HOPKINTON – An epidemic had arrived. The residents of Hopkinton and across New England had experienced this before; children complaining of sore throats then quickly developing a fever of 101 degrees or higher. Soon the cheeks flushed, the tongue swelled and a couple days later the red, sunburn-like rash appeared on the trunks of their bodies. Over the course of a week, the rash spread out upon the body, the deadly bacteria usually claiming its victim.
In Oak Grove Cemetery in Ashaway, 7-year-old William Sprague Chester had been buried in July of 1869 after succumbing to Scarlet Fever. Three-year-old Anna Stillman and her 5-year-old sister Augusta had also been claimed by the illness in 1869.
Now, two years later, it was surging through town again. One of the first to fall sick was 5-year-old Elmer Woodmansee, the son of Alfred and Martha. He passed away on Jan. 30, 1871. Sterry and Eliza Colvin’s 4-year-old son Charlie had also fallen under the fever and passed away on Jan. 31.
Two days later, the youngest of Nathan and Harriet Chipman’s eight children, 2-year-old Nathan, died. Two weeks after that, 1-year-old Allie Noxon, the son of E.H. and Mary Noxon also succumbed.
It was well-known that children were the most susceptible to Scarlet Fever. Adults who fell ill recovered with little difficulty. Records show that the oldest local person claimed by the fever during that time was nineteen. Children who were lucky enough to successfully battle the illness were often left with lingering damage to their hearts, brains, joints and kidneys.
The fever was spread through the transmission of bacteria from skin to skin or via saliva. With the epidemic presenting itself again in 1871, Rhode Island town officials had to quickly decide how they would go about treating and attempting to prevent the spreading of the illness. Many schools and places of public gatherings were temporarily closed.
Health officials declared that all homes where the fever had been present were to be thoroughly disinfected. Anyone who knowingly suffered with the illness or cared for someone else suffering with it and failed to report it to town authorities would be subject to a monetary fine. In some homes, the public health officer posted signs declaring a quarantine of those inside.
It was ordered that those who died from the illness be buried as quickly as possible, while keeping children from attending the funerals of any such losses.
Nine days after Allie Noxon’s death, Benjamin and Eliza Langworthy buried their 3-year-old daughter Naomi. On April 6, Edward and Mary Taylor lost their 4-year-old son Edward. Eighteen days later, Samuel and Maria Colvin laid 6-year-old Alvin to rest.
Druggists took out large ads in newspapers, plugging wares such as chloride and bromo chloralum as effective disinfectants. Eventually the tide turned with a single local death from the fever in 1872. Two more followed in 1873, and five in 1874, including two daughters of William and Louisa Whitman; 1-year-old Ada died on Aug. 3 and 5-year-old Emma on Aug. 10.
One 10-year-old female child was overcome in 1875 then the illness seemed to fade until 1880. Four-year-old Grace Barber, 9-year-old Addie Boss, 3-year-old Grace Jordan and 6-year-old Charles Whitford all fell victim. In June of that year, the youngest of Charles and Sally Saunders eight children, 3-year-old Byron, came down with the fever but recovered.
The illness returned briefly to claim more young lives during the 1890s and early 1900s. Today, though barely heard of anymore, Scarlet Fever can be treated with antibiotics.