1843: George R. Laughton to F. S. Church

This letter was written by George R. Laughton who was born in London, England, in 1820. He came to America with his parents in 1835; lived in New York City and Monroe Co., N. Y., till 1842, and then came to Platteville, Wisconsin. He was engaged in merchandising in Brockport, N. Y., three years, and two years in Clarkson, same county, previous to his coming to Wisconsin. He followed the same business in Platteville till 1846, then engaged in farming two miles out of the village till 1873, when he retired from active business, and came to Platteville to reside. He was married in Platteville in 1844, to Miss Mildred M. Durley of that place, and has had seven children. Mr. Laughton was the originator and promoter of the erection of the Grant County Soldiers’ Monument at Lancaster, which was the first of the kind erected in the United States. Source: From History of Grant County, Wisconsin, 1881, p. 911.

I found he following information concerning Miles Vineyard, who is mentioned as a victim of smallpox in this letter:

“Miles purchased land in Adams County, Illinois, next to William B. in December, 1833, a year after William had bought land there. From: Midwest Pioneers: History of the Ojibwa Nation – Some time in June of this year (1838), Miles Vineyard, sub-agent to the Chippewa’s on the Upper Mississippi, ascended the river to a point a short distance above Little Falls and summoned Hole-in-the-Day and his band to a council, and demanded the prisoner…. From the Grant County History: While writing of Platteville “In December (1843) following, the small-pox broke out in the village, and, before the physicians were able to agree as to the exact nature of the malady, an epidemic succeeded. … Miles M. Vineyard was among the next cases, and he, too, died. He resided at the Platteville Hotel and, after his death, the coffin was brought down stairs into the hall of that house, when Mrs. Vineyard, the widow, insisted it should be opened. This was done, notwithstanding the protests of those present, and the virulence of the disease dates from this point, it is claimed.”

Regarding the smallpox epidemic in Platteville:

“In 1841 Platteville had been made a chartered village, and it was just beginning a new era when its very existence was threatened by the small-pox scourge in the winter of 1843-1844, which is said to have afflicted half of the population and caused a death in every ten or eleven cases. Scarcely a family had escaped the dread disease, and though a deep gloom settled upon the community for a time, the people regained their courage and moved forward still further in the following years.” [Source: History of Platteville Academy, page 45]

Ezra Adams died of smallpox in Platteville on December 8, 1843. His death is mentioned in this letter as well.

Stampless Cover

Addressed to F. S. Church, Esq., Clarkson, Monroe County, New York

Platteville, [Wisconsin Territory]
December 8, 1843

Friend Church,

I write this not so much for news &c but to acquaint you with the fact that the real genuine small pox is frightfully raging in town. I have watched two nights this week with a person in the worst stage of the confluent, & twice last week with a person in the same situation. Last night I watched with Mr. Miles Vineyard, brother of James R. & who died this morning at ½ past 7 – about 5 minutes after my leaving him. I knew at 2 o’clock this morning he could not live long, being quite delirious, with a coldness of the extremities &c which alarming symptoms gradually increased until his decease. You may say I was foolish thus to expose myself willingly but I think I had the varioloid while in New York in ’37 & if so am safe. Besides, ever member of the family with whom I am boarding have been thro with it during the past 3 weeks but myself, & I have had no symptoms as yet at all; & further, my scars present a healthy cellular appearance which will perhaps carry me thro safely under the blessing of Divine Providence; & so alarmed are the people in town that there are not persons willing enough to do duty by the sick, & considering myself as a young man with no family depending upon me for support as is not the case with very many in town, I felt it my duty, & still do, to exert myself to the utmost to assist as much as possible in alleviating the sufferings of those who are afflicted with this loathsome disease. Two more – robust men generally – we expect will die today.

I have just returned from assisting to lay our Mr. Vineyard & Dr. Clarke has just requested me to go & assist him in vaccinating but dare not at present until I can change my clothes, &c. Now the object of this letter principally is this. If in the wisdom of an Almighty Providence I should be prostrated by this disease & next week will satisfy me, I shall be sick in very excellent hands viz at Mr. [Bennet] Atwood’s where every care would be taken of me, but if I am, I shall eschew medical advice as we have no doctor whom you or I would trust. And in case I die, shall leave all my affairs here in the hands of B. Atwood. You may judge I am alarmed & well I may be when more than half the town it is computed are now prostrate. When & where it will stop, we know not. Only yesterday did Doctor Clarke succeed in obtaining good virus & it is quite unlikely from the exposure everyone has been subjected to that it will remedy the complaint effectually for some time.

9th. Two more died yesterday – adults – making three funerals for today. Tho’ last evening in my official capacity visited very many of the sick & found none whose cases are seriously alarming at present. If I am sick, shall write or cause you to be kept informed. At present, must close as we are going to bury the clothes of Mr. Adams who died last night.

With best respects to Mrs. Church, George & yourself. Remain yours affectionately, — George R. Laughton


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