History of Mississippi - YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMICS
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YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC



The Yellow Fever, called fievre jaune by the French, and negro vomito by the Spanish, has prevailed endemically throughout the West Indies and in certain parts of the Spanish Main since the discovery of America. It made its appearance in the ports of Philadelphia, Charleston, Boston and New York, before the close of the 17th century. Philadelphia suffered a severe visitation in 1793, when the deaths were 4,041 and the mortality was 1 in 10 of the population.

"The first mention of yellow fever in Mississippi is made under date of August 22, 1701, when Antoine Lemoyne Sauvolle died at Fort Maurepas, near Biloxi. The disease was carried from San Domingo by one of the ships touching at that island." (Memoirs of Miss., II, 298). The disease has been persistent in more southern islands and mainlands, for the reason, unknown until 1900, that a poison communicated by a diseased mosquito causes it. The Mississippi gulf coast and the gulf cities visited by sailors from the region of continual infection are barely freed from the danger by the frosts of November or December, ordinarily, sometimes a mild winter giving the insects additional grace. New Orleans has been, for Mississippi, the main source of infection, and the disease has been frequently nurtured thereby concealment.

During the Spanish period in Mississippi, the yellow fever was not uncommon. Governor Gayoso died of it at New Orleans. Before that, it raged in Natchez in 1797 when Commission Ellicott was awaiting permission to establish the boundary, and he moved his corps to an inland spot, where there was a spring, which became the site of the town of Washington. It as prevalent when the first legislature of the State was to meet at Natchez, in October, 1817, according to the constitution recently adopted. Because of that fact, the governor called the session at Washington. He said:

"The city of Natchez, for many years past, has been remarkable for its healthfulness. In the course of the preceding summer, the streets in the lower part of the town were raised, conformably to the graduation directed by the officers of the corporation. The adjacent lots, which ought to have been filled up as the public work progressed, were, in many instances, neglected by the individual owners - the consequence was that in a short time ponds of putrid water were formed in the heart of the city. To this circumstance we may chiefly attribute the cause which either produced the disease, or, if brought from any other place, gave it an epidemic and malignant character."

The physicians of Natchez, F. Seip, J. Morris, Samuel Gustine and John H. Robinson, certified that the disease ceased November 15. When the legislature had assembled at Washington it proceeded to pass a stringent quarantine law, which, however, did not avail to prevent a recurrence of the disease early in September, 1819, and caused the transfer of the State offices to Washington. The governor wrote on the 30th:

"The disease still exists there, but few deaths now happen in consequence of most of the inhabitants having fled to the country. Many cases of the yellow fever have been brought from Natchez, but no instance has occurred of its being communicated to any person here."

In his message in January, when it was deemed safe for the legislature to meet at Natchez, the Governor discussed the theories of the origin of the disease and called attention to the fact that it was communicated by contact outside of the places where it raged. He was inclined to attribute it to a condition of the atmosphere, following the heavy rains and floods, and the disturbed condition of the streets in Natchez, causing ponds of stagnant water. The number of deaths was 180.

In September 1820, Governor Poindexter ordered General McComas to detail a body of militia to support the authority of the Board of Health and enforce a strict quarantine. He was able to report in the following January that with a rigid enforcement of the law, the disease had not appeared, and he hoped that by the same course in the future, "a return of this malady may be avoided, and this great depot of the products and commerce of the State rescued from the desolation which has heretofore swept from among us so many valuable citizens, depressed our commercial operations, and retarded the progress of population."

In the fall of 1822 the fever ravaged New York and New Orleans, the deaths being reported as 200 weekly in the latter city, and drove the population of Pensacola en masse into the woods; but, as Governor Leake said, "the city of Natchez, the great emporium of our State, has enjoyed comparatively a great portion of health," which he attributed to the vigilance of the Board of Health and police. There had been a severe drought in the State. Nevertheless, the "autumnal fever" was unusually fatal. The following year, August 10th to October 18th, there were 312 deaths at Natchez. This was one of the most severe attacks. At the close of it John A. Quitman wrote to his brother in the north:

"Three weeks since (in November) a severe frost banished the epidemic and we returned. It was painful to see the desolation of the streets. I looked in vain for faces with which I had been familiar. A gloom and sadness pervaded the whole place, and when friends met they pressed each other's hands in silence, or averted their faces and burst into tears." But, "even the theater has opened, parties announced, and an air of recklessness prevails. There is certainly more dissipation and extravagance than we had at this time last year. It was observed when London was plague-stricken. It is seen in cities during a siege, and I hear curious details of the saturnalia, the debauchery and excesses, that occurred here when the fever was at its worst - wine parties after funerals, card-playing on coffins, shrouded figures whirling in the waltz."

In 1826 at Natchez the deaths were 150, and the disease ravaged the town of Washington. The Mississippi and Louisiana Almanac said:

"It is very justly believed to have been carried there by means of the fomities contained in the blankets and other articles of merchandise, with which Washington was crowded at the beginning of September, when the citizens of Natchez fled from the yellow fever which had appeared in that place. The whole number of cases of yellow fever that have occurred in Washington and vicinity is about 110; of which 52 have terminated fatally. This number must be allowed to be great, when it is known that the number of inhabitants of every description has generally been only about 250".

In 1827 it again appeared at Natchez; no record of the mortality; it developed again at Natchez in 1829, commencing September 1, mortality, 90; Rodney was also attacked. The fever ceased this year with a severe frost November 12; in New Orleans it had begun as early as June, and at Natchez it was preceded by the small pox. It also appeared at the following places and periods:

Natchez, 1837, commencing September 8 and ending November 25; mortality 280.
Biloxi, 1839, (after an interval of 136 years. Natchez, 1839, from September to November, mortality 235.
Shieldsboro (Bay St. Louis and Vicksburg in 1839.
At Rodney in 1843, commencing September 6. Dr. John H. Savage, an eminent physician and professor at Oakland college, was among the victims at Rodney, in October.
In 1844, at Natchez and Woodville.
In 1847 at Biloxi, Pascagoula, Pass Christian, Rodney and Vicksburg.
In 1848 at Natchez, from June to November; and
In 1852 at Woodville.

Among the Mississippi towns which suffered severely in the great epidemic of 1853 were Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Brandon, Clinton, Natchez, Fort Adams, Grand Gulf, Greenwood, Jackson, Pass Christian, Petit Gulf Hills, Port Gibson, Rodney, Woodville, Pascagoula, Yazoo City and Vicksburg. The epidemic was general throughout the South, and the mortality in New Orleans alone was 8,000. In 1854 Brandon and Jackson were visited; in 1855 Cooper's Wells, mortality 13, Canton, Pass Christian, Woodville and Natchez; and in 1858 Biloxi, Natchez, Pass Christian, Vicksburg and Woodville.

In 1856 Governor McRae suggested the appointment of an expert, to be one of an inter-state board, to study the fever and discover a means of prevention. The naval blockage kept New Orleans, Mobile and Mississippi clear of the yellow fever in 1861-65, but the disease returned in 1867. The first serious invasion of Mississippi was in 1871, when the fever appeared at Natchez, Vicksburg and Jackson, but in so peculiar a form that many physicians at first pronounced it "malaria fever". At Jackson, out of 30 cases in the garrison of United States troops, 24 were fatal. Dr. M. S. Craft ably monographed the epidemic there. In 1874-75, there were cases at Pascagoula, and all along the gulf coast of Mississippi.

In 1878 the last extensive epidemic occurred. It spread into eight states, and Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi especially suffered. The total mortality from yellow fever in that year was 16,000. Many Mississippi towns were visited by the scourge, among which were Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Bolton, Bovina, Canton, Byram, Cayuga, Dry Grove, Duckhill, Durant, Edwards, Friar's Point, Gallman Station, Greenville, Grenada, Handsboro, Hayne's Bluff, Hernando, Holly Springs, Jackson, Lake, Lawrence, Lebanon Church, Logtown, McComb, McNair, Meridian, Mississippi City, Natchez, Ocean Springs, Osyka, Pass Christian, Pascagoula, Pearlington, Port Gibson, Rocky Springs, Senatobia, Stoneville, Summit, Sunflower, Terry, Hornlake, Vicksburg, Water Valley, Winona, and Yazoo City. The number of deaths in the state was in excess of 3,000. At the little village of Dry Grove, hinds County, of the first 29 cases, 28 died. In this epidemic twenty members of the State Medical Association died of the fever while ministering to the sick (See Miss. State Med. Association) and the following physicians not named there, also lost their lives: Blackburn, Barber, Birdson, Sappington, Wilkerson, Gilleland, Hayes, Hippolat, Newman, Norris, Potts, Blackman, all from Vicksburg; V> F> P> Alexander, J.S. McCall, William Montgomery, A. S. Gardner, Stafford, all from Greenville; E. W. Hughes, Lindley, W. B. May, G. W. Woodfolk, Gillespie, Hawkins, Milton, all from Grenada; Lewis, Leach, Manning, Frank Fennell, J. M. Fennell, and Fenton, all from Holly Springs; M. J. McKie of Canton; J. J. Tate of Lake; Powell of Hernando; W. D. Sprott, J. C. Strowbridge, Thomas Young, Blickfeldt, of Port Gibson. (Memoirs of Mississippi.)

In December following this terrible epidemic congress provided for an investigation of the disease and the employment of seven experts, one of whom was Dr. M. S. Craft of Jackson, who collected information at various points that had been infected for the use of the committee. H. S. Fulkerson, in his Recollections, says that he went through six epidemics (1843, 1853, 1855, 1867, 1872 and 1878). Writing in1885, he was disposed to accept the definition of Dr. Holt, of the Louisiana Board of Health, that it was "a mystery in nature, one of the hidden ways of God,' also quoting the satirical remark that "yellow fever never originates, but is always brought from somewhere else." There was a popular belief that it came from Africa with the Negroes, and on the other hand it was recorded that when the first English settlers arrived in New England they found the Indians suffering with it. Fulkerson gave in evidence the experience of his own family, all of whom had it at different dates, that no one was attacked a second time. Rodney was devastated in 1843, and Fulkerson, after going there to nurse a friend, came down with the fever. Suddenly, in the night, the pain struck him in the region of the spine something as if some venomous reptile had dealt the blow. There was no ice to apply to alleviate the excruciating pain, and the doctors, as ignorant as anyone about the disease, tortured the sick with cupping and bleeding. The actual loss of life form the disease itself represents only a part of the affliction it brought to the State and the South in general. Every epidemic outbreak served to alarm the whole country; commerce in the affected region was brought almost to a standstill; the commercial loss to the country from the epidemic of 1878 was estimated at over $2,000,000; cities were deserted; people succumbed to exposure from campaign on the highlands; burdensome quarantines were established; innocent persons were shot in the effort to pass the quarantine lines; every form of industry was stifled; and the entire industrial development of the South was retarded because of the supposed liability of the region to an epidemic of yellow fever.

The disease appeared again, but not seriously in 1879. When in 1886 the yellow fever appeared at Biloxi, the State Board of Health was able to confine it to Harrison county. There were 270 cases and 12 deaths. The quarantine at Pascagoula was maintained during the fever seasons of 1886-87, and against the danger of cholera in the winter of 1887. The State was quarantined against yellow fever at Jacksonville, Florida in 1888. The fever appeared at Jackson in September, and the board took control. The inhabitants were advised to leave. Only 398 whites and 1,593 blacks remained in the town. A refugee camp was provided for many. Houses were fumigated and bedding burned. There were 13 cases and five deaths, all the cases originating about the railroad depot. All the fatal cases died with suppression of urine. In September 1897 the fever again appeared. The source was ascribed by some to the cases at the Marine hospital quarantine at Ship Island, where vessels from infected Southern ports were detained; by others to a conference of Cuban revolutionary refugees.

Early in September, 1897 Dr. H. H. Haralson, supervising quarantine inspector for the State Board of Health on the coast called representatives of the Alabama and Louisiana boards, Secretary Hunter and Dr. Gant, of the Mississippi board, and Dr. Wasdin of the Marine hospital, into consultation over suspicious cases, and the presence of the epidemic was revealed. At the same time it was found at Biloxi, and the infection had been carried to Edwards, where the disease was made known a few days later, spreading thence to Nitta Yuma, Clinton and parts of Hinds County.

Dr. Gant took charge at Ocean Springs, and Dr. Hunter visited New Orleans and Memphis, attempting to establish regulations of travel, to prevent the shot-gun quarantine, and tearing up of railroad tracks, that had occurred in former epidemics. He was not allowed to return to Jackson, and made his headquarters at Vicksburg. A great panic prevailed, a bridge was burned on the A. 7 V. railroad and the tearing up of tracks was threatened. The board desired to send North as many people as possible from Edwards, and when Meridian forbade the running of such trains through that city, ordering the stopping of all railroad communication with Meridian, which resulted in a reasonable concession. Armed guards were placed along the Big Black river, and in a line about Vicksburg. An officer of the State Board of Health was put in charge of each infected place, and the spread of the disease was prevented. But it had also raged in New Orleans and Mobile, and survived the winter. The quarantine regulations at this time required the fumigation of mails and newspapers, on the theory of germs, and the shipping of cotton from infected towns was forbidden. After the fever appeared at Ocean Springs, there was lack of confidence between the State authorities and the Marine hospital service in charge of the quarantine station on Ship Island. In December of that year, Governor McLaurin appointed a medical commission, composed of Drs. H. H. Harlson, H. A. Gant, J. R. Tackett, J. H. Purnell, S. R. Dunn and H. M. Folkes, who, without compensation, visited Cuba for a study of the disease with a view of more effectually preventing its introduction into the State.

In 1898, despite every effort, the plague returned in 28 locations within the state for a total of 1,386 cases and 84 deaths. There were 292 cases at Jackson; 157 at Harrison, 120 at Madison; 118 at Taylor's, 115 at Ormund; 95 at Jackson; 70 at Oxford; 64 at Yazoo City; etc. Several towns were depopulated, as the most effective way of preventing the spread of the disease. In 1899 the disease appeared again at Jackson, Mississippi City and Centerville. At this time it was generally accepted that the disease was brought to the United States in the form of "germs" adhering to bananas.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, the study of the disease had resulted in definite knowledge that dissipated the mystery and much of the terror that accompanied it. In 1881, Dr. Carlos Finlay, of Havana, first proposed the theory that yellow fever is conveyed by mosquitoes. That the mosquito serves as the intermediate host of the parasite of yellow fever was effectively demonstrated in 1900 at Camp Lazear, an experiment station one mile from Quemado, Cuba. The experiment was conducted by a board of surgeons, appointed by Surgeon General Sternberg. Subsequent careful experiments in other places have added further proof that the yellow fever is communicated by a certain species of mosquito, the striped house mosquito (stegomyia fasciata). In general it is found in all parts of the world, south of 38 degrees north latitude, and north of 38 degrees south latitude. It is not common in high altitudes and is especially common within the United States, in all the Gulf States, Atlantic Coast States, north to Virginia, portions of Kentucky and Tennessee, southeastern Missouri, most of Arkansas and Indian Territory, and southern New Mexico, Arizona and California. It is peculiarly a house mosquito, bites by day as well as by night, and is found most abundantly in the cities breeding in roof troughs, cisterns, water-tanks, barrels and any chance receptacle of clean standing water.

The State Board of Health was informed through the office of the surgeon-general at Washington July 20, 1905, that there were cases of yellow fever at New Orleans. The board at once called in session, and on the 21st quarantine was proclaimed against the Louisiana city. Accepting the demonstration at Havana and elsewhere that the disease was communicated by the striped house mosquito, no embargo was put upon freight, express, baggage or mail, as had been done in former quarantines. Upon request of the executive committee and the governor, Surgeon Eugene Wasdin of the Marine hospital was detailed on the Mississippi coast, and was afterwards health officer for that part of the State. Guards were placed at the State line, and inspectors on the trains from New Orleans.

It was officially known July 22 that the disease at New Orleans was yellow fever, and Secretary Hunter issued a proclamation calling on the local authorities to begin a war of extermination against the striped house mosquito. The Surgeon General was requested to take charge of train inspection on the New Orleans lines, and Surgeon J. H. White, of the Marine Hospital service at New Orleans, took charge of the train inspection out of that city for Mississippi on July 25. The quarantine order was extended to the entire State of Louisiana, and all travelers in Mississippi were required to have health certificates, July 28.

The old time panic was in evidence at various places; there was a clash of the naval patrols along the indefinite maritime boundary of Louisiana and Mississippi, that caused some excited, and a general feeling, openly expressed by Governor Vardaman, and afterward established beyond doubt as true, that the health officers of New Orleans had concealed the disease as long as possible and until it had spread in advance of quarantine regulations, threatened the amicable relations of the people. There were indications that the fever was about to make a fatal record, and the Louisiana authorities called upon the United States Marine Hospital to take control, a large sum of money being raised to meet the expenses.

The Marine hospital officers had full control in the city, and also cooperated with the health departments of Mississippi and other States, in regulating travel, and its surgeons traveled by special trains to diagnose every suspicious case as soon as reported. Business was paralyzed throughout the State until the last week of October, but by a thorough campaign against the mosquito the disease was put under control in New Orleans and its spread prevented in the Mississippi towns; while the fact was demonstrated beyond doubt that with prompt and rational treatment yellow fever had forever been deprived of its rational fatal and destructive sway over the Gulf States.

The first case reported in Mississippi was an Italian refugee at Lumberton. The man was screened from the possibility of infecting mosquitoes, and no other cases occurred there. At Sumrall there was the same experience. Several cases were reported at various points from time to time, which were malarial, and the immediate investigation by experts, conveyed on special trains by the railroads, prevented panics. The genuine disease was diagnosed at Mississippi City, August 14, 1905 and Dr. Charles Le Baron was put in charge as State health officer. Afterward the disease developed at several places, at each of which a State health officer was put in charge, assisted on the gulf coast by Dr. Wasdin, and on the river, by Drs. Guiteras and Dr. Lavinder, of the Marine hospital. The fever had prevailed at New Orleans in the Italian quarter for several weeks before it was reported and several excursion trains form Mississippi to the city had served to convey infection. A negro excursion from Vicksburg July 20, is believed to have been the source of the disease in that city, which came under observation a month later. Following is the record, from Dr. Hunter's report, giving the date of diagnosis, and name of State health officer put in charge.

Mississippi City, August 15, Dr. Charles Le Baron, 96 cases, no deaths; Pearlington, August 26, Le Baron, 4 cases, no deaths; Handsboro, September 16, Le Baron, 15 cases, no deaths; Moss Point, September 20, Dr. B. F. Duke, 3 cases, no deaths; Scranton, September 20, Dr. Duke, 4 cases, no deaths; Gulfport, August 25, Dr. Eugene Wasdin, 118 cases, 3 deaths; Natchez August 27, Dr. W. H. Aikman, 196 cases, 9 deaths; Vicksburg, August 29, Dr. H. H. Haralson, 210 cases, 21 deaths; Harrison, September 22, Dr. J. C. McNair, 2 cases, no deaths; Roxie, September 7, Dr. H. J. Wood, 27 cases, 5 deaths; Hamburg, September 12, Dr. T. K. Magee, 73 cases, 15 deaths; Port Gibson, September 23, Dr. G. W. Acker, 52 cases, 4 deaths; Rosetta, September 11, Dr. J. H. Anders, 38 cases, 6 deaths.

At Natchez there was the most prompt and active cooperation with the Board of Health. Citizens aided the physicians in allowing no cases to be concealed. The physicians reported without delay or attempt to humor influential patrons. The fight was made against the mosquito, and the patients at the hospitals, who were carefully screened, were visited by their friends daily without alarm and without infection. In all places where the disease appeared or where it was feared, cisterns and pools were screened or oiled and some attempts made at fumigation, though it was for a time difficult to overcome the former notions that the disease was a "mysterious dispensation" of providence. Dr. Hunter wrote, "When yellow fever was announced in New Orleans on the 21st of July, I must confess that I was almost staggered by the news, especially when I realized the fact that we had at least three months to fight the disease, and $5,000 emergency fund to make the fight with. The executive committee of the State Board of Health, realizing the dreadful calamity that would befall the people of our State, determined to make a bold fight to protect them." When it became evident that the disease would rage in epidemic form in the State, Governor Vardaman wrote a letter to each member of the legislature, stating the case, and in response received promises of support that authorized him to borrow money for quarantine purposes. The expense incurred was bout $45,000. The unprecedentedly mild winter of 1905-06 caused fear early in the latter year of a renewal of danger, and the war on the mosquito was resumed early in the spring, the whole situation being aided by the Congressional quarantine law, adopted largely through the efforts of the Mississippi delegation.




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