VICKSBURG FACTS: A constant fear of yellow fever

Published 8:00 am Friday, April 28, 2023

Did you know about the constant fear Vicksburgers had about yellow fever?

Vicksburg has a well-known history of yellow fever epidemics and the fear that comes with this fatal disease. According to the American Local History Network Mississippi Project, the first time Vicksburg experienced a serious case was in 1871. Once the sickness began, many locals decided to leave the city until the fever ended. 

To help ease the public fear of yellow fever, the news would give regular reports to help local citizens stay calm.

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“The yellow fever scare has entirely abated in this section. Every train brings dozens of refugees,” according to the Vicksburg Daily Times, Oct. 3, 1871, edition.

However, a large number of cases of yellow fever began to appear in 1873 in surrounding areas like New Orleans. Once again, newspapers of the time tried to keep the people informed and encouraged everyone to remain calm. 

“The yellow fever scare has about subsided. No new cases were reported yesterday, and of the two heretofore reported, one is nearly well and the doing very well,” The Vicksburg Herald reported in its Sept. 26, 1873, edition. “We have often heard it stated that fright kills many more people than yellow fever, and we have endeavored to allay apprehensions and keep down a panic in case the dreaded epidemic should make its appearance here.”

According to the American Local History Network Mississippi Project, in 1878 Vicksburg went through another invasive epidemic of yellow fever. 

Yellow fever reached Vicksburg via a tugboat that left New Orleans known as the “John Porter.” By the time the ship arrived, most of the crew was dead. Local citizens buried the crew and caught the fever, which eventually spread throughout the city. Many people fled the city and approximately 1,500 died from the fever according to the Yellow Fever Martyrs website.

Once the people of Vicksburg overcame the sickness, they returned to their lives but continued to live in fear of the fever returning. 

“All day Sunday this sentiment of doubt that it was pure yellow fever grew and the dispatch at noon, citing no new cases in other parts of the city or evidence of communication from one person to another added weight to the belief,” according to The Daily Commercial Herald’s Sept. 25, 1888, edition. “Sunday’s special announcing one new case, four miles distant, seemed to destroy the belief, but when it was known that he was a butcher, did business daily near the depot and consequently was exposed to this subtle infection, whatever it be, the belief became firm conviction in the minds of many people.”

Instead of just remaining calm, the people of Vicksburg decided to take some control of their town and implement solutions that would prevent the spread of the disease. This included promoting cleaning solutions like Chlorine.

“It is beyond dispute that Chlorine is the most effectual disinfectant known and its most satisfactory combination…” according to an ad in The Daily Commercial Herald on Sept. 25, 1888.

There was even mention of creating a sewerage system to help prevent the spread of diseases.

“Some months since, The Post suggested that both Vicksburg and Jackson needed good systems of sewerage more than they needed street railways,” according to The Vicksburg Evening Post, Sept. 9, 1897. 

Eventually, Vicksburg continued to make progress for the health care of the city and was able to add a Public Water Supply in 1889, according to the Church of the Holy Trinity’s report of the 1878 yellow fever.