In 1862 the last of three children and two grandchildren of John Cutter
West and Arvilla (Ames) died during a diphtheria outbreak in Letter B
Plantation in Oxford County Maine. It started with the death of their
daughter in law Orpha Viette Reynolds West who died on New Year’s Eve,
Dec. 31st, 1861. She was 19 years old, and she was the first wife of my
2x great grandfather Jonathan Phelps West. They'd been married two
Then Jonathan and Arvilla's younger children began to die:
David Pingree West died on Jan. 17th , 1862. He was eight years old, the youngest of the
eleven children, and was mentally handicapped.
Ruth Ellen West died on Jan. 26th. She was ten.
16 year old Arvilla Electa West died on Feb. 6th.
Older brother Asa Atwood West had married and started his own family on his
farm in neighboring Andover, Maine. He lost two children to the outbreak:
8 year old Arvilla died on Feb. 18th.
2 year old Anna Pearl on Feb. 20th.
I don't know if the rest of the older sons and daughters came down with diphtheria as
well, but if they did they recovered because they all lived into the 20th century. Jonathan
Phelps West remarried which is why I am here telling this story. John Cutter West died on
July 24 1862 at age 60. Whether his death was caused by poor health after diphtheria
I do not know.
Emil Behring discovered a vaccine for diphtheria in 1913.
And every time I read an argument against childhood vaccination shots, I think of my 3x
great grandmother Arvilla West, and how grateful she'd have been for something that
might have saved her children and grandchildren.