Friday, November 20, 2015

A Warning of Things to Come

Letter from Benjamin Hale to his father, 18 June 1832We usually miss the early signs of impending doom and only later look back and piece together the clues. But one Dartmouth faculty member saw with sobering clarity the spread of the 1832 cholera pandemic into North America. On June 18, 1832, Benjamin Hale, professor of Chemistry, wrote a letter to his father reporting that a ship had arrived at Quebec and "40 or 50 persons are said to have died on the passage." Worse, another report stated that of the 90 people who had contracted cholera in Montreal the week before, 60 had died.

Then it gets scarier: the Hanover postmaster said that one person had died on a boat coming from Montreal to Burlington that week, and there was another unconfirmed case "at the extreme southern part of Lake Champlain." He went on to warn:
There seems to be no doubt that this dreadful disease has at length reached this part of the world and we may expect it to sweep over our land. And we should each be prepared for its visitation. It will doubtless sweep thousands into their graves with very little warning--We ought to anticipate its approach and be ready if it should summon us to our account.
He was right. The pandemic ravaged North America, killing well over 100,000 people, often within 24 hours of the first sign of illness. To see the letter ask for MS 815363.

No comments :

Post a Comment