"Sadness to our Circle"
"The Terrible Doings of God"
Disease and Urban Image: Yellow Fever in Norfolk, 1855.
On the Yellow Fever of Norfolk & Portsmouth
"SADNESS TO OUR CIRCLE":
Grace Whittle's Account
of the 1855 Norfolk Yellow Fever Epidemic
Edited by Jennifer Davis McDaid, 1997,
Archives Research Coordinator,
The Library of Virginia
Reproduced with the permission of the author and the Library of Virginia.
While vacationing in Pinopolis, South Carolina in October 1859, Grace Latimer Whittle commented on a common annoyance to travelers in the American South: mosquitoes. In a postscript to one of her father's letters, Grace reported to her aunts in Philadelphia that she had seen only one of the pesky insects and heard two more from her vantage point on Lake Moultrie. "I am sure," she wrote with confidence, "you must give me credit for being an accurate historian, at least on this subject." Four years after witnessing Norfolk's yellow fever epidemic, Grace remained wary of warm weather and relieved to see autumn's first frost. According to popular belief (and, to a certain extent, medical fact), this drop in temperature signified the end of the dangerous summer season of disease.1
In her journal, Grace penned a vivid report of the 1855 epidemic and its effects. Born on 29 August 1831 to affluent parents (her father a lawyer and businessman, her mother the daughter of a judge), Grace led an average, if undeniably privileged, life. She attended school somewhere in Norfolk, along with her sisters; married Horace H. Sams on 18 October 1860; and afterwards moved from her parents' house to a South Carolina plantation. After her husband died of typhoid fever on 22 May 1865, Grace and her two young children returned to the Whittle home in Norfolk, where she lived until her death on 15 December 1897. A brief burial notice identified Grace Whittle Sams with customary anonymity as her father's daughter and her husband's widow. No known portrait of her has survived. Her account of the yellow fever epidemic, written in a small lined book purchased from a local stationery store, is evidently the only journal volume that Grace left behind.
Yellow fever descended rapidly on Norfolk and Portsmouth after the steamer Ben Franklin came into port in June 1855 from the Virgin Islands with an ailing crew. Before the Board of Health discovered that the ship's captain was concealing sailors infected with the fever, workers at Portsmouth's Gosport Navy Yard had fallen ill. They, in turn, carried the disease home on the ferry across the Elizabeth River to Barry's Row, a Norfolk tenement at the southern end of Church Street. Meanwhile, aided by standing water in barrels, lanes, and buckets, infected mosquitoes bred. Early in August, the Richmond newspaper reported the first deaths, while the Norfolk press fell silent as editors and staff were stricken. Before the fever waned in October, 1,800 inhabitants of Norfolk (nearly one-third of the total population) had died.2
Yellow fever was not an unfamiliar malady to the residents of Norfolk. As a densely-populated seaport city, it was particularly vulnerable to the disease, which was nearly always fatal. It was not until the turn of the century that scientific research linked the Aedes aegypti mosquito with the transmission of yellow fever. The heat of the humid summer months, along with the city's constant problem of standing water, was instead routinely blamed for outbreaks of illness. While the causes of yellow fever were not readily apparent, its symptoms were dramatically evident. Victims experienced a sudden onset of chills, muscular pain, and jaundice, followed by massive internal hemorrhaging. In most cases, patients suffered delirium and convulsions before dying from damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, and blood vessels.3
The medical remedies of the mid-nineteenth century did nothing to slow the course of the disease and did little to ease patients' suffering. An 1853 reference text, The Art of Medicine Simplified . . . for the Use of Families and Travelers, advocated large doses of calomel (a purgative) internally and the liberal application of a mercury-based ointment externally. In the case of total collapse, a sniff of ammonia and a shot of brandy were recommended. In the city's streets, barrels of tar were burned to dispense with harmful germs; inside houses, women mixed a potion called "thieves vinegar," a powerful disinfectant used in sick rooms. Despite the abundance of advice available, doctors and nurses could ultimately do little to cure or comfort yellow fever patients. Unable to heal the sick, they disposed of the dead in a city where proper and sanitary burial was no easy task. A shortage of coffins and grave diggers (and the increasing number of corpses, many unidentified) made this duty a trying one. In the face of such rapidly declining public health, residents who were able fled the city. By the end of the summer, thousands of individuals had abandoned their homes and businesses for healthier surroundings.4
Many of the city's inhabitants did not have the resources or opportunity to flee the fever. The poor, recent immigrants, and slaves were the hardest hit by the devastating effects of the epidemic. In a futile attempt to contain the spread of the disease, Norfolk city officials evicted the remaining residents of Barry's Row (largely shipyard workers) and built a fence around the neighborhood in late July. The five-member Board of Health exiled the ailing tenants and their families, carting them to a hastily-established hospital outside the city limits at Oak Grove. These measures did little to alleviate the unhealthy environment of the buildings, which had been built on poorly-filled marsh land. Inspectors later testified that moisture seeped into the basements of Barry's Row, where it puddled and stagnated. Additional problems were caused by the unpalatable well water in that section of town, which prompted residents to use rainwater collected in thirty-year-old underground cisterns for drinking and washing. Under these conditions, it was no wonder that the epidemic flourished. Grace's father Conway Whittle reported in a letter to his sisters that he had heard "some very loud whispers" concerning a plan to set fire to the abandoned row of dilapidated buildings; on the night of 13 August, a group of citizens gathered and torched the twelve tenements, while city firemen protected nearby buildings from damage. While the objectionable buildings were adequately insured against fire, the Mutual Assurance Society in Richmond refused to compensate their owner, James Barry, since their destruction had been openly "permitted and countenanced for the public safety."5
Grace Whittle watched the flames consume Barry's Row from the front door of her parents' home. Joining her was Reverend William Jackson, pastor at nearby St. Paul's Church. Grace's diary records the hope voiced by Jackson and shared by the city that the fire would rid Norfolk of any remaining infection. This, of course, was not the case. Jackson had already presided at the first of many funerals, that of Imogene Barron, wife of the naval commander at Gosport. While her husband Samuel and daughter Elizabeth lay ill, Barron's body was transported from Portsmouth at night and interred in Norfolk. The fire that ravaged Barry's Row would not bring an end to such grim duties. Grace noted that the disease appeared only to gain strength as the intense heat of the summer increased.6
Like their counterparts in Norfolk, the poor and the immigrants were the first to fall ill in Portsmouth. The crowded conditions of the tenements (given the derogatory label "Irish Row"), along with poor diet, unquestionably fostered the rapid spread of fever. Episcopal minister James Chisolm of St. John's Church, in Portsmouth, recorded the desperate straits in which these lodgers found themselves. With little (if any) Christian charity, Chisolm reported the unwillingness of the sick to leave their homes. As in Norfolk, city officials were determined to remove "the wretched and squalid patients" to a pest-house conveniently located on the edge of the city, near the cemetery. Chisolm indignantly noted that the sick and their families "refuse[d] to stir." In the end, nine cartloads of "these unfortunates" were hauled away under considerable protest. Chisolm's distaste for these poor and predominantly Catholic citizens is evident in his account of their removal. Such ethnic, religious, and class prejudices, highlighted in the fear that accompanied the outbreak of the fever and the name-calling that resulted, seemed to wane considerably as the epidemic progressed. As conditions worsened, ministers, nuns, and priests alike attended to the physical needs of the sick with no regard to their denomination.7
While the poor segment of the population seemed at the mercy of the frightened upper classes, the black population of Norfolk was virtually ignored. In 1850, thirty percent of Norfolk's population was composed of slaves. The Whittle family owned two young female slaves (ages twenty-three and fourteen) at the time of the epidemic. Before the family left town, Grace's mother Cloe made some sort of "satisfactory arrangement" for them, evidently providing for their food and housing. Most were not so fortunate. The situation of slaves, Grace observed, was "very trying . . . [for] they saw their owners flying from the pestilence which they were left to encounter . . . with inadequate provision for their support during the Summer."8 Some Norfolk families left in such haste that their slaves were left without the essentials in a city where businesses and markets were closing and the port was under quarantine restrictions. Norfolk resident Anne P. B. Herron lamented in a letter to the Whittle aunts that "masters and mistresses . . . [had] deserted faithful servants without leaving them the means of subsistence in health, or aught to solace them in sickness."9
Many owners firmly believed that their slaves possessed a genetic immunity to yellow fever; as a result, it was rumored that they would take advantage of the dire situation and rebel against the weakened and vulnerable residents of Norfolk. Such an alleged slave plot had caused New Orleans officials to place armed patrols on their streets in June 1853, when yellow fever was reaching epidemic proportions there. While even Grace heard the rumors of revolt (although her father tried to shield her from such talk), nothing came of them. Slaves as well as their owners fell ill and died. Those blacks who remained healthy were often pressed into service as grave diggers, hearse drivers, and even as nurses.10
The epidemic rapidly put an end to the order of everyday life, wreaking havoc on the economy and society of Norfolk while creating a vast gap in the public record. Newspapers ceased publication, vital statistics were only randomly kept, and the Norfolk city council disbanded. Telegraph reports to Richmond were the only means of communicating the dire circumstances which had befallen the city. Downtown businesses closed and the port was quarantined, leaving items necessary to nursing (such as foodstuffs, linens, and medicine) in short supply.11
The Whittle family remained in beleaguered Norfolk longer than most families of their means. While the city itself was quarantined, many socially prominent and economically privileged inhabitants beat a hasty path westward to the salubrious Virginia springs, or traveled north to visit family and friends. Conway Whittle could have easily packed up his wife and daughters and fled to Philadelphia, where his sisters lived. Mary W. Neale and Frances M. Lewis had in fact written to their brother urging the family to come while they were still able; Conway replied at the beginning of August (when the epidemic was escalating) that the Whittles would not leave unless events took "a still more unfavorable turn." Conway also resisted the arguments of his brother-in-law, William Armstrong, who was preparing to leave with his wife Adelaide and their children on a hired steamer. Armstrong's fear of the yellow fever was understandable; during a scarlet fever outbreak in 1841, the family had lost three children (ages four, six, and nine) to the disease in three weeks time.12
Conway's stubbornness left his twenty-three-year-old daughter in Norfolk long enough to observe the fever first-hand. She recorded her impressions of the epidemic in a journal, written some time during or after her family's departure from the city. While she prided herself on being "an accurate historian," her account of the fever's progression keenly related the personal as well as the physical impact of the summer's grim events. Especially poignant to Grace was her last visit to St. Paul's Church, where she taught Sunday school. Although she and the other teachers confessed to "mutual fear and anxiety," Grace tried to impress on her solitary student that hope, not despair, would give "peace to the mind under such circumstances." Such advice, however uplifting, could only dull the pain she herself felt on the loss of friends and acquaintances. Those who died from the fever are carefully underlined in her journal. While other women experienced the epidemic, Grace recorded it, using the objectivity and detachment of a historian to preserve her memories of the summer of 1855. The Whittle family finally left their home in late August, traveling up the peninsula to Newport News and Petersburg, then turning west to Charlottesville, Rockbridge County, and the springs of Bath and Greenbrier counties. They returned to Norfolk in mid-November, when frost had finally eliminated the danger of infection.13
In search of relief from the heat of the city, fifty-seven-year-old Mary Thompson had taken "cool and quiet rooms" at Old Point Comfort's Hygeia Hotel early in the summer. Since Thompson's husband William was a "steamboat proprietor," she was most likely able to leave the city with relative ease. A family friend and regular correspondent of Grace's aunts, Thompson reported with satisfaction that there was "not a mosquitoe" present at the Point. By the beginning of August, however, Thompson found herself under quarantine at the hotel and hard-pressed for paper, stamps, and other necessities. Her letters recorded her increasing despair, heightened by the illness and death of her friend Imogene Barron. Barron's fourteen-year-old daughter Lizzie also succumbed to the fever while her father, Samuel Barron, grew exhausted and severely depressed. The Barron's youngest child—still breastfeeding when taken from its ailing mother—fell ill with whooping cough. Thompson's regular letters to Philadelphia lapsed after relating these traumatic events. When they resumed a week later from Fauquier Springs, she admitted that she had been so shaken by the loss of "those most beloved ones at home" that she was unable to pick up her pen and write.14
Unlike her friend Mary Thompson, Anne Herron remained in her downtown home throughout the summer. A fifty-one-year-old native of Ireland, Herron nursed her brother through a mild case of the fever and kept a watchful eye on her twenty slaves. Writing to Grace's aunts in late August, Herron lamented that she was unable to offer "one cheering word" in light of the desolation that surrounded her. Of special "concern to Herron were the slaves who had been left behind in Norfolk by their owners with few supplies and resources. While the Whittle family made provisions for their two slaves, most were not so fortunate. Herron herself had seen some "heart-rending cases," where slaves had died destitute and "without a friend by hand to offer one comfort." Herron's brother and some of her friends tried to dissuade her from staying, encouraging her instead to "seek a place of safety." Arguing that self-preservation was of little importance when it destroyed "every feeling of humanity," she sharply questioned her critics: "Is this Christianity? What would we think if our servants were to abandon us? Is this justice?" Herron nursed seven of her slaves through the fever. By the end of September, she was dead.15
Women's usual concerns for the well-being of the family were heightened as the course of the fever progressed. With ten children and thirteen slaves, Elizabeth Whittle felt that God expected her to act as their caretaker. The wife of Grace's cousin William C. Whittle, Elizabeth wrote to Philadelphia for emotional support. "All Mothers," she commented, "require this cheering approval." Despite the distinct disapproval of her brothers, Elizabeth and her children remained in Norfolk. Her responsibility to her slaves, she argued, extended to them in sickness as well as health. After explaining her actions to the Whittle aunts, Elizabeth worried that her note would be "scarcely intelligible":
but could you see the numbers of little ones around me—petting my arm and asking questions you would wonder that I can write at all—But I send you the best I can under the circumstances—I have no envelopes and there is not one store open in Norfolk.
She fashioned a makeshift envelope and mailed her letter. Two weeks later, both she and her eldest son Arthur had fallen victim to the fever. Two younger children were stricken, but recovered.16
Tested by disaster, these women reached out to each other for support and guidance. Within the network of family, concerns were voiced and comfort given. Both Elizabeth Whittle and Anne Herron stayed in plague-stricken Norfolk against the wishes of some family members and friends. Their behavior, however, was not so much a disregard for social norms as it was a reaction to extraordinary circumstances. With their physical community crumbling around them, these women fought to maintain their remaining ties to the inter-related communities of church and family. Concern for their slaves, as members of the household community, was an extension of this effort to exert a modicum of control over the chaos surrounding them. While a sense of Christian responsibility motivated Elizabeth Whittle to stay in the city, Anne Herron remained because it was against her personal principles of morality to leave those in need behind. Those women who fled—often at the insistence of fathers and husbands—attempted to maintain community ties through regular correspondence relating everyday events to those left behind.
Six months after their return, life had taken on a semblance of order for those women who survived the fever. As Mary Thompson reported to Philadelphia, however, all was not entirely well with her. As she had been in the midst of the epidemic, Thompson was plagued in the early months of 1856 by "an uncommonly obstinate fit of dislike for pens and paper." When she did write, it was to describe the "wonderful spiritual manifestations" that were occurring daily at William Whittle's home in Norfolk. Whittle's thirteen-year-old daughter Sally had reportedly become a writing medium, receiving messages from her late mother and brother from beyond the grave. Skeptical of these communications even though the penmanship was exactly like that of that of the deceased, Thompson grudgingly admitted that there was a supernatural agency at work somewhere. Whether it was good or bad was another matter entirely.17
Elizabeth Whittle, her son Arthur, and their minister William Jackson all professed through Sally to be "happy and in Heaven." Captain Samuel Barron, now recovered, had received similar communications from the spirits of his late wife and daughter. While Thompson staunchly maintained that the Bible was the only "rule of life," she too garnered some comfort from these messages from those lost so suddenly. From the advent of American spiritualism in 1848, its practitioners and advocates had argued that such "wonders" strengthened spiritual beliefs with physical facts. The world of the spirits was, after all, just as real as the material world, as reciprocal communications between the living and the dead (such as spirit writing, rappings, and table tipping) demonstrated. To those mourning friends and relatives, spiritualism offered the comforting conclusion that the soul was immortal. 18
Such comfort was an understandable craving for women who had witnessed the disruption of their entire fabric of life during the summer of 1855. Grace Whittle heard one evening in August that bodies were piling up in Norfolk's potter's field with no one to bury them, and nothing to bury them in; Mary Thompson reported shortly afterwards that a friend, Helen Wilson, had been laid to rest in a dry-goods box with no one but the driver of the hearse to mourn her. Other victims were left "uncoffined" by their families in the Catholic churchyard in Portsmouth, in the hope that they would be interred in consecrated ground. Death, while an undeniable part of life, was nevertheless hard to bear when it came so suddenly and indiscriminately. A reporter for the Richmond Enquirer admitted that the fever did not play favorites and "was confined to no particular locality or class of citizens, all being alike sick and dying." Those who witnessed the epidemic were haunted by its physical horrors and sheer magnitude. A year later, the city was still struggling to recover from what the Common Council called "the blasting effects of the late epidemic." "Houses are tenantless," the members reported candidly in August 1856, "labor is not at demand and the prices of the necessities of life are so high that the greater part of our citizens must find it hard work to keep from debt."19
Racked with fever, victims were often oblivious to their surroundings and unable to communicate their fears and farewells. The death of young Lizzie Barron (at Mary Thompson's abandoned house, separated from her still-healthy siblings) was especially terrible; for twelve hours before she lapsed into a final coma, she screamed in pain "with scarcely any intermission." Elizabeth Whittle was insensible to the fact that her children, including a nursing infant, had been taken away from her for their safety. Anne Herron remained conscious, but was unable to speak during the fourteen hours preceding her death. With such painful and abrupt partings, it was no wonder that Sally Whittle's spirit-writing was embraced as a comfort by those who remained.20
In the face of omnipresent illness and death, these physical and spiritual struggles to hold community and family together undoubtedly took their toll. The faith of women like Grace Whittle was shaken by events which prompted questions, however quiet, about the existence of a loving God. Grace's exposure to the ravages of the epidemic, and the death of her husband in the Civil War ten years later, evidently combined to change her spiritual outlook from one of active hope to one of passive acceptance. A devoted Sunday school teacher in her youth, in middle age Grace had to be prompted by her younger sister Cloe to take her children to church more often. For Grace Whittle and countless other women, the yellow fever epidemic sparked a crisis of faith. Less economically fortunate women struggled on a more basic level to survive in the face of severe deprivation. For some it undoubtedly seemed like the end of the world.21
Like most nineteenth-century women, Grace Whittle cast only the faintest shadow on the historic record. Even among the Whittle family papers, Grace's measured handwriting appears in only one slim journal volume, while that of her sister Cloe (a prolific diarist) fills sixty. Grace Whittle's account of the yellow fever epidemic, however, is a unique document which allows historians to begin two important tasks. Over 140 years after the event, the diary itself provides an extremely personal and detailed account of a period of time, in large part, previously lost. While the diary increases our understanding of the summer of 1855, it also (and perhaps more importantly) enhances our knowledge of one woman's life. Describing a house abandoned by its owners during the fever, Grace was reminded of "the State of Pompeii when first discovered" by archaeologists, with its contents telling a riveting story to the careful observer. She would undoubtedly be surprised that the diary she filled with an account of family life serves a similar purpose for researchers today.
* * * * * *
An account of the Summer of 1855 being the year that our City was so severely visited by the yellow fever 22
Late in June the Steamer Ben Franklin came into the harbor, and was received at the Navy Yard in Gosport; without any notice being taken of the fact that several of the crew had recently died of the yellow fever, the steamer having just come in from the West Indies.23 Many of the workmen at the Yard were taken sick and there were some deaths, the first among our acquaintances was that of Mrs. Barren the wife of the captain on that station.24 Whose remains were brought over the river, a few hours after her death and interred at night by the Rev Mr. Jackson.25 There were now several cases in Norfolk but all were confined to the lower part of the City, and principally to a number of small buildings called Barry's Row, these were set on fire26 the night after Mrs B's funeral when Mr J was spending the evening with us, we went to the front door to see the flames and Mr J expressed the hope that the fever would be stopped by the destruction of these buildings, but this was far from being the case as the disease appeared to gain strength from that time. We now heard continually of persons having left town Sometime the big boats would carry as many as four or five hundred at once far more than they could accommodate. These accounts coming as they did from Servants and ignorant persons we did not know how far to credit them. This being the first week in August the weather was so intensely warm that there was scarcely any visiting though when ever we did meet any of our neighbors the whole conversation was of the state of Portsmouth and the necessity of leaving home. We were told that the cars and boats were no longer willing to take anyone from Norfolk27 and that there was but one way in which we could go by the Coffee28 a small steam boat in which we could reach the eastern shore or stop at any landing on the James River this was not the way we wished to have taken, so that we were in a state of suspense and indecision. Our trunks were however packed and we limited to two, for a party of five fearing that it would be difficult to take even these. Uncle Armstrong29 had been arranging a plan for some days to take his family in the Coffee on Sunday the only day on which he could have the disposal of her to City Point,30 or to Williamsburg. On Saturday night August 11th Father was told by his neighbor Mr. Wilson that there was to be an insurrection of the Servants, they supposing from the fact of the whites only being attacked that it was a judgment sent upon them, and a favorable time for a revolt.31 How true this is I do not know, but those who remained during the whole Summer say that their manner was very insolent during the first part of the fever, but when, they were themselves taken Sick32 and saw some of their companions die (though the number was at all times few as compared to the whites) they changed very much. This situation was very trying, they saw their owners flying from the pestilence which they were left to encounter and left in many cases very hastily and with inadequate provision for their support during the Summer.33 Father did not mention this to us at the time but we had enough to make us uneasy in the report which we heard at night that there were at that time fifteen unburied bodies in potters field which they could get no one to inter. The papers during this time would report one or two cases a day, fearing to alarm to citizens and to drive away trade.34 The next morning when it was still dark, I found Mother35 standing by me, she had come to tell us that Uncle Armstrong had just sent a note to inform us that the Coffee would be at Todd's Wharf36 at seven and urging us to join him. There were many advantages attending his plan he would have only those he knew on board and by taking the boat in out [our] part of town we would avoid passing through the infected districts which was thought very dangerous. But it was not in our power to go with them as we had made no arrangements about the Servants and there was too Short a time to do anything then. We felt a little sad at seeing the opportunity lost to us, and Mother who went to take leave of them called by on her return at the home37 they had left in such haste, everything showed the flight rather than determined departure of the inmates. Their hurried breakfast was just over and the whole house was open as is usual with us at this season, giving one an impression somewhat reminding us of the State of Pompeii when first discovered to have been abandoned in such haste that everything recalled their inmates.38
I was much engaged, yet wished to go to Sunday School,39 not knowing how soon I might leave them all. As I entered there were several teachers gathered in a little group, and I joined them and found they were confessing mutual fear and anxiety for the future. We talked together until Mr. Taylor opened the school although but a few children had come their parents fearing to expose them to the hot sun. I had but one scholar George Male and I tried to impress upon him the duty of seeking that hope which could alone give peace to the mind under such circumstances. Laura Malory40 who had no children set with me and expressed the sadness it gave her to hear of so many leaving town and hoped some would remain to cheer up others. Marian Southgate41 and Mrs Robinson42 were also there. These four I have marked I then saw for the last time, as they fell victim to this fatal scourge. At church there were also very few, and Mr. Walke43 who was preaching for us during Mr. Minnegrode's44 absence in Europe, seemed to feel very solemn in view of the duties before him, his wife who was there and heard his firm language calling upon the congregation to send for him in sickness and that it was his [kind?] desire to do all he could little thought that his life would be spared through all while she should fall. Father and myself walked home by the Academy45 where the Post Office had been removed thinking it more safe for the officers than on Main Street46. Mr. Galt was in church.47 Coming home we met Mrs. Henry Selden who said it was her husbands advice that all who could should leave town as soon as possible.48 Saw also Emeline Allmand in good spirits and laughing about the idea of running away in a little more than five days she had taken ill and died.49 Father saw Judge Baker50 who was anxious to make some kind of arrangements by which our families and those of Mrs. Klein51 and the Allmands could charter some steam boat to leave during the day. This carried him down into the very worst part of the town where he might have taken the fever. On reaching home I found them all ready to start with the trunks packed and Colbert Taylor who was to be of the party in the passage. The scheme was that we should go to New Port's News52 in a small sailing boat belonging to J Grady who had formerly been in Father's employment53 and considering himself under obligation agreed to land us there in time for the Roanoke54 to Richmond which passed there every Sunday and Thursday afternoon at four o'clock it was nearly one and our time was very limited, still Father had not come although the servants were in every direction looking for him. We took some ham and bread, and were very impatient until finally the subject of our solicitude made his appearance. When we mentioned this plan, he agreed to it at once, as the reports of the fever he had received downtown and also the difficulty he found in getting away made him ready to embrace any opportunity that could be presented. The trunks were carried to Drummond's Wharf with difficulty and we found that the tide was too low for the sailing boat to come to the shore we had to be rowed to her in a row boat with scarcely any sides. Chloe55 and myself went out first, standing up and in great danger of falling over every moment; this was the first inconvenience we met with in our flight. Mother and Mary56 came next, then Father and Colly and lastly the two trunks joined us. On the beach stood Aunt Peggy John and Sully57 waving an adieu to us, we felt very sorry to go without them, though Mother had made a very satisfactory arrangement for them during our absence. The evening was beautiful and the wind being in our favor we would at any other time have enjoyed the sail very much; but leaving our home and friends under such circumstances and for such a length of time made us all feel very solemn, and above all the day, the idea of spending Sunday in this way was anything but agreeable and it seemed as if we had no right to expect our undertaking to turn out otherwise than it did. And yet we could scarcely regret it, as the fever every one said was becoming more alarming and rapid in its progress every day, and had we waited until Thursday the next time the Jamestown58 went to Richmond, some one might have by that time felt the power of the destroyer. Never did our town look more lovely as we left it and never did there seem to be less to fear from remaining. The stillness of a Sunday evening in August was upon it, and yet going rapidly through the water as we were, the heat was not felt, so that we could calmly look upon our dear home, devoted as it seemed to be a prey to death. But oh how little did we then think of the terrible scenes that were to take place during the dark months that followed before we saw it again. We saw the ill-fated Ben Franklin which was the instrument of evoking all this woe, and further on at Crainey Island59 lay the Columbia, with its yellow flag still flying,60 which even in May seemed to give warning of the coming doom. As we ascended the James River the sail kept the sun from us, and Mother feeling a little seasick lay upon the cabin with her head resting in Father's lap.61 At last the landing came in sight and we hoped all was right when we understood that the Jamestown was not yet in sight. We were received on shore by the proprietor of the Hotel and having had a red flag put up to give notice that there would be persons to come from the wharf, we sat in the shade of a large quantity of wood, which was piled up in the yard. Here we remained until about five o'clock when hearing that the steamer was in sight, we walked down to the landing, and watched her approach with mingled feelings of hope and fear; but we soon found to our unspeakable disappointment that she would not stop to take us off. As we afterwards learnt the officers had been directed not to take passengers from any wharf near Norfolk. The question then arose, as to what we should do, for that very night at least we must spend where we were. They seemed to be very unwilling to have us stay fearing the yellow fever for though they did not know we were from Norfolk, they expected that was the case, and when we left there the proprietor told Colbert that he had been quite sure of it from the first. But as we were without shelter they consented for us to pass the night with them. Mr. Bennet a farmer living a short distance from the town invited us after a consultation with his wife, to spend the night at his house. Mary and myself went with him, leaving Mother, Father, Colly, and Chloe who were all put up in one room with a curtain between. Mr. B's house was a small one but very prettily situated.62 We found Mrs B, with another lady and a young gentleman, ready to receive us. The tea table was set and everything looked very comfortable except Mrs Bennet who was evidently afraid of us and sat off as far as possible. When tea was over we sat on the porch which was open to the water, giving us a fine view and a delightful breeze, several small boats passed, and among others the Coffee on her return trip, having either landed our friends in safety or bearing them back to the fever and the fear at least if it should prove nothing else of an insurrection which was said to be planned for the night. As she came in sight the twinkling of the cabin lights on the water and the long line of sparks still in view for some moments when the boat herself was out of sight, seemed to give us hopes that there were no sad hearts on board and that we too should also see glad days yet in store for us. All around us they were speaking of the persons who had gone up the river in the morning and of their probable fate but the general impression seemed to be that as they had not stopped to put on shore those from his neighbor's land, they must have landed at City Point. About nine o'clock we heard a boat hailed from New Port News, and as she stopped we concluded that father had made some arrangement to go on the next morning. We were given a little room next [to] the parlor, where every thing looked nice, and reminded us that we were in the country in a great many ways which were all pleasant, and the next morning I was aroused by the voice of an old woman calling the fowls which were being fed on the grass just under our windows. I was interested in watching them, particularly as we did not like to leave our room as it opened in the parlor which our host had occupied as a chamber the night before. We had just taken our seats at the breakfast table, when a messenger came to tell us to join them at NPort as soon as possible to go on board the schooner. I was so impatient to join them that I walked on with the messenger and Mary followed with Mr Bennet. We were in very good spirits, at the prospect of going on, and being most of us perfectly unacquainted with the many disagreeables attending a sailing expedition in a boat of that size particularly, we went on board that bright Monday morning looking forward to reaching Petersburg that evening or the next morning at least. The sails were in just the right position to keep the sun off, and we took our seats on some red stone steps which they were carrying for a church in Petersburg. Mr. Bennet and some of the others came with us [and] shook hands in parting our friend Mr B apologizing for his wife's want of politeness on account of the state of her mind about the sickness in Norfolk, and the extreme fear she felt of meeting with some one from there adding as he took leave of us that he really pitied us, attending to out present situation, a piece of consideration which we considered quite uncalled for, but found to our sorrow, that his pity was well bestowed knowing as he must have done that it might be several days before we would reach our destination, he seemed to feel for us so much that but for his wife's anxiety I think he would have tried to induce us to wait for a better opportunity. We enjoyed the breeze and the view of the Shore on either side, until dinner was announced to be ready, which on descending to the cabin we found to consist of some boiled pork corn bread and some rolls far too heavy with fat to be eatable and tea which had to be stirred with a knife as there was no spoon on board. Every thing however passed off for a joke, even the repu[ta]tion of the same at night. But the berths we found could by no means be used by us, so Father stretched himself on the two trunks which were placed in the middle of the cabin with the carpetbag for a pillow and his great coat to cover with and we lying around him in a sort of bunch running entirely around the cabin which was very small. Tuesday was spent in some way, how I can hardly say, being afraid to sit in the burning sun and frequently made sick by the bilge water so that it was impossible to remain in the cabin. Mary fortunately had a bottle of cologne which was the only thing to revive Mother at all. The sugar gave out which made very little difference as it was extremely bad at first. The ships company were it seemed entirely unacquainted with the proper course, or how to guide the vessel. None of them having ever come up the James river except the pilot who had visited Petersburg twenty one years ago. Such being the case, our course was very slow and Tuesday and Tuesday night we made little or no progress. We were much disappointed not landing at Jamestown63 as a breeze had just sprung past us and the captain though[t] it better not to stop though we were so slow in passing it I am sure we would have had time to go on shore. Wednesday morning we saw an old coloured man in a row boat who was carrying water and musk melons to Petersburg for sale, who we made some purchases of, and he was finally engaged to pilot us to the City he fastened his little boat to ours and came on board. With his assistance we reached Petersburg that evening after two of the most disagreeable nights and three of the longest days I ever remember to have spent. Our old pilot under took to conduct us to the Bolinbrooke Hotel64 which we looked upon as a haven of rest. We were shown to our rooms opposite each other and as comfortable as possible. We took supper again at a table and not standing around the cabin as had been our habit for some days past, and commenced to feel [a] little respectable again, a feeling which I feared would never be mine any longer and I also rejoiced in seeing no more of our tragic cook, and that we had heard the last of the helmsman's favorite air, "Oh you are too sweet for me." The next morning Mother Mary and Father took a walk before breakfast, and we were much afraid of being left as the cars went at an early hour, but they returned in time, and we took the railroad to Lynchburg in the cars a gentleman from Alabama introduced himself to me at first by sundry attentions65 in putting up and down the window near me, and finally by giving me his name on a slip of paper DeGW Vaughan Tuscaloosa Aa.66 He joined us coming from the cars and went with us to the Norval House, which we reached just before dinnertime. In the afternoon Mr Waller and Mr Speed came to see us67 and Mr W walked out with [ ]. Lynchburg is not a pretty place and the streets are very hilly, The next morning Mr Speed Mr Waller and some other gentlemen called and at one o'clock we went down to the cars, where we saw Dr Barraud68 in a very anxious state about Mr B—also saw the Kleins in the cars and traveled with them as far as Bedford's Depot, where we got out and took the stage for Buckanan.69 This stage drive I shall never forget winding as we did around the side of a very high mountain but the scenery was beautiful, particularly as we reached B—just before dark. It is a pretty village lying at the feet of lofty mountains enclosing it on all sides. We found many persons at the Botetourt House70 from Portsmouth who had been there for some time. At night Mr and Mrs Mays called to see Mother and Father and Annie Mays and Mr Whiting to see us.71 There were several other persons we knew there who we expected to see on our return from the Bridge.72 Left our trunks here intending to return the same evening, that is to say Saturday which morning we left B— for the Natural Bridge a beautiful day and all well and looking forward to a delightful visit we had long contemplated. Having read in a late account that the bridge was so situated that it was crossed before you became conscious of it being so near,73 we looked out with great attention but saw nothing to interest us particularly until we stopped before the door of a pretty looking country tavern. Here we left our shawls and everything that we could dispose of and procuring a guide,74 we set out for the Bridge the walk to it was in itself so beautiful, first passing through a wooded path that crossed the top of the mountain under which is the bridge. When we began the descent it was very different as our way led through and around large masses of rock around which there were winding various little streams, which when swollen with the rains of winter must form a succession of cascades extending over a distance of some thirty yards and covering the way we were now taking; on every side, there were the beautiful forest trees of America and mingled with them many varieties of the life everlasting which must always preserve some of the brightness and verdure connected with the spot. When the arch was first in sight we were compelled to give so much attention to our footsteps as to be unable to obtain a perfectly safe standing place to admire the beauty of the scene. The James river over which the bridge passes is sometimes75 very shallow but on the day we visited it, the previous rains had increased it so much that the highest points of the rocks were alone uncovered so that we were able to step from one to another until we reached a ledge of considerable width when looking up we beheld far above us the dark stone vaulting of the arch. The base on either side of us is nearer the middle by several feet than above, the rocks forming seats and natural steps for some distance and no doubt the water acting on them have during the course of years produced many changes so that if General Washington really wrote his name on the spot76 pointed out it may have been a much less disastrous attempt than it would be at the present time. It was with difficulty that we could distinguished the initials as they were at a great distance from us and much worn by time. The rocks (at least below) are so hard that an attempt by one of our party to make an impression upon them with a penknife was almost an entire faillure. This I should think would be still more difficult higher up and the letters are of such a size, that they must have required some time and a much firmer foothold than any as can none discover to cut them. Immediately beneath the bridge are a few trees, growing, but they were small owing I suppose to the want of sun and heat. Although quite a warm day, the coolness was unpleasant and I felt the want of a shawl as a means of enabling me to enjoy the scene to its fullest extent. Alas, for human nature! Through both sides the view is beautiful, mountain and forest combined with the unpretending little stream gliding peacefully on in the sunlight, as if unconscious of man's wonder and awe felt at the sight of the [ ] structure nature has thrown over it, denied to so many mightier and more renowned rivers. Above we could plainly see the spread eagle,77 which is formed of the mould and moss under the upper part of the arch, and it is really very much like our national emblem. We turned away after some time, feeling that though we would willingly remain longer, yet that we had now a new pleasure in store for us, the power to call up a call among our other pictures of memory this of the Natural Bridge of Virginia. I afterwards approached the edge as nearly as I could with safety, and saw the view from above which is entirely different and from the opposite side. My new friend78 asked if I should forget him, and the walk to the bridge we had taken together. The following answer I write in Lexington and though he never saw it, I will give it a place here as being connected with this delightful day.
I will not forget thee, I could not destroy,
The bright threads of memory so woven with joy
So long as the view of that arch I retain,
So long must thine image there engraven remain.
I will think of the help thy ready hand gave,
When each rock that we stepped on was washed by a wave,
And remember thy words which have shown me how some
Two hearts of it beauty could feel but as one.
And oft in the future will recall every scene
As the [ ] pass over the fields they would gleam,
And recalling high hopes and warm wishes will rise,
For him who stood with me beneath those bright skies.
(Here I must say that the above is to be interpreted as a poetical license, for though I often think of the Natural Bridge the attendant circumstances very seldom intrude[)].
The rest of the party having decided it a thing not to bethought of to return to the Botetourt House, and altogether impossible to go back in the same way we came, I found myself disappointed of an idea I had begun to cherish of spending the next day Sunday in this charming spot, for though we would not be able to attend divine service I felt that for myself at least there might be even more solemnity in worship[ing] him in spirit in this temple not made with hands. But a few moments consultation determined us and we were soon rolling over a rocky road in one of those old fashioned stages which are now so fast disappearing. How often during this little excursion were my feelings enlisted first for the safety of our party and then for the poor horses who have far too little time given them to rest and the thought of whose fatigue was sparked many a [ ]. Reached Lexington about seven o'clock that afternoon, and found ourselves installed in two very pleasant rooms, on the lower floor of the McDowell House whose old and much to be respected proprietor,79 paid us very kind attention, as we then thought both in and out of season, Ah how ungrateful we then were for his pressing inquiries whether we would choose ham or beef and how uncalled for we thought his encouraging descriptions of every thing upon the table, but we lived to learn in a few weeks that there were but few McDowells on the road, and often to speak with each other of his white bread and butter, and of his quiet pleasant house. At night I found my way to an upper parlor where I amused myself with the piano, until Col Garnett80 and Major Williamson came in to see us, as we expected to leave on Monday. They fixed upon the next afternoon at four for us to visit the Military Institute.81 In the morning at eleven Miss Williamson came for us to go to church, we sat in her pew and heard a very good sermon. After dinner wrote a letter to Aunt Peggy, who I promised should hear from me as soon as possible. This day we saw the first news from Norfolk, since we had left home and fearful indeed had been the ravages of the destroyer. We met the names of many we knew among the sick, and Dr Sylbistre82 and Emeline Allmand were reported dead with others. From this time the mails brought sadness to our circle and day by day we would watch to hear of this or that friend, the announcement of their sickness generally preceding that of their death but a day or two. In church prayers were offered up for our afflicted City. At four o'clock, we set out though it was still quite warm, called first at Major Williamson's house,83 where we saw the family and remained some-time. On the way to the institute met Frank Smith84 who went over the buildings with us. Admired the order and neatness of everything visited the mess hall which is a distinct building and returned after sundown. Found our friend Mr Poindexter85 there, who staid until tea time. Went to church, and heard my home often spoken of in words of pity alluding to the bad news just received. Found Mr Patton with Mary on my return. The next day our trunks did not arrive, and we began to feel quite uneasy about them. Spent the day in shopping visiting the Daguerrean gallery86 with Mr P had some visitors. Tuesday about three o'clock the long looked for trunks made their appearance and we began to get ready for Rockbridge Alum87 with great pleasure. Left Lexington about five and reached Rockbridge at eight. As we drove up to the hotel, the lights were gleaming from the cabin windows which form a half circle around it. The crowd was very great and we could only procure two very small rooms where Mary and myself in vain looked for someplace to hang our bonnets traveling dresses & on, but seeing nothing of the kind were obliged to lay them in heap upon the floor. Having dressed in the greatest hurry, we were escorted to the ball room which proved to be a small and badly arranged room crowded with persons in every variety of costume. Danced two setts and was very glad to retire to our limited quarters, quite worn out with our journey. Walked down to the springs before breakfast, as it is thought of great Service at this time. The springs are formed from the drippings of an alum rock which seems as if [it] was cut perpendicularly from the side of the mountain. They have a gloomy look, as the rock is dark in coloring and there is a covering over them. There are five different degrees of strength,88 but I got no farther than the first as the taste is extremely bitter. After breakfast played ten-pins, with a number of other persons until it became too warm for such exercise. When we returned to the parlor and made up a party at whist Mary, Mr Patton, a Mr Waddy and myself until the time came for us to dress for dinner.89 Took a delightful walk in the afternoon, and played whist again. Did not go that night to the ball room as it was raining very hard. The next day was much like the first except that we were more successful at the ally, beating a very boastful party who we were informed practiced constantly in a private ally. Played whist with a friend of Mr Patton's Mr Glascoe, also another person whose name I have forgotten. Left rather suddenly at four in the afternoon for the Bath Alum, delightfully accommodated in an extra containing our family and Mr Patton. The road that we passed over was very picturesque, at Milboro we saw Dr Newton90 who was staying there with his family he came to the side of our stage and we talked our Norfolk affairs together, and gave each other the news we had received. Reached the Bath Alum91 that night too late to see much of it, but the houses seemed to be well and comfortably built, though the whole appearance of the place showed that it was only visited by invalids, and these were too few to support the establishment according to the expectations of the builders.
Repaired to the so called ballroom which is a rather large apartment the band consisting of two colored fiddlers whose music I heard afterwards preferred to the White Sulphur band, which was a pair of volantes92 from Baltimore. Found here Mr and Mrs F Robertson93 with their daughter from Norfolk. Mr P introduced a young gentleman to us who we alternately danced with and Mr P until about eleven when we sought our rooms to find some rest before starting the next morning at five. Found in the stage Mrs and Mr Robertson and Olivia also Dr and Miss Taliaferro, who all went on to White Sulphur we remaining at the Warm Springs.94 Enjoyed the delightful prospect from the top of the mountain very much. The sun was just rising, and the clouds below us looked like a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains on all sides. As we had eleven persons inside and out besides the baggage the gentlemen walked and the horses had indeed enough to do as it was. We were shown to a sweet little cottage which made me realize being at the Springs for the first time, staying in the hotel at the Rockbridge Alum was not at all the idea I had formed. Went took breakfast as soon as we could felt sufficiently settled in to attend to any thing where between Mr Patton's being well known to every one and Mr Spangler entertaining a truly Virginian chivalry in assisting ladies, we were well taken care of. We reached the Warm Springs on Friday morning and remained there until the following Monday at the same hour. Sunday morning Mr Patton left us and his friend Mr Glascoe arrived who also staid until Monday. Went to church in the Court House on Sunday morning and heard a sermon from a Methodist minister. In the afternoon attended the Episcopal church which is a very pretty one, not quite finished at that time. I shall ever remember the beautiful scenery, delightful water, and sweet seclusion of this charming spot, as among the many pleasing recollections of the summer.
On entering the stage for the White Sulphur95 we found Mr and Mrs Blaire of Richmond with a baby and nurse96 also Mrs Thompson her son, Mr Poindexter her brother, and her niece Ella Poindexter as our traveling companion. We were not at all acquainted until this time97 but the day's travel made us know each other very well, particularly as Mr P was very talkative from the first and so good natured it was impossible not to like him. Stopped at the Hot Springs98 for breakfast, and the younger portion of our company proceeded to visit the different Springs and bath houses. I was disappointed in the heat it did not appear to me to be much higher than that of the Warm Spring but prehaps it varies in the degree of heat. Returned to our Stage Father Mr Blair and Mr Thompson on top, and we were very anxious about our different friends as a rain came up and horses would become frightened if an umbrella was raised. The baby in the meantime varied the scene by emptying the bottle of milk Mrs Blaire had filled, and crying occasionally to the great grief of Mr B who could only hear its lamentations without knowing whether they were called for or not. But we all took much interest in our Baby as Mother called him and therefore no one was annoyed by the noise or trouble he caused. As evening came on we reached a tavern built on what they call the dry creek a mile or two from the White Sulphur, here they told us it would be impossible to find accommodations at the Springs and predicted we would have to return and stay there this made us all determine, rather to go anywhere else in such a case. Also passed Marstons where John Barraud was sitting on the front porch with his white hat on."99
As they had told us, we learnt that there was no room at the Springs but if we would stay at Marstons for a few days the first vacancy would be for us. This we were obliged to do, after some discussion Mrs Thompson, her niece and Mary and myself were all put in the same room went down to the Spring before night to drink a glass of water. Met Mrs Roland and Mrs Baylor from Norfolk.100 At night it was raining a little but hoping it would stop Mary and myself determined to go to the ballroom. Father Mr P and Mr T accompanied us; found very few there and heard some amusing complaints of the dullness of the ball in general, returned in one of the hardest rains I ever was out in but it only made us laugh the more. Saw Lieut Rich the next morning he came in to see us and promised to bring his guitar and play for us. Father and the other two gentlemen went over to see about rooms, and returned with the good news that Mr Caldwell had immediately given Father a Baltimore cabin for our party. Locked our trunks with the greatest pleasure, and leaving them to follow, we soon reached our cottage which we were delighted with, it was built with five rooms a parlor and four chambers. The last on the Baltimore Row just by a very romantic walk around a mountain at the base of which the Row is situated. It commanded a fine view of the Springs with the different little cabins scattered about in front and farther off the mountains stretched in every direction seeming to enclose and protect the humble cottages which looked so small in comparison. The crowd was so great that for a week or two we dined in the porch where a long table was spread. We soon fell into the regular course of such places, every morning going to the Spring before breakfast then meeting at the reception rooms to talk a short time before taking a game of ten-pins, the ally was not good but we could enjoy seeing how often the balls rolled off when there was no other amusement. Returning by the Spring to drink one or more tumblers according to the [reso]lution at your command a short time to rest when the first dinner bell rang; after dinner a walk and the ball at night completed the day. Mr Thompson and myself enjoyed the walk around the mountain one morning about 2 o'clock, for though it was quite warm.101
1. Grace considered the mosquitoes an annoyance, not a threat. It was not until the research of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Commission was undertaken in 1900-1901 (under the direction of Walter Reed) that a link was established between the Aedes aegypti mosquito and the transmission of yellow fever. "Walter Reed," Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935), 15: 459-461; Conway Whittle to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 13 October 1856, Conway Whittle Family Papers, Swem Library, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia [WFP]; Lawrence W. Brewster, Summer Migrations and Resorts of South Carolina Low-Country Planters (Durham: Duke University Press, 1947), 42; Margaret Humphreys, Yellow Fever and the South (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 5.
2. David R. Goldfield, Urban Growth in the Age of Sectionalism: Virginia, 1847-1861 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977), 154; Report on the Origin of Yellow Fever in Norfolk During the Summer of 1855. Made to City Council, by a Committee of Physicians (Richmond: Ritchie and Dunnavant, 1857), 20-22, 26-28; Betsy Fahlman, Beth N. Rossheim, David W. Steadman, and Peter Stewart, A Tricentennial Celebration: Norfolk 1682-1982 (Norfolk: The Chrysler Museum, 1982), 67; Richmond Enquirer, August 2,1855. A detailed view of Norfolk in 1850 was recorded by George P. Worcester, Civil Engineer, in his "Map of the City of Norfolk with Portsmouth and Gosport," 755.52 1850, Library of Virginia [LVA].
3. Jo Ann Carrigan, "Yellow Fever: Scourge of the South" in Disease and Distinctiveness in the American South, eds. Todd L. Savitt and James Harvey Young (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988), 58-59; Report on the Origin of the Yellow Fever, 40.
4. W. H. Coffin, The Art of Medicine Simplified, or a Treatise on the Nature and Cure of Diseases, for the use of Families and Travelers (Wellsburg, Virginia: W. Barnes and Company, 1853), 94-95; David Holmes Conrad, Memoir of Reverend James Chisolm, A. M., late Rector of St. John's Church, Portsmouth, Virginia, with memoranda of the pestilence which raged in that city during the summer and autumn of 1855 (New York: Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge, 1856), pp. 95, 98; Grace Whittle Diary, 2, WFP; Anne P. B. Herron to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 27 August 1855, WFP; Richmond Enquirer, 5-6 September 1855. During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, half of the city's inhabitants fled; a quarter of those who remained died. Mary E. Stovall, '"To Be, To Do, and To Suffer': Responses to Illness and Death in the Nineteenth-Century Central South," Journal of Mississippi History 52 (1990): 95-109.
5. Report on the Origin of the Yellow Fever, 31, 33-35; Armstrong, Summer of the Pestilence, 20,45; Conway Whittle to Mary W. Neale and Frances M. Lewis, 3 August 1855, WFP; Richmond Enquirer, 2, 8, 13-14 August 1855; Minutes of the Common Council [Norfolk City], No. 8, 1 January 1856; Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, Declarations and Revaluations of Insurance, Policies 177A, 17824, LVA.
6. Sarah Virginia Weight Hinton Diary, 9 August 1855, Swem Library, The College of William and Mary; Richmond Enquirer, 9 August 1855.
7. Memoir of Reverend James Chisolm, 89, 91-107. Chisolm died on 11 September 1855, after remaining in Portsmouth during the epidemic; two of his sons also died. "He, being dead, yet speaketh ": A Discourse on the Death of Rev. James Chisolm, preached by request of the Vestry, December 16, 1855, in St. John's Church, Portsmouth, by Rev. Charles Minnigerode, D. D., Rector of Christ Church, Norfolk, in Memoir of Reverend James Chisolm. Additional Sisters of Charity were sent from Emmetsburg and St. Joseph's, Maryland. Richmond Enquirer, 2, 7, 15 August 1855.
8. Patricia C. Click, The Spirit of the Times: Amusements in Nineteenth-Century Baltimore, Norfolk, and Richmond (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989), 227; U. S. Census, State of Virginia, Slave Schedules, 1850, Norfolk County, National Archives Microfilm Publications (NAMP); Personal Property Tax List, Norfolk City, 1854, LVA.
9. Anne P. B. Herron to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 27 August and 13 September 1855, WFP.
10. Armstrong, Summer of the Pestilence, 54-55, 72. Armstrong argued that blacks had "little to fear" from the fever; Report on the Origin of the Yellow Fever, 38; Carrigan, Yellow Fever: Scourge of the South," 62; Todd L. Savitt, Medicine and Slavery: The Diseases and Health Care of Blacks in Antebellum Virginia (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 241-243; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Norfolk City, 1855, LVA; Anne P. B. Herron to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 27 August 1855, WFP.
11. Minutes of the Common Council [Norfolk City], No. 8, 16 September 1855.
12. Mary Thompson to Mary W. Neale, 7 August 1855, WFP; Richmond Enquirer, 2 August 1855; Click, Spirit of the Times, 14; Peter C. Stewart, The Commercial History of Hampton Roads, Virginia, 1815-1860 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 1967), 220; William S. Forrest, The Great Pestilence in Virginia; being an historical account of the origin, general character, and ravages of the yellow fever in Norfolk and Portsmouth in 1855; together with sketches of some of the victims, incidents, of the scourge, etc. (New York: Derby and Jackson, 1856), 1; George D. Armstrong, A Summer of the Pestilence: A History of the Ravages of the Yellow Fever in Norfolk, Virginia, A.D. 1855 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1856), 190; Conway Whittle to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 3 August 1855, 26 September 1855, WFP; Grace Whittle Diary, 3, WFP; Cedar Grove Cemetery [Norfolk, Virginia], Epitaphs.
13. For another extraordinary diary of an ordinary woman, see Christine Jacobson Carter, ed., The Diary of Dolly Lunt Burge, 1848-1879, in Southern Voices From the Past: Women's Letters, Diaries, and Writings, Carol Bleser, general editor (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1997), xi-xii. Conway Whittle to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 26 November 1855 (where he reported that the family "arrived safely at home Wednesday last"), 13 October 1859, WFP; Grace Whittle Diary, 3-4 and passim, WFP. On October 19, the Richmond Enquirer advised its readers who were planning to return to Norfolk to wait until the first heavy frost. The Whittle family's trek westward can be traced on a "Map of Routes and Distances to the Virginia Springs," included in John J. Moorman's The Virginia Springs: comprising an account of all of the principal mineral springs of Virginia. . . Second Edition. (Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1857).
14. The 1850 Norfolk County census schedule (which encompassed Norfolk City) lists Thompson's age and her husband's occupation, as does William S. Forrest's Norfolk Directory for 1851-1852: containing the names, professions, places of business, and residences of the merchants, traders, manufacturers, mechanics, heads of families, &c, together with a list of the Public Buildings, the names and situation of the Streets, Lanes, and Wharves; and a Register of the Public Officers, Companies, and Associations in the City of Norfolk. Also, information relative to Portsmouth with a Variety of other Useful, Statistical, and Miscellaneous Information (Norfolk, 1851). Mary Thompson to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 28 June 1855; 14 July 1855; 7, 18, 25 August 1855, WFP. The Norfolk County census also lists ages of Imogene Barron and her children; her daughter Lizzie's death was reported to the Bureau of Vital Statistics by the Howard Association on 17 August 1855.
15. Anne P. B. Herron to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 27 August 1855; Norfolk City Register of Deaths, 17 September 1855. The 1850 Norfolk County census schedule lists Herron's age and her brother's occupation: physician. He was a director of the Norfolk Drawbridge Company, along with Conway Whittle, and a solicitor of funds for the Norfolk Humane Association for the Relief and Improvement of the Poor. Norfolk Directory, 95, 97. The 1855 Norfolk Personal Property Tax Lists [LVA] provide the number of slaves Herron owned, among other possessions. For a brief biographical sketch of Herron, see Rogers Dey Whichard, The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1959), 1: 467. Her philanthropic activities are described by Sister Mary Agnes Yeakel in The Nineteenth Century Education Contribution of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul in Virginia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1939), 57-59; among them, St. Vincent DePaul Hospital and Saint Mary's Female Academy and Orphan Asylum, both administered by the Sisters of Charity.
16. Elizabeth Whittle to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 20 August 1855, WFP; Elizabeth Whittle's age and the number of her children is listed in the 1850 Norfolk County census schedule. Her death is listed in William C. Whittle's family Bible, along with their son Arthur's. WFP; Mecklenburg County Personal Property Tax List, 1855 [LVA]; Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, 30 August 1855, 3 September 1855, LVA; Richmond Enquirer, 3 September 1855; Mary Thompson to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 7 September 1855, WFP.
17. Mary Thompson to Frances M. Lewis, 25 February 1856, WFP.
18. For some Whittle family members, spiritualism offered immediate, tangible rewards, while the more traditional comforts of religion (that families would be reunited in heaven in "an unbroken circle") required patience and faith, scarce after the devastation of the summer. Stovall, "To Be, To Do, and To Suffer," 108-109; Jean E. Friedman, The Enclosed Garden: Women and Community in the Evangelical South, 1830-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 5; Mary Bednarowski, "Women in Occult America," in The Occult in America, Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow, eds. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), 179; Howard Kerr, Mediums, and Spirit-Rappers, and Roaring Radicals: Spiritualism in American Literature, 1850-1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974), 3, 5.
19. Grace Whittle Diary, 3. WFP; Mary Thompson to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 9 September 1855, WFP; Helen Wilson, "spinster," died on September 2 from the fever. She lived with the family of William Stark, a captain in the United States Marine Corps, and was likely the sister of his wife Elizabeth. In 1855, Wilson was fifty years old. The Stark family is listed just before the Whittles in the 1850 Norfolk County census schedule; Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA; Conrad, Memoir of Rev. James Chisolm, 91; Richmond Enquirer, 7 August 1855. Minutes of the Common Council [Norfolk City], No. 8, 3 August 1856.
20. Mary Thompson to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 18 August 1855, 7 September 1855, 3 October 1855, WFP.
21. Horace H. Sams, Compiled Confederate Service Record, National Archives and Records Administration; Cedar Grove Cemetery [Norfolk, Virginia], Epitaphs; Cloe Tyler Whittle Greene Diary, 22 May 1865, 5 January 1873, WFP; Richard J. Finneran, ed., The Collected Works of William Butler Yeats. Volume 1: The Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 187.
22. Grace's blank journal was purchased from Vickery and Griffith, "Booksellers, Stationers, and Dealers in Fancy Articles," located at 19 E. Main Street (at the head of Market Square) in Norfolk. In the 1851-1852 city directory, the store advertised schoolbooks, hymnals, Bibles, stationery, and "BLANK BOOKS, embracing every description of Account, Record and Memorandum Books." Norfolk Directory, 81 and, in the City Advertiser section, 6. Grace Whittle's diary is part of the Whittle Family Papers at Swem Library, The College of William and Mary and has been microfilmed as part of American Women's Diaries: Southern Women (New Canaan, Connecticut: Readex Film Products, 1988). Other Whittle papers have been filmed as part of Southern Women and Their Families in the Nineteenth Century: Papers and Diaries. Series C, Holdings of the Earl Gregg Swem Library, The College of William and Mary in Virginia, Miscellaneous Collections, 1773-1938 (Bethesda: University Publications of America, 1994),
23. the Steamer Ben Franklin: The Ben Franklin arrived on 5 June from St. Thomas. Bound for New York, it stopped for repairs in Hampton Roads. American Beacon, 6 June 1855, "Marine News"; Report on the Origin of the Yellow Fever, 20-21; Tommy L. Bogger, Free Blacks in Norfolk, Virginia, 1790-1860: The Darker Side of Freedom (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997), 126.
24. Mrs. Barren the wife of the captain: Imogene Barron, wife of Captain Samuel Barron, commander of the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, where the fever first manifested itself. She was forty-six years old in 1855. The 1850 Norfolk County census lists five children in the Barron household (Samuel, Imogene, Elizabeth H., Virginia, and James, ranging in age from fourteen to one.) Barron died on 8 August, her daughter Lizzie on 17 August. Sarah Hinton noted in her diary on 9 August that Barren's "sad fate" was mentioned in the city newspaper. Mary Thompson wrote to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale about Barron's illness on 7 August, relaying news from Henry Selden, the consulting physician, that her case was proceeding favorably; on 18 August, Thompson reported that Imogene had died ten days earlier and was buried at night, that her husband was ill, that the children were infected and that one child (Lizzie) had already succumbed to the fever. William Jackson noted Imogene's death in his diary on 9 August: "I buried Mrs. B. last night, in the stillness and darkness and gloom of the night, between 10 and 11 o'clock. It was a deeply solemn occasion." George D. Cummins, A Sketch of the Life of the Rev. William Jackson, Late Rector of St. Paul's Church, Norfolk, Virginia (Washington: Gray and Ballantyne, 1856), 85-86; WFP; Lynchburg Daily Virginian, 11 August 1855.
25. Rev Mr. Jackson: William Jackson (1809-1855) had been minister of St. Paul's Church in Norfolk, at the corner of Freemason and Duke Streets, since 1849. He died during the epidemic; in 1856, the General Assembly chartered an organization to provide care for children orphaned by the fever and named it in his honor. Jackson Orphan Asylum, Norfolk, Virginia, Records, 1859-1922, Misc. Reel 806, Accession 30972, LVA; Cummins, Life of the Rev. William Jackson.
26. Barry's Row . . . set on fire: Richmond Enquirer, 13, 15 August 1855.
27. no longer willing to take anyone from Norfolk: Mary Thompson reported to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale on 7 August that, at Old Point Comfort, "the Norfolk boats are not allowed to come to the wharf to land passengers . . . and neither the Baltimore or James River boats come further than this place." Quarantine in Norfolk made it difficult, but not impossible, for residents to flee. (WFP).
28. the Coffee: At the height of the epidemic, the steamer J. E. Coffee met boats from Richmond and Baltimore out in the harbor, to collect deliveries of mail and coffins. The steamer advertised in the 27 June 1855 Southern Argus that it was "a long established and regular line," offering service between Norfolk, Old Point, Hampton, the Eastern Shore, and Mathews, as well as excursion trips. The "popular and well-tried" vessel had just been renovated and an upper deck added for summer travelers. Two steamboat captains were listed in the Norfolk City Bureau of Vital Statistics Death Register for 1855; one was the captain of the Coffee, John Hicks, who died on 22 September at age seventy-five. His daughter Henrietta died on 14 September; both deaths were reported by the Howard Association. Armstrong, Summer of the Pestilence, 102- 103.
29. Uncle Armstrong: U. S. Navy Captain William Armstrong (1799-1861) lived at 120 W. Bute Street with his wife Adelaide Tyler Armstrong (1806-1881), Cloe Tyler Whittle's sister. The three children lost in the scarlet fever epidemic were Rebecca (27 January 1832-9 September 1841), Mary Laura (23 November 1835-11 September 1841), and Joseph M. (16 January 1837-29 September 1841). They are buried with their parents at Norfolk's Cedar Grove cemetery. William Armstrong and Adelaide Tyler were married at Norfolk's Christ Church on 20 August 1827; the 1850 Norfolk County census lists their eight children, ranging in age from two to twenty-two. The Norfolk Directory lists Armstrong as a commander attached to Gosport, 110.
30. City Point: At the convergence of the James and Appomattox Rivers, near Petersburg, City Point was the port of entry for Prince George County and handled trade by water and rail for nearby Petersburg and Richmond. Richard Edwards, Statistical Gazetteer of the State of Virginia, embracing important topographical and historical information from recent and original sources, together with the results of the last census population, in most cases, to 1854 (Richmond: Published for the Proprietor, 1855), 209.
31. Father was told by his neighbor Mr. Wilson: Mr. Wilson may have been Josephus Wilson, a merchant who owned a dry goods store at 37 E. Main Street. Conway Whittle's law office was located at 74 E. Main Street. Norfolk Directory, 82-83; U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, Population Schedules, Norfolk County, NAMP. An insurrection of the Servants: City officials in New Orleans feared a slave plot in June 1853 during that city's yellow fever epidemic; they placed armed patrols on the streets, called out some units of the local militia, and made several arrests. Carrigan, "Yellow Fever: Scourge of the South," 62.
32. they were themselves taken Sick: Many whites believed that blacks were immune to the fever; as a result, they frequently served as grave diggers and even nurses as the epidemic progressed. Blacks of West African descent did possess "an innate defense mechanism" which protected them from the most deadly form of the fever; while they contracted the disease, they rarely died from it. Savitt, Medicine and Slavery, 241-243. Bogger, Free Blacks in Norfolk, 125.
33. they saw their owners flying from the pestilence: As mentioned by Anne P. B. Herron, in a letter to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 27 August 1855, WFP.
34. The papers during this time would report one or two cases a day: The Norfolk Southern Argus dismissed reports of the epidemic for six weeks, although the news had already begun to appear in the Richmond papers. Goldfield, Urban Growth, 153; Report on the Origins of the Yellow Fever, 26.
35. Mother: Grace's mother Cloe Tyler Whittle (1802-1858), daughter of Judge Samuel Tyler and Eliza Bray Tyler. She married Conway Whittle on 19 February 1824.
36. Todd's Wharf: The wharves began at Town Point; "the outward line of the wharves from the extreme end of Town Point to the Draw Bridge," according to the Norfolk Directory, "forms a tolerably regular curve, equal to about one fourteenth of the circumference of a circle," 35.
37. the home they had left in such haste: The Armstrongs lived at 120 West Bute. Norfolk Directory, 44.
38. the State of Pompeii: Located in southern Italy, near Naples, Pompeii was buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Covered by more than twenty feet of volcanic ash, Pompeii was rediscovered in the late 1500s. Archaeological excavations began in 1748. The fate of Pompeii was the subject of a popular novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Last Days of Pompeii, published in 1834. Seymour Kurtz, The World Guide to Antiquities (New York: Crown Publishers, 1975), 255-256.
39. Sunday School: At Christ Church, where her father was a pewholder and vestryman. Christ Church, Vestry Minutes, 1828-1905, Accession 28025, Misc. Reel 473, LVA.
40. Laura Malory: Laura A. Mallory, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of Edward E. Mallory, a Norfolk "gardner" with real estate valued at $6000 in 1850. She died on 31 August 1855; her sisters Eliza (4 September) and Pattie (31 August) also died. Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA. Richmond Enquirer, 4 September 1855; Lynchburg Daily Virginian, 4 September 1855.
41. Marian Southgate: Two Miss Southgates, the daughters of Wright Southgate, a cashier at Norfolk's Exchange Bank and a member of the city's Board of Health, died from the fever: a twenty-nine-year-old on 12 September and a thirty-one-year-old on 3 October. A Southgate slave, twenty-seven-year-old Philip, also died of the fever in September. Wright Southgate had died during the previous winter (31 January 1855) from a heart aliment. Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA; Norfolk Directory, 77, 86.
42. Mrs. Robinson: Frances V. Robinson was the wife of Joseph H. Robinson [or Robertson], lawyer and "register Norfolk city" with an office on City Hall Square and a house at 36 S. Boush Street. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Christ Church. She died on 25 August. Directory, 73; U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, Population Schedules, Norfolk County, NAMP; Christ Church Vestry Minutes; Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA.
43. Mr. Walke: Lewis Walke, minister at Christ Church, whose wife Mary died on 12 September 1855 at age thirty-five. She is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery with a marker stating "she fell a victim to the pestilence faithful unto death a ministering angel to the suffering." In the 1850 Princess Anne County census schedule, the Walkes are listed with their two daughters: Elizabeth S., age five, and Lucy H., age one. A relief committee in Richmond, headed by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, received a letter written on 9 October 1855 from a J. Peterkin concerning Walke. "It has come to my knowledge," he wrote "that the Revd. Lewis Walke, who has faithfully ministered to others during the prevalence of the pestilence in Norfolk, is himself, at this moment, very much straitened & embarrassed for the means of living." Walke, who had been "conferring favors, & not receiving them," was now a widower and "the sole protector of five children." The committee promptly sent Walke fifty dollars, which he returned on 13 October. "While I duly appreciate the kindness of the "Committee,' he replied, "I must at the same time beg permission to return the amount sent in yr. letter. . . I am thankful to be able to say, that during the prevalence of the fever here, I have not suffered from the want of the 'necessaries of comforts of life.'" Secretary of the Commonwealth, Relief Committee Records [Yellow Fever Sufferers], LVA.
44. Mr. Minnegrode: Minnegrode was the pastor of Christ Church, but was traveling abroad (in Germany) during the summer of 1855 and had been replaced by Lewis Walke. According to Sarah Hinton's diary, he left Norfolk the week of 1 July to visit his mother.
45. Father and myself walked home by the Academy: Norfolk Military Academy, which in 1851-1852 had a corps of eighty cadets. The Whittles lived at No. 20 Boush Street. Norfolk Directory. 91, 92; American Insurance Company policy, WFP.
46. the Post Office had been removed: The Post Office was located at the corner of Main and Commerce Streets. Mary Thompson mentions its move to the Academy, where the atmosphere was thought to be safer, in a letter written to Mary W. Neale from Charlottesville on 3 October 1855, WFP.
47. Mr. Galt: Alexander Galt, Norfolk's postmaster, who lived at 80 W. Bute Street. He died on 22 September. Norfolk Directory, 56, 89; Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA.
48. Mrs. Henry Selden: Mary Selden's husband Henry was a physician and was the family doctor of William C. and Elizabeth Whittle. He died on 2 October; Mary died on 7 September. Also listed in the Norfolk City Bureau of Vital Statistics deaths are Elizabeth Selden (7 September), Susan Selden (18 September), and a Miss Selden (21 September). William B. Sinclair to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, n.d., WFP.
49. Emeline Allmand: Emeline Allmand is listed on the 1850 Norfolk County census schedule, age twenty-three, daughter of John Allmand, a merchant. She died on 19 August 1855; a Mrs. Allmand died 6 September. Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA.
50. Judge Baker: His office was at 46 W. Main and his house at 34 S. Boush. The 1850 Norfolk County census schedule lists Richard H. Baker as a "Judge of Court," age sixty; he was judge of the Circuit Court of the City of Norfolk. Norfolk Directory, 44, 87.
51. Mrs. Klein: Possibly Esther Klein, age fifty-eight A widow, she is listed in the 1850 Norfolk County census schedule with Mary B., Susan S., and Annie F. Klein, and lived at 33 S. Duke Street. Norfolk Directory, 64.
52. Colbert Taylor: Possibly Colvert [Calvert?] Taylor, age fifteen, son of John C. C. Taylor, a Norfolk merchant who lived on Granby Street and was president of the city's Aid Fire Company. U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, Population Schedules, Norfolk County, NAMP. In this first mention, Taylor's first name is somewhat unclear; Grace later calls him "Colly." Norfolk Directory, 79, 94. New Port's News: At the time, the area in Warwick County was called "Newport's News." It was not established as a town until 1880. Norfolk Directory, 105.
53. Father: Conway Whittle (1800-1881) was a Norfolk lawyer, collector of customs, and a director of the Dismal Swamp Canal Company and Norfolk Drawbridge Company. Norfolk Directory, 95.
54. the Roanoke: a 1100-ton, double-beam engine steamship operated by the New York and Virginia Steamship Company from New York to Norfolk to Richmond. Stewart, Commercial History of Hampton Roads, 201; John H. Morrison, History of American Steam Navigation (New York: Stephen Day Press, 1958), 462-463.
55. Chloe: Grace's sister. Cloe Tyler Whittle Greene (1843-1924).
56. Mary: Grace's sister, Mary Eliza Whittle Sams (1830-1902).
57. Aunt Peggy John and Sully: Unidentified; Grace later wrote to Aunt Peggy from Lexington. Since Cloe Whittle made arrangements for them to remain in Norfolk, it is possible that they were servants.
58. the Jamestown: a 1100-ton, double-beam engine steamship owned by the New York and Virginia Steamship Company and operated from New York to Norfolk to Richmond. It was advertised in the American Beacon on 7 April 1855 (along with the Roanoke) as a "large and commodious Double Engine Side Wheel Steamship." Stewart, Commercial History, 201; Morrison, American Steam Navigation, 462-463.
59. Crainey Island: Craney Island is located across the Elizabeth River, on the Portsmouth side.
60. the Columbia, with its yellow flag still flying: As a sign of quarantine. City ordinance required a quarantined vessel to hoist an oblong yellow flag at her "fore top-mast head." Such vessels were detained at the Quarantine Ground, located on "any convenient part of the river below Fort Norfolk." The U. S. frigate Columbia had arrived in Norfolk in March 1855 from St. Thomas with fever among the crew, and was quarantined. The Revised Ordinances of the Borough of Norfolk (1852), 85, 87; The Ordinances of the Borough of Norfolk (1875), 56; Report on the Origin of the Yellow Fever, 22.
61. Mother feeling a little seasick: Cloe Whittle had lost three daughters in infancy by 1843, when her third surviving daughter was born; a son, Conway Whittle Jr., was born on 5 October 1846, when Cloe was forty-four years old, but lived only a month. After surviving at least seven full-term pregnancies (as well as scarlet and yellow fever epidemics), she died in June 1858. Her son is buried with her. Cedar Grove Cemetery [Norfolk, Virginia], Epitaphs; Antoinette Gray VanZelm, "Cloe Tyler Whittle: Religion, Gender, and Identity in Norfolk, Virginia, 1865-1876" (M. A., The College of William and Mary, 1992), 15; Grace Whittle to Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale, 27 June 1858, WFP.
62. Mr. B 's house: A search of the Virginia census and personal property tax records for Elizabeth City and Warwick counties produced only one Mr. Bennett: Robert E., who was not a farmer but a master carpenter living in Hampton with his wife Henrietta and son (also a carpenter), along with a clerk and an apprentice.
63. Jamestown: Writing in 1853, Forrest mentioned that only a graveyard and a portion of the church steeple remained at Jamestown; an 1855 gazetteer lamented that, at Jamestown, "nothing now remains but a few ruins." William S. Forrest, Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity, including Portsmouth and the adjacent counties, during a period of two hundred years (Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1853), 476. Statistical Gazetteer of the State of Virginia, 211.
64. Bolinbrooke Hotel: Petersburg's Bollingbrook Hotel was "situated in the centre of the business portion of the City," according to an advertisement placed by its proprietor, James S. Gilliam, in the 1855 Statistical Gazetteer, 170. The Bollingbrook was especially convenient, since "OMNIBUSES AND PORTERS Will be in waiting at the different Railroad Stations and Steamers, to convey passengers to this Hotel."
65. sundry attentions: The Whittle sisters evidently suffered from no shortage of suitors. On 18 October 1860, Grace married Horace Hann Sams (1829-1865), a South Carolina planter and attorney at her Norfolk home. Performing the ceremony was Horace's brother J. Julius Sams, who had married Grace's sister Mary in February 1859; the bride wore white silk and carried clematis. The couple had two children, Fannie Fortescue (1861-1936) and Conway Whittle (1864-1935). Grace praised him in a letter written to her aunts Frances M. Lewis and Mary W. Neale on 23 February 1860: "I hope you will like Horace for his sake more than for mine, he is so intelligent and gentlemanly." A poem he wrote her after four years of marriage, "We Live and Love," survives on the back of a letter Cloe wrote to Grace on 17 February 1865. Horace died of typhoid fever on 22 May 1865, after serving as a captain in the 11th Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers. Grace never remarried. Bureau of Vital Statistics Marriages, Norfolk City, LVA. Cloe Tyler Whittle Greene Diary, 18 October 1861,22 May 1865. South Carolina Historical Magazine 64: 110-111.
66. De GW Vaughan Tuscaloosa Aa: Possibly George W. Vaughan, listed on the 1850 Alabama census as a nineteen-year-old student living in Tuscaloosa on his father's plantation. By 1855, he would have been a year older than Grace. Adjusting the window on a train was practical as well as chivalrous; railroad cars were often hot and stuffy, with poor ventilation. An open window could let in refreshing air, but also could subject passengers to cinders, dust, and fumes. Eugene Alvarez, Travel on Southern Antebellum Railroads, 1828-1860 (University: University of Alabama Press, 1974), 57.
67. Norval House: formerly the Franklin Hotel, located on Main Street in Lynchburg. Its proprietors, William Moore and Mark Anthony Jr., kept an "omnibus always in residence to convey passengers to and from the Railroad and Packet Boats" nearby. Lynchburg Daily Virginian, 8 August 1855. Mr. Waller and Mr. Speed: John M. Speed (1815-1866) was a prominent Lynchburg lawyer. Young Mary S. Waller, born circa 1846, is listed with Speed and his wife Catherine in the 1850 and 1860 Campbell County census. Waller married South Carolina merchant L. G. Young in April 1867, at age nineteen. The records show her father's name (William), but not her mother's. While the relationship is unknown, the Speed family was evidently connected, by either friendship or family ties, to that of the Wallers. Asbury Christian, Lynchburg and its People (Lynchburg: J. P. Bell, 1900), 253; Lynchburg Marriage Register, 1853-1881, No. 2, 42; Bureau of Vital Statistics Marriages, Lynchburg, LVA.
68. Dr Barraud: Dr. Daniel Barraud, age sixty-five, who lived at 18 S. Granby Street in Norfolk. Norfolk Directory, 45; U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, Population Schedules, Norfolk County, NAMP.
69. Buckanan: Several stage lines left Bedford for points west. Located about fifty miles from Lynchburg, Buchanan is described in the 1855 Statistical Gazetteer, 189, as being 120 miles west-southwest of Richmond on the James River. Lynchburg was a major railroad hub, with a population of about 14,000 in 1854. Statistical Gazetteer, 299; W. Harrison Daniel, Bedford County, Virginia, 1840-1860: the History of an Upper Piedmont County in the Late Antebellum Era (Richmond: W. Harrison Daniel, 1985), 91.
70. Botetourt House: Possibly the hotel, or "ordinary," run by Samuel Darst in Buchanan. U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, Population Schedules, Botetourt County, NAMP; Auditor of Public Accounts, License Returns [Entry 454], Botetourt County, 1855 (LVA).
71. Mr and Mrs Mays called to see Mother and Father and Annie Mays and Mr Whiting to see us: Mary Thompson was critical of the Whittle daughters' penchant for visiting; writing to Mary Neale from Charlottesville on 3 October 1855, she chirped that they were "walking and visiting daily and I might say hourly," WFP.
72. The Bridge: Picturesque Natural Bridge was "an object of great attraction" for visitors. Fourteen miles from Lexington, the Bridge was popular despite the "difficulties of mud and mire, rut and rock, hill and hollow" regularly reported by travelers. Analysis of the Rockbridge Alum Springs, in Virginia; with some account of their history, and the properties of the water, in letters of eminent physicians and other gentlemen. . . (Richmond: C. H. Wynne), 3; Peregrine Prolix, Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs, the Roads Leading Thereto, and the Doings Therat (New York, 1844), 148.
73. it was crossed before you became conscious of it being so near: Grace may have been reading Prolix's Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs, 150, which advised visitors to Natural Bridge that "you may cross it in a coach without being aware of the interesting pass."
74. a guide: Prolix also had a guide at the Bridge, since the path was winding and rocky and the chasm down to Cedar Creek was deep (148-149).
75. the James river over which the bridge passes: Cedar Creek is a tributary of the James River.
76. if General Washington really wrote his name on the spot: George Washington was believed to have carved his initials under the arch of the bridge, thirty feet above the creek. While Curtis Carroll Davis, in "The First Climber of the Natural Bridge: A Minor American Epic," Journal of Southern History XVI (August 1950): 280-281, wrote that this tradition is not supported by any historical evidence—and Douglas Southall Freeman agreed—the legend endures. The Natural Bridge Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution unveiled a marker at the Bridge to the memory of George Washington (its supposed surveyor) and Thomas Jefferson (its owner) on 5 July 1926. The Story of the Natural Bridge, from an address delivered by Rev. Churchill J. Gibson, D. D., Rector of Robert E. Lee Memorial Church, Lexington, Va.,, on the occasion of the unveiling of the marker to the memory of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. . . (Lexington, 1926).
77. the spread eagle: Mary Jane Boggs, who traveled to Natural Bridge on 16 June 1851, also saw the eagle; it is also mentioned (along with a lion's head and the "heroic countenance of Washington") as a shape to look for on the bridge's arch by Edward A. Pollard in The Virginia Tourist. Sketches of the Springs and Mountains of Virginia: containing an exposition of fields for the tourist in Virginia; natural beauties and wonders of the state; also accounts of its mineral springs; and a medical guide to the use of the waters, etc. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1871), 54. Andrew Buni, ed., "Rambles Among the Virginia Mountains: The Journal of Mary Jane Boggs, June 1851," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 77 (1969): 78-111.
78. My new friend: Evidently Mr. Vaughan, who traveled with the Whittles for[a] time.
79. McDowell House: Robert M. McDowell was the proprietor of the McDowell House, which was purchased by William A. Mann and renamed the Lexington House. Mann vowed to maintain the hotel's reputation as a "first class Public House" and promised that "persons desiring to spend the Summer in the mountains, cannot find a more desirable retreat." He advertised the improved establishment—with parlors, a reading room with newspapers and periodicals, and well-stocked bar—in the 22 May 1856 Lexington Gazette (LVA).
80. Col Garnett: Possibly Colonel William Garnett, collector and depositary of the customs for Norfolk, who lived at 81 W. Main Street. He was also a trustee for the city's Lancasterian School. Norfolk Directory, 56, 93.
81. the Military Institute: Virginia Military Institute, in nearby Lexington, a state-supported military college founded in 1839. A rebuilding project a few years earlier had produced new barracks (lit with gas jets) and improvements to the mess hall. Thomas J. Jackson had joined the faculty in 1851, as Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Instructor in Artillery Tactics. The "Lexington Cadets and Officers" were aware of the situation in Norfolk, and contributed to the founding of the Portsmouth Orphan Asylum. William Couper, One Hundred Years at V. M. I. (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1939), I: 213-246,256. Report of the Portsmouth Relief Association to the contributors of the find for the relief of Portsmouth, Virginia, during the prevalence of the yellow fever in that town in 1855, together with a sketch of the fever, etc., etc. (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1856), 200; Statistical Gazetteer, 291.
82. Dr Sylbistre: Dr. Richard William Silvester, whose office was at 20 W. Main Street and who lived at 7 South Granby Street. Silvester was a consulting physician at the city's Infirmary for Slaves on Valentine's Lane and a magistrate for Norfolk County. He died of the fever on 16 August. Norfolk Directory, 76, 93,107, City Advertiser, 17; Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA; Robert Archer, Archer and Silvester families; a history written in 1870, by Robert Archer, with notes by E. L. Goodwin, a grandson (Richmond: William Byrd Press, 1937), 28. A Mr. Silvester also died of the fever-likely to be William H. Silvester, an 1853 V. M. I. , graduate listed in the alumni Roster as a casualty of the epidemic. His relationship to Norfolk's Dr. Silvester is unclear. Roster, 14.
83. Major Williamson's house: Probably Thomas H, Williamson, of Norfolk, who was appointed Instructor of Tactics and Drawing at Virginia Military Institute, later served as treasurer and librarian, and was commissioned a brigadier general in 1877. One Hundred Years, I: 86-87, 133, 295; II: 354-355. According to the 1850 Rockbridge County census, he and his wife Louisa had five children.
84. Frank Smith: Possibly Francis (Frank) W. Smith, who graduated from V. M. I. , in 1856. Smith had been quartermaster of the cadet corps at Norfolk Military Academy in 1851-1852. One Hundred Years, I: 353-356; Roster of Graduates, 15; Norfolk Directory, 92.
85. Mr Poindexter: Possibly Lieutenant Carter B. Poindexter. United States Navy. Norfolk Directory, 72.
86. the Daguerreun gallery: Daguerreian galleries were popular attractions; J. W. Watson's, in Richmond, invited visitors "to call and examine a fine collection of specimens, whether they may wish pictures or not." Richmond's M. P. Simons gallery kept a piano for the use of visiting ladies, who often frequented galleries looking for pictures of acquaintances. In addition to taking pictures, the galleries also sold lockets, pins, frames, and cases for holding portraits. The 1855 Statistical Gazetteer listed galleries in Alexandria, Lynchburg, Petersburg, Richmond, and Wheeling (104, 142, 194, 216, 242, 252, 380).
87. Rockbridga Alum: Rockbridge Alum Springs were situated on the main turnpike road between Lexington and Warm Springs. Moorman, The Virginia Springs with their Analysis; and some remarks on their character, together with a directory for the use of the White Sulphur Water. . . (Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847), map.
88. There are five different degrees of strength: There were five fountains of spring water under slate arches at Rockbridge Alum. Edward A. Pollard, The Virginia Tourist: Sketches of the Springs and Mountains of Virginia: Containing an Exposition of Fields for the Tourist in Virginia; Natural Beauties and Wonders of the State; also Accounts of its Mineral Springs; and a Medical Guide to the Use of the Waters, etc., etc. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1871), 190.
89. a Mr Waddy: Mr. Waddy may have been John R. Waddy, who was listed in the 1850 Rockbridge County census as a seventeen-year-old V. M. I. cadet. He graduated in 1853. Rosier of Graduates of the Virginia Military Institute, World War Edition, 1842-1919 (Lexington: V. M. I. , 1920), 14. made up a party at whist: Bowling and card games were two popular pursuits at the springs. Whist is played with four persons, "two sides of two partners each," with a full deck of fifty-two cards equally distributed. An elaborate system of points, leads, etiquette, tricks, and trumps was outlined for players in such books as diaries E. Coffin's The Gist of Whist, being a concise guide to the modern scientific game, embracing, the improved method of American leads and a complete glossary of the common and technical terms, to which is added the taws of whist and duplicate whist, as revised at the last American Whist Congress (New York: Bretano's, 1895), 8.
90. delightfully accommodated in an extra: a mode of conveyance also mentioned by diarist Jane Caroline North on 28 September 1851: "We have taken an extra with the Whittles to go on to Winchester tomorrow." Michael O'Brien, editor, An Evening When Alone: Four Journals of Single Women in the South, 1827-67 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 179. Dr Newton: Dr. Thomas Newton, 78 W. Bute Street. Milboro was likely Millborough Springs, a "post village'' in Bath County with medicinal springs nearby. Norfolk Directory, 69: Statistical Gazetteer, 313.
91. the Bath Alum: Life at the springs could be expensive. In 1852, Bath Alum cost about $1.75 a day, or $9 a week. Extra charges were levied for bowling, sulphur sodas, breakfast, and livery. In August 1852, Jacob Bear and his wife ran up a bill of $172: $72 for four weeks board for themselves, $34 for their two children; $34 for their two servants; and $28 for their two horses. Bath Alum Springs Account Book, Swem Library, The College of William and Mary.
92. a pair of volantes: Literally, moving with great rapidity, a term used as a direction in music. Evidently these violinists were especially adept.
93. Mr and Mrs F Robertson with their daughter from Norfolk: Francis O. Robertson, a merchant who lived at 8 S. Boush Street with his wife Caroline and daughter Frances Olivia, who was sixteen years old in 1855. Robertson was also a member of the Common Council. Norfolk Directory, 73, 85; U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850,1860, Population Schedules, Norfolk County, NAMP.
94. Dr and Miss Taliaferro: Probably Dr. Richard M. Taliaferro of Franklin County, whose daughter Celestia A. was twenty-three years old in 1855—the same age as Grace. The Warm Springs: a resort recommended in the Statistical Gazetteer, 401, as "one of the most attractive watering-places in the State," with a balmy water temperature of ninety-eight degrees.
95. the White Sulphur: White Sulphur was like "a well laid out little town," with gravel walks, rows of cabins, and a dining room. An elegant ballroom with an orchestra (or "Baltimore band") was open every evening for dancing. Mark Pencil, The White Sulphur Papers, or Life at the Springs of Western Virginia (New York: Samuel Coleman, 1839), 24, 30; Moorman, The Virginia Springs: Comprising an account of all the principal mineral springs of Virginia, with remarks on the nature and medical applicability of each. Second edition (Richmond: J. W. Randolph, 1855), with a map showing the ballroom, "Ten Pin Alley," and Baltimore Row. Other groups of cottages were largely named for southern states (Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana). Some of the most distinguished guests at the Springs stayed in Baltimore Row, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Chester A. Arthur. Aubin Aydelotte McDowell, White Sulphur Springs as Known in History and Tradition (Washington, D. C.: W. F. Roberts Company, 1909), p. 12 and plate between pp. 18-19.
96. Mr and Mrs Blaire of Richmond with a baby and nurse: Possibly John D. and Lucy F. Blair of Richmond, whose son John Harvie was born on July 29, 1853. According to the census, Blair was a merchant (1850) and tobacconist (1860). All five of the Blair children appear to survive from 1850 to 1860. U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, 1860, Population Schedules, Henrico County, NAMP; Bureau of Vital Statistics Births, Richmond City, LVA.
97. We were not all acquainted until this time: While Grace entered the names of Norfolk residents that she met on the road, she also noted new acquaintances, like these. Evidently, these are not the Thompsons from Norfolk.
98. the Hot Springs: considered by travelers to be "remarkable for the salubrity of its climate and for the charming character of its scenery." Several bathing houses had been built there to take advantage of springs ranging in temperature from 98 to 106 degrees. Statistical Gazetteer, 271.
99. John Barraud: John T. Barraud was the son of Dr. Daniel Barraud (see note 68). He was twenty-nine years old in 1855; the 1850 Norfolk County census schedule lists his occupation as "Midshipman, U.S. N."
100. Mrs Baylor from Norfolk: Probably Elizabeth Baylor, wife of Dr. R. Baynham Baylor. U. S. Census, State of Virginia, 1850, Population Schedules, Norfolk County, NAMP; Norfolk Directory, 45. The only other woman in Norfolk with the surname Baylor was Catherine, a teacher, who died during the epidemic. Bureau of Vital Statistics Deaths, Norfolk City, LVA.
101. The diary ends abruptly here, at the end of a page and mid-sentence. Over twenty poems are appended in Grace's hand. Some were written for family members (including her sisters and mother), while others were on more general religious themes, such as faith, hope, and heaven. Others addressed her widowhood: "A Soldier's Farewell to His Wife," "Solitude," "Blessed are They that Mourn," and "To Horace." Since Grace lived through the yellow fever epidemic, only to have her husband die of typhoid fever, the stanzas of her "Song" are especially poignant:
No; not alone,
Tossing with fever on a bed of pain,
Our household's idol lay,
Her little voice is heard again,
"Oh do not go away."
On 22 May 1865, Horace died far from his family, in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was thirty-six years old. Grace returned to Norfolk with her two young children soon afterwards; Horace's body evidently did not arrive in the city until 16 May 1866, when Mary and J. Julius Sams brought it by boat. "The body of our dear Horace" was interred immediately at Cedar Grove, the grave marked with a cross of white flowers and a stone reading "Behold the perfect man and mark the upright for the end of that man is peace." Grace's will left an image of a widow after the war—perhaps a copy of William Dickinson Washington's Burial of Latane—to her sister Mary. Will (revoked) of Grace Sams, 3 December 1897, WFP; Cedar Grove Cemetery [Norfolk, Virginia], Epitaphs; Cloe Tyler Whittle Greene Diary, 22 May 1865; 27 May 1865; 12 June 1866, WFP.
A Sermon Delivered in the
Court St. Baptist Church, Portsmouth, VA.,
on Sabbath Morning, Dec. 30, 1855,
Commemorative of Twenty-eight Members of
Old Dominion Lodge, No. V,
Who Died During the Late Epidemic
Isaac W. K. Handy,
Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church,
and Member of the Order.
Published by Request of the Lodge
Portsmouth: Printed at the Daily Transcript Office.
1856.This information has been made available by local Portsmouth historian
Margaret Windley who xeroxed this from an original in the Library of Virginia
Historical Society in Richmond, VA.
SERMONText.—Come and see the works of God:—He is terrible
in His doing toward the children of men.—Psalm LXVI.5
There is something, even in the most familiar title of the Deity, calculated to inspire every human intelligence with awe. He is God—the God of Heaven and of Earth,—the infinite, eternal, incomprehensible God—God, the creator—God, the upholder—God, ''in whose hand, is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind." If men are not sensibly, and deeply impressed, even at the very mention of this the most common—the "every day" appellative of Jehovah, it is because they are inconsiderate, and have no apprehension of that august Being, who "slumbereth not, nor sleepeth," and whose all-pervading eye is ever upon them, as well in the darkness, as in the light. There are those, however, who can never make mention of His name, without the deepest emotions of awe. Thus it was with that eminent scholar and philosopher, Sir Robert Boyle. It is said of that truly great man:—"He entertained so profound a veneration for the Deity, that the very name of God, was never mentioned by him, without a pause, and a visible stop, in his discourse."—In this he was so exact, that an intimate acquaintance who had known him for forty years, could not remember, that he had failed in it, in a single instance.
God is the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever. Yet, immutable as He is, and ever presenting the same glorious array of perfections, which it is the bounden duty of all intelligencies to study, and as far as possible to know—nevertheless, the depths of His infinite mind have never yet been fathomed; and no being, on earth or in Heaven, has ever been able wholly, to comprehend Him. Such knowledge is too wonderful, even for the most exalted ones:—"Canst thou by searching, find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty, to perfection? It is as high as Heaven; what canst thou do?—deeper than Hell; what canst thou know?—The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.''
Such then, is Jehovah, He is a God of mystery! "Clouds and darkness are round about him"—He does not choose to be known. Just and righteous as He is, in all His ways, He nevertheless prefers to hide Himself from the scrutiny of men;—" Verily, thou art a God that hideth thyself."
His very existence is a mystery. He is uncreated and eternal. This great truth is admitted; but who can understand it? Not one!
So too, the designs of God are involved in mystery. We know, indeed, that, "for His own glory, all things are, and were created;" but who can understand the minute and intricate workings of His great plan? Occasionally, we may catch a glimpse of some separate movement of His hand, and by a careful and suitable watching of His peculiar providences, we may understand the bearings of individual events; but for the most part, we must confess our ignorance of what God intends. Clear enough, indeed, become the operations of His powerful hand, when any subordinate design has been matured; but who, I repeat it, can predict with accuracy, the connections and result; of the world's progress, as they bear each day, even upon the revelations of inspired and unerring prophecy?—"For who hath known the mind of the Lord; or who hath been his counselor?"
God is not less mysterious in His works, than He is as to His existence and designs. He "doeth great things and unsearchable; marvelous things without number." This testimony of Job is equally declarative of the strangeness, as of the magnitude of His works. His hand is a mighty hand, weighing the very mountains as in a balance; but even at this, we are not so much amazed, as we often are at those doings of His sovereignty, which so palpably contradict our finite notions of His justice and honor. How often are individuals startled, at results which can only be traced to the Divine interposition; and yet, which in their short-sightedness, would blot, the fair escutcheon of Jehovah's purity! How often, indeed, are whole communities aroused, in terror, to realize some devastating woe, sent by His terrible Majesty, to overwhelm and destroy them! Are these the tender mercies of that benevolent God, to whom we sing:—"O give to every human heart,
To taste and feel, how good thou art;
With grateful love, and holy fear
To know how blest thy children are?"'—
It is even so!—"He is a mighty God, and terrible;"—"for the Lord Most High is terrible; He is a great king over all the earth." It is to this strange feature of the Divine character, that your attention is called this day; and in order that the subject may be fairly before us, I would say to this congregation, in the language of the Psalmist, and of the text:—"Come and see the works of God: He is terrible in His doing towards the children of men."
The DOCTRINE presented for your consideration, is this:—The dispensations of God towards the children of men, sometimes of the most awful and terrific character.
It is not always so. Ordinarily, the dealings of God with the race of man are exceedingly bland, and benignant. He is a bountiful benefactor, supplying all their wants. "He maketh His sun to shine, on the just, and on the unjust. He causeth grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.'' Amid the calamities of life, he is a true and constant friend, offering comfort to the distressed, and binding up the broken heart. He stands by the couch of the fevered sufferer; relieves his pain; strengthens his wasting frame; and redeems his life from destruction. Or, if, in the allotment of His watchful and unerring providence, an earthly career is about to terminate, He deserts not His faithful servant, in this the last trying hour; but encouraging him with that precious promise—"When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee,"—the dying saint is enabled, confidently, to recline upon the arm of his God, and without a regret or a tear, he calmly, but triumphantly exclaims: "O, death! where is thy sting? O, grave! where is thy victory?"
But the great Jehovah chooses sometimes to deviate from this His course of smiles and of love. Anon, He rouses Himself in his anger, and in the infinitude of His might, presents Himself before the astonished gaze of the world, as a God "fearful in praises doing wonders."
In illustrating this doctrine, it is important to notice—
I. THE FACT. We should contemplate things as they are.—However interesting it may be, to dwell upon those attributes and works of the Deity, which so evidently present Him before an admiring world, as a God of consummate love; it will not do to shut our eyes to that other aspect of his character, which is calculated to inspire us, with emotions of awe, and by which we are brought, to realize our own insignificance, and to regard this earth itself, ''as the small dust of the balance."
It is not my purpose, at present, to refer to those varied calamities, occurring in every ago of the world; under any circumstances of life; and signalizing individuals of the race. The ten thousand ills, to which flesh is heir, are all, doubtless, under the control of Providence; and the permission, or designation of these, may afford a suitable theme for meditation and enquiry; but such we pass. The text invites us, to contemplate those strange exhibitions of His tremendous power, by which, not simply isolated individuals, but whole families, communities, and nations are involved in desolation; or swept away, as by the besom of ruin.
1. Look, for example, at the destructive inundation!—Thriving, and industrious neighborhoods are pursuing the arts of life. A thousand beautiful farms open along the fertile shores of some gay stream of the West. A genial sun, and growing showers, bring joy and gladness to the heart of the husbandman. The bluff, and luxuriant crops, wave gracefully, before the passing breeze. The prospect speaks of abundance and comfort. But, what a change may come over this scene, in a few short hours! Suddenly, that rippling stream begins to rise—inch by inch, it moves upward, and along the crumbling banks. The swollen and turbid waters dash furiously onward. The work of destruction has commenced. Every sluice experiences the effect of the tide. The back-water has gone, far up the ravines. The moving surges sweep the drift wood from the bottoms. The axe-man rushes, to the scene of his toil—he would save his carefully piled cords; but already they have tumbled; and away they glide, into the rolling deep.— And now, those inexorable waters strike the fond hopes of the husbandman. His enclosures are tottering—thousands of logs float, irrecoverably, amid the drift, and lost fuel. The waving corn is seen no more; for the flood sweeps far above its highest tops. But, will this scene of destruction continue? Alas! it is but the beginning of sorrows. All is dismay. The very animals of the field, and of the stall, are alarmed; and rushing wildly, to the neighboring summits, bleat forth their cries of distress. The swelling tide, now, rolls into every crevice of the settler's cabin. Peradventure, he may yet escape, with his wife and babes. But it may be, that the fearful "rise" has occurred in the night; and then, how terrible the ruin!—The very cabin is lifted from its foundations. Perchance, it may float buoyantly along, until it reaches some place of safe deposit. But, not infrequently, timbers have been separated; females have been borne upon their beds, on the bosom of the waters; infants have been carried away in their cradles; parents and children have been have been sundered, in the general wreck; many valuable lives have been lost; and long after the devastating flood has ceased its wasting plunder, thousands have been left to .suffer, and to starve.
Such is but a faint picture, of what has often occurred, in the valley of the Mississippi. There have been frequent inundations of that great river, and its tributaries; resulting, at times, in the destruction of millions of property, and of numerous lives.
In other parts of the world, there have been floods occurring, at distant intervals, of the most appalling and terrific character.
In April, 1446, the sea rolled back upon the land, at Dort, in consequence of a rupture of the dykes; and formed, what is now known, as the Zuyder sea. By this calamity, ten thousand persons in the territory of Dordretch, were overwhelmed, and perished; and the same direful results befel more than one hundred thousand persons about Dullart, in Friesland, and in Zealand. In the last two provinces, more than three hundred villages were submerged; and for centuries afterwards, the tops of towers, and steeples could be seen rising out of the water.
On the 26th and 27th November, 1703, a storm raged in Great Britain, which alarmed the entire kingdom. The stately buildings of the great city of London were shaken; and many of them tumbled to the ground. The water rose to a great height in Westminister Hall; and London bridge was choked up with wrecks. Fourteen ships of war were lost; and fifteen hundred Seamen perished. The damage done to the city was estimated at one million of pounds sterling.
In February, 1880, the dwellings of fifty thousand inhabitants of Vienna, were laid under water.
In consequence of long continued rains, an inundation was occasioned at Canton, in China, which deluged and ruined ten thousand houses;— and ten thousand persons were drowned, or otherwise perished. In the same month, and year, October, 1833, equal or greater calamity, was produced by the same cause in other parts of China.
In May, 1849, the citizens of New Orleans, and its vicinity, were filled with consternation, in consequence of the sudden influx of the waters of the Mississippi, occasioned by a crevasse in the levee above the city. The scene is represented as being truly awful. One hundred and forty feet of the bank, had in one place been washed away; and the heavy, rapid river, rolled irresistibly through the opening, though a thousand active hands were endeavoring to stop its ingress; and the roar of the dabbing waters could be heard for miles. Many hundred acres were completely submerged—numerous houses stood deep in the flood—many of the people fled, willingly leaving their property to its fate, whilst others remained in the upper stories of their dwellings, sick and in horror. The condition of the poor was deplorable in the extreme.
2. Another of those ways in which the Great Jehovah speaks terribly to the children of men, is, by cutting off the accustomed supply of food. No calamity can possibly equal this. To be without food is to die—slowly, and in agony to die, "He who dies of hunger wrestles alone, day after day, with his grim and unrelenting enemy. The blood recedes; the flesh deserts; the muscles relax, and the sinews grow powerless. At last, the mind, which, at first, had bravely nerved itself for the contest, gives way, under the mysterious influences, which govern its union with the body. Then he begins to doubt the existence of an overruling Providence; he hates his fellow men, and glares upon them with the longing of a cannibal; and, it may be, he dies blaspheming!" (S. S. Prentice)—Let the raging surges dash upon my dwelling—let my frightened soul quiver in expectation of a watery grave—let me go down into the vasty deep, smothered, drowned; but let me not die of famine!
It is remarkable, with what regularity and abundance, God usually supplies the millions of earth. Ordinarily, man, in his rudest state, has enough and to spare; but especially, is it true, in the history of those countries, where even the simplest rules of agriculture are observed, and habits of industry prevail; that the blessing of God is realized, and his benevolent promise, ''he that tilleth his land, shall have plenty of bread," —I was about to say—unfailingly verified. Nevertheless, there are times, when men have no bread; when from the failure of crops, or other providential causes, whole communities and countries, are brought to the direst extremity; and their very extermination is threatened. What scenes of woe have been witnessed! Hunger, rapacious hunger, is preying upon the vitals. The most loathsome, revolting substances are eagerly sought for food. The objects that once interested the soul, are now of little worth, Gay equipage—elegant attire—magnificent halls—luxury—titles—thrones—all, all are valueless—insignificant. Those kind emotions that usually bind man to his fellow; those tender sympathies that spring up in the breast of friends; those natural ties that cement the hearts of parents and children; of husbands and wives; these are all broken—forgotten; and poor, wretched humanity is a spectacle to the Universe, of selfishness and disgust.
The sacred Scriptures record several instances of direful famine. The most remarkable one was the seven years famine in Egypt, whilst Joseph was the president of the country. It was distinguished for continuance, extent, and severity; and it is the more remarkable as having occurred in a country distinguished for fertility, and the abundance of its natural productions.
In the year 262, there was a famine in England, of so grievous a character, that the people were obliged to feed upon the bark of trees.
Another occurred A. D. 810, in the same country, when forty thousand human beings starved to death.
In the year 450 a famine prevailed in Italy, when parents murdered and fed upon their own children.
A dreadful famine occurred in England, A. D. 1815, occasioned by perpetual rains, and cold weather, which entirely cut off the harvest and destroyed thousands of cattle. The extremity became so great, that the people eagerly devoured the flesh of horses, dogs, cats and vermin.
During the siege of Londonderry, in Ireland, a famine resulted of the most distressing character. This famine is not referred to, however, so much to illustrate the peculiar doctrine of the text, as to exhibit the great extremity to which men are sometimes subjected when deprived of their usual supplies. It is stated in Walker's diary, that on the 27th July, 1689—"Horse flesh sold for one shilling and eight pence per pound; a quarter of a dog, four shillings and six pence; a dog's head two shillings and sixpence; a cat four shillings and sixpence; a rat one shilling; a mouse sixpence; a pound of tallow four shillings; a pound of salted hides one shilling; a quart of horse blood one shilling; a horse pudding sixpence; a quart of meal, when found, one shilling; a small fluke, a little fish taken in the river, could not be purchased for money, and could only be got in exchange for meal."
Few countries have suffered more from famine than Ireland. Even within our own times; and as late as 1845 and 1846, the accounts which came to us, from that devoted island, were distressing beyond measure. Said the eloquent Prentice, when pleading in behalf of this wretched people—"Within Erin's borders is an enemy more cruel than the Turk, more tyrannical than the Russian. Bread is the only weapon that can conquer him. Let us, than, load ships with this glorious munition, and, in the name of our common humanity, wage war against this despot Famine."
3. And now, what shall I say of the devouring pestilence. This is another of those agents, commissioned by the Almighty, to execute His sovereign will amongst the children of men. Many of the diseases, to which the race is liable, are evidently the results of negligence, imprudence, or presumption, on the part of those who are the subjects of them; and it is not to be wondered, that they who are indifferent to natural laws, should suffer the recompense due to their folly. But there are maladies incident to the human race—resulting, it is true, like all other diseases, from natural causes—and yet, the afflicted subjects of these complaints, have had no agency whatever, in their superinduction; and they can only be accounted for in the sovereignty of Jehovah. I must not, however, in this remark, be understood to intimate, that man is an innocent sufferer. Of this, I shall speak presently. I wish now, simply to suggest, that those stupendous calamities, which sometimes befal mankind are to be regarded, as what indeed they are, visitations; permitted, overruled, or imposed, by God Himself, and without any direct agency on the part of those who suffer.
Epidemics not infrequently occur in country places; but they have usually infested the larger towns and cities. Here among congregated thousands, their ravages are appalling; and scenes of human wretchedness are brought out, in their most woeful relations. It is at such times that God proves himself a terrible God. The stoutest hearts quail before Him. The brave mariner, who has tossed upon the mountain wave, and who, without a shudder, has encountered the perils of rude and fearful storms—the veteran soldier, who has faced the cannon's mouth; and whose very soul has been gladdened amid the din, and clash, and smoke of ten thousand arms—the calm philosopher, whose sober reason has consoled him amid the strangest ills—the morose and rigid stoic, who submits to whatever is, because Fate has so decreed, and who is reconciled to his own approaching dissolution as a debt due to Nature— all these forget their accustomed assurances, and beholding the steady tread of the Destroyer, as he moves, inexorably through the lanes and alleys, bringing death and ruin into every house; and watching, still, his onward progress as now he stalks boldly up the stately avenue, knocking with iron hand at every door, and chilling the life-blood of the easy, and the great—these, all—the mariner, the soldier, the philosopher, the stoic—are stricken with horror, even as others, and with countenances full of nervous fright they meditate plans of escape; and by the first train, that, leaves the doomed city, they speed themselves, with the rushing multitude, far from the scenes of woe.
There are brief notices extant, of plagues that have wasted the earth at almost every period of its history. One of the earliest which has come to our knowledge, is that mentioned by Baronius; and which raged at Carthage, some five hundred years before the Christian era. So terrible was it, that the people sacrificed their children, hoping thus to appease the Gods. But the first great plague, of which we have any special account, is that so particularly described by Thucidides; and which visited the city of Athens, A. D. 430. The physicians are said to have been entirely ignorant of the disease; and all human art appeared to be utterly unavailing. So general was the slaughter, that the dead were frequently found lying together in heaps. They tumbled over one another in the public streets; and many expired at the fountain, whither they had crept to quench their immoderate thirst. The mortality attending this visitation, has been so largely computed, as to be scarcely credible. This plague was succeeded at various intervals by others, which cut off millions of the human family.
Pliny mentions a pestilence which raged B. C. 188, in the Greek islands, Egypt and Syria, and which hurried ten thousand persons into eternity every day.
We have an account of a most awful pestilence, which visited the city of Rome, A. D. 78, when the number of deaths actually reached ten thousand a day.
According to the historian, Gibbon, a plague devastated the Roman empire for fifty-two years; commencing in the reign of Jostinian. A. D. 527; and the entire mortality, during this period, he supposes to have been not less than two millions.
In 1517, the sweating sickness, a disease that produced death in three hours, raged in England. Half of the people in most of the capital towns are said to have died; and the city of Oxford was depopulated.
A general mortality prevailed in France, A. D. 1632. and sixty thousand persons perished, in the city of Lyons, alone.
The plague brought from Sardinia to Naples, raged with such violence A. D. 1656, as to carry off four hundred thousand of the inhabitants in six months.
Defoe has given us a vivid description of the terrible plague which raged in the city of London in 1664 and 1665. This awful pestilence has usually been styled "The Great Plague," perhaps from a prevailing opinion that no other pestilence has exceeded it, either in virulence or destructiveness. This is an error; but those years must ever be memorable as years of woe. The population of the city is estimated by Macauley to have been, at that time, about half a million; but before the middle of summer '65, at least two hundred thousand persons had hurried to places of safety. According to the official accounts, notwithstanding this great reduction of the population, there had died in twelve months, counting from Dec. 20th, to Dec. 19th following, 68,596; but according to Defoe, not less than 100,000. The mortality reached its height in the month of September. During the third week of that month, there were 7165 deaths. About this time, "the citizens were in a frenzy; they thought that God had determined to make an end of the city. Whole families, and indeed, whole streets of families were swept away together; insomuch, that it was frequent for neighbors to call for the bellman, to go to such and such houses, and carry out the people, for that they were all dead!"
The most fearful plagues, which of late years have scourged the world, are Cholera and Yellow Fever. The first of these, in the very onset of its progress, made great ravages in the north, east, and south of Europe, and in the countries of Asia, where, alone, it carried off 900,000, within two years. In our own country, both of these alarming diseases have been epidemic, in most of the larger cities. They have laid waste the fairest portions of our land; and again, and again, they have snatched from our embrace, the loved objects of our hearts.
I shall not detain you, my hearers, with any farther illustrations. A vast amount of statistics might be adduced, exhibiting the stupendous power of the Almighty. I might refer you to the storm, and to the earthquake; it might also, be illustrative of my subject, to speak of the devouring fire, and of the devastations of war, which—though man himself, may have a criminal agency in producing them—must after all be admitted, to occur, only, when God chooses to allow; and which, in all their destructiveness are overruled, and directed for his own glory. But enough has been said, to impress us with the conviction, that the God of the Bible, is a terrible God. "Come and see the works of God; He is terrible in His doing towards the children of men."
II. We shall now notice why it is, that God chooses, sometimes, to deal so terribly with the children of men.
We have already remarked, that the doings of God, are often deeply mysterious. It is certain, however, that God does not act from whim, or without a motive. He is a God of wisdom; and for all He does, He has a reason. Our finite minds may not be able to comprehend the fullness of His designs; but in so far as we are capable of knowledge, it is our duty to be informed. One of those things which we shall never in this world, be able fully to comprehend, is the fact, that a Being, of mercy and of love, can willingly afflict His intelligent creatures; sending into their midst the messenger of ruin, and consigning them in multitudes to untimely graves. And the difficulty is greatly increased, when we find Him, addressing Himself alike to the indifferent and the useful, the scoffer and the believer, the disobedient and the truly pious—and all of them, without apparent discrimination or distinction, being swept away by the impartial scourge. It is wise, however, at once, and under all circumstances, to admit the excellence and infallibility of our great Creator; and if our minds are darkened, in relation to these awful doings of His hand, it becomes us, rather, to attribute this darkness, to our own finite intelligence; and not to any imperfection, on the part of that infinite mind, that seeth the end from the beginning, and whose throne is justice and mercy, though clouds and darkness are round about Him.————"Mysterious these,
Not that Jehovah to conceal them wished;
Mysterious these—because, too large for eye
Of man—too long, for human arm to mete."It contemplating a subject, so much involved in difficulty, it becomes us to beware lest we impute to our Maker, a spirit of malevolence. The very thought is abhorrent. God cannot rejoice in evil. He is happy himself; and it is His benevolent will, that his creatures should be happy also. He made them, indeed, as well to this end, as for His own glory."Heaven is all love; all joy in giving joy;
It never had created, but to bless."It is characteristic only, of corrupt, and fallen ones, to exult in the sufferings of others. God is incapable of such low, and fiendish delight. Besides,—to conceive of such feelings, on the part of a sovereign and independent God, involves an absurdity. What has He to fear, from the most powerful beings, whom His own hand has formed? Who can oppose Him with success?—An Angel?—Where now is proud Lucifer?—"Fall, how profound! ————
* * * * * *
From where proud hope, built her pavilion high,
The Gods among; hurled, headlong hurled, at once
But He does not rejoice, even, in the fall of his own wicked enemies.—No;—Justice may require their distraction—the well-being of the Universe, may be involved in their very torments; but He can never inflict a pang even, upon the vilest, simply to gratify a revengeful malignant spite. To do this, would imply weakness. To all this may be added, that, in the exercise of such feelings, He must cease to be a God of infinite purity; and would at once be chargeable with all the frailty and passions of imperfect humanity. He is a God of vengeance, I admit; but vengeance implies justice. Ho is the author of His own laws; and He has a right, as an uncreated and absolute sovereign, to require obedience of whom He will, and of all—emanating as do those laws, from His own infinite and holy mind. To punish is His right; and not only His right; but it is suitable, and to be expected, that the immaculate Jehovah would execute His just wrath—but not His vindictiveness— against every daring; and impious offender.
Ignorant as we may be, in the main, of the reasons, which influence the Divine mind, in those extraordinary calamities, which sometimes befal the family of man; we may, nevertheless, obtain some idea of what God intends. What then, we may now enquire, does God mean, by those wholesale destructions of the children of men; and by all that terror, and desolation with which He visits the devoted and dreaming masses?—With all the darkness, that surrounds the subject, there are a few thoughts so important, that as an expounder of truth, we should greatly err in not enforcing them.
1. That a suitable impression may be preserved, among the inhabitants of earth, of His continued existence, and sovereignty. This, of itself, is an important and sufficient reason; for it is a singular fact that men do not remember God. Occupied as they are, with business and pleasure, they find little time to think of the invisible Supreme. Other objects are at hand—tangible and available. These so strongly appeal to the senses, and afford so much present and material comfort; that any good, out of sight—though that good be God, Himself—is either wholly forgotten, or confusedly contemplated, as among the questionable things of a misty and uncertain future. "The fool, (the unregenerate man) has said in in his heart, there is no God." He has not, perhaps, admitted it with his lips; but he has lived and acted, as though there were no God; and it may be that in the secrecy of his heart, he doubts the immortality of the soul; and renouncing thus his accountability, he has really disclaimed the sovereign Judge of all the earth. Thus it has always been with the children of men, that, when "they have eaten, and are full, and have built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when their herds and their flocks have multiplied, and their silver and their gold have multiplied, and all that they have has multiplied, their hearts have been lifted up, and they have forgotten the Lord their God."
But God must not bo forgotten. He will not sufferer himself to be lost in nothingness amid the numerous and wonderful objects of his own creation. He must be known and recognized. A sensible impression of His existence and majesty should be constantly felt. Without this, there can be no suitable adoration; no devout and zealous obedience.— But the world is too hasty to turn aside to Him. The thousands of earth pass gaily on, filled with vain imaginations, and devising foolish inventions. This current must be turned. Jehovah must be regarded—accountability acknowledged—His holy laws respected; and the great end of life appreciated. How are these important results to be accomplished? Ah! if God cannot be heard in His still, small voice—if the gentle persuasions of His spirit continue to be disregarded; He has yet, another voice; and there are other means at His disposal, by which He can, and will break their infatuation, and bring them to the acknowledgment of His infinite might—though on account of their long and obstinate persistence in evil, He may afterwards leave them to impenitence and hardness of heart. He can send a "terror by night," or a "destruction that shall waste at noon day;" and as the Angel of Death spreads his dark wing, over the devoted city, the business hum shall cease; the gay and the thoughtless shall no more be seen, upon her once thronged and bustling pavements; a gloomy silence shall pervade her thorough-fares; a general appalement shall prevail: and the voice of God—that other voice shall be heard. Yes: He shall send His swift arrow into a thousand hearts; and as dear ones drop, one after another, into their solitary graves, the infidel himself, shall be astonished; and with blanched and trembling lip, he shall say—it it God!
2. It is doubtless, the design of the Almighty, in all His extraordinary visitations, to impress both those who experience, find those who witness His judgments, with a just and peculiar sense of dependence upon Him. Such, should be the influence of all afflictions, however common; but the sufferings of an individual can have little effect, in arousing a community; although, that individual be a person of eminence, and even, one in whom extensive circles may be deeply interested. To move the mass, it is necessary that they should be addressed, in some manner affecting them as a mass; and yet the appeal must also have an individual and personal bearing on God, is every day speaking to whole communities, and nations, in the wonderful, and beautiful objects of His creation, as they abundantly appear in the natural world; and His voice is echoing forth its thunder tones, in the many revolutions and convulsions occurring among states and empires. Interesting, however, as are these aspects; and as deeply involved as is the world in all these events, very few are aroused to their proper consideration; and the providence of God, so minutely concerned in them all, remains wholly unnoticed, by the great body of mankind. Thus unobservant, of that watchful care, which God exercises over all His creatures, they become vain of themselves; and move on as if wholly independent of their Maker. Often "becoming rich, and increased with goods, they imagine themselves to have need of nothing; and know not, that they are wretched, and poor, and blind, and naked." Hence, it becomes necessary for God to make some personal appeal—an appeal, which while it addresses itself to individuals, shall be of so general a character, as to arouse the entire masses to reflection.
There is no way, perhaps, in which this can be, so readily accomplished, as by those fearful instrumentalities, which threaten entire communities with destruction. However careless, the people may heretofore have been; now it is impossible, but, that they should feel. Finding themselves, utterly unable to accomplish any thing for their own relief—turning in vain to the most constant friends for assistance—with the impotence of the most powerful human agencies apparent—now in their extremity they no longer exclaim: "Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him; and what profit should we have, if we pray into Him?"—but in apprehension of sudden dissolution; and with "a certain fearful looking for of Judgment," they lift their glaring eyes to Heaven; and with that poor cowardly infidel, Paine,—when in danger of being lost at sea—they cry, "Lord have mercy on us!"
Such were the very words, inscribed, upon the doors of infected, houses, during the "Great Plague" in London.—What must have been the feelings, of the solitary passenger, as he pushed hastily on, midway the deserted street; noticing upon either side of him, and emblazoned, upon almost every door, the huge red cross; and written close beneath by the finger of the magistrate, those fearful words, "Lord have mercy on us!" But those very words were the evidence of that wisdom, which could only be learned by the terrible lesson of the plague—they were the extorted acknowledgement of human dependence; and their history, as studied by us, this day, teach us that. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity."
"Kings are not rescued, by the forces
Of armies from the grave;
Nor speed, nor courage of a horse,
Can the bold rider saveVain is the strength, of beast or men,
To hope for safety thence;
But holy souls, from God obtain
A strong, a sure defense,
God is their fear and God their trust,
When plagues, or famine spread;
His watchful eye secures the just,
Among ten thousand dead."
3. Another important result, accruing, in a very special manner, from the terrible dispensations of God, is the development of human character. It is difficult to know what man is. We have very little knowledge of our neighbor; and—I was about to say—quite as little concerning ourselves; and when all is smooth and pleasant—when there are no difficulties to be encountered; no sufferings to be endured; it is comparatively easy to present a passable exterior; but, as fire tries the gold, and proves what it is—so afflictions test the character of men, and prove, as in a furnace, all that is acceptable to God; and not only so—when the day of trial comes, the principles of the ungodly, too, are found to be worthless dross; fit only, like it, to be thrown away, and trampled under foot. Such is the effect of trials in all cases; but the difficulties of individuals, can affect, only, individuals; or must be confined in their influence to very limited circles. It is necessary, that communities should be tried; for the very reason, that by a more extended test, of human character, the world may receive a vivid impression, of what is virtuous, as well as what is vile, in man. Any wide spread desolation is calculated to afford such a test. Fever, or famine, or flood—any or, all of these will tell us more in a single day, than can be learned by an intimacy of years.
If the predominant characteristic is selfishness; that feature will develop itself in its meanest forms. Such a man will desert the wife of his bosom; leaving her friendless and alone amid scenes of horror. To secure his base retreat, he would rob her of the last farthing, that might bring a comfort in the dying hour; and if he imagines, that by a speedy fight, he can save his own worthless life; he will leave her to die in hireling hands; and with breath but just extinct, to be hurried unattended, to her half-dug, and careless grave.
Among other sordid emotions, which so abundantly developed themselves, during seasons of extensive suffering, is the principle of avarice. Men will do anything for money. They will not only manifest a conduct, which shall clearly indicate, what are their hopes, and expectations from the general distress; but they will their plans, and throw themselves in the way of some probable result, that may increase their fortunes. Some men have permitted themselves, to be so carried away, with the lust of gain, as to risk life, when there was evidently no call of duty; and loosing sight of every other consideration, they have devoted themselves, to the single object of accumulation, taking advantage whenever they could, of the sufferings of others; and by a course of exaction, and over-reaching, they have cruelly enhanced the ills of many whose only hope, was in their sense of justice, and love of mercy.
It would extend this discourse, beyond all proper limits, to speak particularly of the different shades of character, likely to be brought out under the circumstances to which we now allude. It will be sufficient for the farther illustration of this point, to say, that they are not only the darker features of humanity, which are so conspicuously developed at such times. Depraved, and wicked, as is the natural complexion of the human heart, it is nevertheless true, that God has endowed the race, with many amicable and lovely instincts; and at no time, do these show themselves, with more striking beauty, than in the hour of danger, and of sorrow. The affection of the doting wife, now proves itself, in all its purity, and strength. Duty binds her fond husband to the scene of suffering. She will not interpose between him and his conscience. But that noble woman need not tarry in the city of the dead. Gathering her babes about her, she may hurry away and be safe. No;—her heart is "too big," for that. Fondly, embracing the dear partner of her life; with the lovely Jewess of old, she says: " Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God; where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me."
But every lovely characteristic of the natural heart, however beautifully displayed, during these moments of trial, is thrown far in the shade, by the noble heroism of the disciple of Jesus. He is not influenced, solely, by natural impulse. His every movement is based on principle. He has a work to perform; and he piously asks: "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?"—Censured he may be, by those who have not learned, in the school of Christ; and his steady unshrinking intercourse with the distressed, and the dying may be deemed inconsiderate. Continuing to throw himself, into the most dangerous positions, he may he scorned as a fool. But God is with him; and he is not afraid. Unlike the ambitious man, who may, also, in his blindness, be willing to expose himself to danger, for the sake of applause—this man, with probabilities against him—with scarce a hope of present safety—this man has made the Lord his refuge, and his fortress; and in Him does he trust.—The same God has given His angels charge concerning him; and he shall be "delivered, and honoured." Such christians, we have seen in this community. No sectarianism shall exclusively claim them. They are God's people; and their noble fidelity shall bring lasting renown to the church Catholic, without distinction of party or name.
Such then are the developments of character, which result from the terrible dispensations of God, towards the children of men. Under these trying and appalling circumstances, we learn more of ourselves, and of our fellow men. We find, that, after all, the scriptures have not given too dark a picture of the depraved heart—but to our joy also, it becomes apparent, that to poor, fallen man, there are yet had some noble and generous impulses; and more important than all, the delightful truth becomes clearly demonstrated, that "the Christian"—the true and faithful Christian—"is the highest style of man."
4. But, there is another aspect, in which, it becomes us to view this subject, before closing our remarks. These terrible doings of our God are, doubtless, intended to be regarded as the evidence of His displeasure at sin. He hates sin with a perfect hatred; and He has determined, that it shall ever be punished, as a vile and abominable thing. This world, it is true, cannot be regarded as the theatre, upon which He shall display Himself in the fullness of His wrath. The present is, for the most part, a season of probation. In eternity, He will make His power known. "It is appointed to man, once to die; and after that, the judgment. Nevertheless, even in this world, God often follows the sinner, with a deserved, but limited punishment. Sin, indeed, is always accompanied with a sting; and sometimes, the connection between the offense and the reward, becomes signally apparent. But, we are not, in all cases, to decide, that they are greater sinners than others, who are the subjects of special sufferings. Our Saviour has instructed us, in relation to this matter, in the allusion which He makes, to the Gallileans, whoso blood Pilate had mingled with the sacrifices, and to those upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them. He speaks plainly, upon the subject, and assures us that these persons had not been distinguished as transgressors. But, we are not to infer from these teachings of the Savior, that sin is never punished in this world. That would be entirely contrary to the teachings of His word in other places. In the old testament scriptures, we have abundant testimony to this point, and we are assured that "though hand join in hand, the sinner shall not go unpunished." God may, indeed, bear with him for a time— He may permit him to flourish as the "green bay tree;" but sooner or later, he shall have evidence, that, although ''sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily;" he has only been "filling up the measure of his iniquity,'' and that presently he " shall fall by his own wickedness." These remarks bear with the same truth, upon the history of communities, as upon that of individuals. Neighborhoods, cities, nations, all sin; and sinning in their collective capacities, they deserve punishment in the same. The histories of Babylon, and Nineveh, and Tyre, and Egypt, and even of his once favored people, the Jews, remain as evidence, of what he can do, when any people, however great, have long continued to "dwell carelessly;" and "through the pride of their countenance," choose not to "seek after" Him.
In the ninety-first Psalm, we have a special intimation, that one of the modes, in which the Almighty manifests His displeasure at sin, is by sending "the pestilence that walketh in darkness, and the destruction that wasteth at noonday." These are emphatically denominated "the reward of the wicked." We may speculate in regard to their origin; and after a full investigation of the subject, we may arrive at some sage conclusion: based, it may be, upon natural principles, or upon some adventitious combinations, which must necessarily have produced the result. We may attribute their existence, if we will, to second causes; but I tell you my friends—or rather God tells you, that they are "the reward of the wicked.'' Let us seriously ponder those awful words in the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus. "If ye will not hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; then I will walk contrary unto you, also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins." And again: "If ye will not yet for all this harken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. And if ye walk contrary unto me—I will bring seven times more plagues upon you, according to your sins."
I shall be met here with an objection, somewhat plausible. It will be asked: Do not the righteous suffer even as do the wicked?—and we shall be pointed to the devoted servant of God—perhaps to that honored ambassador of Jesus (Rev. Vernon Eskridge, late Chaplain in the U. S. N.) —faithful and true—the friend of our order, and one of us—who fell at his post; leaving a testimony that none can dispute; and who now wears in glory the martyr's crown. Perhaps, I say, we may be pointed to such a man; and the enquiry may be sneeringly urged:—'And are these terrible dispensations the reward of the wicked?' —Sainted brother!—what is thy response?—Hear that voice from Heaven!—"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." 'Tis even so. Yes, minister of Jesus—thy work was done!—No idler wast thou in the vineyard of thy Lord. Thou didst faithfully bear the heat and burden of the day; and now thou hast thy reward!—" Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"
But the caviler is not satisfied with this. It is not enough, for him to be informed, that death is no calamity to the Christian. He understands not that song, which the saint so joyously sings; and which is the echo of his full and pious soul:
"Who, who would live always, away from his God;
Away from yon Heaven, that blissful abode;
Where rivers of pleasure flow o'er the bright plains,
And the noon-tide of glory eternally reigns?"
How, then, shall we meet the objection of the infidel?—I answer: The death of the Christian is not only a happy release to himself, from the cares, and sorrows of this miserable life;—it is also, a chastisement to the sinner, whom he leaves behind. The world is better that he lives. It is by his efforts, and through the influence of his holy example, that virtue is perpetuated on earth. Let the righteous be removed to their reward—let the pious be no more found amongst men; and then, what shall this world be?—Ah!—there is evil enough here now. After all the prayers, and tears, and efforts of good men, we still find it a heap of ruins—a wretched charnel house. But, if there were no virtue on earth—if there were no Christian principle, to light up those gloomy shades—then, O, then, how much more dismal, must become the abodes of men! Let it be remembered, that Christians are"the salt of the earth." It is for them, that the world is kept in being. Some such men have lately been called from this community—we feel their loss; and long shall we feel it. Citizens of Portsmouth! "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it!"—"Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men!"
And now, my brethren, it becomes us to make a suitable application of this discussion. It has been our lot to experience the terrible judgments of the Almighty. In His inscrutable Providence, He saw fit, during the last summer, to send into our midst a pestilence so malignant and irremediable, that it must be noted, hereafter, as an era in the history of this land. It was a sorrowful day for the cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk, when the steamer "Ben Franklin," was moored to the wharf at Gosport. She came freighted with ruin!—When her hatches were removed; and she belched forth her pestiferous breath upon the filthy suburb, the whole atmosphere, in that vicinity at once became infected. The disease was not endemic. It did not originate there. At that point, it is true, its fatal progress commenced; but it was not a spontaneous ignition. The stubble was there, ready, at any moment to be consumed; but had no match been applied, the fire had not yet been seen. The opening of that hold, was the application of the spark; and though the fire burnt slowly, and secretly for a time; so combustible, were the materials upon which it played, it presently spread far and wide, with a devouring flame.
The ship arrived at Gosport, on the 19th of June; where she remained for repairs. This she would not have been allowed to do, had not her history been scrupulously concealed, and the health officer deceived. On the 30th of June, three persons were sick near Page's wharf, (The wharf at which the "Ben Franklin" was anchored.) with what some supposed to be Yellow Fever; but it was not until the 5th of July, that any case occurred to awaken public attention. On that day, a man, who had opened up the hold of the Ben Franklin, was taken sick; and in three days, he died with the black vomit. This created some alarm; and a connection being traced between the disease, and the ill-fated vessel, she was fit once, (on the 8th,) sent to Quarantine. It was hoped—and by most persons believed—that the number of cases would be few, and they confined to Gosport: many, however, were of a different opinion; and those of them, who could conveniently do so, immediately fled.
The reports from, day to day, showed a gradual increase in the number of deaths; and the disease creeping slowly, but steadily, at length reached the very heart of the city. By this time, hundreds of our citizens had sought safety in flight; and the population, continuing thus rapidly to decline, by the first week in September, there were probably not more than 3000 (Of this number, perhaps, not 200 escaped sickness.) in the place, numbering both whites and negroes. This was the week of the heaviest mortality; during which, it is supposed, that one hundred and fifty persons were swept off by the prevailing epidemic.—On the 2d day of Sept. which was the Sabbath, thirty-six persons died during the twenty-four hours ending that morning.
But, from this time, onward, the Fever seemed gradually to abate: filling every heart with hope. No one however, could feel safe, until God in His mercy, should be pleased to send another messenger, the Frost: which all believed would be more powerful than the Scourge.—The first hard frost (A slight frost occurred on the 8th October, which had a sensible influence in abating the Fever. A few new cases existed after the 26th: but they can all be traced to exposure and imprudence prior to that date.) occurred on the 26th of October; and greatly to the comfort and rejoicing of all, that first palpable frost banished the pestilence from our midst. Blessed be the Most High God who hath delivered us from the power of this dreadful enemy."
Let us sum up this work of the Almighty—this terrible work, which He hath wrought in Portsmouth!—How shall we estimate it? Come with me to yonder grave-yard,—behold it!—what a spectacle!—A few months ago, the number of burials in Portlock cemetery, had been comparatively few. It was only in a few spots, that the fresh turned earth indicated a recent interment. A large portion, of that broad enclosure, is now covered with graves. Side by side, they range in scores. The whole surface seems to have been disturbed, by some strange commotion. There it is—a marred and broken field—its history written upon its own bosom, and a tale of woe coming up from every rough, and unmarked mound!!
The number of deaths, officially reported, as occurring in the town of Portsmouth, during the prevalence of the epidemic, is one thousand and eighty. It is probable, however, that this estimate falls much below the truth; as it is generally supposed that many deaths occurred of which there was no report. It will doubtless, be safe to say, that at least TWELVE HUNDRED persons, belonging to this place, (Several died in Baltimore, Richmond, and other places.—Bob Butt, the mulatto sexton, affirms that he dug, during the Fever, with the assistance of ten hands, eleven hundred and fifty-nine graves. It is known, also, that graves were dug by others.) died of the yellow fever, during the four months of its continuance. Of this number, one hundred and twenty were heads of families; and in forty-six families, both father and mother were taken away. The number of children who have thus suddenly become orphans is not definitely known. As far as can be ascertained, it is not less than two hundred; and there is reason to believe that it may considerably exceed that number.
What scenes of distress, do these statistics present to our minds!—How many parents' breasts have been wrung with anguish! How many females have been left in widowhood, to bemoan the lost object of their affections; and it may be, to drag out a life of poverty, and neglect!—How many smiling children, have been left in orphanage: no more to experience a father's care—no more to know a mother's love!—Truly, "The blind have been brought by a way they know not; they have been led in paths, that they had not known !" But thanks be to God, He is able to "make darkness light before them, and the crooked ways straight.''
We have assembled this day, my brethren, in memory of some who belonged to our order; and to receive the lessons of wisdom, which God, in His Providence, is addressing to us, with whom they were once associated, in the bonds of Friendship, Love and Truth. Twenty-eight [27 listed here] members "of Old Dominion Lodge, No. 5," are among the victims of the Fever. They were once as active, and as buoyant as any of us. They were our friends—we knew them well; and we loved them. As citizens, they were good men and true; engaged with zeal, in the avocations of life; and endeavoring to illustrate the principles, of our noble Institution. They were useful men in the community; and their loss will long be felt in this town. But they have heard the call of the GRAND MASTER on High; and we shall see them no more on earth.—And, who are they that have left us?
Isaac Anderton, Vernon Eskridge, John T. Nash, Robert Ballentine, Harrison Ferrebee, Robert Nelums, Samuel Brewer, James H. Finch, Robert T. Scott, Wm. P. Brittingham, John W. Forrest, Wm. T. Snead, Nathaniel Brittingham, Robert. A. Graves, John W. H. Trugien, John D. Cooper, James Hanrahan, Jesse N. Veale, George Chambers, George Hope, Wilson W. Williams, Charles Cassell, William Jones, Richard Williams, D. P. Danghtrey, James Mayo, Richard C. M. Young.
What a work of destruction!—O, the terrible doings of God!!— "Who would not fear thee, O, King of Nations, for unto thee doth it appertain?"
These twenty-eight [twenty-seven] brethren, have left eighteen widows, and thirty-seven orphans, incapable of taking care of themselves. All of those widows and orphans are now, in a measure, committed to our charge. We are bound, by the principles of our Order, to look after and to care for them. It becomes us, to be true to our trust—and shall we not be? Yes, our hearts, at this moment, yearn towards them; and with the blessing of Jehovah, they shall not want.** Old Dominion Lodge, No. 5, has paid since the commencement of the epidemic, with the assistance of sister Lodges.
For widows' benefit - - $4,500
For Funeral benefits of brethren, - - $660
For Funeral benefits wives of brethren - - $160
For Sick, benefits - - $660
Total, - - $5,980"Our offering is a willing mind
To comfort the distressed;
In others' good, our own to find—
In others' blessings blest."And now my brethren, I have only to add—God did not send this fearful pestilence to be disregarded. In His infinite wisdom, He has scourged us—but He has designed our good:"Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face."Shall we not, then, be improved? I believe, that happy results have already accrued from this dire calamity. Christian hearts have been drawn closer together; and party distinctions have been forgotten—benevolent sympathies have been brought out—the energies of good men have been aroused; and methinks some thoughtless ones have been made to realize, as they never have done before, the vanity and shortness of life. But there have been other results, far less interesting. Many, it is to be feared, have become settled in their indifference; and are now more hardened in sin than before the Fever. "Because sentence against their evil works has not been executed speedily, their hearts are fully set in them to do evil." God grant, that they may, even yet, be arrested in their mad career.
Let us, who are of this noble Order, "fear God; for that is wisdom." Let us not be satisfied, with that commendable charity, which induces us this day, to care for the helpless and the destitute. "Pure religion and undefiled, before God and the Father is" not only "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," but also "to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.'' But who can keep himself unspotted from the world, without the fear of God before his eyes?—Our duty is first to Him who made us, and then to our fellow man.—"Jesus said unto him"—that is to the lawyer who tempting Him, asked, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?—Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
We are now, my brethren, at the close of the year—at the close of this year of chastisement and trial. Yes,______The year
Has gone, and with it, many a glorious throng
Of happy dreams. Its work—is on each brow,
Its shadow—in each heart. In its swift course,
It waved its sceptre o'er the beautiful—
And they are not. It laid its pallid hand
Upon the strong man—and the haughty form—
Is fallen, and the flashing eye—is dim.
It trod the hall of revelry, where thronged
The bright and joyous—and the tearful wail—
Of stricken ones—is heard, where erst the song,
And reckless shout—resounded.
And faded like a wreath of mist at eve;
Yet, ere it melted in the viewless air,
It heralded its millions—to their home.Brethren—we, too, must die. "To that great event we must come at last; and we know not how soon!—The honors of the world, the applause of men, birth, wealth, fame, all end with us, in that 'narrow house.'" And that 'narrow house' shall introduce us to the Judgment. Who, of us, shall be welcomed as "good and faithful servants" into the joys and glories of Heaven?—"He that overcometh shall inherit all things."
Disease and Urban Image
Yellow Fever in Norfolk, 1855
DAVID R. GOLDFIELD
Reproduced with the permission of David R. Goldfield and the Library of Virginia.
Originally published in Virginia Cavalcade, v. 23, no.2
(Autumn 1973): 34-41
"PROGRESS is the motto of our people," proclaimed a Norfolk entrepreneur in 1853. His declaration was but one of many examples which show that the antebellum South was not all plantations and magnolia blossoms, totally committed to the perpetuation of a static, slave-based, agricultural society. Historians are beginning to discover that many pre-Civil War southerners shared the goals of urban northerners: in both sections of the country there were men who were eager to promote commerce, attract industry, and improve facilities for transportation. In the 1840s and 1850s, cities in Virginia and in other southern states struggled to compete with urban areas to the north in the development of a commercial and manufacturing economy.
Among the recurring problems for all nineteenth-century American cities was the periodic onslaught of epidemic diseases that disrupted trade, brought financial distress, and shook the confidence of city boosters. Pestilence damaged the image of any city: an especially unhealthy town represented a serious risk to businessmen, farmers, and prospective residents. In the 1850s, the borough of Norfolk—an ardent pretender to economic preeminence—became an unfortunate example of the impact of disease on a city's image.
In order to project a successful urban image a city had both to issue shrewd propaganda and demonstrate tangible accomplishments. A positive image infused citizens with pride and confidence; it attracted visitors and helped to convince farmers and entrepreneurs that they should bring their trade and capital to that city.
In the 1840s Norfolk had done little to promote successful propaganda or to achieve tangible results. A somnolent seaport of fourteen thousand people, the borough had been languishing for decades. But in the 1850s the rekindled sectional crisis strengthened a movement for economic regeneration throughout the Old Dominion and heightened Norfolk's pretension to becoming a major commercial emporium. Although Virginia entrepreneurs needed the support of the state legislature to speed economic growth, that body was dominated by conservative rural slaveholders wary of new and expensive programs. Finally, in the 1850s, southerners eager to promote the economic development of their region found a lever with which to move the slaveholding interests: the rapidly growing abolitionist movements in the North and the rapidly rising slave prices in the South caused southern slaveholders to welcome new alliances to secure their slave property. Urban promoters seized the opportunity to gain support from slaveholders and began to argue effectively that economic independence—internal improvements, industrial development, and direct trade with Europe—would secure the South's "peculiar institution" from future abolitionist assaults.
Among those Virginians who took advantage of the new climate of opinion were Norfolk businessmen who hoped to develop their city as a port for oceangoing vessels. Produce accumulating at the wharves would be shipped directly across the Atlantic instead of traveling up the bay to Baltimore or up the coast to New York for export. The Dismal Swamp Canal, completed in 1828, and the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad, finished in 1837, radiated southward from Norfolk and could tap the trade of the rich North Carolina tobacco counties. In the 1850s, Norfolk leaders envisioned the erection of processing plants as an attraction for the wheat and tobacco trade. They also urged the construction of rail connections with Lynchburg, the eastern terminus of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which would eventually extend to the Mississippi River. Norfolk leaders touted their city as a better outlet than New Orleans for the vast river trade. Improved transportation, industrial development, and maritime commerce would make Norfolk "the Queen of the Chesapeake."
Other cities in Virginia plotted equally grandiose endeavors. Rivalry for trade, manufacturing, and population was a characteristic theme of nineteenth-century urban development and the Old Dominion was no exception. Richmond, Alexandria, Petersburg, and Lynchburg all challenged Norfolk's dreams of becoming a commercial and manufacturing center. Competition became bitter and intense. The Richmond Enquirer warned its readers that the commercial schemes of Norfolk were "fast sapping" the "life blood" of Richmond. The Norfolk Southern Argus retorted that the capital city's desire to become an entrepôt for European trade was "in defiance of nature and the laws of trade." Alexandria, also an aspirant to commercial superiority, called Norfolk advocates of direct trade with Europe madmen. As invective spilled from the columns of the press to legislative deliberations, verbal altercations sometimes turned into physical duels.
In the war of cities, combatants probed the weaknesses of enemies and exalted their own strengths through the primary weapon of city builders—the press. In every Virginia city, journalists vied to present a positive image of their respective towns to residents in the city and to farmers in the hinterland. An attractive environment helped to project a favorable impression. In order to promote health and safety and present an attractive face to visitors, Norfolk leaders urged the construction of parks and the paving of streets, the removal of unsightly buildings, and an increase in the police force. They encouraged the construction of new buildings because the new edifices would impart a contagious sense of progress and of faith in the future. In the 1850s Norfolk installed gaslights, built a new market house, and worked diligently to maintain a city free from stagnant pools, exposed refuse, and roaming livestock. Leaders of the borough believed that a clean, modern, aesthetic city would create a favorable image and invite trade and new residents—all essential ingredients for making a great metropolis.
A reputation for health was crucial to establishing a successful image. The penchant for cleanliness bespoke an ardent desire to ward off dreaded epidemics. In an era before the development of the germ theory of disease, aesthetic and housekeeping maneuvers were the major defenses of cities susceptible to disease. The Norfolk Board of Health maintained in 1848, "Of all preventive means yet discovered, cleanliness is by far the most important."
Once an epidemic began, the limited medical knowledge of the day permitted the disease to run its devastating course. The mere rumor of an epidemic could drive people—with their produce—from a city. The most devastating charge a city could suffer was that it was "sickly." Norfolk, with its humid climate and its grand pretensions, seemed a favorite target of mischievous rivals. Norfolk newspapers frequently found it necessary to deny that the borough was suffering from the ravages of some disastrous epidemic. It was important to dispel the rumors, because an unhealthy city was suspect to farmers and residents alike.
Throughout the nation, urban leaders were so fearful of the damage caused by unfounded stories of disease that they were often hesitant to recognize the beginning of a real epidemic. Such was the case in Norfolk in the summer of 1855. On June 6, the steamer Benjamin Franklin had arrived from the Virgin Islands, where a yellow fever epidemic was raging. For twelve days the vessel was kept in quarantine off Norfolk and then permitted to proceed to the docks for repair. Norfolk authorities were unaware that the captain of the Franklin was successfully concealing on board at least two cases of the fever. Soon after the ship tied up for repairs, the disease spread to a nearby immigrant shantytown and from there it took a slow, inexorable course toward the heart of the city. Finally on July 30—more than one month after the first cases had appeared within the borough—the dismayed Norfolk Board of Health pronounced the existence of a yellow fever epidemic.
The tardiness of the warnings and the virulence of the disease combined to produce frightful results. When the epidemic ended on October 26 with the first frost, nearly ten thousand people—two-thirds of the residents of the city—had been afflicted with the disease and more than two thousand had died. The hard-pressed charity, the Howard Association, transformed Norfolk's largest hotel into a hospital—which in most cases proved to be a mere way-station on the route to the grave. Among those who perished were Mayor Hunter Woodis and more than half of the city's ministers and physicians. The disease left countless orphans, and the Howard Association found it necessary to erect an asylum for them. One man, a clergyman, recorded the passing of his wife, daughter, and sister-in-law within six days. By late summer, such tragedy was commonplace. In two adjoining houses, thirty-four of thirty-six residents died. During the first week in September, at the height of the pestilence, there were at least eighty deaths a day.
Within a short time, the supply of coffins in the city was exhausted. Ships that had once brought produce to the docks began to bring in hundreds of coffins—and still there were too few. At times survivors buried loved ones in blankets, and sometimes they placed them in common graves.
The yellow-fever epidemic shattered the prosperity of the city. After the official announcement of the epidemic at the end of July, all major Virginia cities as well as several important port cities in other states issued interdicts against trade with Norfolk. The borough soon resembled a ghost town: wharves, streets, and business establishments were deserted. The plague wrecked the finances of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, halted the publication of Norfolk newspapers, and brought the economy of the city to a standstill.
After the rampage, bewildered but determined residents sought to recover from the damage of the epidemic by reconstructing the image and economy of the borough. The city government commissioned a group of Norfolk physicians to determine whether the yellow fever was "of local origin" or whether it was "an imported disease." To urban boosters, the answer seemed critical. Rival port cities contended that Norfolk was inherently unhealthy, prone to recurring epidemics despite diligent precautions. After nearly eighteen months of thorough investigation—including the interrogation of some of the Franklin's crew—the committee of physicians unanimously concluded that there was no reason to believe that Norfolk would have been "visited by the epidemic but for the arrival" of the Ben Franklin, "or some other vessel with fever on board."
Norfolk leaders hoped that the findings of the committee would help to rejuvenate the borough's image. In 1854, the Norfolk Herald had proclaimed hopefully, "Behold a new town and a new people!" That spirit had to be recaptured. In 1857, Norfolk merchants organized an "Exchange" to channel ideas and actions for rebuilding the city. In the months that followed, the Exchange formed a hotel construction company and raised funds to finance a packet company that would ply the James River Canal from Lynchburg. But the memory of the fever was a stubborn thing. Time, in Norfolk, seemed to date from before or after the "summer of pestilence." Monuments to heroes of the plague, prayers of thanksgiving, and statistics of health reminded citizens of their collective tragedy.
The editors of the Argus, upon resuming publication of the paper, spoke of a "plague-spirit." In 1859, the paper admitted that the "advancement" of Norfolk was "slow, too slow." The plague had "melted away the population like snow" and shaken the self-confidence of the city.
By the end of the decade, the optimism that had opened it was gone. The "Queen of the Chesapeake" remained uncrowned; her "subjects" failed to increase. The Argus commented dourly that "the fever not only thinned out the population, but . . . tended to prevent accessions to the number of inhabitants." Rival cities, unhindered by plagues, left the borough with the same market garden and lumber trade it had had in the 1840s and with little else. The borough captured virtually nothing of the tobacco trade. Competitors maintained that its proximity to swamplands had as ill an effect on tobacco as on people. Despite natural harbor facilities, Norfolk exported goods valued at little more than a half-million dollars whereas Richmond, a hundred miles up the James River, exported more than six million dollars worth of produce. Processing industries remained a dream and Norfolk's major manufactures were still "shook and cooper stuff," derivatives of nearby lumber supplies. The rail lines of other cities penetrated into North Carolina and upper Virginia and carried off the produce to their own ports. The failure of Norfolk's dream of economic growth rested partly in a complex web of bad luck, legislative favoritism, and underdeveloped entrepreneurial skill. Yet disease was an important factor in the stagnation of the city. The yellow fever epidemic seems to have been a turning point in antebellum Norfolk's hopes for commercial success. At the beginning of the 1850s ambitious, aggressive leaders had projected an image of a progressive, healthy metropolis. Trade and industry seemed ready to burst upon Norfolk. But the new image proved too fresh and fragile. While the burden inflicted by the fever still lay heavy on the city, the New York Sun carried a prophetic rhyme:
Norfolk and Portsmouth! cities doomed!
Your streets were stilled, your people tombed;
For the death angel rode the blast,
And broke his vials as he passed.
Thou'rt gone, thank God, but yet we see,
A tablet to thy memory,
In many hearts by anguish torn
And orphans unto sorrow born.
Norfolk's image, its spirit, and perhaps its dreams of economic eminence were all tablets to the memory of the fever, recorded for posterity in an epitaph of amateur verse.
After the epidemic, a monument was erected in Philadelphia to honor those who had contributed to the relief of the victims. Located in the North Laurel Hill Cemetery, the monuemnt has a base of Pennsylvania marble measuring five feet, six inches square and weighing more than five tons. A pedestal base on top of the marble has elaborate carving in bas-relief. The description of the four sides of the base are from a book about the epidemic, published after the disease had run its course.
Photo courtesty of Laurel Hill Cemetery,
The plinth of the column bears the inscription:
As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field so he flouisheth. Psalm 103:15
The pedestal has a carving in Basso Relievo of Laying out the Dead.
The base of the pedestal bears the inscription:
Erected by the Philadelphia Contributors, in memory of the Doctors, Druggists and Nurses of this City, who volunteered to aid the suffers by Yellow Fever, at Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, and died in the discharge of their duties—Martyrs in the cause of humanity.
The plinth of the column bears the inscription:
If ye fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well. James 2:8.
The pedestal has a carving in Basso Relievo of Charity.
On the base of the pedestal is inscribed:
The pestilence to which those here entombed fell martyrs, broke out at Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, in July 1855, and prevailed with great malignancy during August, September and the early part of October; attended by a mortality equal to anything hitherto observed in the United States.
On the plinth of the column is inscribed:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13.
The pedestal has a carving in Basso Relievo of The Good Samaritan.
On the Base of the pedestal are the names of the Martyrs.
Robert H. Graham, Nurse, Aged 27.
Thomas W. Handy, Druggist, Aged 19.
John O'Brien, Nurse, Aged 42.
E. Perry Miller, Drug. & Stu., Aged 21.
A. Jackson Thompson, Nurse, Aged 26.
Dr. Courtlen Cole, Aged 31.
Mrs. Olive Whittier, Nurse, Aged 55.
Dr. Thomas Craycroft, Aged 30.
Singleton Mercer, Nurse, Aged 35.
Edmund R. Barrett, Student, Aged 23.
Frederick Muhsfeldt, Nurse, Aged 42.
Henry Spriggman, Nurse, Aged 49.
Dr. Herman Kierson, Aged 28.
Miss Lucy Johnson, Nurse, Aged 25.
James Hennessey, Nurse, Aged 54.
On the plinth of the column is inscribed:
And let us not be weary in welldoing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Paul to Galatians 6:9.
The pedestal has a carving in Basso Relievo of Hippocrates Declining the Bribe.
On the base of the pedestal is inscribed:
I was sick and ye visited me.
Verily I say into you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25: 36, 40.
ON THE YELLOW FEVER OF NORFOLK AND PORTSMOUTH
By E. D. Fenner, M. D., New Orleans
The Virginia Medical & Surgical Journal, December 1855, pp 509-511.
One of the most efficient and active of the noble volunteers in the late epidemic of yellow fever, was Dr. E. D. Fenner. If not a Virginian, (and we believe he is a native of this state,) he has its warm blood in his veins, and right soon did he come to her in the day of trouble. Hence, his remarks on the fever of Norfolk possess peculiar interest.
Dr. Fenner sketches rapidly the events of the epidemic; alludes to the frightful mortality, and want of medical aid and nursing amongst the sufferers, and tells of the valuable assistance which came from all quarters. Amongst other facts he states that New Orleans had at one time, fifty nurses employed in the infected cities, and paid for by their own charities.
The author seems to think the epidemic very similar to the one occurring in 1853, in New Orleaans. If possible, it may have been more malignant. Suppression of urine, probably one of the worst symptoms in the disease, was certainly more common, whilst on the contrary, black vomit was recovered from more frequently than usual. Some of the most obstinate cases were marked by a perfectly natural tongue. Fierce hunger existed in some cases, and was generally a very unfavorable symptom. Relapse was frequent and almost always fatal.
As to the treatment, Dr. Fenner suggests nothing new. He seems to think that the Norfolk people could not "fight the fever," like the New Orleans inhabitants, and over medication and no medication equally failed.
As to the origin and causes of the epidemic, Dr. Fenner writes up to a theory. Like most medical authors, he has a leaning one way, and is apt to see the facts on his side of the question. This is much to be regretted. If we would but be content to collect facts, if we would wait and let them one by one gather; the evidence would so accumulate in a certain direction, as to force us to a conclusion, and [p510] many a knotty point would be solved, over which the profession has quarreled for years. But now, every one gives his version of the story; what he wants to believe. This goes on the record, and stands oftentimes as a permanent guide post, unfortunately but too often pointing us the wrong road.
Dr. Fenner says that it was probable that the Ben Franklin did not bring the materies morbi, but that it was of local origin. Why? Because there were three cases of yellow fever in Norfolk last year, "not traceable to any foreign connexion." This would be conclusive if the story was finished. But Dr. Fenner forgets the fact that the French man of war Chimere lay in Norfolk harbour just at this time and the yellow fever swept its crew with tremendous fury. Such a thing might have happened as that the Irish washerwomen of Barry's Row were exposed to the infection. The Osterveldt and Ashland, two merchantmen were also lying in port with yellow fever on board. "In 1852," says our author, "there were also well marked cases of yellow fever, apparently of local origin." True, but we have heard of a Spanish brig which came in from a yellow fever port with suspicious cases on board, and might it not be possible thus to explain the origin of the disease? Again he says: I was informed that some cases very much like yellow fever, though perhaps not unquestionable, appeared simultaneously with the first cases on board the Ben Franklin." This is too indefinite for history; what is the authority; where the evidence?
But on the other hand, "it is certainly true that the disease appeared to commence at the spot where the Ben Franklin laid, and from there spread over Portsmouth and Norfolk."
Then says Dr. Fenner, "look at the behaviour of the Ben Franklin." "She came from a suspected port." She came from the island of St. Thomas, where we know there was yellow fever, for a U. S. man of war was in the harbour of St. Thomas at the same time with the Ben Franklin, and got the fever on board and came to Norfolk with it. "She was found to be perfectly healthy," although two of the crew had died during the voyage, yet the captain said they had some other disease." Now the word of a captain or the judgment of a captain is not always reliable. But the steamer came up to Gosport on the 20th of June, and nothing was heard of the "cases occurring simultaneously," until workmen went down in her hold to repair her engine, when Carter a workman of this city who had been employed on her [p511] machinery to repair it, had the yellow fever. This was the 5th of July. She was sent back to quarantine again, and the captain again declared that his vessel was healthy, and complained of his detention, but this time there was no mistake. Dr. Gordon the health officer found the fever on board, and at the quarantine he had to stay.
Lastly, says Dr. Fenner, "now if three cases of yellow fever occurred in 1854 from local causes, and if a greater number of cases appeared in the same way in 1852, and if one or more cases appeared in Norfolk and Portsmouth previous to the arrival of the Ben Franklin, as I heard reported," then there is reason to "doubt" its agency. Every one will agree with the author here. Grant him his premises and his argument is perfect.
But for argument's sake we will take the other side. And we say: If a Spanish brig carried to Norfolk in 1852, from a yellow fever port, and the disease spread around it, and if the French vessel Chimere lay in harbour in 1854 and three persons were able to take the infection from her, and if the workman Carter who was down in the hold of the Ben Franklin, was the first authenticated case of fever in Gosport, and then and there the disease began its ravages, "as we have heard reported," we ask our readers if our argument is not as good as his.
This hasty and loose method of writing on such important questions has always added to the difficulties of the subject rather than aided in arriving at truth. We are pleased to hear that an able committee of the Norfolk faculty have commenced a careful collection of all the facts bearing on the late epidemic. Let us suspend any attempt to draw conclusions on either side of the question until the authentic evidence has been sifted and examined by the gentlemen who are now engaged in this important duty.