" in various towns be-
    tween January and June. Plymouth seems to have been hit
    the hardest for the disease was reported to have been "very
    mortal" there in January, yet as late as May and June the
    church was still observing days of fasting and prayer because
    of "war and sicknesse." Epidemics of "that fever" were also
    reported in Boston and Salem during January and February;
    and in April the inhabitants of Westfield, having been ad-
    vised to withdraw to Springfield because of Indian raids,
    were reluctant to do so because many were dangerously ill of
    the "prevailing sickness." April was also a very sickly time
    in New Haven; and it was during 1676 that deaths in Wind-
    sor reached another peak.
    Unfortunately not enough records have been found to
    solve all of these mysterious epidemics, although it can be
    said that some respiratory disease, probably influenza, pre-
    vailed in at least two other towns. In Hartford many
    persons, including numerous children, were suddenly seized
    during January with "a violent fever and pains in their left
    sides," but when last heard from most of them were "hope-
    fully recovering." There may have been two epidemics in
    Boston during the first half of the year. Increase Mather,
    after recording the prevalence of "malignant fever" during the
    winter, appears to have attended still more sick families and
    more funerals during May and June when "almost every body
    was ill of the cold that was epidemical." Sewall also took more
    notice of funerals during May, and recorded particularly the
    death of Mr. Russell who had "drowned in flegm."


    3O AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    It is obvious that more research is required for a satis-
    factory explanation of the mortal fevers of 1676. We can
    safely say that influenza prevailed in some New England
    towns while these epidemics were progressing, but the exact
    diagnoses of the epidemics in other towns are not warranted
    by the material now at hand. The fact that influenza pre-
    vailed in England during the early winter of 1675-1676 may
    have some bearing on these "mortal fevers" of New England.
    In March, 1694, the Reverend James Noyes, who took
    excellent care of bodies as well as souls, sent Samuel Sewall
    a vivid account of an epidemic in Stonington which had
    caused the deaths of twelve out of seventy patients within a
    few months. Noyes did not name the disease, but said that
    he himself had had a cold and cough and that his five-year-
    old son had been dangerously sick with "malignant putrid
    Pluretic fever," indicating the probability that some respir-
    atory disease such as influenza was the cause of the epidemic.
    A different source reveals that the victims of this "very
    mortal fever at Stonington which they knew not well what
    to make of . . . [were] generally lusty young persons."
    In Providence two members of the Hearndon family died
    on successive days in April most likely from some contagious
    disease; and in Rehoboth there was another epidemic which
    reached its peak in May, causing ten deaths all between ten
    and forty-seven years of age, four of them from one family.
    Cotton Mather's vague reference to "Angels of Sickness"
    carrying off "Some Scores" of persons in "Some Towns"
    probably means that the epidemic did not spread to Boston
    else he would have been more specific. In short, this epidemic
    was very much like that of 1670 in being severe yet confined
    to a limited area. The number of deaths distinguishes it from
    the mild respiratory disease that prevailed in Europe during
    the winter of 1693-1694.
    The epidemic that broke out in Boston, Braintree, Salem
    and many other towns in eastern Massachusetts toward the


    I9SO.] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 31
    end of December, 1697, was without question caused by a
    "sore cold attended with a cough and feavor." In Boston
    and Braintree, where nearly everyone got the disease,
    "many dyed . . . and some dyed in a strange and unusual
    maner . . . some very sudenly." Incomplete Boston death
    records for that winter, while showing an increase in Jan-
    uary, do not throw any additional light on the severity of the
    epidemic there. Braintree had twenty-four deaths that year,
    half of them adults. In the Wolcott family correspondence
    there is a letter from Salem dated February 15,1697/98, say-
    ing that "the Great Colds among us" had caused the deaths
    of many "considerable" persons including three adult mem-
    bers of the Appleton family. Cotton Mather, while suffering
    his "exquisite Miseryes" for about a month, was one day
    confidently expecting to join the angels, and the ensuing
    exhaltation prompted him to record that he was overcome
    with "Tears of Joy." He had spent most of his life preparing
    for just such an event, yet when the critical moment seemed
    near at hand he suddenly changed his mind. "I resolved,"
    he wrote, unaware of any inconsistency, "that I would keep
    out of those blessed Hands, yett for a while, if I could."
    Upon his recovery he published his Mens Sana in Corpore
    Sano (Boston, 1698).
    Until clinical descriptions become available the sickness in
    Connecticut will probably have to be considered as a part
    of the same epidemic inasmuch as it began at the very same
    time. It lasted a little longer, however, and seems to have
    been very severe, particularly in Fairfield where out of a
    population of considerably less than 1000, seventy persons
    died within three months. For the next forty years those
    days were remembered in Fairfield as "The Sickly Winter."
    Late in March there was a day of fasting and prayer through-
    out Connecticut because of "great sicknesse, and also . . .
    the sharpnesse and long continuance of the winter season."
    Roger Wolcott implied that this epidemic prevailed through-


    32 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    out Connecticut but no records of it in other towns have so
    far been discovered.
    The seventeenth century closed with "Malignant Colds
    and Coughs" in Boston during November and December,
    1700, "so epidemical that there [was] hardly a Family free
    from sore Inconvenience by them." Cotton Mather, prone
    to magnify any epidemic into a "Calamity," said nothing
    about fatalities, whereas Samuel Sewall, who usually took
    such matters in his stride, said that it was "mortal to many."
    No statistical information about this epidemic has as yet
    been found.
    Up to this point there had been two outbreaks of infiuenza
    (in 1647 and 1697) of more than average severity which
    spread rapidly over most of New England, but just how far
    south they extended is unknown at the present time. The
    1660 epidemic also spread rapidly, but the weight of evi-
    dence indicates that the disease at that time was not severe.
    There are indications that two other epidemics (1670 and
    1694) were very severe but had definite geographic limita-
    tions. Not enough facts are known to warrant definite
    conclusions concerning the remaining three appearances of
    the disease. It is obvious that since our knowledge of these
    seventeenth-century epidemics depends so much on chance
    observations in diaries and letters, any conclusions con-
    cerning them may have to be altered as more source material
    is examined, except perhaps for those of 1647 and 1660.
    For the eighteenth century there is a much richer record,
    consisting in the main of sermons, broadsides, proclama-
    tions, and especially newspapers, which make the task of
    the medical historian much simpler.
    During the winter of 1710-1711 infiuenza raged violently
    in France and the Low Countries, whence it was carried by
    disbanded soldiers to England, where it acquired the name
    of "The Dunkirk Rant." Whether or not this epidemic was
    in any way responsible for subsequent epidemics in America


    I9SO-] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 33
    it is impossible to say, but, at any rate, a frightful epidemic
    started during August, 1711, in South Carolina. In mid-
    November, when most South Carolina epidemics abated,
    this one increased in virulence; and by that time four dis-
    tinct diseases had been identified—"small pox. Pestilential
    Feavers, Pleurisies and Fluxes." In Charleston the daily
    burials increased from three or four in November, to five or
    six in January, and to nine or ten in February—a terrific
    death-rate for a town of 3000 inhabitants. The Reverend
    Gideon Johnson, believing that this was "a sort of Plague,
    a kind of Judgment" upon his sinful people, toiled night and
    day among the dying and the dead, but complained bitterly
    that hé received nothing for his pains except a "few rotten
    gloves."
    When the news reached Boston late in January, 1712, that
    700 persons in Connecticut, including twenty-four members
    of the General Assembly, had died of a "Malignant Dis-
    temper" within two months. Cotton Mather naturally inter-
    preted this as a heaven-sent occasion to preach a fitting
    sermon. Seasonable Thoughts Upon Mortality was off the
    press and liberally distributed in Connecticut before it was
    learned that the first reports were false and that "through
    God's Goodness . . . [there were] not above 250" deaths.
    This must have been a pretty severe disease since the terror
    caused by the numerous sudden deaths was still vividly
    remembered a quarter of a century later; but the nature of
    it seems to have been as obscure then as it is now. Mather
    obviously knew few details for his scientific interests cer-
    tainly would not have allowed him to spend twenty-six
    pages spiritualizing melting snow had he known a single
    symptom or the name of the disease. His only statements
    which have any scientific value now were that the disease
    caused sudden deaths among all age groups, and that it was
    particularly severe among "Young, and Strong, and Hearty
    Men."


    34 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    Joshua Hempstead of New London recorded the deaths
    of three adult members of the Lester family within one
    month, as well as the deaths of a few more who died after
    short illnesses during the winter of 1711-1712, but he said
    nothing definite about an epidemic. Nearby in Groton, and
    in Milford, there are a few gravestones suggesting the
    prevalence of a contagious disease among adults that winter
    and spring.
    Jonathan Burt's broadside Lamentation Occasioned by the
    Great Sickness . . . in Springfield contains a few verses which
    indicate that the same disease spread up the Connecticut
    River valley:
    Three Couples in this Town did die,
    the Husband and the Wife,
    Follow each other speedily
    ending their Mortal Life.
    Some Young Men dyed in their prime
    and flower of their Age,
    Others that liv'd some longer time
    ended their Pilgrimage.
    Two Brethren dyed in one day
    few Hours was between;
    For Seventy Years the like, I say
    in this Town was not seen.
    Governor Dudley's February proclamation, Mather's
    Seasonable Thoughts, as well as some letters written later in
    1712, all show conclusively that this epidemic did not reach
    Boston or its surrounding towns. The letters written from
    Boston contain no signs or symptoms referable to the Con-
    necticut disease.
    A "Second Breaking out of the Malignant Distemper
    that proved so Mortal . . . the last winter; especially in
    Hartford, Weathersfield, and Glassenbury," appears to have
    reached its peak during September or October, 1712. The
    two outbreaks caused two hundred deaths in these three
    towns alone; and forty more were said to have died in


    I9SO-] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 35
    Windsor between August and November. The Reverend
    John Southmayd, apparently writing from memory in 1729,
    sent to Thomas Prince when the latter was gathering ma-
    terial for his Chronological History a letter describing the
    sickness in Waterbury during which twenty-one persons
    died between October, 1712, and the following September.
    "The sickness was so great that there were hardly enough
    well to tend the sick." There are some indications in the
    vital records that Southmayd included deaths from all
    causes during this interval and that this "Great Sickness"
    which Noah Webster guessed was "a species of putrid
    pleurisy" may have been caused by two distinct diseases,
    one prevailing in the autumn and the other the following
    spring. At all events the sickness in Waterbury has gone
    down in history while the other Connecticut epidemics have
    mostly been forgotten simply because Noah Webster
    happened to overlook them.
    These epidemics in Connecticut and Springfield have been
    included in this article on influenza because many of them
    had epidemiological characteristics of that disease. It is
    probably only a question of time before confirmatory
    evidence becomes available, but until it does the diagnosis
    must remain in doubt.
    Governor Shute, when composing his annual proclama-
    tion for November, 1717, in which he urged the people of
    Massachusetts to thank God for "continuing a great Meas-
    ure of Health and remarkably keeping off Contagious
    Diseases when threatening to break in upon us," was
    either using stock proclamation phrases, as so many of our
    modern governors do, or was possibly thinking of the epi-
    demic then raging in Jamaica, W. I. But by the time this
    proclamation appeared in the News-Letter (November 25,
    1717), not only had the word spread far and wide (at least
    as far as Martha's Vineyard and New London) that most
    of November was "a very sickly time in Boston," but the


    36 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    Governor himself had felt obliged to prorogue the General
    Court because of "the Sickness" before some "Affairs of
    Importance" could be completed.
    When the annual records of Boston deaths are charted
    on a graph, the rise in 1717 (which, fortunately, includes
    most of the winter) does not appear very significant along-
    side the tremendous rise caused by the smallpox of 1721;
    but actually the increase in 1717 was about 100 over the
    previous twelve months. It seems justifiable to attribute
    all of these 100 deaths, if not more, to the epidemic in view
    of Mather's statement that in his congregation alone there
    had been "many more than twenty" deaths within two
    months, and that before the epidemic had run its course.
    Compared with other colonial epidemics this does not appear
    too startling, but in proportion to population it is the
    equivalent of more than 7000 deaths from one disease in
    modern metropolitan Boston within three months. It is not
    surprising, therefore, to find the chronically apprehensive
    Cotton Mather in his sermons {Hades Looked Into, etc.)
    frequently referring to the "dreadful Feavour," "uncommon
    Mortality," and "horrible Slaughter." Samuel Sewall, too,
    had particular reason to be concerned about "the violent
    Fever," for among the early victims were his wife, Hannah,
    and his son-in-law. Grove Hirst. The funerals of Mr. and
    Mrs. Robert Winsor and of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dering
    prompted Sewall to record that two double funerals on one
    day was a sight that had never before been seen in Boston.
    In one of his entries Mather said that the epidemic was
    still worse in some neighboring towns, and although good
    accounts are difficult to find there is some evidence to sup-
    port his statement. Benjamin Webb, Sr., made a few notes
    on the epidemic in the little town of Weymouth where
    eleven persons died within one month; and beginning No-
    vember 30, 1717, "the Hand of God came forth against the
    Inhabitants of Concord in a very awfull manner sending a


    1950.] THE PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 37
    very malignant & fatal distemper amongst . . . men women
    & children . . . [and mostly by] very suden & unexpected
    deaths . . . removed not less than 27 persons" within three
    months. This was probably three to four per cent of the
    total population. In the Rehoboth records, Mr. Richard
    Bowen recently discovered an epidemic there of unknown
    cause; and on February 13, 1718, there was a private fast in
    Danvers "occasioned by a Sore Visitation, by Sickness &
    mortality." The vital records of Dorchester, Dedham,
    Braintree, and Newbury show enough multiple deaths to
    indicate the presence of a contagious disease; and, in fact,
    the General Court, when reconvening on February 6,
    moved for a "Day of Publick Fasting . . . throughout the
    Several Towns of this Province, particulary [because of] the
    Epidemical mortal Fever that is in most of them."
    In proclaiming a general fast for February 27, the Gov-
    ernor said that "great Numbers of People [had] been carried
    off, and many of them Persons of Singular Note and Useful-
    ness." Among those mentioned in the newspapers and else-
    where were Wait Winthrop, Elisha Hutchinson, Andrew
    Belcher, Dr. John Cutler, the wife of Dr. John Clark,
    Samuel Bridge, Hannah Meyelin and her son-in-law William
    Tilley, the Reverend George Curwin and the Reverend
    Nicholas Noyes of Salem, Captains Ebenezer and Roger
    Billings of Dorchester, and Mr. and Mrs. Timothy Dwight
    of Dedham.
    Except for a few shore towns, Connecticut source material
    for the sickness during the winter of 1717-1718 is too scanty
    to warrant definite conclusions. Joshua Hempstead, though
    himself sick for about a month, recorded some multiple deaths
    in New London from "the distemper that I have." Mrs.
    Pemberton, his nurse for one night when he was "very sick
    and low," was stricken three days later and died on her fifth
    day of illness. There is some suggestive gravestone evidence
    of epidemics in Essex and Lebanon that winter, and an


    38 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    epidemic in Lyme appears to have reached its peak in April.
    The similarity in epidemiological statistics of various
    New England towns during the winter and spring of 1717-
    1718 justify the conclusion that this was an epidemic of a
    single disease. Apparently when fatal it was of short dura-
    tion, because at least four of the Boston victims had attended
    Hannah Sewall's funeral and therefore they could not have
    been sick for very long. Obviously it was none of the child-
    hood diseases which caused so many severe eighteenth-
    century epidemics, for the combined Weymouth, Concord,
    and New London records show that adult victims outnum-
    bered childhood victims more than two to one. The adult
    multiple deaths and the season make the circumstantial
    evidence in favor of influenza fairly complete, but in order to
    make the diagnosis certain it is necessary to have some clini-
    cal evidence which is compatible with the epidemiological
    evidence so far obtained.
    It is curious that the nature of the disease which caused
    the deaths of so many prominent persons in such a wide-
    spread epidemic should be so difficult to determine by an
    examination of the usual sources. The News-Letter, although
    the file for that period is complete, contains nothing of
    diagnostic value, in fact very little about the epidemic,
    probably because it was not news in Boston. Funeral sermons,
    frequently rich in just this sort of information, are, in this
    instance, sterile. The Hempstead, Mather and Sewall diaries
    contain a few suggestive hints, but they usually refer to the
    disease by some such name as "The Mortal Fever."
    Fortunately there are two letters written by independent
    observers which go far to explain the epidemic as a whole.
    Writing to Jeremiah Dummer in London on January 25,
    1718, Samuel Sewall said: "Lamentable Havock has been
    made amongst us, by a mortal Pleuretick Fever, whereby we
    are bereaved of many of our most valuable men." The diag-
    nosis of the epidemic along the Connecticut shore rests also


    I9SO-] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 39
    on a single sentence in an unpublished letter from Peter
    Pratt, dated Lyme, April 23, 1718: "the Pleuritick Disease
    Rages here and has bin mortal to Sundry amongst us."
    Since most of the evidence indicates that the epidemic was
    caused by a single disease; and since the presence of some
    serious respiratory disease can be definitely established in at
    least two towns, the diagnosis narrows down to influenza
    as the only disease that could have been responsible.
    Were it not for E. Burlesson's broadside Lamentation in
    Memory of the Distressing Sickness in Hartford there would
    be very little known about the epidemic that caused the
    deaths of fifty-five persons between November 5, 1724, and
    February 20, 1725, for the early Hartford vital records have
    not survived. 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.
    Beginning about mid-January, 1725, another epidemic
    broke out fifty miles away in New London where, according
    to Caulkin's "Necrology," the deaths that year increased to
    eighty-four from an annual average of twenty-one. When
    fatal the disease was of short duration, some of the victims
    dying within five days. One died within eighteen hours of
    the onset. It was a disease of all age groups although adult
    deaths comprised about sixty-five per cent of the total.
    There were two deaths in at least six families. Hempstead
    said that this was "the most sorrowfull time that ever was
    seen in New London," and he seems to have been unusually
    busy "blocking & cutting grave stones."
    Here, then, were two outbreaks statistically so similar
    that they appear to have been caused by the same disease.
    For this epidemic, however, the clinical information, while


    4O AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    not strong enough for a final diagnosis, is suggestive enough
    for a tentative diagnosis. Hempstead recorded that when his;
    nineteen-year-old son was ill of the disease in New London
    he suffered so much from "Pain in his right Breast. . . [that]
    Mr. Miller let him bleed in the morn & bathed his Breast
    with ointment of Marsh Malloes." For the Hartford epi-
    demic a prolonged search has resulted in the probate
    records furnishing the only clue. 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.
    The "fevers" in southern New England during the spring
    of 1722, and in Essex County during both the spring of 1723
    and the winter of 1726, have some characteristics of in-
    fluenza epidemics but no such diagnosis is justified from the
    inadequate descriptions at hand. In Dedham an "Uncom-
    mon Sort of Cold" prevailed during September, 1723, and
    again in May, 1727. The epidemic of 1732 should be con-
    sidered in detail, however, because it is said that it was a
    part of an influenza pandemic, or an epidemic that spread
    throughout the world.
    Considering the slowness of the means of travel and the
    fact that we are concerned with a disease which could have
    been transmitted only by personal contact, the 1732
    epidemic of "General Colds" spread with remarkable
    rapidity throughout the colonies. It appeared first in Salem
    about mid-September, and within two or three weeks spread
    "all along to the Eastward, even as far as Casco." On
    October 5, it was reported that none of the towns to the
    south of Boston had become involved, but by late October
    it had reached Newport and towns on the Connecticut
    shore. New York and Philadelphia became involved by


    I9SO.] THE PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 41
    November, and on December 12, the Weekly Mercury of
    Philadelphia reported that it was "exceedingly sickly" in the
    Lower Counties. Although no reports of the disease in the
    southern colonies are available, the Mercury concluded as a
    "reasonable supposition" that the disease had spread
    "throughout the whole Continent." Inasmuch as measles
    epidemics in those days usually took one or two years to
    spread over the same area, the above reports indicate an
    exceedingly contagious disease.
    In respect to the severity of the epidemic the reports are
    difficult to evaluate because of local variations. At least it
    can be said that the disease was fatal for the infirm and the
    aged, and incapacitating for the others. Church services
    were suspended in some towns either because the ministers
    were sick or the congregations were "pretty thin." Of
    seventeen adult deaths in Salem within three weeks, five
    were described as "ancient Standers." On Nantucket
    "several aged People" died. In New London there were two
    deaths in each of three families, yet the total deaths for the
    year in that town did not increase significantly. In New
    York some of the patients had "Pain in the Side"—the
    common name for pneumonia in that locality. In Phila-
    delphia many elderly persons died "of the colds," and several
    young persons died "of the Pleurisy." There was a report
    from the Lower Counties that "the living [were] scarce able
    to bury the Dead." On the other hand, both Governor
    Belcher and Governor Talcott, probably comparing this
    epidemic with the smallpox of the previous year, said in their
    Thanksgiving Proclamations that the people should be
    grateful for the "general health;" and the News-Letter for
    January 11, 1733, mentioned "that Epidemical Illness with
    the Symptoms of a common Cold, which prevailed in the
    Autumn all over our Northern Colonies." On the whole,
    the epidemic in New England appears to have been more
    incapacitating than fatal, for in spite of numerous reports


    42 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    on the prevalence of the disease in Massachusetts fairly
    reliable figures show no great increase in Boston deaths
    during 1732.
    One curious aspect of this epidemic is that it invaded
    Britain after it had spread through the American colonies.
    Noah Webster later said that infiuenza prevailed in
    Springfield during 1733, and according to the contemporary
    newspapers "Pluresy Fever" caused many sudden deaths
    during April, 1734, in New Haven, Rye, and other towns
    thereabouts ; but not enough is known about these epidemics
    to permit profitable discussion.
    Webster's statement that a "very severe infiuenza
    invaded both hemispheres" during the winter of 1737-1738
    is somewhat difficult to confirm because most contempora-
    neous references to sickness in New England that winter
    pertain to throat distemper, a deadly disease for the children
    which had seldom been observed before that time. Early in
    November, however, the News-Letter mentioned that a
    number of persons, presumably adults, had died shortly after
    visiting their sick friends, but the report throws no light
    on the nature of this disease. Later in November the
    Reverend Thomas Smith recorded an outbreak of "pleurisy
    fever" at North Yarmouth; and about a month later the
    News-Letter reported that the mortality among the Indians
    afflicted with "a grievous mortal Fever" at Yarmouth was
    as high as fifty per cent. Ebenezer Parkman's diary dis-
    closes an unusual amount of sickness in Westborough where
    some had died of "the Quinzey" which at that time meant
    laryngeal inflammation from any cause. It was also very
    sickly at Braintree that winter "by the prevailing of a
    pluretic Fever and the Sore Distemper in the Throat." In
    other words there is confirmatory evidence that influenza
    prevailed in some New England towns, but Webster's
    estimate of its extent and severity will for the present have
    to be accepted more or less on faith.


    I9SO.] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 43
    Numerous secondary sources say that influenza "raged
    all over North America" in 1747. John Bartram's letters
    refer to a severe epidemic in Pennsylvania that year, but so
    far only two localized outbreaks in New England have been
    found. It was said to have raged in Dedham in 1747; and
    the Bidwell manuscript list of deaths in Hartford names two
    or three persons who died of "Malignant Pleurisie" during
    the winter of 1747-1748.
    It is well known that the smallpox which appeared in
    Chelsea during December, 1751, soon spread to Boston
    where during the next six months it caused one of the worst
    epidemics of the eighteenth century. This epidemic had
    hardly reached its peak, however, when an epidemic of still
    another "fever" broke out among those who had been
    obliged to remain in town. The evidence for two separate
    epidemics is in the selectmen's minutes for April 22, 1752,
    which begin, "Whereas the smallpox and a malignant Fever
    now prevail in Town and several Persons have died of those
    distempers," and close with orders that every victim was to
    be buried in a tarred sheet without ceremony in the middle
    of the night. On June 5 Lieutenant Governor Phips issued
    from the Council Chamber in Concord—the Council having
    retreated first to Cambridge and then to Concord—a fast
    proclamation which discloses not only two separate epi-
    demics but also the fact that they had spread to other
    towns: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased God . . . to visit the
    Capital Town of this Province, and other Towns within the
    same with a contagious Disease of the Small Pox, as also
    with a malignant Fever, which hath proved mortal to great
    Numbers of Persons. . . ."
    Inasmuch as the News-Letter for February and March,
    1752, contains numerous references to various outbreaks of
    throat distemper, it would seem that the two separate
    epidemics in Boston could be easily explained. But all refer-
    ences to throat distemper concern its prevalence "in some


    44 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,

    Countrey Towns," and although one can trace its ravages
    among the children of Abington, Attleborough, Bridgewater,
    Främingham, Hanover, Hingham, Sudbury, and Wey-
    mouth during 1751-1752, no specific references to this disease
    in Boston have been found. There is additional evidence
    that the "malignant fever" was not throat distemper.
    March 12, 1752, was a day of fasting and prayer at Fram-
    ingham "on account of a sore fever among them, accom-
    panied by the throat distemper." Thus the evidence is
    pretty clear that at least three very serious and mortal dis-
    eases raged simultaneously in eastern Massachusetts during
    the first half of 1752.
    The only document that has been found which helps to
    clarify these confusing facts is the diary of Israel Loring of
    Sudbury who, on being informed of the prevalence of
    "mortal fever" in Roxbury, recorded on May 7: "Thus,
    partly by the smallpox, fevers of one kind and another,
    and the throat distemper, we are wasted away." The nature
    of this mortal fever is explained by his entry for June 7,
    the day that Benjamin Loring of Hingham came to visit him
    in Sudbury. After saying that eighty children had died in
    Hingham and one hundred more in Weymouth from throat
    distemper, Benjamin went on to say that both Hingham and
    Weymouth had lost "most of their principal men by Pleuri-
    tick Fever."
    Here, then, was smallpox causing hundreds of deaths in
    Boston and a good number in some of the larger towns,
    throat distemper causing hundreds of deaths particularly
    among the children in towns just to the south and west of
    Boston, and influenza superimposed on both of these dis-
    eases. It was truly, as Israel Loring said, "a dying time."
    Beginning mid-December, 1753, in HoUiston, roughly
    half-way between Boston and Worcester, and quickly
    spreading over a twenty-square-mile area to include Hopkin-
    ton, Marlborough, Medway, Mendon, Sherborn, Shrews-


    I95O-] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 45
    bury, Southborough, Westborough, and Wrentham, the
    epidemic of what was then called "Putrid Fever" or "Malig-
    nant Fever" caused considerable alarm because of the
    frequent deaths that so often followed a few days after the
    patients were first attacked. Of all the eighteenth-century
    epidemics in this area this particular one was singled out to
    be remembered for many, many years as "The Great Sick-
    ness." Within a month of its first appearance forty-four
    persons, or more than ten per cent of the population, died in
    Holliston alone, and, as was said of so many colonial in-
    fluenza epidemics,—"The Distress was so great that they
    were obliged to get Persons from the neighboring Towns to
    assist in attending the sick, and bury the dead." Within
    three weeks of its appearance in Holliston the disease had
    attacked twenty more persons in Hopkinton, roughly five
    miles away. The best contemporaneous description of this
    epidemic is in the Reverend Ebenezer Parkman's diary—
    incidentally an exceedingly valuable diary for medical his-
    torians of colonial New England because, as he does in this
    instance, Parkman so often supplies valuable, detailed,
    clinical information. He participated in many fasts while
    the epidemic was making headway, and at one of these in
    Hopkinton on the night of January 7, when the visiting
    ministers were obliged to tarry overnight because of in-
    clement weather, a Doctor Wilson told them that "in the
    Fever there is much of pleurisy & peripneumony." In a
    subsequent entry Parkman called the disease "the Pleure-
    tick Fever." He also noted some gruesome details,—ten
    corpses awaiting burial on one day, and "for want of help,
    so many being sick and dead they draw some corpses to the
    graves on sleds," which was apparently a necessary but
    undignified way to bury people in those days.
    This epidemic in Holliston well illustrates the economic
    distress that so frequently accompanied colonial epidemics.
    Of the fifty-three who died within six weeks more than half


    46 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    were heads of families, and in four families both the mother
    and father died. The town was therefore obliged to appeal
    for assistance to the General Court which subsequently
    granted £26 "in consideration of the calamitous circum-
    stances occasioned by the late mortal sickness that pre-
    vailed there."
    Incomplete data preclude a compilation of the total
    deaths from the epidemic. It is known that nineteen died in
    Medway, and twenty-five more in Sherborn. Parkman said
    that the disease was also very fatal in Hopkinton and in
    Southborough. An occasional town appears to have been
    fortunate. David Hall of Sutton, although recording many
    cases of "fever" at this time, intimated that very few had
    died. In Wrentham at least sixty persons died during the
    whole year, but in some of these towns influenza was fol-
    lowed by throat distemper and dysentery epidemics in the
    autumn.
    There is substantial evidence that the epidemic remained
    confined to this limited area. Boston newspapers in com-
    menting on the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Goddard and
    of their two sons, the Reverend David of Leicester and the
    Reverend Benjamin of Shrewsbury, all within three weeks,
    referred to "this dreadful Fever . . . in that Part of the
    Country," meaning apparently that other parts were free
    and particularly Boston. Another newspaper item states
    that there were no deaths in Beverly during the first half of
    1754. Even Bellingham, just to the south of HoUiston,
    appears to have escaped entirely; and there are no deaths
    during early 1754 in the available Grafton records.
    The diagnosis of influenza having been established for
    "Malignant Fever" in Boston and surrounding towns during
    1752, and in HoUiston and surrounding towns during 1754, it
    may be well at this point to review very briefly all the
    epidemics of the early 1750's since the disease appears to
    have broken out in different towns in an interesting se-


    1950.] THE PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 47
    quence. Every attempt has been made to disregard all the
    numerous outbreaks of the common cold, and only those
    epidemics of respiratory diseases which were accompanied by
    moderate to severe mortality or which were definitely
    identified by some such name as "pleuritic fever" will be
    considered here as probable influenza. There is the possi-
    bility that these epidemics were distinct and unrelated out-
    breaks of pneumococcus pneumonia, not related to influenza
    in any way. Competent epidemiologists inform me that
    epidemics of pneumococcus pneumonia in a general popula-
    tion seldom occur, and that usually an influenza virus is the
    damaging invading organism which prepares the ground, so
    to speak, for secondary invasions by bacteria. So at the risk
    of over-simplification these epidemics will be treated as
    having been caused by influenza.
    Although the rather severe epidemics in Falmouth and
    Gorham, Maine, during November, 1750, had some ear-
    marks of influenza, they will be disregarded for want of de-
    tailed information, and the epidemic in the first parish of
    Beverly will be taken as the first outbreak of "pleuretick
    Fever" in this series. Little is known about it except that
    twenty-five of the thirty-five victims were adults and also
    heads of families. That spring was also a "melancholy time"
    in Scarborough from some still unidentified disease. There
    is good reason to believe that Massachusetts was free from
    influenza during the ensuing summer and autumn, but
    toward the end of 1751 severe epidemics of "Pleurisy &
    Nervous Fever" broke out in Dedham and Dorchester. In
    Dorchester most of the victims were "hearty persons, and
    many of them of middle age." As mentioned previously the
    spring of 1752 saw the spread of influenza to Boston and
    many surrounding towns; and "pleuretic fever" was also
    "exceedingly and remarkably mortal" in Wells and Bidde-
    ford. Some of these epidemics were still raging late in June.
    It is curious that no more records of this disease have so


    48 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    far been found for the winter of 1752-1753, but late in the
    spring of 1753 a "mortal fever" appeared in Grafton and a
    few towns thereabouts. Though no clinical descriptions or
    statistics concerning this particular outbreak have been
    found it is, nevertheless, included in this series because of
    the prevalence of "pleuratic distemper" in nearby Brooklyn
    just across the Connecticut boundary, and also partly be-
    cause Grafton appears to have escaped the epidemics of the
    subsequent winter. The severe epidemics around Holliston
    during 1753-1754 have been treated separately. Thus it
    appears that influenza was a common disease during the
    early 1750's yet it did not spread rapidly over all New Eng-
    land in one devastating wave as the disease would be ex-
    pected to do in modern times, but it kept reappearing here
    and there in apparently isolated outbreaks over a period of
    at least three years.
    No records of influenza epidemics in New England have
    been found for the remaining years of the 1750's with the
    possible exception of 1756. That year was very much like
    1675 with "diseases of various kinds . . . [occurring] in dread-
    ful Succession." It, too, was a dysentery year, in fact one of
    the frightful dysentery years of New England history with
    abundant instances of multiple deaths of children especially
    during August and September. Despite all the epidemics
    during the early months of 1756 it seems as if every one
    deliberately avoided giving them names by which they can
    now be recognized. John Tucker called the January epi-
    demic in Newbury "the wasting pestilence." Parkman made
    frequent notes on "malignant fever" in Marlborough and
    Westborough between January and March. David Hall,
    after noting a few cases of throat disease in children, men-
    tioned a different disease of all age groups in Sutton which
    he called "The Nervous Fever." During May and June
    sickly soldiers were returning from Albany and Nova Scotia
    bringing with them "an Infectious Distemper" which


    I9SO.] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 49
    quickly spread in Boston. And in one of his sermons John
    Mellen of Lancaster made indefinite references to some
    "mortal distempers" and "contagious diseases." A few
    statistics in the vital records suggest influenza as a possible
    cause of some of these epidemics, but until clinical details
    are found that diagnosis cannot be made.
    It is generally accepted among medical historians that
    severe influenza spread throughout most of the country
    during the winter and spring of 1760-1761. Early in Septem-
    ber, 1760, rumors had reached the country towns that as
    many as twenty persons were dying in Boston daily, but the
    News-Letter of September 11, in denying such stories, said
    that there were not twenty deaths a week, yet acknowledged
    the prevalence of two diseases, the bloody flux and colds.
    Various sources indicate that by late September "Great
    Colds" were prevalent throughout Massachusetts, and
    October was "a tedious Time for Colds and Caughs" among
    the Massachusetts men in the camps around Ticonderoga.
    The New London Summary (February 20, 1761) said that
    "Great Colds" had prevailed in Connecticut throughout the
    autumn.
    The first indication of severe influenza was the outbreak
    which began in Bethlehem, Connecticut, that November
    and caused 34 deaths, five of them in the home of Dr.
    Zephaniah Hull. "During this epidemic, a flock of quails
    flew over the chimney of a house, in which were several
    diseased persons, and five of them [meaning quails, I
    presume] fell dead on the spot." Webster thought that this
    was natural in view of the concentration of infected air. He
    was told that the disease was "malignant pleurisy" yet he
    preferred to call it "inflammatory fever, with symptoms of
    typhus" or "a species of winter fever." Other severe
    epidemics were reported in Connecticut between November,
    1760, and March, 1761, particularly in Woodbury, New


    5O AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    Haven, and East Haven. It was said that many robust men
    in the prime of life died after a few days of sickness.
    Nathaniel Ames had predicted in his Almanack that
    March 22, 1761, would bring forth "searching winds which
    produce Colds, Coughs and Pleurisies;" and Parson Smith
    of Falmouth, Maine, while saying nothing about the winds,
    wrote in his diary that the end of March was "a sickly,
    dying, melancholy time." Massachusetts had a second
    round of "colds" during the spring of 1761 when they "were
    never known to prevail so universally." Doctor Cotton
    Tufts sent Webster a description of the "malignant fever"
    which prevailed in Weymouth during April and May, a
    description which has been quoted as representative of
    New England influenza, but Tufts said that this disease was
    fatal only to the aged. In fact there is some doubt about the
    prevalence of influenza in Massachusetts during the spring
    of 1761. The May 28 issue of the News-Letter, in correcting
    another newspaper's account of the "mortal fever" in
    Halifax, said "That it was only a Cold, such as has pre-
    vailed in this and the neighbouring Towns lately."
    Between 1763 and the coming of the War there were, as
    usual, many minor epidemics of coughs and colds, and every
    now and then there was a death recorded as having been
    caused by "a great cold"or the"risingof thelights"whichwere
    probably sporadic cases of pneumonia. There was also an
    occasional localized outbreak of probable influenza such as
    the fairly severe one in Newport during January, 1764,
    which Ezra Stiles called "a nervous pleuratic disorder."
    Timothy Dwight said (1811) that there was an epidemic of
    influenza in New Haven during 1771. The disease in nearby
    Southbury during March, 1771, does not appear to have been
    severe, at least the only harm it did to David Hicock, the
    school-teacher, was to exhaust his supply of cough medicine.
    "I got a gallon of Rumb at Ensign Hinmans at 4s. and 2


    I9SO.] T H E PURSUIT OF A PESTILENCE 51
    ounces of loaf sugar," he wrote in his diary on his first day
    out of bed.
    The year 1772 was said to have been another influenza
    year throughout the colonies. Webster called the disease
    "epidemic catarrh" in one article and "influenza" in another.
    Doctor Tufts of Weymouth wrote on February 29 that "an
    epidemic cold or catarrhal fever was in almost every family"
    in Massachusetts, but he did not mention any deaths.
    March was "a very dying time" in Newport from the "uni-
    versal cold which becomes either peripneumony or pleurisy
    as it seats on the lungs or side;" and forty persons died in
    Wellfleet from a "mortal fever." In Farmington two adults
    and a child in the Miller family died of "malignant pleurisy "
    and were buried in one grave; but the deaths in a number of
    other Connecticut towns show no great increase that year.
    Like the epidemic of 1732 this one is difficult to summarize
    in a few words. The disease appears to have spread more uni-
    versally and to have been more severe than the usual epi-
    demics of the common cold, yet it caused no great increase
    in deaths except in a few towns here and there which is a
    little difficult to explain. Isaiah Thomas wrote as good a
    summary as any one could in the March 19 issue of the
    Massachusetts Spy: "The cold, (a disease) which lately so
    universally prevailed in this province, we hear has circulated
    throughout the whole continent, by which many persons
    have died."
    Before bringing this incomplete report on early influenza
    to a close it may be of interest to compare the early epi-
    demics with the terrific epidemic of 1918 which most of us
    remember. It can be said at once that there were no colonial
    epidemics comparable to that of 1918 in respect to both
    severity and rapidity of spread. The only early epidemics
    that are now known to have spread rapidly over most of the
    colonies (1732, 1760, and 1772) were not very severe in


    52 AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY [April,
    New England except perhaps that of 1760 which was
    severe in some Connecticut towns. The vital records of
    other Connecticut towns, however, show no increase in
    deaths.
    The epidemics of 1670, 1694, 1724, and especially those of
    the early 1750's, are comparable to the influenza of 1918 in
    respect to severity, but those epidemics, so far as is known,
    did not spread to the other colonies. Some of them did not
    spread throughout New England. There were, however, a
    few severe epidemics which did spread over a good part of
    New England and may have spread further south, but
    until the "mortal fevers" of the other colonies are more
    thoroughly analyzed no such conclusion can be drawn.
    The student of colonial influenza should bear constantly
    in mind that an epidemic was sometimes exceedingly slow
    in spreading from town to town. During the 1717-1718
    epidemic, for example, it took two months for the disease
    to spread from New London to Lyme, a distance of eight
    miles, and numerous other instances could be cited. This is
    not very surprising when it is remembered that most New
    England towns were very small and that traflic along com-
    municating roads was usually very light. Since the basic
    conditions on which the spread of epidemics depended were
    not at all comparable to those of modern times it should be
    more surprising to find any colonial contagious disease
    behaving as it does today.
    The primary purpose of this paper, however, was not to
    present a mere catalogue of colonial influenza epidemics,
    particularly since our knowledge of them is so incomplete.
    The paper was intended rather as a plea for more research
    on this and other colonial diseases to the end that what may
    now appear to some as only a confusing array of dates will
    eventually appear to all as an interesting and important
    aspect of colonial social life.


     
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