Thursday, December 20, 2012

Epidemic in Groton CT

In mid-December 1778, the neighboring Connecticut towns of Groton and New London took in 172 American prisoners returning from captivity in British-occupied New York City.  The prisoners were sick with fever and frostbite.  Several prisoners apparently left the prison ships with an incubating stage of yet another ailment--smallpox.  

Groton residents accommodated 52 of these prisoners.  On 12 January 1779, Groton merchant Ebenezer Ledyard wrote to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. , “We got them into different houses…and did everything in our power to make them comfortable, & in the violent cold snowstorm they began to brake out with the smallpox…at the same time every family that had taken any of the prisoners were taken down with the fever, likewise every nurse….”

In a postscript, Ledyard wrote, “We have lost but one of our inhabitants yet with the fever; but many lays very dangerous.  Scarce a house but has more or less down with the fever…& it begins to spread more back in the town.” 

Ebenezer Ledyard to Jonathan Trumbull, 12 January 1779, in The Trumbull Papers: Part 3: Letters and Documents Relating to the Revolution, 1777-1783, Seventh Series, Volume 2 of Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1902) , pages 331, 333.
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