Reminiscences (Kimball)

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Eliphalet Kimball

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MR. EDITOR:—In the great cholera in New York, 1832, the clergy abandoned their flocks and fled from the city. Little has ever been said about it, but the fact ought to be known. It shows how little confidence they have in religion. I speak now from knowledge, for I was there myself most of the time, while the disease was raging. I was living in New Hampshire when the cholera broke out in New York, and learning from the newspapers that three or four hundred were dying daily in the city, I took the stage and went there to assist in taking care of the sick.—The same day I reached the city, I went into the Park Cholera Hospital and remained there nursing the sick until the disease abated, which was several weeks. Towards morning I had little sleep. If almost overcome with fatigue, I dared not sit down, because I would instantly drop asleep in spite of all my exertions to keep awake.

It was trying to a constitution not in good health, and I feel the effects of it now. My life was saved by strict temperance in eating. I have always through life practiced total abstinence from spirits, distilled and divine. By the way, spirit distilled from grain has done much less harm that spirit distilled from god. While I was in the Hospital, no clergyman ever visited to my knowledge, no prayer was ever made there, and no Christian came to talk religion with the sick. The Protestant clergy were missing from the city, and the churches closed. As to myself I was a decided Atheist then, as I am now. I felt resigned and firm. None of the attendants in the Hospital, nurses, or physicians, appeared to be religious persons. The Catholic clergy, however, stood their ground like men and did all the good they could. Fourteen of the Sisters of Charity came on from Baltimore to act as nurses. Several of them died of the pestilence.

I could say I have been through war, pestilence, famine, and flood. In the Texan Army I suffered famine and ate rats. I could say with Paul, “Three days I was in the deep.” In Texas I had the congestive fever and was given up to die. Through all those trying scenes, I never knew what it was to have a doubt or fear with regard to religious subjects. On a voyage from Texas to Baltimore was a fellow passenger name Parker. He was a bigoted religionist. During a violent storm that occurred, he appeared very uneasy and agitated; was up all night, fussing about and watching the weather. He appeared to be the most religious man on board, and most afraid to die. As to myself the storm made but little difference with me. I was ready for whatever might happen, and had what sleep I needed.

A good mind is all that can give true support in prospect of death; and no man, of course, can ever have a good mind who was born without it, as a great part of religious people were to my certain knowledge.


East Concord, (N. H.,) Oct. 30, 1862.

  • Eliphalet Kimball, “Reminiscences,” The Boston Investigator 32, no. 26 (October 29, 1862): 105.