Saturday, October 29, 2011


(I'm working on a post about a Fall wedding in my family for the next
edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, but thought I'd repost this one 
that I did for an earlier COG back in September of 2007. You can
read the comments from that earlier post here))

Her name appears on the 1860 Census of the Town of Upton,
County of Oxford, State of Maine at the end of the list of names in
John Cutter West’s family.

Orpha Reynolds. 18 F. Further over on the line it states she was
born in Maine.

She is a bit of an enigma in my genealogy research,

There aren’t any other Reynolds listed on the census in Upton
that year so her family might have been living elsewhere. Perhaps
she was a hired woman who helped Arvilla Ames West run the
household, for Arvilla was now fifty years of age and while most
of her children were grown, she still had 9 year old Ruth and 6
year old David to care for. Ruth in particular might have been
challenging; she was listed as an “idiot” on the 1860 census and
would have perhaps needed more supervision. (19th Century
terminology for intelligence levels differ, I think, from modern
assessment. I’ve no way of knowing how mentally impaired Ruth
might have been by today’s standards.)

At any rate, Orpha lived with the West family, one of whom was
the 26 year old Jonathan Phelps West. I cannot say how or when
they fell in love since I don’t know of any letters or diaries by
either of them that might shed some light on their courtship.

The couple married on October 20, 1861.

A little over two months later, their marriage would come to an

During the year 1861 diphtheria raged throughout the area but
up until now it had not touched the West family. Now it struck it
hard. It could have come to the family from a guest invited to the
wedding who wasn’t as yet displaying the full symptoms of the

Orpha Viette Reynolds West died on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31st,
1861. She was 19 years old.

David Pingree West died on Jan. 17th , 1862

Ruth Ellen West died on Jan. 26th.

16 year old Arvilla Electa West died on Feb. 6th.

Older brother Asa Atwood West lost two of his children to the
disease as well:

8 year old Arvilla died on Feb. 18th.

2 year old Anna Pearl on Feb. 20th.

Another grandchild died in March, but cause of death is not given.

So by Spring of 1862 Jonathan Phelps West had lost a brother,
two sisters, two nieces, and his bride Orpha to the epidemic. And
that Summer he lost his father as John Cutter West passed away
at the age of 59.

I cannot begin to imagine how Jonathan could have coped with
such losses in so short a time. But he did.

He did what generations of New Englanders before and after him
have done: he survived and got on with life.

Three years later, on Jan.31st, 1865,Jonathan married Louisa
Almata Richardson. They would have four sons, the second of
whom was my great grandfather Philip Jonathan West.

I of course would not be sitting here typing this had Jonathan not
lost his first wife Orpha and later married Louisa. But still I
cannot help but feel sympathy for him. I wonder if he ever looked
back at his memories of that October wedding? It took place after
harvest time on a farm, so was wherever it took place decorated to
celebrate both the wedding and Harvest?

Did Jonathan revisit that memory with a smile or did the
knowledge of what came after make it too painful?

And did he ever wonder what life might have been like if he had
not lost his Orpha?


Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

It is really sad to imagine epidemics such as those. My husbands great grandfather, Anton Sperl, died in 1899 from diphtheria. His last child was born in May and he died a few months later.

No one else in the family died, and I often wondered how to contract the disease?

Bill West said...

Claudia, Diptheria is caused by bacteria that can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or touching a contaminated object. The rest of the family may have been kept away from you husband's ancestor while he was quarantined.And it's possible that anyone else in the family could have caught it and survived.

dee-burris said...

Oh how horribly sad for him - to have so much loss, and especially in such a short period of time.

These are the kinds of stories that stick with me for a very long time.

Thanks for sharing it again, as I missed the first posting of it.