Friday, February 28, 2014

Faith in a Time of Cholera

Originally posted at Keepapitchinin on February 19, 2014.

Ann Prior was born into a prosperous family in East London, but the family was reduced to poverty through a series of misfortunes including the death of her father. When Ann was eleven, she acted against her Scottish mother’s wishes and left school to become a dressmaker so she could help support the family.

East London, 1856.

She worked as a dressmaker for several years, and then when she was almost seventeen, she married George Jarvis, a sailor who had traveled around the world several times.

Between ocean voyages, George took care of ships in harbor. He and Ann were living on board a ship with their two children when George heard the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preaching on an English street-corner. He hurried back to the ship to tell Ann what he’d heard about Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Gospel. Ann heard his explanation and replied, “George, it’s true!”

They were baptized in the Thames on Christmas Day, 1848. When George sailed on a voyage not long afterward, Ann moved in with her mother, Catherine Prior. She told about her subsequent experiences in her autobiography: [1]
I will write a few lines about the cholera. I was home with my mother when it was so bad that cards where posted about warning you that if any one was [taken] with it and you did not send word to persons apointed to take them to the pest house, you were under a heavy pena[l]ty. You were not allowed to have a docter at your home. [2]
When cholera swept through London in 1849, the disease killed more than 18,000 people in a single season. [3] It was not until the next decade that doctors began to understand the cause of cholera and how the bacteria Vibrio cholerae spread through primitive water and sanitation systems. [4]  

Dr. John Snow's Cholera Map, London, 1856.

A cholera infection starts when a person is exposed to large amounts of cholera bacteria transmitted by fecal matter in water or food. First comes vomiting and diarrhea. As the disease progresses, victims become visibly dehydrated, get weaker and weaker, and turn purple and black in their extremities and face. Treatments in 1849 were primitive: doctors could do little more than give solutions of electrolytes in water, although a few were making some early but unsuccessful attempts at intravenous saline rehydration. [5]

The cases of cholera got nearer and nearer to Ann and her mother and children.
A Child that had played with my boy in the evening the following morning was dead. 
Close neighbors to us while the woman was puting her things on to follow her husband to the grave was taken with it, and in two hours they buried her with him. My [step]brother went with a man to bury his wife and he declared he heard her scream while going to the grave.
Then Ann came down with the disease. 
… the neighbors heard me [retching]. They expected to hear my Mother or I had passed away before morning. They did not know which one of us it was that had the cholera. I implored my mother not to send me to the pest house or I should die. We were miles from any Elders. What could I do or what could my mother do with my baby in her arms? 

Catherine "Kitty" Prior.
I had, by good fortune, a bottle of consecrated oil and it was [where] I could see it in the window… I could not speak but I pointed to the bottle of oil. My Mother did not know but what it was hair oil. I had not told her about it; I had told her about baptism and she did not believe.… She thought I was delirius but she gave me the oil to pacify me. [6] 
I asked the Lord to add to my testimony by staying the continual [retching] and I was healed. My mother said I was quite black in the face. I do not say I should have died if I had not used the oil, but I do know those that did recover … were six week[s] or more before they got well. The stench was so bad Mother had to burn things to sweet[en] the rooms. 
I was up and told my brother and others of the goodness of the Lord to me. I was laughed to scorn, but I give God the glory to this day for I know He answers prayers. [7]
Eight years after Ann survived the cholera, she left her mother in London and traveled with her husband and children to Boston, then later to the Salt Lake Valley, and still later to the Cotton Mission in St. George, Utah. She raised nine of her eleven children to adulthood and left her descendants with many stories of faith healing, hard work, and adventures on both sides of the ocean.

The pictures are of London in 1856 (David Rumsey Map Collection), John Snow’s cholera map of London, also from 1856, showing how he tracked the cholera in a London neighborhood to a particular public water pump, and Ann’s mother, Catherine “Kitty” McEwan Prior (1791-1867).

[1] The quotes from Ann’s autobiography are lightly edited for readability. 

[2] “Cholera is rapidly increasing in the metropolis, and we fear must be expected to continue on the increase during the present month at least. One circumstance is most extraordinary in this fearful visitation. Every medical society is closed, so that it really appears as if little or no attention were being bestowed on this dire calamity by medical men.” “Cholera in the Metropolis,” The Lancet, August 4, 1849, 128. 

[3]The Cholera Epidemic in London,” Medical Times and Gazette, December 15, 1866, 639. 

[4] Read the dramatic story of John Snow’s discovery of the cause of cholera in the book Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, 2006. For a shorter summary of the history of cholera in England, see an essay by Pamela Gilbert

[5] “When seen by Dr. Marsden, the symptoms of true Asiatic cholera were rapidly becoming developed: [Miss B——] had frequent vomiting, extreme prostration of strength, and several evacuations had been passed, at first copious, but afterwards more sparing, highly characteristic of the disorder, consisting of the peculiar rice-water fluid, perfectly serous, and containing flocculent matter in considerable quantity; there was urgent thirst; the pulse thready, and but barely perceptible. Dr. Marsden prescribed for her some powders, consisting of common salt, two drachms; carbonate of soda, one scruple; and chlorate of potash, seven grains; one of these to be taken every quarter of an hour, and as much cold water as could be taken. The collapse, however, increased and when seen in the evening, at nine P.M., she lay to all appearance at the point of death. She was breathing heavily, labouring, and with a loud noise; the feet and hands were of a deep mottled purple colour, and the skin covering them was corrugated, and imparted an icy coldness to the touch; the face was shrunken, the eyes were deeply sunk in the orbits and surrounded by a dark zone, the lids half open, and cornea having a peculiar glazed appearance; the mouth wide open; the lips dark and blue; the breath cold to the hand; the countenance shrunken, and the features so pinched that the whole expression was entirely altered. She had taken in all seven of the powders prescribed, but had vomited all but the last; nothing had been taken for the last three hours, as the power of swallowing was wholly gone; she was quite insensible, and could not be roused.” Thomas Carr Jackson, “Report of a Fatal Case of Cholera, Treated by the Saline Injection, occurring in the practice of Dr. Marsden, Senior Surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital,” The Lancet, August 11, 1849, 144. 

[6] A notice in the Millennial Star from this time was written in the style of patent medicine advertisements: “Take one table-spoonful of consecrated olive oil: mix with it half a grain of pure faith. This taken or administered in the name of Jesus Christ, will prove one of the most pleasant, safe, and effectual remedies….[Five cases of contemporaneous healing are mentioned, three or four of them from cholera.]…CAUTION.—Beware of Satan and Co’s., spurious imitations. None are genuine but those marked with the following inscription, (Having Received Authority.) To be had gratis, by applying to an Elder of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in all the principal towns of England, Scotland, Wales, United States, also Society Islands, and Great Salt Lake Valley; we expect shortly to have agents in every part of the world.” “Several Cases of Miraculous Healing,” The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star 11: 19 (October 1, 1849), 302-303. 

[7] Ann Prior Jarvis, “Short Sketch of the Life of Anne Prior Jarvis,” 8-9. Ann finished this story by noting, “I am writing this brief sketch for my childrens benefit. It will not be writing that would do for the educated; I am glad to day that I worked to help my poor mother. If she had her own way she would have kept me at school untill I was perfect in Grammer and others studies. I often wish I had been more thoughtful for my poer dear mother; I love to dwell on her memory although in my zeal for the gospel I told her she would go to Hell if she was not baptized. When I heard of her death I felt Heaven would be no Heaven for me without her.”

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