Monthly Archives: January 2014

On January 31, 1814, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the celebrated “Hero of Lake Erie,” arrived in Baltimore from Washington, DC on his way to Newport, Rhode Island. Planning for a celebratory public dinner had been underway for weeks but on the first evening of Perry’s visit to the city, he decided to visit the circus. John Thomas Scharf paints the scene for the evening:

“That spacious building was incompetent to receive the mighty crowd that rushed to greet him. The house was crammed long before the entertainment began; and when the hero of Lake Erie entered, he was received with deep, loud and continued cheering.”

Source: Scharf, John Thomas. The Chronicles of Baltimore. Turnbull Bros., 1874. p.346.

Herman and Mary Cope “lament the loss of a fine daughter in the moment of her birth”

On January 31, 1814, Herman Cope wrote to his uncle in Philadelphia in an optimistic mood. A Quaker merchant living in Baltimore at 76 Sharp Street, Cope had heard the rumors that the war with Britain might end soon, possibly “in time to admit Dry Goods from England for fall sales” and he asked his Uncle’s help in making the necessary introductions to London merchants. Business taken care of Cope turns to a more sober topic concluding:

“I suppose this you have heard that my dear Mary & myself have to lament the loss of a fine daughter in the moment of her birth – the doctors skill was unavailing – ‘The Lord giveth & He taketh away’ – Mary is pretty well – please remember me to aunt Mary Grandmother & Cousins”

Hundreds of families in Baltimore, Herman and Mary Cope among them, dealt with the death of infants and young children in 1814. Reporting in February 1814, the Niles’ Weekly Register shared some figures on Baltimore’s mortality for previous year: 249 children under the age of one died in 1814 and seventy children were stillborn.

Learn more on the history of birth in the 1700s and 1800s with the Wellcome Library’s two-part series on “Birth: a changing scene” — Part I: Images of home birth in the Wellcome Library and Part II: A controversial figure of man-midwife.

Source: Cope, Herman M., 1789-1869. “1814 January 31, Baltimore, to Uncle, Philadelphia :: Cope Evans Family Papers,” January 31, 1814. Cope – Evans family papers, 1732-1911. Haverford College Special Collections.

“26 –  Weather still fine.  Wind N.W.  Went to Town.  return’d to dinner, at which had the following company – Gen. Ridgely, Mr. Nicols, Lorman, A Brown, Hu Thompson, Dr. Stewart, D.A. Smith, Tennant, Nicols, P. Hoffman, Hall Harrison, R. Patterson, W. Lorman, S. Sterrett, Chs. S. Ridgely, Jas. Sterrett.

From the journal of Captain Henry Thompson, January 26, 1814. Courtesy the Friends of Clifton.

Beneficial Society for the Prevention of Hydrophobia founded in Baltimore

Cartoon of the hydrophobia panic of 1826
Cartoon of the hydrophobia panic of 1826, courtesy HistoryToday

On January 26, 1814, a group of local doctors, including Dr. Henry Wilkins, James Smith, William Donaldson, Samuel Baker, James Page, and Elisha DeButts, established the “Beneficial Society for prevention of hydrophobia.”

Hydrophobia (better known today as rabies) was a terrifying prospect in many American cities throughout the 19th century. Stray dogs ran rampant and a single bite from an infected animal might mean a painful death. In his brief medical history of Baltimore, Dr. John Morris observed, “Hydrophobia is noted as a cause of death in all the early records of the city but there are only one or two deaths reported annually.”

In 1814, the cause of the disease still remained a mystery but Dr. Henry Wilkins, one of the founding members of the Beneficial Society, sketched out his approach to treatment in an 1811 letter that prescribed the application of a caustic paste onto any bite from an infected animal. Thankfully, a more effective cure arrived in 1885 when Louis Pasteur and Émile Roux developed the first rabies vaccine.

Read more on the 19th-century history of rabies in Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys  on HistoryToday, 2007.