- a minute or microscopic animal, nearly or quite invisible to the naked eye, as an infusorian or rotifer.
- a tiny animal, as a mouse or fly.
- —Related forms: animalcular
Reading about the Bucks County Almshouse (or Alms House, or Alms-house), I came across this wonderfully archaic word that probably went extinct with the dawn of germ theory.
“The Poor House purchase has caused great uproar in some sections of the county; the discontent and opposition originated in Buckingham. Handbills, memorials, etc., are circulating, tending to prejudice the public mind, and truly, if the purchase is, as represented, it is by no means judicious. The soil is stated to be sterile, and incapable of improvement adequate to the object; destitute of a sufficiency of good water, the well and spring, in certain seasons of the year going nearly dry, generating animalcules, worms, tadpoles, etc., in such quantities as to render it necessary to filter the water before using it. Such, say they, is the place humanity sought for the reception and accommodation of the unfortunate poor.”
While this was probably just propaganda by those who opposed the whole project of providing an Almshouse for the poor, their nay-saying proved prophetic:
“The Asiatic cholera visited the alms house in the summer of 1849 when it was prevalent in the country. It broke out in July, and, in less than two weeks some 120 deaths occurred in a population of 150 inmates. Among the dead were the steward, William Edwards, Lafayette Nash, Line Lexington, a medical student under Dr. Hendrie, Doylestown, and a few of the nurses. It created great alarm, and for a time travel on the Easton road was almost suspended. There were but four cases outside the institution and only one or two in Doylestown. The dead paupers were hauled out by the cart load and buried in a trench behind the orchard, and after the disease was over the infected clothing was burned and the house thoroughly fumigated. A small band of faithful men, led by Davis E. Brower, Bridge Point, nursed the sick and buried the dead. The cause of this terrible visitation was never investigated, but is thought to have been mainly caused by want of proper sanitary care.”
[From Davis’ History of Bucks County]