14 September 2019

Smallpox reported in Massachusetts Bay 1676-1688


As seen in Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1620-1850 (online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2016), a few town clerks sometimes added notations for the cause of death, including smallpox. (Not all towns, such as Boston, are part of this database.)

Massachusetts Bay colonists first encountered smallpox in their communities in 1677, with epidemics also occurring in 1689–1690, 1702, 1721, 1751, 1764, and 1775. The highly infectious disease started with a fever followed in two or three days by a skin rash that turned into fluid-filled bumps with a dent in the center. Some colonists were familiar with or had the disease in the old country and knew that isolating its victims from the general population helped contain the spread of smallpox. But they did not have medical treatments or preventative measures.

Of the 4,283 deaths reported from 1676 to 1688 in the database, 32 notations mentioned death by smallpox. Typically, the rate of death after contracting the disease was 30 percent, though higher for babies. This suggests an average of 1,285 people died of smallpox, though only .74% were reported.

However, from the small sample (the 32 listed below), it’s possible to see how smallpox traveled (by placing the dates in order) and how relatives and neighbors were infected. 

Roxbury
----, Peter, a[n Indian] boy of Holbrook’s, small pox, 5: 11m : 1678-9. C.R. 1.
Davis, Samuel, s. Toby, small pox, bur. 10: 2m : 1679. C. R. 1.
Davis, Willia[m], small pox. at Boston, bur. 18: 10m: 1678. C. R. 1.
Gary (see also Garee, Gery), Dorcas, inf. d. ----, wid. Nathtaniel], small pox, bur. 21 : 12 m : 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Gery, Deborah [Gary, d. wid., small pox. C. R. 1.], Mar. 8, 1678 [1678-9. C. R. 1.]
Gery, Nathaniel [Gary, small pox. C. R. 1.], Jan. 28, 1678. [1678-9. C. R. 1.]
Goard, John [a young man], small pox, bur. 18: 12m: 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Goard, Phebe, w. Richard, small pox, bur. 28 : 12 m : 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Heath, Dorothy, d. wid., small pox, 3: 11m: 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Holbroke (see also Holbrook), John [Holbrook, small pox. C. R. 1.], Dec. 25, 1678.
Hopkins, Hannah, w. Willia[m], small pox, 5: 11m: 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Hopkins, Mary, small pox, bur. 8: 12m [Feb.]: 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Lamb, Mary, d. Caleb [small pox. C. R. 1.], July 4, 1679.
Newel, Abraham [Newell, C. R. 1.], s. Isaac [small pox: C. R. 1.], Dec. 25, 1678. [a. 11 y. C. R. 1.]
Newel, Jakob, small pox, 30: 10m: 1678. C. R. 1.
Newel, Mary, d. Jakob, small pox, 5: 12m: 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Stevens, ____, small pox, 13: 10m: 1678. C. R. 1.
Tatman (see also Totman), Elizabeth, inf. d. Jabesh, small pox, 30:9m: 1678. C. R. 1.
Weld, Elisabeth, w. Joseph [small pox. C. R. 1.], Feb. 15, 1678. [1678- 9. C. R. 1.]
Weld, Margaret [Marget. C. R. 1.], d. Joseph and Elisabeth [small pox. C. R. 1.], Feb 12. 1678.
Williams, Theoda, small pox, bur, 8: 12m: 1678-9. C. R. 1.
Wise, Jeremiah, small pox, 17 : 9m: 1678. C. R. 1.

Billerica
Hamlet, Mary, w. Jacob, small pox, July 9, [16]78.

Newbury
Beedle, ________, ch. Robert, small pox, Jan. 4, 1678. [Jan. 9. CT. R.]
Blanchard, John, small pox, July 24, 1678.
Lunt, ________, ch. John, small pox, Sept. 30, 1678.
Moody, Judith, d. Caleb, small pox, at Salisbury, Jan. 28, 1678.
Morse, ________, ch. Joseph, small pox, Feb. 5, 1678.
Morse, Joseph, small pox, Jan. 15, 1678.

Woburn
Cutler, John, Sen., s. of ____, of the small-pox, in the family of Isaac Brooks, 1678 or 1678-79.
Farrar, Jacob, s. of ____, of small-pox, 1678 or 1678-9.
Wyman, David, s. of ____, of small-pox, 1678 or 1678-9.



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