This appeared on another list and is reissued here by permission from
Robert Chase who will be with us soon on the list. If anyone has
additional information for him, it would be a great welcome to the
list for him. His E-mail address follows the article.
NEWBURY, MASS 1759-60
In 1994, when my aunt died in Newburyport, I fell heir to the contents
of an old safe that had been in the Chase homestead for many years. Among
the papers was a collection of documents pertaining to the Merrill
families, dating back to the late 1600s. Most of these documents were little
more than promissory notes on scrap paper, folded, fragile and faded with age.
Others were military orders, church records, town ordinances, tax receipts,
letters, wills, deeds and journals. All of these documents have since been
copied and transcribed, and together they provide a narrative of what the lives
of our Merrill forefathers were like six, seven and eight generations ago.
Among those documents was the journal of my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather,
Henry5 Merrill, the son of Henry4 Merrill and Priscilla Lowell, of Newbury,
MA. Henry [Henry4, John3, Abraham2, Nathaniel1] was born 15 Oct 1751, in
Newbury, and died there 03 Apr 1844. He married first 25 Nov 1773, Rebecca Moulton
(1750-1823), and second 10 Jan 1824, Hannah Chase (1763-1836).
Subsequent marriages between our Merrill and Chase lines have helped to preserve
what for our present generation is a family treasure.
Among the items in Henry Merrill's journal was the following
description of the smallpox epidemic that ravaged that area of Newbury [now
Newburyport], near Curson's mill, in the fall and winter of 1759-60:
A short account of a distressing sickness occasioned by the small pox,
by Henry Merrill, Newbury, which prevailed in school district No 1 in the road
leading from the school house Now standing on the Plains (so called)
to Curson's mills in which there were ten families out of which no one
escaped death, and out of the heads of seaven of the families there was but
one left which was my father. John Merrill, an uncle of mine, was the first which suffered by the
disorder. Unknown from whence it proceded it was called [the eruptive fever] by
the phisitions (physicians). Enoch Sawyer and two sons, Edmund and
Mikajah, the(y) suffered fever. It was thought by my father to be the small pox
by what he had heard of it previous to that time and he consulting with
the phisitions and they ageing (arguing) with his judgement concluded to
call a council and did So and was pronounced it to be the small pox.
From this source sixty four others contracted the disorder
(including the phisitions) out of which 24 died, all of which had ar(r)ived to the
age of manhood.
Exclusive of the two named, those that died: John Merrill, Anna Merri ll,
Margaret Merrill, Hannah Blake, David Merrill and all of his family, his
sons Stephen and Moses and his grandchildren Moses and Lydia Davis,
John Sawyer and wife, Samuel Davis, Daniel Emery, John Woodman, Joseph
Mirick, Elephalet Sawyer, Benjamin Long, Peter Ordway, Benjamin Ordway, James
Ordway, Samuel Rogers, Mary Jackman, Mary Moulton, Trustom (Tristram)
The Selectmen, taking in consideration the ravages of this disorder,
inclosed this unhappy neighbourhood by fencing acrost the Road and obliging
them not to provide the necessities of life for themselves but took the burden
upon themselves and also were obliged to send to Boston for the Physitions
and assistants on account of the scanty numbers which were to be had (in)
Newbury and the adjoining towns. The names of the Doctor(s) were Lowell and
Lamson, but by the extreme (magnitude) of the disorder by the Doctors at that stage the
patient(s) received no great benefit from them but added (further) injury by
being kept to (their) rooms which was contrary to the course that ought to be
persued as it is thought since that time.
The epidemic is briefly mentioned, without names, in Joshua Coffin's
"A Sketch of the History of Newbury, Newburyport & West Newbury:"
In November 1759, several cases of smallpox were reported in the West
parish, "near the plains," and, before the disease could be stayed, thirty-six
persons, all but two of them adults, died.
John J Currier's magnum opus, "History of Newbury, Massachusetts,
1635-1902, offers a few more corroborative details: In November of this
year , the small-pox made its appearance on "the plains,' so called,
and was for some time called the eruptive fever ... in July , the small-pox
ceased in Newbury. During its continuance, the selectmen fenced in the
infected district, from the school-house to Emery's hill, and sent to Boston for
physicians and nurses, who as the custom then was, greatly aggravated
the disease, by shutting up the sick in small and heated rooms. About eighty
persons had the disorder, of whom thirty-six, all adults but two, died.
Unfortunately, the outbreak can also be laid on our Merrill doorstep,
as detailed in Samuel Merrill's definitive work "A Merrill Memorial,"
published in 1928:
JOHN4 MERRILL [John3, Abraham2] was born 13 Jan 1717/18, in Newbury,
MA, and died there in November, 1759. An epidemic of smallpox visited Newbury
in the winter of 1759/60, and caused more than thirty deaths. According to
tradition, John Merrill contracted the disease by wearing a cap which
he found on the bank of the Merrimack [river], and his was the first
All the victims of the epidemic are buried together in Sawyer's Hill
cemetery, Newburyport. In 1746, John4 Merrill married Anne Ordway, the daughter of Peter and
Jemima Ordway of Newbury. John was the uncle of Henry5 Merrill which may have
prompted him to pen this record of the epidemic. John and Anne had
five children. The youngest daughter, Anna, born in 1757, was probably the
Anna Merrill mentioned in Henry's list of victims. The next name, Margaret
Merrill, was probably John's stepmother, Margaret Lowell, who married
John3 Merrill in 1729, as his second wife.
The tragic reference to David Merrill "and all his family," probably refers to Henry's great uncle David3 [Abraham2] who was born 20 Feb 1677/78, in Newbury. His death during the epidemic can be inferred from the fact that administration on his estate was granted 07 Mar
1760. David was a joiner. He married 18 Dec 1706 Mary Morse, daughter of Deacon Benjamin and Ruth
(Sawyer) Morse, of Newbury, who was born 15 May 1686 and died 10 Aug 1755.
The reference to David's sons refers to Stephen4 who was born 24 Feb
1709/10, and Moses4 born 17 Feb 1713/14. The "Merrill Memorial" lists their
deaths "before 04 Jan 1762" which appears to be the date their father's
estate was proved. Moses' share of his father's estate was given to his "legal
representatives," presumably for the benefit of his surviving children.
David Merrill's son Eliphalet4 was born 07 Oct 1717, in Newbury, and
married 10 Jul 1735 [or 1739] Lydia Clough of Amesbury. Their daughter,
Lydia5, was born 20 Feb 1740 and married Moses Davis 17 Nov 1759, in Newbury. Hoyt
lists Moses Davis, born 16 Dec 1737 [son of Benjamin and Ruth (Brown) Davis,
of Newbury], whose brother, Benjamin, was granted administration of his
estate 12 May 1760. The reference to David's grandchildren, therefore,
probably refers to the young married couple struck down in the blush of youth.
While most of the victims were supposedly "buried together in Sawyer's
Hill cemetery," the cemetery inscriptions assembled by Mrs Anna Bartlett
Boyton in The Essex Institute Historical Collections [volume 53], 1907, include
only three of the victims mentioned in Henry Merrill's account, and no
mention of a common grave site: Here lies buried the body of Mr Benjamin Long Jr
who departed this life Jenry 2nd 1760, aged 38 years Here lies buried the body of Mr Daniel Emery who departed this life Jany 24th 1760 in the 26 year of his age
In memory of Mr Tristram Bartlet who decest Janry ye 3rd 1760 in ye 80th year of his age
Son of Samuel and Judith (Coffin) Bartlett; born 13 Sept 1730
If anyone has additional information regarding the smallpox epidemic
of 1759-60 that ravaged this part of Newbury[port], or the many victims,
I would like to hear from them. The area itself, along Curson's Mill road, is
just north of what is now the intersection of I-95 and Route 113, in
Newburyport, and adjacent to the Maudsley State Park, which used to encompass what
was once the old Merrill-Chase homestead.
Submitted by: Robert C Chase
04 Feb 2000