The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878
Strikes Lake

By Martha Waltman

In the summer of 1878 a yellow fever epidemic swept across much of the United States, most notably the southeastern region, taking a tremendous toll in its paths. Many cities and towns in Mississippi were affected, including Canton, Holly Springs, Water Valley, Jackson, Bolton, Vicksburg, Meridian, Lake, and Lawrence.  In Memphis more than 5.000 people died, and in the entire Mississippi Valley, more than 20,000.

This would be the worst such epidemic in our nation’s history. The disease, also known as yellow jack or black vomit, is a viral infection in which the patient often develops a yellow jaundice, thereby the name yellow fever. Not understood until 1881 with the pioneer research of Dr. Walter Reed was that mosquitoes, which thrive in many of the stagnant streams, pools, wells, and cisterns in rural areas in late summer, are the primarily transmitters of the disease.

The epidemic at Lake was apparently triggered when a peddler, having been infected, stopped in Lake after a visit from Vicksburg in early September 1878. Area physicians acted quickly, with Dr. F. E. Daniel of Jackson coordinating the local relief effort which included the resources of the Howard Association. In a message to Dr. R. L. Saunders, President, Howard Association, Dr. Daniel reports in September 1878:

    Lake Station, Sept. 7—to R. L. Saunders: It is yellow fever, traceable to Vicksburg. Only twenty down. Dr. McCallum’s condition is critical. Nurses are coming from Meridian. Need nothing but champagne. F. E. Daniel.1

Dr. Daniel’s optimism aside, things would worsen. Within a matter of days Dr. McCallum was dead and the only telegraphic operator in Lake was down with the fever. A report dated September 25, 1878 indicated that about forty cases had been reported at Lake and that the epidemic had also broken out at Lawrence Station, some five miles east of Lake2. By the time the epidemic ended, 89 people had been reported dead in Lake.

The railway system was an unwitting accomplice in the transmission of this dread disease, as passengers from one location carried the disease to a second location. Many local and state officials, including the Mississippi Board of Health, called for the suspension of railway services during the time of crisis, but their pleas were met with resistance.  R. F. Raworth, General Superintendent, V. & M. Railroad, registered the following complaint in the Jackson Weekly Herald in September 1878:

    Meridian, September 10, 1878—Editor Homestead: Dear Sir, in your Extra of yesterday, in article headed “Yellow Fever at Lake”, you made the following statement: We learn that the officers of the Vicksburg & Meridian Railroad have agreed to act on the suggestion of the citizens, and that no regular trains will be run, except for carrying supplies, physicians and nurses to Lake.”

    In connection with this, I beg to state that as Superintendent of the V. & M. R. R., I did not consent to the stoppage of the trains, and protested against it, but said, under the ordinances of the Board of Health, I was compelled to stop them, having no discretion in the matter. E. F. Raworth, General Superintendent.3

The major story of this event was reported in the Vicksburg Daily Herald on Sunday, January 5, 1879, and later repeated, with greater detail, in the Scott County Register of January 12, 1910, which we report below.

Yellow Fever in Lake

More than thirty years have elapsed since the great epidemic of yellow fever in Lake. Many people live here now that know but little of this distressing time when there were not enough people in town to bury the dead ones, yet there are a few here who well remember back in those days.

The following from the Scott County Register will no doubt be read with interest.

The late Maj. J. J. Hood of Jackson did a noble work in aiding the yellow fever sufferers at Lake during the distressing epidemic in that town in 1878. Dr. J. J. Haralson and H. H. Watts of Forest also did good deeds in allaying the suffering of the sick and the needy. Mr. Watts was stricken with the fever and was at one time thought to be dead. Maj. Hood was at that time engaged in the mercantile business in Forest. His interest for the suffering in our little sister town was so deep that he raised funds for food, medicine, clothing and other necessities. While visiting in Forest last summer Maj. Hood furnished Mr. Watts with the names of all persons who died during the dreadful scourge, he having kept a correct diary. Mr. Watts hands the list to the Register which is published below with “C” for Colored.4

W. E. Crowson

Mrs. W. E. Crowson

Frank Tate

Lee C. Scott

Child of Geo. Jones (C)

Dr. C. G. McCallum

George Jones (C)

Ann Bragg (C)

Randall Flowers (C)

W. H. Evers

W. Y. McFarland

Dr. J. J. Tate

L. B. Wilkins

John Clay

W. J. Crosby

Robert Davidson

Semp Tate

Mathew Young

Mrs. R. S. Hoskins

Rev. Wm Banks (C)

Child of Jno Bragg (C)

Mrs. Martha Lowry

Geo. F. Lowry

J. S. Yarbrough

Mrs. Thomas Ray

Maurice Evers

Mrs. J. P. Snead

Oscar Long

Robert Hoskins

Willie Weaver

Lydia Adams

L. Ritter, nurse

Mrs. R. A. Ray

Mrs. Rachael Burge

Adolphus Long

Jno R. Meader

Raney McGrorty

W. J. Adams

Kate McCallum

Richard Burge

Henry Clay Atkins (C)

Mrs. Joe Stewart

Dau. of Mrs. Stuart

Charley McCallum

Mrs. J. S. Yarbrough

Carrie Evers

Chas. McFarland

Miss Lula Lowry

Mrs. Evers

Mary McFarland

S. D. Kenedy

J. N. Couch

John H. Crosby

Jesse Long

Sarah Burge (C)

Mrs. Hugh McFarland

P. Saunders

Mrs. G. C. McCallum

Mrs. M. P. Saunders

Miss Fannie Saunders

Mrs. S. D. Kenedy

Sarah Ann January

Miss Tate

Mrs. Ever’s Baby

Mr. Shackelford

John Couch

Windem Moody (C)

Ella Burge

Mary McCallum

Mrs. Kittie Scott

Chas Banks (C)

Malide Burge (C)

Mrs. Sarah Wells

Lafayette Weaver

Tommy Weaver

Robert Tate

Wm Nichols

Child of Albert Cole (C)

Stella Burge

Miss Netta Burge

Richard Burge, Jr.

John D. Wells

Miss Annie Tate

Miss Julia Burge

Miss Lee

Thomas Price

 

One of the historians of this event was John Prestridge Freeman, whose grandfather, John Riley Weaver, and three other members of his immediate family died during the epidemic. Freeman would later observe:

    “The sad task of burying the dead was, of necessity, entrusted to the Negroes, since the few white men who were not sick must devote their efforts for the sick and dying. Let is be said to the eternal praise of these black men, that not one person, white or Colored, lacked a reverent, dignified burial as time and circumstance would permit. Not one grave was left unmarked, which alone made it possible for survivors to find the resting places of loved ones later. These Negroes, who had been slaves such a short time before, displayed a loyalty and devotion that was monumental. With the passing of each white clergyman in Lake, Negro pastors humbly did their office5; before each body was given to the dust, a prayer from black lips recommended the soul to a common God.”6

Most of the burials were in Lake Cemetery or in Yellow Fever Cemetery, but some individuals are believed to be buried in Lawrence, Pine Ridge, and other cemeteries in southwestern Newton County. The epidemic was a major economic blow to Lake, but more so to Lawrence where a number of professional and businesses people relocated to Newton, never to return.

Notes

1. The Jackson Weekly Clarion, September 25, 1878.

2.  Ibid.

3. The Jackson Weekly Clarion, September 18, 1878.

4. The list of deaths is believed to have been written in chronological order. To follow the sequence, read across columns, i. e. “Crowson, Crowson, Tate, Scott,” etc.

5. Although not stated by the author, one of these ministers was likely Rev. Abram Donald, a resident of the Lawrence-Roberts area and the first Negro minister to practice in Newton County, having delivered his first sermon in 1868.

6. Prestridge Freeman, The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878, unpublished manuscript, no date.

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