I kind of hate to admit how long I have been a member of the Milton Historical Society. I started out as one of the youngest of charter members, so you can look it up if you want. But it would be a mistake to assume that I, or anyone else, except maybe Jim, really knows the answers to all your questions about our town. Actually, I am still trying to find the answers to my own questions and remembering where I last saw this and such since the last time I saw it.
For years, literally (and I use literally literally, being basically an OK Boomer), I have been tracking down the answer to one of my very first questions here. In 1983, for the 200th Anniversary of pioneers from Connecticut settling here the Historical Society made a quilt commemorating our first 100 of those years. Our reasoning was that the second 100 were pretty much covered by our photography collections, but there were few pictorial remains from our first 100. The quilt has graced our various museum spaces ever since.
One of the squares was dedicated to several big occurrences that affected the lives of Milton citizens as well as the rest of the state, such as 1800 and Froze to Death. One is “Epidemic” in the early nineteenth century. That sounded intriguing, but when I asked what disease caused the epidemic, I was told, “No one knows.” Hmm. I couldn’t find any references that helped and was left with the idea that a goodly number (thought no one knew how many) died around here from an Epidemic.
Eventually when we got our first computer and internet connection I tried there. I was amazed, naively, that I could learn anything from anywhere on the net, but that belief was quashed quite early. I did find a reference, which I could never find again, that the disease was spotted fever. In Vermont newspapers of the time people all over the state were dying of “spotted fever” at the rate of several every day. But what was Spotted Fever? Little bits added themselves over the years. Maybe it was what is now called typhus. Soldiers in Burlington for the War of 1812 died of an epidemic, but what?
Last week I moved some furniture around, which included moving a bookcase out of the hall which contained a number of my Vermont books. I still don’t have them all back in place, because I keep stopping to read. Many of them are not the ones I read cover-to-cover but more in bits and pieces, finding new stuff, new references, and all.
One is a series of documents over the years called Vermont Voices, just a lovely one to skip around in. A piece from 1813 promised information about epidemic diseases in Vermont by Joseph A. Gallup, M.D., possibly from Boston. He called it “epidemic peripneumony,” and said it seemed to be a more virulent form of spotted fever. He admits he cannot gather much information as the doctors in Burlington did not reply to his inquiries. Nor did he get reports from most other towns.
In these times before germ theory he ascribed the violent spread of the disease to “pestilential diathesis of the atmosphere” emanating from the military encampment. He is way less certain about how the soldiers got it, although he says depression and fatigue from the war may have predisposed them to it – whatever “it” was.
All these years to find out that the true answer is “No one knows.” Or ever did.
So this is to reassure you that if you have questions about Milton history I will try my best to find the answers. Just be prepared to wait 35 years.