Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 in Grenada County, MS  


Summarized from the book "The History of Grenada County"


In the fall of 1878 Grenada was stricken by the greatest tragedy in the town's 40 year history.  On August 9, 1878 Dr. D. R. Brown, secretary of the Memphis Board of Health, went to Grenada to check on rumors of yellow fever in the area.  On that day occurred the first  of what was later totaled at 367 deaths from this dread disease in this town of 2000 population.   The cause of yellow fever was completely unknown at that time.  The fever was carried from person to person by mosquitos but then doctors knew only that this fever existed, but not how to treat it.  At best the remedies used were not effective, and at worst contributed to the death of the victims.  Only the very lucky survived.

In 1853 during an epidemic of yellow fever in New Orleans the Howard Association was organized.  A group of clerks started the association in the store where they worked.  They went around finding new cases, and giving medicine prepared by the mother of one of the clerks who had experience with the disease in Haiti.  Wealthy people of New Orleans soon took up the cause and financed its growth.  The name honored the English humanitarian and philanthropist, John Howard.

On August 11, 1878 W. J. Smith, first vice-president of the Howard Association, received confirmation of yellow fever in Grenada.  He alerted other members, and they decided that immediate aid was needed.  By seven o'clock a special train provided by the railroad was on its way to Grenada with seven nurses and equipment.  Howard Association officials accompanied the train, making certain it would be allowed to stop in the quarantined town.

Upon reaching Grenada they found that about one tenth of the whites who had remained in the town were already prostrated with the fever.  New Orleans was telegraphed for more nurses.  The next morning the Memphis Howard Association sent 21 additional nurses, and three yellow fever doctors came in from the New Orleans headquarters.  Things in Grenada were greatly disorganized and desperate.  Mayor J. R. Milton was an early victim of the fever.  Other officials left the town to escape the fever.  In addition, there was a scarcity of medical supplies, food, doctors, nurses and hospital space.

The fever raged for 60 days until the first frost in October killed the mosquitos and stopped the epidemic.  During that two months several doctors and nurses also became victims of this dread disease.

In the book, THE YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC OF 1878 IN MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, by J. M. Keating for the Howard Association, printed in 1879, is listed the most complete accounting for the victims of this epidemic.  The list which follows is from that book.  Most of these victims were buried in the original Tullahoma Cemetery, which since has become known as the Old Yellow Fever Cemetery.

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This page was last updated on --  Wednesday, 12-May-1999

Copyright © 1999 by John Leverette