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True Crime in 1831, Part 5 - A Curious Case of Cholera Morbus

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

On Friday, 17 June 1831, William enjoyed a midday meal that consisted of baked veal, boiled pork and green peas. Later that day he came in from the garden and complained to Lucretia that he was hungry, and asked if supper was almost ready. She told it was not ready, but there was some nice smear-case (cottage cheese) on the table and he could go and take a saucer full of that. William did so and ate very heartily of it. They had supper directly and William had some fat pork, which he was fond of. He offered the pork to the others at the table, saying it was nice and told them to try it; they all refused.

After supper, they went into the parlor together and while they were talking, William complained of his stomach feeling unwell. He took a spoonful or two of spirits and said he felt better. They sat and talked until about ten o'clock before retiring. Sometime in the night, between midnight and one o'clock, William told Lucretia that he felt in great distress and wished her to get up and get some peppermint. She arose to get it from the medicine cabinet, but could not find it, maybe it had been misplaced. William continued to have vomiting spells throughout the night.

He still was exceedingly ill in the morning. Lucretia told William she was going to send for Dr. Phillips, the family physician. He replied that the doctor would only give him medicine and he already had cholera morbus drops in the house, which he would take (Cholera Morbus is an old term that is no longer used in the scientific literature. It refers to acute gastroenteritis rather than specifically cholera and occurred in summer or autumn; characterized by severe cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting).

On Sunday, 19 June 1831, Lucretia sent Lino to bring Dr. John Phillips to examine William. Dr. Phillips found William laboring under very slight symptoms of indisposition and pronounced his diagnosis: a mild attack of cholera morbus. He left the house after a short visit, under the impression that any further attention from him was unnecessary. He ordered chicken soup, saying it would be good for William and that he could also take a little chicken. After the doctor left, Lucretia instead made a little rice gruel with their 9 year old daughter Lucretia helping by pounding the rice in a marble mortar.

When William was still not feeling well the next morning, Lucretia got a chicken from their neighbor, Benjamin Boutcher, the poultry farmer. She boiled the chicken with a little salt and then, after it finished cooking, put the broth in a bowl and the chicken on a platter. She told Ann Bantom, the new housekeeper since Ellen had quit, that she would take it to the parlor and season it. Lucretia asked daughter Mary to take the food to her father where little Lucretia was keeping him company. William soaked a cracker in the soup and ate it with some chicken. He ate only a few spoonsful of soup but ate very heartily of the chicken. When he would eat no more, little Lucretia took the chicken and bowl of broth downstairs and set it on the kitchen table. She went back upstairs and found that her father was vomiting again.

In the course of cleaning, Ann Bantom, noticed the broth and chicken had been sitting on the kitchen table since midday. She promptly threw the remnants of both out the back door. She checked in on William in the afternoon, he said he did not feel so well as in the morning. He complained of a misery at his stomach, that it appeared to him very much like fire. He told her that if he did not get better than he was than, he could not stand it long.

That evening, William's friend, Edwin Fanning, visited and sat with him. During that time, Lucretia came into the room twice. The first time, she did not tarry long. The second time, she thanked him for his attention to William and said she would not trouble him if he remained with William through the night. Edwin requested her permission to go himself for a physician and she said not to do that. Since his friend was in great distress, he urged the matter, and again she refused. He then suggested that salt and water be given to him to stop his vomiting, since he heard it recommended. He left for a short time and when he returned, Lucretia gave William medicine out of a tea cup. He supposed it to be the salt and water. He remained in the room fifteen minutes and thought William's vomiting was increasing.

On Tuesday, Dr. Allen Knight, another doctor familiar with the Chapman family and who lived about a quarter of a mile from them went to see William. William complained of a burning sensation in his stomach and of vomiting and purging. His extremities were cold and his mouth was dry and he had considerable thirst. Dr. Knight ordered small doses of calomel, a popular drug at the time used as a cure for almost any disease. Both Lucretia and William objected to the prescription. Dr. Knight stayed about an hour and then left.

The next morning, Dr. Knight returned and found William considerably worse. He was entirely deaf and delirious at times. He ordered mustard plasters for his feet and hands. He sent for laudanum, an opium mixture. William complained about his head and so ice and vinegar were applied. Dr. Phillips returned to check on William and attended him throughout the night.

Their neighbor, Benjamin Boutcher also called that evening. At one point he saw Lino take out his watch and said that William's pulse beat 55 to a minute. After a while he said it beat 45. Benjamin asked him how many beats there were in a regular pulse. Lino answered that he had studied medicine for two year. Benjamin commented that he did not think William would live to see sunrise. Lino responded that "when I was sick, Mrs. Chapman did wait on me night and day, and prayed for me." He then pretended to cry, but Benjamin saw no tears.

Dr. Phillips returned to William's room around three o'clock in the morning. William appeared calm before expiring in a comatose state around five o'clock, Thursday, 23 June 1831.

On Friday, 24 June 1831, Dr. William Chapman was buried at the All Saints Church, about three miles from Andalusia, near Holmesburg.

All Saints Episcopal Church and Cemetery


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