Hello and welcome to SEPTEMBER! Did anyone see SUMMER as it whizzed by?
Leaves are starting to fall, most of our pretty birds seem to have zipped off, harvest is underway — except that the rains we were praying for in July have finally come. I’m glad I’m not a farmer! Mind you, quite a few crops were cut and baled last month because there wasn’t enough grain in the heads to be worth harvesting.
As for me, I’ve started digging up my one large flowerbed. I left it uncultivated in spring because it was so dry; now that it’s been raining I’m getting it ready for winter and for planting next spring.
I’ve been digging around in my family tree roots lately, too, and discovered a family tragedy. One that was quite common back in those days. I can’t imagine how devastated great-great-grandfather Charles must have been when…
– his wife Ann, passed away on Dec 3rd, 1863. She was about forty years old and her youngest child was just a toddler.
– his father, John Watchorn, died on Jan 1st, 1864 at the age of 68.
– his daughter, Ellen, died on Jan 14th. From the records, it looks like she was in her early teens.
– his six-year-old son, Charles Jr, died a few weeks after Ellen.
Ann and her children are buried in one grave with a common headstone.
At one time I made a note in my records that gr-gr-grandmother Ann died of smallpox. An epidemic of that sort would account for the number of deaths in one family in such a short period of time. It’s odd that I can’t find any death records for any of these people. Were they lost in a fire or in transit to the Dept of Vital Statistics, or were there so many smallpox deaths in the area at that time that they weren’t recorded individually? Perhaps a local newspaper of the time would give me a better picture?
Of course I wondered if there was no smallpox vaccine available in their day, so I did some research. Yes, smallpox vaccine was available then. However, there was apparently a lot of fear and resistance, or just plain indifference, to the idea of vaccination. According to the Museum of Health Care at Kingston website:
“Smallpox vaccine was used widely in Canada during the early 1800s, although it soon became neglected. Low immunization levels led to persistent outbreaks…”
The Montreal area experienced the worst outbreak in 1885 when 3000 people died from smallpox. The epidemic spread from there into parts of eastern Ontario.
“Anti-vaccine sentiments mixed with religion and French-English political tensions helped fuel the crisis.”
Sigh… Do things never change?
Well, yes, they do, thankfully. In 1924, a Doctor Heagerty writing about smallpox, lists the terror people felt when the menace was mentioned and all damage it has done in the past, leaving so many people dead, crippled, or scarred for life. Then he writes:
“Vaccination has altered this, and forgetful or ignorant of the appalling ravages of the disease in other days, we now scarcely give the subject of smallpox a thought.”
Small pox, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio. Immunization has dealt a death blow to these scourges our ancestors feared. In more recent years measles, rubella, hepatitis, chicken pox, meningitis, pneumonia, and various influenza vaccines have made life easier yet. We’ve conquered a lot of killers.
So it puzzles me when I hear people who are alive today because their grandparents, parents, and themselves have been saved from these once common killers, now opposing COVID vaccination. I guess some things never change.