The Story of "An Outcast Band"

Six people — victims of the 1792 smallpox epidemic — are buried together in a once-remote pasture in Jaffrey

It started in October of 1792 — Eliza Danforth of Amherst died of smallpox on the 25th. A few days later Abel Wilder of Winchendon, Mass., died. Then Nancy Thorndike of Jaffrey, Enoch Thurber of Keene, "a Mr. Cambridge" of Rindge and Oliver Gould of Jaffrey. They all had been inoculated against smallpox or treated for it at a "pesthouse" in Jaffrey.

The pesthouse was set up in a remote area of the town by Dr. Adonijah Howe as a way to quarantine smallpox victims and to safely allow inoculations to take place. Dr. Howe, called "a progressive physician of skill," had pushed the town to create the pesthouse for a defense against smallpox. There was strong opposition to it, with petitions signed and delivered, but the town finally agreed.

The six who died — called "an outcast band" by an early historian — were buried, probably at night, in the corner of an isolated cow pasture. There they lay, forgotten, for years. "No path leads to this forsaken enclosure," a 1937 "History of Jaffrey" says. "No one comes here now except that occasionally a mild-eyed cow, standing by the stone wall, chews her ruminative cud and wonders vaguely if it be worth the while to climb over the obstruction to crop the sparse herbage within."

That changed in 1985, when the then-owner of the farm, Edward Deschenes, decided the graveyard deserved to be noted. A ceremony was held, tributes paid to the dead and a gravestone listing their names erected.

You can visit it if you'd like. It's not far from Rte. 202. At the end of Fitch Road, there's a signed path that leads you to it.

Source: town.jaffrey.nh.us

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