Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper


Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper, DAL.SMS.038

A small, very fragile book entitled “Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper” (c. 1750) is part of the collection of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Drew Archives. Its eight pages were once sewn together, but time and use has frayed the paper, loosening the book’s delicate binding. The title refers to a diphtheria epidemic that swept through southeastern Massachusetts in the mid-18thcentury. It was authored by Elkanah Parris (1728-1813) and copied by Duxbury resident, Reuben Peterson, Sr. (1710-1795).

Diphtheria, known in colonial times as “throat distemper,” is one of the childhood diseases we, very thankfully, have a vaccine for today. It affects the throat, making it difficult to breath. A horrific epidemic of diphtheria raged across New England in 1735-1736 taking thousands of lives, mostly children. The author of our poem was 12-years old at that time, so his “Rhime” refers to a later epidemic. He specifically mentions seven local towns:

“On every quarter of Bridgewater
With Pembroke & Kingston
It is among both old and young
A sweeping of them down

Its made great raks in Halifax
Through Raynham it did go
And then began upon Plympton
With Duxbury also

And it doth seize hard on all these
A cutting fellows down
But it hath been the hardest in
Bridgewater and Kingston”

Parris could have been writing of the throat distemper that struck in the summer of 1748. Kingston, MA truly was hard hit – at least eleven young people died within a few weeks, including five of Benjamin and Zerish Bradford’s children. But, the disease also reared its head again in 1750. By the 1760s Elkanah had moved to western Massachusetts so it is unlikely the poem refers to any illness after that time.

Because neither a cause nor a cure were known, Parris ascribed sin and a turning away from God’s law as the reason the disaster had befallen the community. He wrote, “For a disease on us doth seize / God’s anger it denotes / For this disease the Lord doth please / To send into our throats.” The remedy was a return to a more pious life.


Final page with name of Reuben Peterson and “Elkeny Parish”

Elkanah Parris (or, Elkeny Parish, as Peterson wrote it), was born in Pembroke, MA to Thomas Parris and Hannah Gannet. He married Grace Mott in Scituate in 1761 and moved to Williamstown, MA shortly thereafter. He eventually settled in Danby, VT where he died at age 84. It is curious that Reuben Peterson, Sr. took the time to painstakingly transcribe the poem. None of his ten children died from the disease, although perhaps they were stricken and recovered. Or, perhaps the illness was so prevalent he felt compelled to make his own copy of Parris’ verse. Reuben Peterson, Sr. married Rebecca Simmons and is the progenitor to a long-line of Duxbury Petersons. He died at age 85 and is buried in Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury.

Rhimes Concerning the Throat Distemper

Come lend an ear & you shall hear
What hath been done of late
How God doth frown his judgement down
Which doth not yet abate

& now I lend I pray attend
Unto what I shal say
For God’s judgments abroad is sent
And spreadeth every way

For a disease on us doth seaze
God’s anger it denots
For this disease the Lord doth please
To send into our throats

This distemper now doth enter
Into our inwards parts
& it doth seaze where God doth please
and pierce the tender heart 

The doctors join with one desine
And study day and night
To find its course & learn its sorce
Tis far beyond their sight

Let us submit to God in it
And bless the taking hand
Consider he gave them to the
And none can him withstand

For Job of old how did he hold
A strange integraty
Though he was speared from end to end
Yet bore it patiently

None can withstand his holy hand
No not the strongest one
Nor the richest stand in least
For he God alone

We must obey what God doth say
When he says we must die
In joy or pain we must remain
To all eternity

God doth not spare the young and fare
Though they be stronge and brave
Youthful delits and beauty brights
Now rooting in the grave

A mournful sound that doth abound
These seven towns do cry
In sorrows deep parents do weep
Because their children die

On every quarter of Bridgewater
With Pembroke & Kingstown
It is among both old and young
A sweeping of them down

Its made great raks in Halifax
Through Rainham it did go
And then began upon Plymton
With Duxbury also

And it doth seaze hard on all these
A cuting fellows down
But it hath been the hardest in
Bridgewater and Kingstown

Come dread and fear what you do hear
What God the Lord hath don
For you don’t know how soon youl
Go the way that they have gone

The young and spry do often die
While they are in their prime
God orders so man cannot know
His true appointed time

Tis not the worst that do die first
As people do surmise
Nor do the best live the longest
But fools die with the wise

Now man can see how frail we be
The wise cannot find it
God ends our days in many ways
As he alone sees fit

Small cords and veins in us remain
On which mans life doth lie
When with the stroke the heart is broke
How suddenly we die

Without Gods leav we cannot breath
For he doth give us breath
He giveth ease to home please
Or bringeth unto Deth

But God doth say all the great day
We all shall rise again
All saints say he shall blessed be
From sickness and from pain

The life of man is but a span
And prime will fade away
Therfore repent before its spent
And learn to read and pray

It is needless for us to dress
A carcase for the worm
Or to prepare find gold to wear
Upon uncertain terms

Do not be sure despise pore
Since God hath chosen these 
And rich in faith the Seriphins saith
Shall have eternal ease

You that as helth enjoy your wealth
Can little think or know
The misery and poverty
Poor people undergo

The poor mans cry goes up on high
To heaven it shall reach
But God the Lord will not regard
A person of the rich

Do not oppress the fatherless
To widows have regard
For such as are afflicted here
Are chosen of the Lord

You that oppress the fatherless
Transgress God’s holy law
For they shall cry to God on high
And he shall plead their caus

For if so be God plead with the spent
For these under his rod
Your arguements shall soon be
For who can plead with God

Render to all boath great and small
Sufficient honnour due
Dount lauf all thoes that none bore close
Since God made them and you

Who doth fulfill his holy will
Whose anger now stepars
Whose grate judgments I now send
With bitter groans and tears

When God doth call tall cedars fall
Ye they be strong and great
Thearfor repent with one concent
Before it be too late

This sore sickness seemeth endless
We know not when twill stop
With drouth & derth upon the Earth
Our fields are dryed up

Our children die our fields go dry
The Drouth hath not yet seas
A sore judgement the Lord hath
Sent upon both man and beast

I pray you now consider how
Young people die away
And lend an ear with Godly
Fear to what these judgments say

Judgements at hand upon the land
Now in these better days
Which is a call to one and all
To think upon their ways

Come let us pray both night
& day that this disease may sease
that God may send helth in the
land and let us die in peace

Let all good men learn their
Children to serve the Lord on high
And out of love sharply reprove
Remember old Elie

Elis children ware wicked men
And he restrained them not
So he and they died in one day
When God’s anger was hot

Children honnour your dear father
And mother in the Lord
And God will be kind unto thee
The scriptures doth record

Be sure you give ear unto
Your father more than Gold
In any wise do not despise
Your mother when she is old

The scriptures saith whose cuseth
His father more or less
His lamp no doubt shall be put out
In obscure darkness

Children obay what parents say
For this is well pleasing
Unto the lord who will afford
His children any thing

Good Elisha went on his way
Bethel he was bound to
Little children mocked him
Go up thou bald head go

But in Gods name he cursed them
For their great ill manners
So God prepared too raging bars
Which tear these wicked sinners

God cutteth short their wicked sport
That do despise good men
Don’t mock nor xx sense God cuts short
All such wicked children

Let us begin to flee from sin
Since by it Adam fell
Lest God sends deth & stop our breth
And sink us down to Hell

Liv to Gods xx in youthful days
In studying of his word
For youth and prime is the best
Time to fear and serve the Lord

Be sure to take care to live in prase
That virtue may not sease
And spend your days in wisdom ways
For all her path are pease

Satan will say you may delay
Till pleasures are all past
And then come in & so may sin
All happiness at last

But he that obeys what satan says
Till pleasures are all past
May well expect for his next
To dwell in hell at last

Those that have been a slave to sin
And never did refrain
Will find it hard to serve the Lord
When they return again

Do not delay another day
Least God should cut you down
Death may be sent in a moment
To sink you under ground

And then in hell your soul may dwell
With all your sinful friends
You may be sent in a moment
To fire with an end

Where wrath & crys will be on us
With burnings flaims of fire
Charning & cries that shall arise
Under his wrath and ire

Come read & pray every day
And grow in grace and truth
And fear the Lord & read his word
While you are in your youth

When you die your soul will fly
To God upon the throne
To God above that lives in Love
Among his holy ones

When all your fears & all your tears
Shall be wiped away
With lasting praise that never delays
But lasteth night and day

When night and day is past away
We all shall raised be
Where for more cares and fleshly snares
Shall never come on thee

In holy and trew delits
Where there shall be no night
Which is a place of truth & rest
For God shall be [torn page]


Written by Reuben Peterson
Whose author was Elkeny Parish

This little book if hearin you do look
You will confess its truth
The Lord to fear and love most dear
While thou are in your youth

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