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The Smallpox Epicemic (1830's)

As presented by Michael MacDonald

The origin of the plague that threatened to wipe out the residents [and almost did] of Red Islands and took the life of my great-great-gandfather Murdoch MacNeil.

This story was told to me as a young boy, many times, by my mother and three uncles-Jim, Peter and Danny Campbell. Their versions never varied.

My great-great-grandfathers' grave has a very nice headstone (1837), in what is still known as the smallpox graveyard. It is located on the shores of the Bras d'Or Lakes, about a mile from where the Parish graveyard in Johnstown is located.

It is located there for a very good reason—fear of this terrible plague that killed so many who are also buried there.

It all started with several residents making a trip to Arichat, with horses and wagons, to buy seed potatoes off a vessel from PEI, that was anchored in Arichat harbour. After arriving in Arichat they soon discovered that the vessel was under quarantine. There was smallpox on board.

The Red Islanders had no choice but to head for home empty-handed, except for one—a Mr. MacKenzie—who decided to wait until dark and hire someone, with a row boat, to sneak out to the vessel, under cover of darkness, and obtain his supply of sed potatoes—which he did. Once ashore, he loaded his wagon and followed the rest of his neighbours home, not really understanding the terrible results his deadly cargo was to bring to the neighboughood where he lived.

Mr. MacKenzie did contact the smallpox, but survived, many of his neighbours did not, and had to be buried in the small graveyard.

Mr. MacKenzie might have been better off dying, from the disease, becaue although he lived his face and body wre covered with scars and pox marks, especially his face. For the rest of his life he was reminded of his terrible mistake, each time he looked in the mirror. Even his neighbours shunned him, probably more out of fear of the smallpox.

Approximately 125 years later my grandmother, Elizabeth Campbell, tired, but to no avail, to hire someone to tend to her grandfathers grave and keep it looked after. No one would touch it.

The smallpox empdemic was long gone after all those years, but the fear of the 'germ' was still there

May they rest in peace.

Michael MacDonald