An Unimaginable Sacrifice

No One To Help, the Cemetery Closed for the Plaque, watercolor by Wendy Harty 2021

I found this lovely quote today. Reading is the way you can hear stories on paper. I have also started sharing my blogs as podcasts, telling the stories so you can also hear them. During my time of Covid isolation and recovery from lung cancer, it’s been one year since surgery, April 30, 2020, this is perhaps the one story that hits home the closest.

Google the name Rachel Miller Bush. Rachel is my 5th great grandmother on my paternal tree. Rachel is listed in the Loyalist Township Cemeteries and is famous as being the oldest person buried there, having lived an impressive 94 years. Born in 1774 to Loyalist Garrett Miller and Elizabeth Switzer, of German Irish-Palatine lineage, her Uncle Philip Switzer lifted her upon his horse and fled Camden, New York in the Revolutionary War. She would grow up in Sorel, Quebec and when her parents lost their farm in a court case, she moved with them to Switzerville, Ontario, named after her relatives. Rachel married Charles Henry Bush. Their daughter Mary Ann Bush married an Irish man, James Wilson Jr.

The Wilson family are documented back to 1665, England in the Derbyshire Countryside, Here in a little village was the parish where the Wilson’s as Wesleyan Methodists worshipped. A tailor by the name of George Viccars had received a damp bundle of cloth to make for Wakes Week, a religious festival. The flea infested bundle was hung over the fire to dry, the fleas liked the warmth and multiplied and within a week George was dead. Between September and December another 42 people died. I found a chart which registered six Wilson death’s, 4 male and 2 female. The people were encouraged by their newly appointed Reverend William Mompesson and committed to slow the spread of the illness. These included no further burials in the St. Lawrence Cemetery and people had to bury their own dead. A Mrs. Hancock buried six children and her husband in eight days. There is a grisly picture of her dragging a child into a field by herself. Church services were relocated to an open field, where people stood apart in household groups. Finally by the spring of 1666, the people were preparing to flee. The Reverend convinced them to quarantine, effectively choosing death, for the greater good. The surrounding communities were grateful and offered food and supplies. With many misgivings the people agreed. That summer was extremely hot and the fleas were very active. 5 or 6 people died each day. What suffering and sacrifice they made for others. I would have had a desperate urge to flee.

For fourteen months the village was ravished with a pitiless pestilence, the death took of 260 or 75% of the people with human to human transmission especially within families and the poorest hit the hardest. Survival seemed random, yet some never caught it such as the Mrs. Hancock above. A family legend of the Blackwell family tells that while delirious one of their female relatives went looking to relieve her parched throat. She drank a jug of bacon fat, her fever broke and she recovered. Was this a cure? I think not, just coincidence and I shudder at the vomiting it would have induced. Three centuries later with Covid-19 people killing people, some bought the bleach to drink after the President of the United States suggested it as a cure.

Plaque – what a word from a distant past. Even today, now treated by antibodies, the evolution of bacteria has made drug resistant strains. Thank heaven there are now treaties in place to limit plaque being used in during times of war. Not so in 1345, the City of Caffa catapulted diseased corpses over the city walls. The Japanese in WWII spread fleas over China.

Just like today there are hard learned lessons and controversial ideas for cures but today we have vaccines. My immune system, the strength of the virus, a compromised health complication has put me into relative isolation. Did survival immunity select the Wilson’s that survived and give me hundreds of years of selective genes to be handed down to the following generations? The jury seems to be undecided. I only know one can have Covid with no symptoms, others are long haulers with lingering ailments and in the city where I live there have been 17 deaths as of April, 2021. Researchers answer my question in the affirmative. Did the village’s isolation help stop the spread of plaque?

I can only hope to gain some knowledge on what stance to take with this nightmare tale and continue to isolate when asked to. I’ll thank the Wilson’s who made it through with their unimaginable sacrifice which benefitted other communities and maybe, just maybe through their genes these relatives through their immunity are benefiting me. If the village of Eyam, England could do this, so can I.

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