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Not-so-good old days
The year 1861 was fraught with examples of man's inhumanity to his fellow man. Shots fired on April 12, 1861, South Carolina militia at the U.S Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, heralded the start of the Civil War, a conflict that resulted in enormous cost of life.
But here in Western Maine, people didn't need to go far afield to see horrible experiences and overwhelming grief.
Disease provided plenty, as the Oxford Democrat reported on April 5, 1861:
Diptheria in Woodstock, Maine
Joseph II, son of John M. and Sarah A. Gallison, died Jan. 20, 1861, aged 9 years, 1 month, 20 days. Joseph was beloved by all who knew him.
Jan. 26 Elisabeth A., 10 ys. 8 m. 20 ds.
“ 30, Clarissa R., 14 ys. 2 m. 21 ds.
Feb. 6, Wm. N., 8 ys 1 m 18 ds.
“ 7, Elvira M., 12 ys. 5 m. 13 ds
“ 18, Ordell, 3 ys. 4 m. 13 ds
“ 19, Levi E., 4 ys. 11 m. 19 ds.
Children of Newell F. and Sarah A. Rose.
This dispensation of Providence left them childless, but they bear this affliction with christian fortitude, believing, that their Heavenly Father called their little ones from this to a higher world; and soon they expect to go and meet them there. Wm. and Elvira were buried in one grave, and Levi and Ordell were placed in the same coffin.
Feb. 10, Abba D., 3 ys. 11 m. 14 ds.
“ 12, Lizzie A., 7 ys. 11 m. 3 ds.
“ 16, Nellie J., 6 ys. 2 m. 6 ds
The entire family of Thaddeus R. and Hannah L. Knight. Thus in six days have these lovely daughters been taken from earth and transplanted in their new home above. “I am coming! I am coming!” says Nellie, and bade adieu to earth. Abba and Lizzie were buried in one coffin.
Jan 25, Laura E., 7 ys. 5 m.
Feb. 7, Harriet M., 3 ys 11 m.
March 19, Eugene H., 11 ys. 5 ms
Children of Alvah and Sophia Judkins. These parents feel that they have met with a great loss; yet they feel their loss is their dear ones gain.
March 8, Gilbert II, aged 4 years and 3 months, the only son of Edmund E. and Celia A. Landers. Thus have their earthly prospects been blighted in the removal of their lovely little son.
Mar 7, Edwin W., 12 ys 6 m. 1 day
“ 10, Ellen E., 11 ys. 3 m 12 ds.
Children of Merrill J. and Betsey G. Rowe. The writer feels desirous of making public some circumstances connected with Elwin’s and Ellen’s distressing sickness. I believe they had a slight attack of diptheria, some 3 or 4 weeks before their last sickness; got smart and went to school as before; took cold, and had a relapse of the same disease in the most malignant form. Edwin was taken the last day of Feb. Symptoms, pain in his head and dizziness; soreness across the chest and bowels, and general prostration of the system. The gray coating made its appearance, second day. Had medical aid, third day. The fourth day the patient showed symptoms of croup, with a hard dry cough; glands and throat badly swollen. At this stage, he lost the power of speech, and never after spoke only in a whisper. He complained after this of pain and pressure in the throat, only, until the night before he died, and soon, both lungs. The last two days of his life were very distressing indeed. The disease had taken such violent hold in his throat that it was with great difficulty that he could breathe. He seemed to be conscious of his situation, and said that he should not get well. He made a disposition of his little effects, then he called his father and mother, and the others in the room, and kissed and bid them good bye, with great calmness, at the same time sending messages to his teacher and friends.
Drs. Danforth, Bartlett and Davis were called, but the disease seemed to defy all medical treatment. While sitting at a raised window, he would gather the snow and ice from the window sill and eat it. This would produce temporary relief. During all his sickness, when his distress was not so intense as to prevent, he would talk of his approaching death with the most perfect composure — was even happy in spirit, and longing for the Angel of Death to open the passage to his spirit home.
Ellen’s disease affected the lungs more, and assumed a putrid form. What is true of Elwin, aside from the form of the disease, is also true of her. She was as calm and lovely as an Angel. She desired that the remains of her brother should be brought into her room on the day of his burial, and while seeing in his incarnate form what she felt would soon be her condition,at her special request, the company present joined in singing the hymn, “I am going home.”
Thus have these lovely flowers been taken by our heavenly Father and transplanted in their new home above, where they need not the cold ice and snow of winter to allay distress. The writer feels that the parents of this lovely group should not mourn, or look down into the cold dark grave for their dear ones, for they are invited by the gospel of Jesus to look up and claim the promise of him who said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.”
They are to think that they are not dead but live, not in a far off region, but with God, their father, who is everywhere present, to cheer them on the rough journey of life by their heavenly influence. And when they, too, shall be called to pass through the evening of their earthly life, they will be bright stars to lead them through the shades of death, and bear their spirits on high to join the spirit throng, where songs of praise are only known.
Today, some people claim that shots to prevent diphtheria (as it is now spelled) are unnecessary. Were they able, the parents of the 14 children listed might choose to differ.
As is our custom, we try to exactly reproduce the grammar, spelling, punctuation and style of the original. Commas might appear where least expected and remain absent where we’d expect them if the item was written nowadays. On the other hand, consistency was not considered of utmost importance, so variations of a spelling might appear within one story. In addition, some words were abbreviated differently than today.
Where brief explanations of terms are considered necessary, they are presented in brackets  within the quote. Otherwise, explanations appear at the beginning or at the conclusion, without quotes. Parenthesis () used in a quoted passage appeared in the original.