Sunday, August 13, 2017

How They Died in 1775

This summer while I was back East visiting family I had the opportunity to look through a book that my Stepmother had entitled  The History of Mattituck, Long Island, N.Y.  by Rev. Charles E. Craven and published in 1906.  The book is full of History of the area but what really interested me was a section of the book Parish Registers of Mattituck and Aquebogue 1751-1809.  In this are lists of recorded Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths during this time period for the United Parishes of Aquebogue and Mattituck.

If you have been doing research on your family for a while you know that when we get into the early 1880s and back it is often very difficult to locate records of births, deaths and marriages.  As Genealogists we are so grateful for the mandatory recordings that are available now that we often forget that there was a time when these records were not mandatory and unless our ancestors were involved with a church that kept records and that those records have survived and are available …. we are often at a loss for data.

Once I found this source of records that Rev. Craven had transcribed in to his book I knew I had hit a gold mine of information for my paternal lines.  They had lived in this area of the North Fork of Long Island for over 200 years.

Frequently I seem to record basic vital statistics and move on to the next bit of research.  This summer as I was reviewing the information in this book and doing some recording of vital statistics something really caught my eye and made me pause and think about that I was seeing.  Yes, I think I already had some of the following information about one family but hadn’t really stopped to see the implications of what was listed.  When I was looking at the same information in the Parish Registers of Mattituck and Aquebogue 1751-1809, perhaps because the information was listed in chronological order, I looked at it differently.

My paternal 5x great grandparents were Daniel (1731-1787) and Hannah Petty (1735-1814) Warner.  (This Daniel is the first man named Daniel Warner in my line who lived on Long Island.  The name is used frequently throughout the generations.)

Daniel and Hannah were reportedly married 16 December 1756 in Mattituck.  From 1758-1779 (21 years) they would have 10 children : Daniel, Nathaniel, James (my 4x great-grandfather), Deborah, John, David, Benjamin, Hannah, Hannah, and Mehitable. 
In the Spring of 1775 their children were: Daniel, Nathaniel, James, Deborah, John, David, Benjamin, and Hannah.

As I was looking through death records to see if I could locate any family members in my tree I found the following listed under deaths:


To see 4 children listed in one family having died one right after the other over the course of 4 weeks I was horrified.  How could parents watch 4 children died in a month’s time?  What happened to them?  The unbelievable sorrow that must have been felt!  I know that families frequently lost many children in this time period but this was my first experience in my family lines.

John was 8 years old, Nathaniel was 15 years old, Hannah (the youngest in the family) was about 18 months old and Daniel (the oldest child) was 16 years old.  What happened to them?  What ravaged this family?  There are no death certificates to tell us so what could I find out?  How could I find out?

I was fortunate to meet Daniel McCarthy, at the Southold Historical Society.  I asked Daniel if he was familiar with any epidemics that plagued the Eastern End of Long Island in 1775.  He referred me to the book  The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut by Frederic Mather in 1913.  There are many references in this book to families who lost someone to smallpox.  Smallpox is also referenced in The History of Mattituck, Long Island, N.Y.  There are also many references to information when searching the web for Smallpox epidemics.  Smallpox appears to have ravaged the colonies in 1775 including eastern Long Island. 

While I can’t prove what John, Nathaniel, Hannah and Daniel died from, the most likely conclusion is they must have died of smallpox.  I am guessing that the second child named Hannah, born about a year after the first Hannah’s death must have been named after her, as well as her mother (Hannah Petty Warner) and grandmother (Hannah Paine Petty).  The names John, Daniel and Nathaniel would also be used in the next generation, presumably as a remembrance of those lost here as children.  I know I will remember them.

Reminder: Reading local histories is often the only way to try and determine what might have happened and is an excellent place to find dates for births, marriages and deaths.

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,


  1. Have you located the graves for these children ? Smallpox victims were often buried separately from everyone else. I have an ancestor, a small boy buried way from the rest of the family, in a lonely grave just because of that very reason. Yes, could have been smallpox but also many other communicable diseases are probable as well. What a tough life it was, stark in its' realities.

  2. Very interesting Ben! I hadn't heard of that but it makes sense given the time period and what they didn't know about diseases. I just assumed they were buried together in the Jamesport Cemetery, so, I just pulled out the copy I have of the log of the cemetery records for the family. It has the children listed together on the log but no locations/rows for anyone on the list. I will definitely need to go to the cemetery to see where they are buried next time I am there.
    Thank-you for that information.

  3. I am a descendant of the Warner family also. The boys mother Deborah, was my 5th Great Grandmother. Thank you for researching this I too was wondering what happened to them. So sad!

  4. My mistake, I meant to say their sister... Deborah Warner. (She was my 5th Great Grandmother)