In a letter from London prior to the Adams’s trip to the West Country ABIGAIL ADAMS gives her sister Elizabeth Smith Shaw advice on how to deal with an outbreak of throat distemper. The term referred to infections of the throat, which were very contagious sometimes reaching epidemic proportions. Could have been diphtheria or strep throat. Women of that time were the ones who dealt with illness and nursed the sick. The go-to medical reference was Dr. Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, a copy of which Abigail had carried with her to Europe.
I will not plead in excuse that I have not by any of the late vessels received a Line from my Sister, and on that account omit writing to her. I know she would have written to me if she had known early enough of the opportunity I hope she has before this time received all the Letters I have written to her, & the little matters I have sent her— Mrs Cranch wrote me that the Thoat distemper had broken out, with great voilence in Haverhill it is a terrible disease & frequently Baffles the Skill of the Physician. it is so infectious as to expose every person who attends the sick to it, and therefore taking large doses of the Bark in powder is considerd as a good antidote & preservative, but smoking airing washing & cleansing ever article as after the Small Pox in the natural way, is considerd here as absolutely necessary. it has been known to break out in families after the disease had quitted it, only from some infectious garment. I should have advised my sister to have Sent her children immediately out of Town. as she would from the Small Pox in the natural way burning pitch & Tar, Hot viniger, are all good purifiers of the air; I pray Heaven preserve you & yours— I want, yet feel affraid to hear, from you. I hope the warm weather will be the means of abating and removeing the disease. I am something relieved by a Letter from Dr Tufts of the 15 of june if any of my Friends had been sick, he would have mentiond it. . . .
I am my dear Sister with Sincere wishes for / your Health & happiness / your ever affectionate / Sister