While researching an article for my Witches of Massachusetts Bay website, I wanted to find out if Martha (Allen) Carrier brought “that contagious disease, the smallpox” with her when she moved from Billerica to Andover in the summer or early fall of 1690.
Like my previous smallpox post, the data is limited by who recorded the deaths in each town and whether they included a cause of death. After the 1678–1679 outbreak, the period from 1689 to 1692 had 55 cases. The earliest death was Dr. John Smith in Charlestown on 21 October 1689 and the last was Thomas Rand who died on 17 June 1691, also in Charlestown. Of all the recorded smallpox deaths, Charlestown had the most prolonged time period between the first and last smallpox deaths and the largest recorded deaths (34). The remaining smallpox deaths were in Andover (10), Haverhill (7), Billerica (3), and Salem (1). Clearly, the Charlestown town recorder was more diligent than the Salem one, since we would expect a busy seaport such as Salem to have more cases.
The records did not supply a timeframe for when the virus raged in each community or how many had the disease and survived. However, we do know from the selectmen's records that by mid-October 1690, Martha Carrier and some of her children had smallpox, and all recovered. But, all of the people who died of the disease in Andover were related to Martha, including her father, two brothers, and two nephews.
The Andover selectmen blamed Martha Carrier for bringing the contagion to Andover. The records show that the first smallpox death recorded in Andover was on 24 October 1690, while the first one listed in Billerica occurred two months later, on 24 December 1690. This suggests—but does not prove—that the disease hit Andover first, and Billerica later.