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First responders in the early years

By Henry Timman • Nov 9, 2018 at 12:00 PM

In the early times of our country there were few central organizations and each community and the citizens in it were obligated to handle emergencies and help one another as best they could.

Had there been an ambulance service, it would have been impossible to move an injured or sick person very far on the unimproved mud roads.

In 1900, a number of Greenwich residents gathered to discuss the events of 50 years earlier when they and others had met to organize a ladies’ aid society to help in the community. Within a few years, these kind souls merged into the soldiers’ aid society when the American Civil War broke out and the soldiers in the field needed supplies from home.

Similar soldiers’ aid groups formed in every other community and helped prepare preserved food, bed linens, warm stockings and other items to be shipped to those who were defending the Union. They also held socials and dinners to raise money for the purchase of raw materials.

The Greenwich Soldiers’ Aid Society was formed April 20, 1862, with Mary Sheldon as president; Jane Hopkins as vice president; Harriet Briggs was treasurer and Sarah Farley kept the minutes. All told, they accumulated and forwarded to the “boys” seven different shipments of supplies before the War ended. When they ran short of money, they put on a picnic which netted $56, a tidy sum in 1863.

As we’d expect, time was allotted at this 1900 meeting for people to give reminiscences of those days past. Recognized as the oldest couple was Mr. and Mrs. Riley Griffin, he being 88 years old and she being 86. It was planned to continue these “old folks” gatherings annually, but I don’t know whether that happened.

One way that these aid societies helped was having volunteers available to help care for sick people, soothe the dying, prepare the dead for burial and enjoy the happiest part - caring for the newborn babies. People didn’t always hire a funeral director in pioneer times, mainly for the reason that they were few and far between. If a person died, they were measured and the local carpenter built a casket. The grave was dug and the service was held — usually the day following the death.

Those who cared for the sick were like the hospice folks we enjoy in 2018. They were available at a moment’s notice, day or night. These ladies were known as Mothers In Israel, a biblical reference. Their presence allowed the mother of the family to carry on with the family duties. If the husband of the family was ill, neighbor men would come to do the chores on the farm, milk the cows and ensure a supply of firewood for household use.

We must remember that our ancestors endured many contagious diseases which we hardly hear of anymore, such as diphtheria, smallpox, scarlet fever, as well as cholera at times and any number of malarial-type diseases caused by the damp conditions of the countryside with its many marshes and stagnant pools of water. There were almost no antibiotics and no hospitals or large clinics for more intense treatment than what could be offered by the country doctor of the time.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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