One of the shoreline's most precious and fragile historic treasures is the tiny and secluded Smallpox Cemetery, owned and maintained by the Madison Historical Society. Tucked in the woodlands of Guilford some distance from a rural roadway that winds somewhat near the banks of the pretty East River, the quarter-acre parcel lies in the section locally known as Clapboard Hill. Much of its history is steeped in legend and mystery.
But these facts at least are known:
The tract contains the remains of Captain Ichabod Scranton of East Guilford, who died of smallpox in December of 1760. Captain Scranton had traveled earlier that year to upstate New York in service of the British Crown. He was in command of a company of 74 officers and men, mostly from the Guilford/East Guilford area, to participate in the campaigns against the French and their Native American allies. On November 25, 1760, at least one of the men under Captain Scranton’s command in the 5th Company of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, died of smallpox in Albany. Records indicate that Captain Scranton, discharged of his duties, then traveled overland, on foot or perhaps on horseback, to East Guilford, arriving there, most likely, in the last days of November. He must have shown signs of illness at that time, having contracted smallpox due to exposure to his own men. He died in East Guilford on December 1, 1760, and was buried on the plot of land now known as the Smallpox Cemetery.
Seven or eight other victims of the disease may also rest nearby, although records are not entirely clear as to their exact identities or causes of death. A larger number of stones upright in the ground there indicate—some think falsely—that there may be as many as forty or more graves. Some accounts imagine that perhaps Captain Scranton marched from Albany with the survivors of his entire company of men, straight to East Guilford, where they all, one by one, succumbed to the disease, in some dwelling house near the “Pock Lot.” Clear facts about these soldiers and the other graves, however, remain obscured.
Records do indicate that Guilford, as did most towns, had a quarantine policy for smallpox sufferers and that a pest house was constructed in the area near the cemetery. Some accounts of the era relate that “settlers there provided food for the victims, but carried it only half way along the road to the pest house and left it on a fence post where it was taken by those who cared for the sick ones.”
It does not seem possible that the pest house known to be constructed in the area of the Smallpox Cemetery was actually in existence at the time of Captain Scranton’s death. It is possible that Captain Scranton suffered his last breaths in another dwelling place near that spot, but that, too, is conjecture. Records show that in 1759 the Guilford Town Selectman voted to “prepare timber and other materials for building a Pest House 30 feet long and 16 feet wide with a chimney in the middle.” In April 1760, the Town Meeting authorized the Selectmen to purchase a nine-acre plot from its local owner and to “build a Pest House on the same for the Town’s use and the Town’s cost.” The deed for the purchase of that land was recorded in May 1760. Nevertheless, it seems that no further work was done on the project until after Captain Scranton’s death, because it is noted on December 9, 1760—eight days after his demise—that the Town voted once again to “build a Pest House to put said persons in as are suspected to have taken the infection of Smallpox.”
More than fifty years later, the above-described pest house was sold by the town to a private owner, and the story of the house and cemetery was gradually obscured by time and legend.
In 1912, an area resident with a passion for history purchased the quarter-acre parcel and the use of a legal right-of-way to the property, which allows the MHS to access the site at will throughout the year. The area was enclosed by a stone fence, and a bronze tablet was affixed to a native boulder to commemorate the history of the site. The parcel was deeded to the Madison Historical Society in 1949, and a dedication service was held within the cemetery in June 1960. Approximately twenty-five descendants of Captain Ichabod Scranton were present.
Madison’s Heritage: Historical Sketches of Madison, Connecticut. Edited by Philip S. Platt. Madison, CT: Madison Historical Society, 1964
Madison: Three Hundred Years by the Sea: Farmers and Fisherman; Sailors and Summer Folk. Edited by Stephen P. Elliott. Madison, CT: Madison Bicentennial Committee, 1976
Visiting the Smallpox Cemetery
Due to the cemetery's location and fragility, guided tours are required.
Arrangements must be made in advance. Walking tours are confined to certain months, soil and weather conditions permitting.
Proper footwear for New England terrain is highly recommended. A walking stick may be helpful to some hikers, and insect repellent is recommended. The site is not wheelchair-accessible.
Inquiries are welcome. Please call (203) 245-4567 or contact us by