Twenty-four-year-old Thomas Houghten died this date, May 6th*, in 1852 of Small Pox and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I am unable to locate any additional information on Mr. Houghten or by using variations of his last name. Dr. Ashton, who has signed many of the death certificates for those buried at Bethel Burying Ground, lived in center city Philadelphia and also practiced in the city’s dispensaries or clinics on south 5th Street and Shippen Street (now Bainbridge).
What we do know about Mr. Houghten is that he died because he was Black and poor. Vaccine for Small Pox had been around for decades and had been used successfully if administered correctly. The wealthy rarely died of the disease because they had private physicians who followed the appropriate protocols. The Philadelphia Board of Heath was responsible for vaccinating the city’s citizens and fatally failed the poorest among them. It was not until thousands had died that the Board established a free public vaccination program (1853-54). Other major cities had established this type of program years before. It was not always the Board’s fault. The City Council would either fail to allocate funding or approve only a fraction of what it would take to run an efficient program. **
Deaths in Philadelphia due to Small Pox***
1851 – 216
1852 – 427
1853 – 57
1854 – 40
Mr. Houghton was not to be one of the last victims of a corrupt and incompetent public health system in Philadelphia. After the threat of the disease diminished the City Council cut funding to the program which caused the disease to come back with a fury and cause the needless deaths of thousands of the city’s poorest citizens.
The cause of death due to Small Pox can be from heart failure, dramatic loss of fluids, sepsis (blood poisoning) or pneumonia. Death from ordinary Small Pox usually occurs after bitter suffering between the 10th and 16th days of the illness. In early hemorrhagic Small Pox, death occurs about six days after the fever develops.
For further reading on the subject, I suggest Smallpox: The Death of a Disease – The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer by Henderson and Preston.
*It appears that Dr. Ashton wrote the wrong month. This death certificate was filed by the Health Department with thousands of other that were dated the first week of May 1852. Regardless it stands as the sole documentation of Mr. Houghten’s life.
**Philadelphia Board Annual Reports for 1851, 1852 and 1853.
*** The Swift Progress of Population, Susan E. Klepp.