Gateway to the Classics: Ruth of Boston by James Otis
Ruth of Boston by  James Otis

The Great Sickness

It seemed much as if Susan was in the right, when she said that the deaths of Lady Arabella and Henry Winthrop were ill omens, because no sooner had all our people landed from the ships, or come up through the forest from Salem, than a great sickness raged among us.

Many had been ill during the voyage with what Master Higginson called scurvy, which is a disease that attacks people who have lived long on salted food, and again many others took to their beds with a sickness caused by the lack of pure, fresh water.

Our fathers had but just begun to build up this new town when it was as if the hand of God had been laid heavily upon us, for, so it was said, not more than one out of every five of our people was able to perform any work whatsoever.

Those were long, dismal, dreadful days, when at each time of rising in the morning we learned that this friend or that neighbor had gone out from among us, and it seemed to Susan and me as if there were a constant succession of funerals, with not even the tolling of bells to mark the passage of a body from its poor home to its last resting place on earth, for by this time the ships had gone out of the harbor.

The graves on the side of the hill increased tenfold faster than did the dwellings, and all of us, even the children, felt that our only recourse now was to pray God that He would remove the curse, for of a verity did it seem as if one had been placed upon us.

Again and again did I hear men and women who had ever been devout and regular in their attendance upon the preaching, ask if we had not offended the Lord by breaking off from the English church, or if we might not have committed some sin in thus abandoning the land of our birth, thinking to ourselves that we would build up a new nation in the world.

Therefore it was that even Susan and I felt a certain relief of mind, when Governor Winthrop set the thirtieth day of July as a day of fasting and of prayer; and in order that all the English people who had come into this portion of the New World might unite with us in begging God to remove the calamity from our midst, word was sent even as far as Plymouth, asking that every one meet on that day with words of devout petition.

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