December 1, 2014

The HOLGATE family and the throat distemper

Recently Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Nutfield Genealogy wrote a great post about historical New England throat distemper epidemics-- funny that she did so just now, because I had planned to write this month about the devastating impact that one such epidemic had on the family of my 7th great-grandparents, Dr. James Holgate and his wife, Jemima Davis Rideout Holgate, of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

In the mid to late 1730s, a disease at that time called throat distemper-- probably diphtheria-- was ravaging New England. Though this infection didn't discriminate between children and adults, most casualties of the distemper were children.

By December of 1737, the epidemic had struck Haverhill-- and the home of the Holgate family.

James and Jemima Holgate had a large brood; between Jemima's four children from her previous marriage, and the six they had together, there were ten total.

In one month, the throat distemper took five of them:

The first to succumb was Judith Holgate, born 3 Dec 1726, died 1 Dec 1737, just two days short of her eleventh birthday.

Benjamin Rideout, Jemima's son by her first husband Abraham Rideout, born 19 June 1717, died next, on 10 December, aged 20.

Deborah, born on 19 Jan 1724, followed on 12 December, aged 13. 

Abigail, born on 20 Dec 1728, passed away next, on 20 December, her 9th birthday.

James, born 7 June 1733, was last to die, on Christmas Day. He was only 4 years old.

About 250 children under ten were killed by this epidemic in Haverhill, according to the Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society (Vol 5-6, p 56).

Only two Holgate children were spared: Priscilla, born 3 February 1730; the second was Elizabeth, born 19 June 1737, who was only five to six months old during this month of unimaginable horror.

Ironically, James Holgate was a physician. His wife Jemima died on 19 April 1746-- we don't know what of, but I imagine that loss of the will to live probably factored heavily. Dr. Holgate remarried Mrs. Lydia Sawyer on 2 April 1747. He himself would decease in 1756.

To think that, had my 6th great-grandmother Priscilla not survived, I wouldn't be here.

Ancestry line:

James HOLGATE was born 4 December 1692 to James HOLGATE and Deborah WILLIAMS. He married Jemima DAVIS, about 1725 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Stephen DAVIS and Mary TUCKER, and the widow of Abraham RIDEOUT. Priscilla HOFGATE married David BARTLETT (b. 1713) in Newbury on 31 Jan 1754. Priscilla's death is unknown.

James HOLGATE I (b. 1638) m. Deborah WILLIAMS
James HOLGATE II (1692-1756) m. Jemima DAVIS
Priscilla HOLGATE (b. 1730) m. David BARTLETT
Priscilla BARTLETT (1756-1832) m. John DAVIS
Priscilla DAVIS (1798-1828) m. William FITTS
Sophia Haskell FITTS (1823-1880) m. Isaiah PURINTON
Mary Olivia PURINTON (1851-1898) m. George Bailey PALMER
Frank Bailey PALMER (1888-1958) m. Bessie Maud WINSLOW
Dorothy Elizabeth PALMER (1918-1984) m. Henry Richard HOWES
S. HOWES (1937-1999) m. my father

All above grave photos are from Find-A-Grave and taken by Herbert Rideout and Roslyn Schaefer

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