Transcription by Donna Bluemink

History of Portsmouth
The History of Norfolk, Virginia
The Pestilence & After the Pestilence
A Sketch of the Life of the Rev. William M. Jackson
The City of Pestilence by Samuel Selden.

* * * * * *

History of Portsmouth
by Miss Mildred M. Holladay
Chapter XIII, pp. 292-306
A feature of Portsmouth Star, 41st Annual Edition,
January 19, 1936
[Edited slightly by compiler.]

[292] Perhaps the greatest setback that Portsmouth ever had was the yellow fever epidemic of 1885. There had been one or two [293] mild epidemics in the two towns many years before this one but they did not reach alarming proportions.

The official chronicler of this dread time tells us that "on the 8th of July, 1855, a perfect tremor of fear swept over the town when it was learned that a young workman had died of yellow fever in Gosport. It was Sunday, but the Town Council met in extraordinary session, to hear the reports of the various physicians who had attended the man." Carter, for such was the victim's name, had been working on the Ben Franklin, a vessel which had recently come to Page & Allen's shipyard for repairs. The Franklin had been in tropical seas and upon reaching here had discharged her bilge water. Evidence convinced the Council that the ship was the source of infection, and orders were issued to the Town Sergeant to have the vessel removed to quarantine. The captain after much controversy and not until he had taken legal advice, moved her out of the harbor.

Meanwhile new cases were developing in Irish Row, just opposite the shipyard, on First street. By July 27 the fever was rapidly spreading in Gosport. The suburb was found to be in a filthy and crowded condition, and the newly organized sanitary commission decided that the patients must leave it for healthier quarters. They decided to build a hospital at once in the town proper, where no case had yet appeared. Procuring the site for one proved a difficult proposition. At last one was found near Portlock's (Oak Grove) Cemetery.

By this time so great was the need for the hospital that not only the carpenters, but the other citizens of the town, went to work with hammers and nails, completing the building in two days.

On the last day of July it was opened to receive patients, [294] with Dr. George W. O. Maupin and Dr. John Trugien in charge. Both gentlemen serving without charge.

Unlooked for difficulties arose when the attempt was made to transfer the patients to the hospital. The Rev. James Chisholm, Rector of St. John's Church was present at the time, and the following appalling picture is quoted from his diary. "The wretched and squalid patients in Irish Row positively refused to leave their pestilential abodes. These in number between two and three hundred reeking in nameless abomination of filth and stench, and exhibiting in their conduct to one another a hard heartlessness of which we would not have dared believe human nature capable of under such circumstances; reveling, fighting and quarreling among the dying and over the dead, they refused to stir." Mr. Chisholm goes on to say that Father Devlin the Priest had to be sent for to use his official authority.

"When he had gained their consent by mingled ecclesiastical threats and promises, a new difficulty arose. Wagons in which to move the poor creatures, nor hands to lift them, could not be obtained for any consideration. Thus the day wore on. I have never seen a more disheartened set of men in my life than our physicians."

The next morning a few wagons having been procured, the doctors themselves with the aid of Mr. Chisholm and Father Devlin, lifted the patients into them. Nine wagons were filled with them, "Some," said Mr. Chisholm, "lying prostrate, others in sitting posture, all with agonized faces and uttering fearful groans.

"By noon every bed in the hospital was filled and new cases developing hourly. So far no cases had occurred in Portsmouth [295] proper except one or two that could be traced to people who worked in Gosport."

Dr. Schoolfield, the chronicler before alluded to, says in his "History of the Epidemic," that, "in the history of Portsmouth the blackest day the sun ever shone on was the first of August, 1855. The day was hot and sultry and the streets were alive with people. A single object enlisted their attention - a wagon covered with white having a mattress on the floor, attracted the gaze of the terrified inhabitants. Nothing was thought of but the impending calamity, as the vehicle freighted with its fevered occupants passed slowly through the city on its way to the hospital. What had been feared and hoped against had become a reality. The sanitary committee had given publicity to the fact that yellow fever was epidemic in Portsmouth."

A delegation had been sent to Washington to petition the Secretary of Navy to turn over temporarily the Naval Hospital to the town for the use of the fever patients. The committee returned with good news. The buildings were placed at the disposal of the sanitary committee and the surgeon and his staff were to remain in charge of it.

Hundreds of the inhabitants were now leaving by every train and boat; and by the middle of August all who could go from the pest-ridden community were hurrying to do so. It was rapidly becoming impossible to find a place of refuge. Suffolk and Smithfield had quarantined against both Norfolk and Portsmouth. The stage coach to Elizabeth City had been turned back within ten miles of the town; and only the mail bags sent on.

[296] Every available building in the countryside was used by the distracted refugees: barns, churches and schoolhouses were alike pressed into service, while the poor creatures who could find no other shelter built huts along the Suffolk road.

The boats to Old Point were the only means [of] delivery, and it was not long before rumor announced that they would no longer touch at Norfolk and Portsmouth. Frantic throngs crowded the wharf before each trip fearing lest it should be the last. There is a letter in the possession of the writer, from one of the citizens who stood nobly by his native town in its dark hour, describing the scenes which took place on the wharf. "I never witnessed such a panic as I encountered this morning. Nearly an hour before the boat started, the whole space was covered by trunks, carpet bags and boxes, thronged by an immense mass of human beings, of all ages and conditions, such a number that it was feared that the boat could not take all on board. When she made fast there was not only pushing and shoving, but actual fighting occurred."

It proved a fruitless trip for many who did embark for upon the arrival at Old Point the refugees met a detachment of soldiers from the United States Army who ordered them back on the boat at the point of the bayonet. Some of the passengers were fortunate enough to get on the Bay Line steamer leaving Old Point for Baltimore. Upon their arrival in that city they received a hearty welcome.

The negroes in both towns were thoroughly demoralized, though they seemed to be practically immune from the fever. No amount of money, no appeal of any kind could induce them to nurse the sick, or indeed render assistance of any kind to the sick or the dead.

[297] The doctors had usually to carry the sick to the hospital, and often found it necessary to shroud the dead. This duty however, consisted in wrapping them in winding sheets; there being no time for more formal shrouds. Only one undertaker remained in the town, and he could not supply the demand for coffins. Again the Government came to our aid; the workmen in the Navy Yard were ordered to make them. The coffins were called for before the patient died in many instances. The town grave digger, old Bob Butt was as faithful to his duties as any gentleman in Portsmouth. He did not spare himself; for when the epidemic was at its worst he spent the night as well as the day in the cemetery, snatching a nap there as he had opportunity. An amusing story is told in connection with one of Bob's naps. He had just prepared a grave and while waiting for the corpse to arrive, he fell into a doze by the graveside. Presently the hearse rattled up and two young men who were at the beck and call of the community, lifted out the body. As they did so, there was a muffled sound from the grave and from it slowly arose a figure. The young men said that they thought the dead were beginning to return, but they recognized the old grave-digger just in time to keep from dropping the corpse.

When the epidemic was over and the situation in the town had become normal, the citizens started a movement for raising a sufficient sum of money to purchase Bob Butt from his master, Mr. Britton, in order to give him freedom. This was successfully accomplished and the faithful darky spent the rest of his life in Portsmouth much respected as sexton of Trinity Church.

As the epidemic progressed graves could not be opened [298] fast enough so it became necessary to dig trenches in which eight bodies could be buried at one time. A portion of Portlock's (Oak Grove) Cemetery was purchased, then consecrated and set aside for those who died in the Catholic faith.

By the tenth of August famine stared the town in the face and her entire doom seemed certain. Relief, however, was at hand. The cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia came to our aid, not only supplying food and medicine, but also sent us doctors and nurses when the call for them came. To these cities Norfolk and Portsmouth owe a debt of gratitude which they can scarcely repay.

At this period we get another picture of the pest-ridden city from Mr. Chisholm's diary. He says, "The situation is awful beyond conception. The eye must see; the ear must hear; fancy cannot furnish the deep dark shadows of the picture. On Sunday thirty-two deaths, on Monday twenty-two and today by 11 o'clock seventeen more have died. The only stores open on High street are dispensaries whose doors are beset by an anxious throng. There are no sounds of mirth or business in our main avenue; no groups of grave men on our pavements; no bands of frolicsome children in the highways and byways; no social gatherings; no hearty salutations and accostings when men meet, for everyone seems dubious about approaching his neighbor; no bridals; no baptisms; not even dirges due in sad array at the constantly recurring funerals. The sick wagon with its tall canopy dashes down the street, and the black hearse bearing its coffined burdens, for there is usually more than one carried out at the time, rattling with an indecent and revolting haste; not one emblem of sorrow relieving its sinister aspect."

[299] Again some time later he says, "at this moment an astonishing spectacle is presented to our gaze. A schooner under full sail is entering our harbor, probably bringing ice, for the supply in both cities has given out. There has been nothing seen like this for the last six weeks. . . Sept. 4 - Today the Baltimore boat came into port, among other things to land a load of coffins; and so great was the need for them that there was actually quarreling and fighting over them. In the wake of pestilence follows famine. Its pinching horrors are already felt by a large part of our population. Though the genial atmosphere of summer lingers with us and autumn is pouring her abundant stores around us, there is not one grocery open in the place. A depository of provisions sent us by the noble cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia, has been opened, and from this source the stricken and needy sufferers are supplied."

At this juncture, an offer made by the city of Baltimore suggests some idea of the conditions existing in the two towns. This generous city offered to convey the whole population that had remained in Norfolk and Portsmouth to any salubrious point that could be obtained, guaranteeing them all clothing, bedding and provisions, in fact, care for them entirely just as long as it should be necessary. This proposition could not be accepted for many reasons. In the first place every well person was needed to care for the sick, and then there was need for others to aid in this way.

Every church in the city closed its doors but St. John's. It's rector, Mr. Chisholm did not succumb to the fever until the epidemic was well over. In this church he held services for all denominations but as can be imagined the congregations [300] were not large. The Catholic Church too, was open until near the end; when its priest fell a victim to the fever. Mr. Chisholm in a letter of this period says, "Mr. Eskridge and myself are the only resident ministers who can go abroad and visit the sick, the dying and the bereaved. Devlin, Handy and Hume are now convalescent of the fever, the others are away. The few men who remain on their feet to constitute the administrative council of this town are at their wits' end. Noble men their number is sadly decimated.

"Several of the best have fallen; but God will mercifully preserve some. They are men who merit more than the hero's amaranth. First and foremost among them from the twentieth of July onward, has been and is your friend, Gustavus Holladay. You would scarcely credit what this more than hero has suffered, has endured, has done, has sacrificed."

The members of the relief committee referred to by Mr. Chisholm were Winchester Watts, James Gustavus Holladay, Holt Wilson, Samuel Hartt, George Chambers, D. D. Fiske and Joseph Schoolfield.

There were ten physicians who remained in Portsmouth during the epidemic. Five of them died of fever; Trugien, Parker, Nicholson, Collins and Lovitt. Maupin, Bilisoly, Hatton, Cocke and Schoolfield were stricken with fever but recovered.

When the cry went forth for doctors, twenty-eight responded and came to Portsmouth. Eight of these died of the fever. It is not known just how many nurses came to our aid, but of the number nine fell victims to the plague.

So entirely was the town cut off from the outside world that those who recovered from the fever, and needed purer air [301] for recuperation, had to ride for some distance on the Suffolk road, and at some point on the Nansemond river take a rowboat to meet the little steamer that plied between Suffolk and Newport News, at which port the Bay Line steamers landed.

Perhaps no buildings in Portsmouth were more useful during this scourge than the old "Academy." At first many of the terrified inhabitants of Gosport wandered to the Academy seeking a sleeping place in the healthier part of town. They threw themselves down on the steps and porches of the building for the night. For a number of them it proved their last resting place above ground, the disease having already attacked them before they sought refuge there. As time went on it became necessary to take over the Academy for an orphan asylum. The number of homeless children had become a grave problem. At first they had been cared for at the Naval Hospital, but every particle of space there was needed for the ever increasing number of patients seeking admittance. The Academy was officially taken as an orphan asylum. Col. Winchester Watts who had taken upon himself the care of the orphans, secured the services of a faithful and devoted Sister of Charity, Sister Isadore, who took charge of the institution. We learn from a letter written by Mr. Watts at this period of the difficulty he had in moving the orphans from the Naval Hospital to their new home. It proved impossible to get darkies to drive wagons or in any way help. He had to take, with Sister Isadore's aid, the young children in his own carriage, making trip after trip. He then forced his coachman to drive the older ones to the Academy.

When the epidemic was over the official list showed that nearly four hundred children had been cared for as orphans, [302] though in some instances only one parent had died. Many of these children were taken by relatives afterwards, and a large number of them were taken over by the City of Richmond and placed in the orphanage there. The present orphans' home in Portsmouth was endowed with the funds left over from the Howard Association money subscribed for the fever sufferers.

In the census report for 1850, Portsmouth is credited with 8,000 inhabitants, but it is estimated that the number of persons had reached ten thousand at least by 1855.

About four thousand people remained in the town during the epidemic, the population evenly distributed between white and colored, thus making two thousand white here. Of this number one thousand and eighty are known to have died of the fever.

The report of the Treasurer of the Howard Association shows that this organization paid for the burial of seven hundred and fifty persons, at the cost of $10,314.95. The earlier victims of the disease were buried by their families before the organization took charge of affairs. Bob Butt, the gravedigger, kept an account of the graves that he dug.

Irish or Leigh's Row, where the fever first broke out and remained the center of the stage, is still standing on First street. It is little changed, the basements having been turned into stores. It consisted of eight tenements with two storys and basements, two rooms on each floor. At the time of the fever every room was said to have been the home of a large family; pigs and calves in some instances lived in the basement rooms with the families. Filth abounded throughout the row, even in the grog shops which were kept in some of the basement rooms. The families occupying the Row had not been long over from Ireland and were desperately poor. [303] The development of the Navy Yard had brought an influx of people to the town and housing conditions were acute, (pulled down lately.)

It would be impossible to give here a sketch of the many noble men who helped the town in her hour of need, but some memorial of those who gave their lives in her service can be found in The Portsmouth Relief Association, the official history of the yellow fever, written by Dr. Schoolfield, The "Life of Rev. James Chisholm" by Conrad, which includes parts of his diary and a number of letters written in Portsmouth during the fever epidemic, furnishes an interesting though appalling picture of the plague.

Mr. Chisholm was born in Salem, Mass., September 30, 1815. He was endowed with a brilliant mind but a frail body. At the Latin school in his native city, when a mere lad he attracted attention as a gifted pupil, and while there received from the hands of the eminent jurist, Judge Story, a prize for scholarship. At Harvard College he was again the recipient of a prize and graduated from that college with distinction in the class of 1836. He was a linguist of ability, being perfectly conversant with Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Italian and German.

The four modern languages he spoke fluently, besides reading and writing them. Mr. Chisholm came first to Virginia as assistant principal of a classical school in Charlestown, then in that state. After teaching several years he decided to enter the ministry and went to the Virginia Theological seminary. He served several parishes in Virginia before taking charge at St. John's, Portsmouth, in 1850 as its first rector.

[304] Mr. Chisholm had married Miss Byrd Page of Clarke County, Virginia, and she and his two children came with him to his new parish.

The Chisholm family during their five years residence in Portsmouth were much beloved. Mrs. Chisholm died in the spring of 1855, and it is said that at her funeral there was not a dry eye in the church. When the last hymn was sung the choir broke down and the concluding verse was rendered by the organ alone, without accompanyment.

Mrs. Chisholm's youngest boy, a child of five, was desperately ill at his grandfather's [sister and brother-in-law] home when the fever broke out in Portsmouth. He had just received the summons to the child's bedside when the disease was pronounced epidemic. Mr. Chisholm felt that his duty was in Portsmouth, though no member of his congregation was ill of fever. Little Johnny died without seeing again the father that he so constantly called for throughout his illness.

During that awful summer of 1855, Mr. Chisholm labored night and day among people of every denomination. He was, however, spared to comfort the pest ridden sufferings until the disease had abated. Then his frail body, worn our by privation and toil, succumbed to the fever. He was stricken with the premonitory chill at the graveside of a victim he was burying, and as soon as the rites were over he asked to be taken to the Naval hospital, and from there he passed to the reward of a martyr on the 15th of September, 1855. He was buried in the family lot of his friend Mr. John Hatton, in Cedar Grove cemetery, and a monument was later erected over his grave by the citizens of the town.

Portsmouth did not forget the services of the naval surgeons who rendered such devoted assistance during the epidemic. In [305] 1856 the Council of the town appropriated a sum with which to purchase medals for these surgeons.

These medals were made of gold and were nearly three inches in diameter, costing two hundred dollars each. The gentlemen to whom they were presented were Doctors Lewis Minor, Randolph Harrison, James F. Harrison, Frank Anthony Walke, Thomas H. Steele and John C. Coleman. Dr. James Harrison and Dr. Minor had both been presented medals by the French Government in 1854, in appreciation of their care of the yellow fever patients of the French man of war Chimere, which was anchored in this harbor at the time. On Jan. 12, Captain Thompson of Philadelphia, arrived here as escort to the bodies of the doctors and nurses of that city, who lost their lives in the fever. All the shops closed that day and the bells tolled as the remains of the heroic dead passed through the city, escorted by the military, the Masonic Fraternities and the Howard Association. The Philadelphians who died in Portsmouth were Doctors Cortlandt Cole, and Edwin Barrett; the nurses and druggists were R. W. Graham, Henry Spriggman, Singleton Mercer, E. Perry Miller, Fred Muhsfeldt, Charles Shrieve, William Husen, Mrs. Clive Whittier, and Miss Lucy Johnson.

Among other physicians who died here of yellow fever were Dr. J. Clarkson Smith of Columbia, Pa., Dr. Thomas P. Howie, of Richmond, and Dr. Marshall of Baltimore.

So quietly did the Sisters of Charity perform their ministrations in the ward of the Naval Hospital set aside for women and children, that they are in danger of being overlooked in distributing the meed of praise. These three Sisters, Isabella, Urbana and Bruno, volunteered their services and were willing to help in any way. It was said of them by one who worked with [306] them that they were ministering angels. With the cool weather of October, the fever disappeared and by the middle of the month the inhabitants returned to the deserted town.

To the physicians of Portsmouth it was clear that the yellow fever had been spread in this community by the Ben Franklin, that her discharged bilge water carried the germ, or rather infection, as they called it in those days, so they thought. Another thing had been noted during the epidemic of 1855, as well as in the other epidemics of yellow fever in this section - a fly - they said, of rather unusual kind seemed very plentiful. They were called "yellow fever flies," and it was not uncommon in the warm weather to hear the older people say of some fly - "that looks like a yellow fever fly."

Though science had not advanced to any great extent in those days in medicine, yet doubtless deep down in the minds of these Portsmouth physicians there were gropings in the right direction. They would have rejoiced greatly in the work done by that noble son of Virginia, Dr. Walter Reed.


* * * * * *

By H. W. Burton
Norfolk Virginian Job Print, 1877.
pp. 20-25.

Terrible Consequences of the Epidemic in 1855.

[20] Notwithstanding the fact that Norfolk is one of the healthiest cities in the United States, she was visited by that terrible disease, Yellow Fever, in the Summer of 1855. The dreadful malady was brought to our harbor early in the month of June by the ocean steamship Benjamin Franklin. The first case discovered was that of a workman on board the ship; he afterwards died in Gosport, which is the southern end of Portsmouth. The disease begun to spread rapidly from that moment, and of course was brought to Norfolk.

This writer not being a resident of Norfolk at that time (thanks to God!) can only repeat what others have said and written concerning the great pestilence, and will therefore condense an account from the very interesting work by Mr. W. S. Forrest, entitled "The Great Pestilence in Virginia." After the fever got beyond the control of the health authorities of the two cities, the citizens began to leave town; they fled in all directions "from the frightful scenes of disease, wretchedness and woe—amazed and horror-struck at the ravages of the unsparing agent of destruction." Many escaped, though not a few of the unhappy refugees sickened and died, and found graves in the midst of sympathizing strangers, away from their deserted homes.

"Families that left in one unbroken, fond and cherished circle, earnestly hoping to elude the vigilance of the pursuer, were overtaken and deprived of one or more of the most loved and endeared members. The strongest link in the golden chain of affection, that bound them in close union and held inviolate the sacred family compact, was suddenly severed, and fell, shivered to the ground, and deep and festering wounds were inflicted in many a true and trusting heart, that time can never heal."

It is a well known fact that previous to the arrival of the steamer aforesaid, there was no yellow fever in this section; consequently its presence cannot be attributed to the climate, nor to the sanitary condition of the "Twin Cities by the Sea." It should be remembered that "with the same sanitary laws and regulations, with similar weather, and with far greater apparent local cause of sickness, Norfolk and Portsmouth had long been uniformly healthful—the bills of mortality comparing very favorably with those of other places known and acknowledged to be exceedingly free from epidemic maladies, and fully entitled to their claim to salubrity of climate."

With a feeling of sympathy which will never be forgotten, the people of the neighboring counties, particularly of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, threw open their doors to those of our citizens who fled from the dangers of the dreadful pestilence, and extended them true hospitality and kindness during the continuance of the scourge, which lasted until the frosts of October came. Never since the time of the great fire in 1776 had such a calamity befallen our beloved city, the results of which were felt by our business men for years and years; and by its ravages the hearts of many persons now living were saddened for life with sorrows which Heaven alone can heal.

[21] When the fever was in its worst stage, Norfolk attracted the sympathy of the entire country. Public meetings were held in a majority of the cities of the Union, and money was liberally contributed to the relief of the sufferers. Nurses came from various parts of the land to offer their services to the sick, and many of them lost their lives in the cause of humanity. "On the 16th of August (when the danger was fearful) Miss Annie M. Andrews, a young lady from Syracuse, New York (formerly of Louisiana), arrived here and offered her services to Mayor Hunter Woodis as a nurse. She immediately entered upon her martyr-like labors at the hospital in the true spirit of self-sacrificing, generous and heroic devotion; and hither she was soon followed by others, whose kind attention to the sick and suffering will ever be gratefully remembered." Nurses came principally from the cities of New Orleans, Charleston, Mobile, Savannah, Richmond, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

"The Howard Association, of Norfolk, and the Relief Committee, of Portsmouth, had been fully organized, and had commenced their career of great usefulness. The utility of these timely organizations was strikingly apparent. The citizens of Norfolk were soon falling at the fearful rate of 60, 70, and even 80 per day, and of from 20 to 30 per day in Portsmouth. It was then that some were appalled and chilled with fright, while others were apparently callous, careless and reckless, and went about the work of boxing up and removing the dead, with but little appearance of fear or agitation.

"About the first of September the fever attained its most appalling fury. Long will that period of terror and death be remembered by those who had not fled from the pestilence. Bermuda street was like one great hospital; every house had its sick, or dead! On Brigg's Point, the most eastern portion of the city, the people were dying by the dozen per day, and in a space of considerable width, and extending thence across to the western limits, people of every class were falling like withered leaves shaken by the winds. It was a time of intense excitement and consternation. It was too late to fly! for those who fled as certainly fell as the bird fatally wounded by the fowler's shot. They had gone to Richmond, Petersburg, Hampton and elsewhere; but the venom had entered the blood, and they lay down but to die! Here, there were five hundred cases, and the number of deaths at one time reached eighty in twenty-four hours, in our small remaining population. The corpses accumulated so rapidly that coffins could not be supplied for them. Hearses were driven rapidly out to the grave-yards with two, three and often four at a load, and the coffined dead were piled upon the ground awaiting the opening of the graves and pits, by the insuf-ficent force at work. In that memorable week, four hundred of the citizens of Norfolk were buried!" The work of burying the dead went on hastily and fearfully by day and night." But the heart shudders at the thought of the appalling scenes that were witnessed during the months of August, September and October. No pen can adequately portray the horrors of that dark period, which, brief as it was, has sufficed to produce an age of misery and woe, unprecedented in the records of similar visitations."

[22] The many sad scenes and incidents of the "fever months of Norfolk," which have already been written and published, and which are so well remembered by a great number of our people, would fill a large volume of interesting reading matter; but this writer does not propose to go into such details, and will conclude his writing upon this sad subject by giving the names of some of the prominent citizens who fell victims to the terrible disease.

Among the thousands of persons who died with the fever, Mr. Forrest particularly mentions the following: Jno. G. H. Hatton, President of the Select Council; Alex, Feret, of the Exchange Bank; Ignatius Higgins, teller of the Virginia Bank; W. E. Cunningham, Senior Editor of the American Beacon; Wm. D. Roberts, delegate elect to the Legislature; Richard Gatewood, Jr., of the Norfolk Beacon; Wilson B. Sorey, U. S. Deputy Marshal; Bray B. Walters, proprietor of the National Hotel; R. S. Bernard, druggist; Archibald Briggs, an extensive merchant; John Tunis, of the Board of Health; Josiah Wills, an extensive merchant and President of the Virginia Bank; Ex-Mayor Wm. D. Delany; Alex. Galt, postmaster; Wm. B. Ferguson, an extensive merchant and President of the Howard Association; Wm. Reid, a ship-broker; Chas. H. Beale, a former editor of the Daily News; Caleb Bonsal, one of the proprietors of extensive flour mills; John D. Gordan, banker; Joseph Murden, of the Exchange Bank; Rev. Wm. M. Jackson, pastor of St. Paul's (Episcopal) Church; Rev. Messrs. A. Dibrell and Wm. Jones, of the Methodist Church; Rev. Wm. C Bagnall, of the Baptist Church; Rev. Vernon Eskridge (M. E.) chaplain in the navy; and Hunter Woodis, Esq., Mayor of the city.

The following resident physicians died in the discharge of their professional duties—1st, Dr. Richard W. Sylvester; 2d, Dr. Thomas F. Constable; 3d, Dr. George I. Halson; 4th, Dr. R. J. Sylvester; 5th, Dr. Francis L. Higgins; 6th, Dr. Junius A. Briggs; 7th, Dr. Thomas Nash; 8th, Dr. George L. Upshur; 9th, Dr. Richard B. Tunstall; 10th, Dr. Henry Selden. Of the forty-five physicians who came here from other places to attend the sick, twenty-five died with the fever, to-wit: four from Richmond, seven from Baltimore, four from Philadelphia, one; from Sussex county, Va., one from Pennsylvania, two from District of Columbia, three from New York, one from Georgia, one from Tennessee, and one from Alabama.

The following resident physicians were all severely ill with the fever, but recovered: Drs. Wm. Selden, Wm. J. Moore, Robt. B. Tunstall, E. D. Granier, H. M. Nash, G. W. Cowdery, F. S. Campos, Thomas I. Hardy, Robt. H. Gordon, D. M. Wright, V. Friedeman, and D. W. Todd.

Dr. J. J. Simpkins was called to Hampton during the fever to [23] attend his sister, who was dangerously ill with the disease. He escaped an attack. Dr. Wm. M. Wilson was Health Officer of the city, and was appointed chief physician at the Julapi Hospital, at Lambert's Point, where he labored faithfully. He also escaped an attack, having had the disease in the South in 1852. Dr. Robt. W. Rose also worked faithfully for the sufferers. He had a slight attack of the malady and soon recovered.

One of the most lamentable deaths from the fever in this city was that of His Honor, Hunter Woodis, the Mayor. He was a gentleman of fine talents and culture, a faithful friend, a genial, sociable companion, an able lawyer, and the best of Mayors. He died on the 2oth of August of that memorable year, in the very prime of life and usefulness; and around his memory will cluster those feelings of admiration and regret of the people that will make his name immortal in the annals of our history. He was not content with performing the mere duties of his office as the Chief Magistrate of the city during the fever, but was indefatigable in his efforts to afford comfort and relief to the sick and the dying, to the poor and needy. He was everywhere he could see a chance to do good, and when the news was spread that he was prostrated with the disease, the entire community was stricken with new grief; and when his noble spirit had fled to the God who gave it, a darker shade was added to the sombre pall of sorrow that enshrouded the city, and deep were the pangs of regret that saddened the hearts of the people. The shaft of death never struck a brighter mark—Norfolk never mourned the loss of a better friend, a nobler man.

The following ministers took the fever while actively engaged nursing the sick, and were dangerously ill, but were spared to continue their usefulness: Rev. D. P. Wills, Methodist Episcopal; Rev. Father M. O'Keefe, Catholic; Rev. Dr. George D. Armstrong, Presbyterian; and Rev. Louis Walke, Protestant Episcopal.

A. F. Leonard, Esq., editor of the Southern Argus, whose labors among the fever sufferers are well remembered, thus wrote about the scourge after it had abated: "We have seen our lately flourishing mart reduced to the scanty number of 4,000 surviving souls. In the short space of less than ninety days, out of an average population of about 6,000, every man, woman and child (almost without exception) has been stricken with the fell fever, and about 2,000 have been buried, being not less than two out of three of the whites, and one out of three of the whole abiding community of Norfolk, white and black. One-half of our physicians who continued here are in the grave, and not less than thirty-six, resident and visitant, have fallen in Norfolk and Portsmouth. But the storm is over, and again our good ship lays her course. Her sails are swelled to [24] fullness in the crisp October wind, and anon, her flag is given to the breeze, but it floats sadly at half-mast; and the call to quarters reveals that wide havoc has been made in our crew; our deck has been swept by the pestilential billow. All have been disabled from the quarter deck to the forecastle, and one-half of our white complement will never more greet us with the once-familiar smile."

The helpless dead, in their promiscuous groups, have proved monitors of awe and condemnation to hearts that were callous to other teachings; and deep grief and untold sorrows have worked changes that may in the last day be pleasing to Him who doeth all things well. Thy will, not mine, O! Lord be done; for Thou hast the glory, and the power forever—amen!


* * * * * *

By Rev. W. H. T. Squires, D. D.
[Note: Two editorial additions]

December 9, 1937 - Ledger Dispatch

The Pestilence

Like all other cities, especially those that are seaports, Norfolk has been the victim of epidemics from time to time. Of all diseases that afflicted our people the dreadful and (at that time) mysterious appearances of yellow fever caused most alarm—and naturally.The first severe visitation befell the Borough in 1795. Seven years later (1802) there was another epidemic of yellow fever. The years 1821 and 1826 brought lesser epidemics. Then after 29 years of security, the final and most fatal of all plagues well nigh ruined Norfolk in 1855.

If there were cases in Colonial Norfolk (and it is certain that there were) only meager and unsatisfactory statistics have come down to us.

In 1795 Norfolk was in the midst of a great shipping revival. The Napoleonic wars were sweeping all Europe and everything the farmers of Virginia and Carolina had to sell was in great demand—at any price. Tobacco, cotton, naval stores and foodstuffs were eagerly bought and sold. The produce was brought to these shores by hundreds of small boats, sold and loaded for trans-Atlantic shipment. The narrow and muddy streets and lanes of Norfolk, hurriedly rebuilt after the Revolution, fairly swarmed with sailors, factors, farmers, merchants and speculators. We do not know how the disease came, nor when it first appeared. No doubt the virus and the mosquitoes were shipped to us from some West Indian post. We do know that it appeared between Main street and the waterside. The cheap hotels, inns and boarding houses, crowded close together and filled to capacity offered an ideal condition for a plague.

Those who could leave town fled to the countryside and to neighboring towns. Of those who remained many died daily and were hurried into untimely graves. There is no record either of the population nor of the number of fatalities, but historians usually place the dead at 500, in a population of 2,500—one-fifth of the people of Norfolk were dead! The physicians and other scientists of that day laid the blame upon almost everything except the real culprit. I suppose no one ever suggested the mosquito. They blamed the air, the filth that was heaved into the streets and water, they blamed the water one drank, the swamps that surrounded the city and the unsanitary conditions, especially the lack of sewerage. We have no doubt that all these were contributory causes. Certainly it is upon the night air that the mosquito arrives and in stagnant and filthy water they breed. It was noticed that with the first "killing frost" the epidemic was stayed.

Several years later the terror again appeared. William Couper has left us this word: "We had the yellow fever raging very much among us this summer. It cut off many every day. But I have reason to thank my Preserver for preserving me in the midst of 20 or 30 or 40 who died every day, for the matter of seven or eight weeks. But all is well again and hardly any complaints are to be heard."

Although the next epidemic did not strike Norfolk until 1821 there were many victims from time to time. For instance Benjamin Grigsby, pastor of the Bell Church, the father of Hugh Blair Grigsby, fell a victim in 1810. It is significant that Mr. Grigsby died October 13—the season was too far advanced for a plague to develop.


A ship stood into this harbor July 20, 1821, from Guadaloupe in the West Indies. She dropped anchor before the Borough and unloaded her cargo of sugar, molasses and rum. No doubt she also brought a cargo of West Indian mosquitoes for a clerk in an adjacent warehouse and then a Negro cook died (August 1st) of yellow fever. Case after case of the dreadful disease appeared in the same neighborhood. In a few weeks the victims were scattered all over the section of town that lies south of Main street. It was noticed and published by Dr. George D. Armstrong that "persons living in that section had only to remove north of Main street, and they were as safe from contagion as they would have been a thousand miles off." I have never seen this phenomenon explained. Perhaps the winds that summer were always blowing from the north. Mosquitoes can not fly against the wind. There were 160 deaths that summer, and the great majority were those crowded into shabby tenements, along the narrow streets of the old section.

One good reaction followed. The authorities of the Borough bestirred themselves to clean the streets, fill shallow pools, tear down dilapidated buildings and in other ways make Norfolk a healthier city. Five years later (1826) another epidemic appeared; but, fortunately it came late in September. As always people fled the town, yet more than 25 persons died in ten days.


From 1826 to 1855 Norfolk escaped a visitation. Then came the last and the most frightful of all the plagues. At the mid-century Norfolk took on real life. Railways were building, new steamship lines were organized, handsome stores were opened, the Navy Yard was greatly enlarged, suburbs were expanding and Norfolk enjoyed an unusual prosperity and wealth. But all too soon a macabre procession of calamities descended upon this unhappy town, pestilence, civil war, Federal occupation, Reconstruction and the depression of 1870. Did any other city in America ever have such a series of misfortunes?

On a bright June day (1855) the Benjamin Franklin arrived from St. Thomas, then Danish now American West Indies. Two persons died of yellow fever on that voyage and as soon as possible every passenger left the fatal ship at Old Point. She was quarantined, and while thus detained one of the crew died and was hastily and secretly buried in the woods near the shore. Captain Harrison stoutly insisted that "there was no yellow fever aboard" his good ship. Meantime all the crew deserted!

A family named Fox lived on Scott's Creek near which the Benjamin Franklin was held at quarantine. Mrs. Fox took the fever and died in five days. The ship was brought up the river to Gosport, for repairs at Page and Allen's shipyard at Gosport. Her bilge water was pumped into the river, her stores were brought to the deck and part of her ballast discharged upon the wharf. Carpenters, mechanics, stevedores and others began repairing the unfortunate ship until Sunday, July 8, a black day in our local history. For on that day a young man named Carter, who had recently come from Richmond and secured a job as machinist on the Franklin was ill and the physicians diagnosed the case yellow fever. Several physicians examined Carter, among them Dr. Thomas Williamson, U. S. N., and Dr. Daniel S. Green, also of the Navy. They were familiar with the disease and its symptoms. Portsmouth was instantly in consternation. The news spread like wild fire. Although it was Sunday the Council was called into extraordinary session. The sergeant was ordered to demand the immediate removal of the ship—and back to quarantine went the Franklin and Captain Harrison, the latter still vigorously protesting!

On Friday the 13th of July the Benjamin Franklin departed—but that unlucky date marked panic in Portsmouth. People in all sections began to call for physicians—yellow fever was at every man's door. Hundred fled by rail, road and water, business houses closed and Portsmouth became for the time a plague-stricken city. As yet no case had appeared in Norfolk.

December 16, 1937 - Ledger Star


Friday, July 13, 1855, the panic in Portsmouth became acute. From that unlucky day the only business in Portsmouth was nursing the sick or burying the dead. Every one who could leave the town had hastily departed.

The first case of yellow fever in Norfolk developed Wednesday, July 25, when a young man living south of Main and east of Market Square (Commercial Place), who had been a clerk at Page and Allen's shipyard, while the Benjamin Franklin was being repaired, became ill and died Saturday night, July 28. Seven deaths brought consternation during the next week. All of the victims lived in a crowded row of cheap tenements between Main street and the river. Someone set the fatal row in flames but that did not stop the contagion for new cases now appeared in various other sections of the city. No class was exempt, but all suffered with a frightful and fatal thoroughness. As there had been an exodus from Portsmouth, there was now a similar exodus from Norfolk. In ten days half the population had departed. Many of the neighboring towns raised barriers and forbade the wretched refugees to enter. It was hard, but one can hardly blame them. To the glory of the medical profession be it said that they stood their ground like heroes—and, not only so, but doctors and nurses came in from distant cities, and many of them gave their lives to this heroic task.

After August 10 the city was a living tomb. Stores were locked and many of them barricaded. The streets were silent and deserted. An occasional physician, nurse or clergyman hurried in answer to some pitiful appeal. The residences on many streets were, like the stores, silent and deserted. Those who made their homes within them were for the most part far away. The harbor and river were as lonely as the streets and lanes. Not a ship approached these once crowded and busy shores, save one small ferry which ran once each day to Old Point Comfort. It brought in the mail, medicines, a physician or nurse, and often her decks were piled high with coffins. Coffins were now the only article in demand, and demand could not be supplied. So deep a hush lay upon the waters that they scarcely whispered of the time when the sea shall give up their dead.

The month of August dragged painfully along, the hours of each long day laden with death and misery. Sometimes 100 [80] persons died in a single day. Carts were driven through the streets, each morning, and the driver called before those houses that were still inhabited:

"Bring out your dead." Trenches were opened in Cedar Grove, and those who could not find or afford coffins were laid upon the earth, as they do on battlefields.

September was as harsh and as cruel as August, but when the first frost fell the epidemic disappeared as promptly as it came.

The survivors took a dismal inventory. "Every man, woman and child almost without exception had been strickened and about 2,000 died." Two-thirds of the total white population in town and one-third of the colored population. It was noticed and commented upon that the colored section near the gas works was immune. Not a case of yellow fever, where the odor of gas could be detected. Nature gave a hint to the wise, but the wise did not then take the hint! No mosquito will submit to the odor of gas!

Death reaped a rich harvest: Mayor Hunter Woodis, John G. H. Hatton, B. B. Walters, proprietor of the National Hotel (at the corner of Main and Church), the postmaster, Alexander Galt, the prominent financiers, John D. Gordan, Josiah Wills and Alexander Feret; the former mayor, William D. Delaney; ten of the city's valued physicians, namely, Richard B. Tunstall, R. W. Silvester, T. F. Constable, G. I. Halson, R. J. Sylvester, F. L. Higgins, J. A. Briggs, Thomas Nash, G. L. Upshur and Henry Selden; four of Norfolk's eight pastors died and 26 physicians who came from distant cities.

Dr. George Dodd Armstrong, the scholarly pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Church street (directly opposite St. Paul's), who remained at his post through the entire epidemic, who had the fever and recovered but who lost a [wife and] daughter during the epidemic, wrote a full account of that terrible summer and had it published.

He resumed services at the Presbyterian Church Sunday, November 11. And of that day he wrote: "In all the congregation I noticed but three families that were not clad in mourning. In every part of the church there were vacant pews, which, as the eye rested on them, recalled to memory those who were accustomed to worship there. In one part of the church sat the orphans, now gathered under the protecting care of the Howard Association—sixty of them ranging in age from two or three years to fourteen. All of them were made parentless by the pestilence. Some of them were rescued in houses alone with the dead body of the remaining parent. Some were so young they did not know their own names. Through assistance sent to us from abroad and with what we can raise in Norfolk we hope to provide comfortably for them all."


Exactly four years before the yellow fever raged in the two cities a little lad was born to a Methodist clergyman in the county of Gloucester at Belroi—his name was Walter Reed, born September 13, 1851.

If true greatness of soul is measured by service to our fellow men, Walter Reed is one of the greatest men born in Virginia, perhaps the noblest Virginian since Robert E. Lee.

* * * * * *

Late Rector of St. Paul's Church, Norfolk, VA.
By The Rev. George D. Cummings,
Rector of Trinity Church, Washington, DC.
Washington: Gray & Ballantyne, 1856.
Chapters VII-IX, pp. 65-108.


At the beginning of the summer of 1855, no part of this vast country enjoyed a larger share of the blessings of Heaven than the twin-sister cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth. Nowhere could be found greater plenty, happier homes, nobler-hearted men and women. Alas! the fair scene was soon to be exchanged for one of fearful desolation and death. "Without warning, the air of heaven, unchanged to any human sense, became loaded with seeds of death. No muttering wrath was heard in the firmament; no darkness covered the sky; the sun shone on as brightly, and the flowers bloomed as sweetly, and the fresh evening breeze came up from the noble bay and river as refreshingly as ever; but the pestilence had begun. For a time it was thought that the disease might be confined to the district adjoining Gosport, where it first appeared. But soon such an expectation was disappointed. Slowly and [66] steadily the destroyer advanced, first spreading through the city of Portsmouth, and then to Norfolk, on the opposite side of the river. A panic, which afterwards seemed providential, seized the inhabitants of the two cities; and thousands fled before the angel of death, feeling it vain to struggle with its might. But there were many who could not, and some who would not fly—would not abandon the wretched to their doom. Noble and fearless physicians, faithful ministers of Christ, and not a few courageous men and women, stood firmly at their post; and among these—less than one-half of the population of Norfolk—did the Pale Horse and his Rider go forth to trample down and destroy some of the noblest of men and women.

Such a gigantic affliction had been unknown in the history of our land; and we place on record here a sad picture of its woes, by one who lived through its long weary night of more than two months, a spectator of and an active participant as well as a sufferer in its scenes of sorrow.

[67] [From the Norfolk Herald of October 15.]
"'How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how is she become as a widow!'

"With thankfulness to a merciful Providence, by whose permission we have been spared unscathed by the terrible pestilence that has wasted and afflicted our community, we to-day resume our labors, which inexorable necessity had caused to be suspended since the 5th of September.

"We have, in truth, passed through the valley of death, and been made spectators, not 'of its shadow,' but of its dread realities, in their most terrific aspects, and partaken our full share in the affliction which it has brought home to every fireside. There were dear relatives, in whom we and ours had garnered up high hopes and unspeakable happiness; there were friends, beloved and esteemed, upon whose generous sympathies the mind could safely repose when harassed by visions of adversity; and there were hundreds of warmhearted citizens and neighbors, with whom we had daily exchanged kindly greetings for many long years, who wished us well, and in whose welfare we felt a lively interest; but alas! all are stricken [68] down by the relentless tyrant, in the brief space of two fleeting months, never more to be seen by us on earth! But this sad lot is not ours alone. Indeed, whom shall we name that has been exempted from it? Those who fled the pestilence, and those who remained to brave its terrors, are alike overwhelmed in the general vortex of crushed affections, withered hopes, and blighted prospects. No pen can adequately portray the horrors of that dark period which, brief as it was, has sufficed to produce an age of misery and woe unprecedented in the records of similar visitations. Yes; those who were safe from the pestilence have, in numerous instances, been made to feel, not less keenly than those who were exposed to its terrors, the effects of its desolating ravages. But they who were not present can form but a faint idea, if any, of its startling, its unearthly horrors, during the worst period of its career. The sick, with few exceptions, were far too numerous to be reported, and before it could be known beyond their immediate neighborhood that they were sick, the tidings of their death were spread abroad. Consternation, hurry, and confusion were visible everywhere. The [69] great anxiety at one period—from the 29th of August to the 4th of September—was to procure coffins for the dead, though the mortality had not then reached its maximum of 60 to 70 per day. The undertakers, though constantly at work night and day, could not half supply the demand, and rough boards were made into boxes, and boxes that had been used for other purposes were substituted for coffins. Into these the dead, whatever their character and condition in life, were huddled, sometimes two together, and hurried off in a common cart or wagon for interment in a trench, for want of time to prepare separate graves.

"Delicate and interesting women, aged matrons, and venerable sires, in the respectable walks of life, were among the number subjected to this summary and revolting mode of interment, giving cruel poignancy to the grief of their surviving connexions. But it was unavoidable. Yet, in spite of all this urgent haste, many corpses were left unburied for twenty-four, and in some instances for thirty-six and even forty-eight hours, thus adding fuel to the fire, and augmenting the virulence of the disease.

[70] "A supply of coffins, fifty in number, was received from the relief committee in Baltimore, on the 3d of September, and eighty more from the authorities of Richmond, on the 4th, and coffins continued to be sent by both in numbers sufficient for the demand; so that this painful exhibition in the drama of woe was not repeated. There was enough without, however, to have overwhelmed the sensibilities of the stoutest hearts in ordinary times; but to those who remained involuntary spectators of what was passing, repetition had almost blunted the sense of woe; and events, the recollection of which is, now doubtless wringing many a heart, made but little impression at the time of their occurrence. Such is the force of habit.

"From the date of our last issue to the cessation of the epidemic, the city was wrapped in gloom; all the stores and dwellings of the absentees were closed; few were seen passing the streets on foot, and these on some errand of mercy or necessity, or lead abroad by curiosity to see and hear what was passing. Most of the inhabitants present were either confined at home by sickness or in [71] attendance on the sick; or, deeming it safer, preferred remaining within doors. There was, however, no place more safe than others. The disease was epidemical throughout the length and breadth of the city; and though there was the perpetual din of carriages passing, from early dawn to a late hour of night—the physicians' carriages, and hacks conveying nurses and members of the Howard Association, and the hearses, and the ever-moving 'sick wagon,' rattling to and fro in every direction, and with unwonted velocity—there was no sign of wholesome animation; nothing betokening vitality in any of the occupations of life but those of the physician and the undertaker. Every day brought with it fresh griefs and regrets for the heavy losses which the city was continuing to suffer in the removal of its most valuable citizens—men who had directed its affairs, and lent a helping hand in various ways to sustain its credit, promote its prosperity, and embellish its society. There was no need of the daily press to spread the melancholy tidings; the night's disasters ran through the city each morning with lightning speed. When we look back upon our city [72] as it was a little more than two months ago, in the enjoyment of more than its wonted health, smiling in the midst of peace and plenty, prosperous in all its various departments of business, commerce, and mechanical industry, looking into the future with high hopes and bright anticipations from its works of internal improvement; its inhabitants happy in themselves and in their families, and mutually happy in one another, as a community in which were combined the elements of reciprocal good will, social harmony, and a common interest; when we recall to mind this pleasing portraiture of the condition which our city so recently presented, and contemplate the scenes of horror and dismay which so suddenly followed it, as with the rush of a whirlwind, appalling, bewildering, stupefying. and stunning all the faculties of mind and sense, and steeping them in a vortex of woe unutterable,—we find it difficult to assure ourselves of the reality of what we have passed through in that brief space of time, and we feel as if it were all a frightful dream, a vision of woe, which still haunts and terrifies us, while we would still persuade ourselves that it is an unreal [73] mockery. Oh! that it were so indeed! but no; we wake to a dread reality of all the horrors of a sweeping calamity, which has spared neither sex, nor age, nor condition; which has widowed and orphaned hundreds; swept whole families into the grave; torn asunder the strongest ties of kindred, love, and affection; stricken down the strongest and most ornamental pillars of our social fabric; and caused a general disruption in the frame-work which held us together as a business community. The sketch here given represents, with little variation, the woes of our sister city Portsmouth, which preceded us in the dreadful race of suffering, and has drunk her full proportion of the cup of affliction with us. Yet, sad and gloomy as the picture is, oh! how infinitely more so would it have been, but for the prompt, the generous, the almost superhuman benevolence interposed in behalf of our stricken communities by all portions of our beloved country—in every city, and in almost every county and village in our own State, and in her sister States, from the seaboard to the interior, by their popular commercial marts and smaller communities—not only in pouring in upon us the [74] means for mitigating our sufferings, but in sending us their good Samaritans—their noble corps of medical volunteers and nurses, an immortalized host of moral chivalry—to battle with the destroyer at the bedside of the sick, and rescue its victims from its remorseless grasp. Would that it were in our power to rehearse the almost countless instances of these noble benefactors, and to command adequate language to express the sense of gratitude which they have indelibly impressed upon the hearts and minds of members of both communities. To name even the most prominent agents in the merciful work of their preservation might seem ungracious; and doubtless a full and detailed report of all the circumstances connected with this calamitous visitation will be made up and published hereafter, in which ample justice will be rendered to all, to individuals as well as to communities.

"But Baltimore and Richmond, our nearest neighbors—what would the condition of the plague-smitten cities have been without their ever-ready aid, and their lines of steamboats leaving daily supplies for the wants and sufferings of these [75] afflicted communities? When the panic from the pestilence had scattered abroad more than the half of our population, and suspended all the operations of commerce, industry, and labor, leaving hundreds of families dependent thereon for their daily support in utter destitution; when not even the munificent donations of money from abroad, added to the contributions at home, could procure subsistence for the needy while in health, nor the necessary provision for the accommodation of the sick, who were to be a public charge; and when all intercourse with our sister cities, north and south, and with the neighboring country, was cut off by a general and rigid quarantine, and famine was thus threatened to be added to the pestilence that was raging in our devoted cities,—then Baltimore, with a heart ever throbbing responsively to the calls of humanity, and with that generosity in which she cannot be excelled, through her whole-souled relief committee, promptly sent forward all that was required to supply the wants of the famishing poor, and meliorate the condition of the sick—food of every description, medical stores, mattresses, bedding, [76]
clothing, and even coffins, which, as we have before shown, were for some time among the most pressing of our wants: and Richmond, our own ever-to-be-lauded Richmond, gloriously followed the example of Baltimore, and entered into a friendly competition with her in the race of benevolence, anxious for opportunities to render assistance."

Those who have faith in the providence of God, humbly believe that He intended to accomplish important purposes by this visitation. What a manifestation of self-sacrificing humanity, and of the pure spirit of the religion of Christ, did it call forth! It proved that the Christianity of our day is not a thing of name and profession only, but of life, of reality, and of endurance. It proved that there are Christian men and women to whom there is something dearer and more precious than life itself—even duty to God and heaven-born love to man. While thousands fled from the doomed cities, hundreds hastened to go to their relief. A noble company of physicians and nurses, men and women, from the North and the South, took their lives in their hands, and went forth to battle with [77] the destroyer. Alas! many went only to fall before his resistless might, and to win a martyr's crown. The following letter of the acting mayor of Norfolk, N. C. Whitehead, Esq., to these physicians and nurses from a distance, is of itself the highest testimonial to their devoted labor of love:

"Norfolk, September 27, 1855.
"Dr. A. B. Williman, Chairman, &c.
"Dear Sir: I have received from you the minutes of a meeting, on Tuesday evening, of the physicians from abroad who have ministered to the sufferings of our afflicted people during this season of pestilence, notifying me, as the acting mayor of the city, of their belief in the rapid and approaching decline in the epidemic disease which has devastated our population, and of their appointment of the 1st of October next as the day when they might with propriety leave Norfolk for their respective homes. The proposed departure of yourself and your gallant associates from the field where you have battled so bravely against the monster death, in its most hideous form, is indeed 'confirmation strong' that the unwonted energies [78] of the dreadful enemy are fast failing. The spirit that prompted you to your work of martyrdom would retain you at your posts so long as there might be aught to be accomplished. It is indeed a matter of rejoicing that the plague is at length in a degree stayed. Though disease has entered every abode in our afflicted city; though 'the pestilence has walked in darkness,' and the sickness destroyed 'in the day-time;' though the arrows of death have chosen the proudest and dearest among us for victims; though many have felt, for the time, in their bereavements, that all of earth's blessings were lost to them—yet for the sake of the remaining few of our scanty population; for the sake of the infant, the orphan, the needy, and those who are still exiled from their still dear and once happy homes; and, I may add, for the sake of you who have been contending, with daily diminishing numbers, against the death thrusts of the foe, away from your families and firesides, your pleasures and your interests, cheered on solely by the consciousness of doing good on behalf of the helpless and the stranger—it is a matter of congratulation to each other, and of [79] thankfulness to Almighty God, that the rage of the epidemic has almost ceased within our limits. The annals of our civilization furnish no authentic record of a visitation of disease as awfully severe as that which we have just encountered. Out of an average population of some 6,000 souls, (much the larger portion of which were negroes—a class less liable than the whites to the fever in its more fatal forms,) about 2,000 have fallen—a proportion of nearly one to three—and but few have escaped an attack of the disease. We are now a community of convalescents. Had we not received material aid from abroad; had not the different portions of our country sent their heroic delegations of physicians, nurses, and stalwart co-laborers; had not noble spirits volunteered to the rescue, (to die, if need be, like Curtius for Rome,) our people must have sunk under the burden of their agony. There was a period, about the 1st of September, when the evil seemed greater than we could bear. Corpses lay unburied, the sick unvisited, the dying unannealed. Our surviving physicians were either sickening or becoming exhausted. Our remaining population was panic- [80] struck at the sight of accumulating horrors and duties. You who visited us for our relief were astounded at the unrealized state of things which you found here—at evils the like of which you had never before witnessed. But nerving yourself to the task, and telegraphing for reserves, you went resolutely forward with your science and its accompaniments, carrying aid where it was most needed, and infusing vigor into many hearts that otherwise would soon have ceased their painful throbbings. Your noble bands, too, have experienced a worse than decimation, though many of you were acclimated to the disease in other latitudes before coming hither. A list which has been carefully prepared from the original entries, and handed to me by Franklin H. Clack, Esq., of New Orleans, (our efficient temporary chief of police,) shows that out of 87 physicians and assistants who visited us during the space of 33 days preceding the 9th instant, 20 physicians are numbered with the dead. This is exclusive of the mortality among our resident physicians—more than half of those abiding here having died. No better evidence of the pure self-devotion, of the martyr-like [81] spirit which has actuated your Samaritan associations in hastening to our relief, can be furnished."

But with what language shall we speak of the Howard Association of Norfolk? A band of citizens, chiefly young and vigorous men, themselves unacclimated and in constant danger, united in an association to meet the exigencies of this awful period! Unweariedly did they prosecute their labors night and day, going about on their errands of mercy, opening new hospitals, discovering the lonely sick, feeding hundreds ready to famish, and providing nurses for the poorest and most desolate. Nor did they escape the arrows of death: one after another of their number fell at his post, and yet others were found to take their places, and "be baptized," as it were "for the dead." Who will deny that greater heroism was here displayed than by the men who madly rushed upon the bloodstained walls of Sebastopol?

Two orders of men were found in Norfolk and Portsmouth, whose duty it was to be found in the midst of the greatest danger—the physicians and the ministers of Christ. Of the former class, the [82] sad record of their deaths is the best evidence of their faithfulness to duty. Untiringly did they battle with the mysterious and malignant disease, until, exhausted by severe labors, they yielded to its terrible might. Nearly three-fourths of the whole number of physicians of Norfolk fell victims to the pestilence. Their names are here recorded, as appropriate to the design of this work:—Drs. R. W. Sylvester, George J. Halson, Thomas N. Constable, Junius A. Briggs, R. G. Sylvester, jr., George L. Upshur, Thomas Nash, Richard Tunstall, Francis L. Higgins, Henry Selden, and ___Cannon.

Nor were the ministers of Christ less faithful in this dark period. Almost every branch of the Church gave one of its ministers as a victim, and added a new name to "the noble army of martyrs." The Rev. Anthony Dibbrell, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Granby street, Norfolk; the Rev. James Chisholm, of St. John's Episcopal Church, Portsmouth; the Rev. Vernon Eskridge, chaplain U. S. Navy; the Rev. Mr. Jones, of the African Methodist Church; the Rev. Mr. Bagnall, of the Baptist Church; the Rev. Mr. Devlin, of [83] the Roman Catholic Church; and last, the subject of this Memoir, fell successively in the discharge of their high and holy duties.


Those who knew the Rev. William M. Jackson, knew well that at such a time he would not be found wanting. Indeed, from the first, he never seems to have wavered as to his duty under such circumstances. He believed that a Christian minister's post in a time of trial was in the bosom of his flock, watching by the bed of death, comforting the bereaved, encouraging the faith of the weak-hearted, and exhorting all to humiliation and penitence before God. Just before the breaking forth of the pestilence he was preparing to leave his duties for his usual summer recreation among the mountains of Virginia.

Monday, July 30th, he writes to a friend: "We are hoping to leave here this day two weeks for Alexandria, Winchester, &c.;" and in a postscript he adds: "Two cases of yellow fever occurred in our city last night, but low down town."

On the following Saturday, August 4th, he writes [85] to the same friend: "Since my little note of Monday last, we feel that we may be compelled to change our plans. Should the yellow fever increase, it will keep me here longer than I had purposed."

August 8th, to the same friend, he writes: "All my anticipations are to be disappointed. We had all hoped to be with you next week, but this panic has totally deranged my plans. I cannot leave the city while so much alarm pervades it; duty bids me remain at my post."
Up to this period Mr. Jackson did not dread the prevalence of the fever, and seemed disposed to condemn the timidity of those who fled from the city. It was not long before he rejoiced at the absence of so many. The panic increased to such a degree, that on the 8th of August he sent off in haste his mother and children; and on the following day, August 9th, he writes to his son: " I am so rejoiced that you were able to get off yesterday. To-day there is no boat; and persons who wish to leave the city are in much trouble how to get off. The fever, or plague, or whatever it is, is spreading. But do not be un- [86] easy; duty demands my presence here, and I should be unhappy if I were absent from my post. I buried Mrs. B. last night, in the stillness and darkness and gloom of the night, between 10 and 11o'clock. It was a deeply solemn occasion."

August 13th, he writes to his mother: "Our city is almost depopulated, and my congregation have nearly all deserted me; but it is a great pleasure to be able to visit and speak words of comfort to the sick and the dying. I am rejoiced that I did not go away."

Mr. Jackson's heart was with his dear friend in the ministry, the Rev. Mr. Chisholm, of Portsmouth, who was doing his whole duty among the afflicted in that city; and he addressed him an affectionate note, inquiring of his welfare, and inviting Mr. C. to take up his residence in his own house. It called forth the following reply from that beloved brother: "It is, indeed, a solace and refreshment to me to. hear from you, my dear brother. 'A debtor to mercy alone,' I am permitted to sing of that sovereign mercy, and of its daily, hourly intervention in my behalf. Let us remember one [87] another, beloved brother, in our supplications; and may our covenant God, in His loving-kindness and tender mercy, spare us to meet again to recount our deliverances and His unfailing compassions."

August 14th, Mr. Jackson writes to a friend: "The whole city wears the appearance of Sabbath. No noise, no business; warehouses closed, trade suspended, houses deserted, music hushed. All this is gloomy enough. I intend converting my parlor into a chapel for our evening service. The pleasure I have in being able to sit beside the diseased and suffering is greater than I can tell you. I would not be absent on any account."

Mr. J. was now in the midst of labors most arduous, and which ceased only with his life. He determined to give up all study, and devote his whole time to the sick, the dying, and the bereaved. Each succeeding letter discloses a scene of deeper gloom and a record of heavier duties.

August 16th, he writes: "I cannot help contrasting my own absence from home and my visit to Europe, last summer, with Dr. M's. Not one thing in myself, family, congregation, or friends, occurred to mar the unalloyed pleasure of my tour. Not a [88] line or letter brought anything but pleasant tidings to my ears; but now, every letter that he receives will tell of sickness and distress in his own family, and the still more painful tidings of the dark visitation upon our city, and of the deaths in his congregation. And yet I am glad that he is away.

"The dark cloud over our city has been growing darker during the past thirty-six hours. The city wears an aspect of gloom which I cannot describe. But I hear the sweet music of a bird near my window. How delightful!

"A note has just been put into my hands, informing me of the death of Dr. S., the kind physician who attended my precious M. in her last illness. I do trust that my visits to him have not been in vain. Oh! if you could have seen the eagerness with which he drank in the words, as I spoke to him of a compassionate Saviour, you would rejoice with me that I am permitted to be here at this time."

August 17th: "Attended a funeral this morning, at 6 o'clock. I am exceedingly tired, and faint at heart. Still we have much, very much, for which to be thankful. I look for a blessing upon our [89] Church and community through this painful visitation."

August 18th: "I am endeavoring to take all due care of myself. Nevertheless, I am far from thinking myself beyond the reach of danger; and then, having to attend funerals early in the morning and late at night, taxes my strength very heavily."

Up to this date Mr. Jackson had not lost a single member of his congregation by the fever; and yet the extracts above from his correspondence will show how arduous were his duties beyond the bounds of his own charge. Daily consultations were held by him with the Rev. Lewis Walke, the assistant minister of Christ Church, whose labors were unceasing, until he was himself brought to the verge of the tomb, and whose excellent wife fell a martyr to her exertions for the afflicted; and the whole city was divided between them for pastoral labor. At one time Mr. Jackson was the only minister able to perform duty. And often, when he had gone to the cemetery with one funeral, would he stand and receive the dead, as they came close and fast one upon the other, and [90] commit the remains to the earth with Christian rites.

It is cheering, indeed, to find that, amidst the awful gloom and danger of this period, Mr. Jackson was able to keep his soul in perfect peace, and stayed upon God.

August 19th, he writes to his mother : "God grant, my dear mother, that this terrible scourge may soon be arrested in its work of death. During the past few days it has entered the circle of our friends. This will startle and grieve you, but let it not shake your trust in our Heavenly Father. The shafts of death, which are flying in every direction through the community, do not fly at random. Every shaft has its aim, and is directed and ordered by One who never errs. That we are in danger, very great danger, I may not deny; but what then? We are in a Father's, hand:—

'My times are in Thy hands, My God; I wish them there!'

If He has more work for me to do upon earth, my life will be spared; if not, why should I wish to live? Do not, I beseech you, give way to any [91] unnecessary anxiety on my account. I am in the path of duty and of Christian love.

"By the advice of the physicians, my own Church was closed to-day. The walls of St. Paul's are so thick, and the building is so shaded, that it was deemed advisable to hold united services for the little handful of people in Christ Church."

Mr. Jackson's daily letters from this period are but records of ceaseless labors in the midst of the pestilence. Each day he sent off to his dearest relatives an account of the progress of the disease.

August 28th, he writes to one: "Yesterday and to-day have been dark days. With scarce an hour's intermission, except at night, I have been beside the sick, the dying, and the graves of the dead. I have just returned from that afflicted city across the river, desolate, deserted, and sorely stricken, whither I had gone to attend the funeral of a young lady not of my own congregation. The last act of yesterday was to sit by the dying E. T., and repeat to her that sweet hymn:—

'Jesus, Saviour of my soul!'

I had been compelled, in order to see her, to [92] hasten from the side of two young Christians, two sisters, who, in the prospect of death, were as calm and almost as joyous as if they were going to a bridal. Indeed it is a rare privilege to be here. The panic which had so agitated the whole community has subsided, and in those who remain we see the evidences and hear the utterances of a peaceful trust in God's righteous will and almighty power. It is faith in exercise."

A new care was now to be laid upon Mr. Jackson. On the 27th of August, the President of the Howard Association sent to inquire of him if the churches would assume the care of the children made orphans by the pestilence. His noble reply was, that if there were five hundred orphans he would pledge the Church to be responsible for them; and from this time forth he took upon him the heavy burden of providing for them. The lecture-room of Christ Church was converted into a temporary asylum for them, and it was a pleasant thing for him to go in and cheer the sad hearts of the desolate little ones. "Writing to a niece, who is a child, he relates an incident so characteristic of himself, [93] that, simple as it is, it will not be inappropriate here: "I went to the house a day or two since, and saw three little brothers sitting together, and crying to go home. They had been crying all day, and had refused to eat their dinner; so I went in and began to talk pleasantly with them, but still they felt as if they were in jail. Then I called the other little children to me, and chased them around the room as fast as they could go, until we all got into a high romp, and then the three little boys began to laugh, and found out that they were not in jail, and now look quite happy."

All who are familiar with the history of the pestilence will remember that, about the close of August, and for the first week of September, the cloud grew darker over the desolate cities, unilluminated by a ray of light. Mr. Jackson's letters at this period are burdened with sadness, sorrow, and tidings of death.

August 29th, he writes to his mother: "All this morning occupied with making provision for the orphan children. Hunted up nurses for the sick; distributed money to the poor. Again I must beg you not to give yourself uneasiness on my [94] account. If it were not a duty, inclination would certainly keep me here to minister to the afflicted. Blessed thought! that I have such a God and Saviour to trust in; and when we think of the treasures in heaven, may we not say, 'to die to gain!' What is faith, what is life, what is strength, if not to be exercised and employed at just such a time as this?"

It was a great comfort to Mr. Jackson to receive from so many friends at a distance letters of sympathy and encouragement, assuring him of their prayers to God for his preservation. Among these were letters from both of the Bishops of the Diocese of Virginia; and to the senior Bishop he thus responded on the 31st of August: "I had always regarded it as the duty of a minister to remain with his people under such circumstances, but never before deemed it a privilege. Such I now find it indeed to be. Good must come out of this. Good has already come; I can see it and hear it."

September 1st, he writes to a friend: "Yesterday and the day before were awful days. Eighty persons were swept off, and amongst them some [95] valued friends and most useful members of the Church and of the community. Last night the destroyer entered my own house. M. (a servant) was taken with all the symptoms."

Sunday, the 2d of September, was a day ever to be remembered in Norfolk. The dead were unburied for want of coffins. "We are compelled to ride to the cemetery," Mr. Jackson writes, as rapidly as if we were going upon urgent business. Yesterday we had a solemn service in the Church. Twenty-seven out of seven hundred communicants gathered around the chancel at the Lord's Supper. Every day I am a debtor to God's preserving grace. Every day I am expecting to be seized by the ruthless hand of this merciless plague; and day after day has come and gone, and I am thus far preserved to minister to the cases of varied suffering to which I am called. There are many visits, funerals, &c, which I am compelled from sheer inability to neglect."

September 4th, he says : "Every minister in the city, with the exception of Mr. Walke and myself, is in bed. We have divided the city into two districts, Catharine street being the dividing line. [96] Mr. Walke attends to all on his side, I to all on mine, without any regard to sect or congregation."

September 6th: "The appearance of the city is more and more gloomy every day. My very heart sickens from the hope deferred. So many dead, so many sick, so many attending upon the sick, and so many absent, have occasioned a stillness and silence throughout the city which is truly awful. To-day I had determined to be in bed—was suffering so much from the premonitory symptoms of the fever all night and the day before. But, thanks to our Heavenly Father, I am able to be up and to attend to the calls of the suffering. You must not think that this awful gloom is unbroken by a ray of light. There are many things daily occurring to fill us with love, admiration, and gratitude; and I do anticipate, with the strongest assurance, good to result from this seeming evil, in full proportion to the severity of the visitation: good to our community, to its families, and to the Church."

September 7th, he writes: "Were you in Norfolk, you would ask with wonder, Where can the [97] terrible monster be? You might walk through every street and lane, and find them clean. You would look up to the blue sky above you, and see it radiant and pure. You would feel the delicious breeze, and see all along your pathway the most luxuriant bloom of flowers; and you would scarce believe that every house was the abode of sorrow and absolute desolation. Yet, so it is."

It was almost impossible for human nature to bear up much longer under so heavy a burden as Mr. Jackson had borne since the beginning of the disease. We do not wonder, therefore, to find him writing, on the 8th of September, "O! how I long for release from this scene of anguish and desolation! and yet I cannot go—I would not go. My work for five weeks past has been literally preaching Christ from house to house."

September 10th: "I never felt calmer or more free from alarm in all my life: 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.' The congregation yesterday morning consisted of four persons. I cannot tell you how my heart was cheered [98] this morning by seeing two vessels with their sails spread in our harbor."

September 13th, he writes: "It is too true that our valued friend, Mr. Walter H. Taylor, has fallen before the destroyer." This record cannot be passed over without the writer lingering to bear his testimony to the excellence and nobleness of character of him whose name is thus registered among the dead. Few men have ever held a position in any community so lofty as that held by Walter H. Taylor among the citizens of Norfolk. Gifted by nature with a heart full of sympathy and compassion, a nature most cordial and genial, and a most affectionate disposition, his whole character had been sanctified and refined by the grace of God. He had entered the Church while Bishop Meade was the Rector of Christ Church, and for more than twenty years had been among the most active, faithful, and zealous members of that congregation. To his Pastor, he filled almost the post of an assistant in the ministry. Not a day of his life passed without some thought for the Church's welfare. 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,' seemed ever uppermost in his heart. He [99] was the first to discern tokens of religious awakening in the minds of persons around him, and first to communicate them to the Pastor. He rejoiced over the accession of one soul to the Church more than over the finding of much spoil. He was a layman upon whom the minister of Christ could lean, and feel the support of a strong arm under him. He never wearied of the care of the Church. He was the soul and life of a Saturday evening prayer-meeting among the male members of the Church. He was a man of God: he walked with God daily and hourly. To the poor, he was the almoner of a whole community. They never sought his aid or sympathy in vain. Around the door of his warehouse would they stand in groups, waiting to look upon the face of love, never dreading a harsh word, look, or repulse. His closing days were a fitting end to such a life. The pestilence had no power to drive him away from a suffering community. For five weeks he stood at his post, battling with the disease, going his round of benevolence, until at last, worn out with his labors, utterly exhausted, he fell a martyr to the cause of humanity—died as he had [100] lived, sacrificing all for the good of others, for Christ's sake.

September 19th, Mr. Jackson writes to a friend: "I thank you for your very kind and most cheering note. It is most gratifying, it is animating to us to know that Christian friends far away from this awful scene are remembering us at the mercy-seat. I must believe that these prayers have been answered. What else but sustaining grace, vouchsafed in answer to the supplications of our friends at a distance and at home, could thus have nerved us for this time of fiery trial? My own disposition is naturally timid; but I have not known what fear was since the pestilence came among us. I do feel that God has verified to me His own blessed promise, 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be.' All the other ministers of the city, except myself, are in bed from exhaustion or disease."


Thus was Mr. Jackson left the only minister of Christ in the midst of a plague-stricken community able, to perform any duty to the dying and the dead. But he girded himself for the discharge of heavier duties. The pestilence, too, seemed now to have spent its strength; though each day bore to the tomb some of the best citizens of the place. For nearly two months had he stood at his post, unscathed by the destroying angel. Hundreds of devoted friends away from the sad scene were bearing him on their hearts in prayer to God for his safety. Week after week he was spared, and all began to hope that he would escape the arrow of death. Indeed, he had begun to indulge a hope of ere long being able to leave the desolate city, and seek recreation after such severe labors in a more healthful air. On Saturday, the 22d of September, he wrote thus to his mother: "I have been trying to form plans for going up to Win- [102] chester, and indeed have actually begun to pack my trunk; but then some new case of suffering and of affliction, or some new call upon my poor services comes, and so from time to time I have had to postpone all thought of getting away. True, these calls have greatly diminished in number; but I cannot get the consent of my heart to leave the city whilst there are any to whom I can render any service."

The few days preceding this letter, were days of great sorrow to Mr. Jackson. He had followed some of his best-loved friends to the tomb. He had especially been called to mourn the death of Dr. George L. Upshur, a vestryman of St. Paul's Church, and one of his most valued friends—one of the noble band of physicians who fell in the discharge of the highest and holiest duties of that noble profession. Thus were both body and soul crushed by the heavy burden Mr. Jackson had borne for two long, weary months. In this condition the pestilence seized upon his frame. On Monday night, the 24th of September, he was stricken down, first by a slight chill, followed by fever and pain in the head and back. Alas! these [103] were unmistakable symptoms of the dreadful plague. Yet strong hopes were entertained by physicians and friends that he would be strong enough to battle successfully with the disease. On the third day his fever had almost subsided, and on the morning of the fourth day his physician pronounced him free of fever. The night of the seventh day, however, brought an unfavorable change, and in the morning he was found again to have fever. This continued from this time each day, his strength growing weaker, until, at half past ten o'clock on the night of the tenth day, he breathed his last, and fell asleep in Jesus.

Servant of God! well done!
Rest from thy lov'd employ;
The battle fought, the victory won—
Enter thy master's joy.
The voice at midnight came;
He started up to hear:
A mortal arrow pierced his frame;
He fell, but felt no fear.

Tranquil amidst alarms,
It found him in the field;
A veteran slumbering on his arms,
Beneath his red cross shield.
His sword was in his hand,
Still warm with recent fight,
Ready that moment to command,
Through rock and steel to smite.

[104] It was a two-edged blade,
Of heavenly temper keen,
And double were the wounds it made,
Where'er it smote between.
'Twas death to sin; 'twas life
To all that mourned for sin;
It kindled and it silenced strife—
Made war and peace within.

Oft with its fiery force,
His arm had quelled the foe,
And laid, resistless in his course.
The alien armies low.
Bent on such glorious toils,
The world to him was loss ;
Yet all his trophies, all his spoils,
He hung upon the cross.

At midnight came the cry,
'To meet thy God prepare.'
He woke and caught his captain's eye,
Then, strong in faith and prayer,
His spirit, with a bound,
Burst its encumbering clay—
His tent, at sunrise, on the ground
A darkened ruin lay.

The pains of death are past,
Labor and sorrow cease,
And life's long warfare clos'd at last—
His soul is found in peace.
Soldier of Christ! well done!
Praise be thy new employ,
And while eternal ages run,
Rest in thy Saviour's joy."

[105] There was one thing about the death of this devoted man of God that many may be disposed to regret: it was the entire absence of all expression of the feelings of his soul, in view of the approach of death. There were no death-bed raptures; no visions of the heavenly glory; no song of triumph as he entered the valley of the shadow of death. In silence he received the blow; in meek, uncomplaining silence he bore it; in silence he passed into the presence of Him whom he had served so well. Says one who watched by him during the progress of the disease: "He conversed on no subject during the progress of the disease, and I felt almost that something was wanting from one so lovely in character, and who had so nearly followed the example left us by our blessed Saviour. It seemed to me almost a source of regret that he had not spoken more on his death-bed. His mind was clear and bright; and on the afternoon preceding the night of his death, I asked him if he had any messages for his friends, and he replied, 'No, I have written all.' "

What is the meaning of this unbroken silence of this holy man on his bed of death? The writer [106] of these pages has but one solution to give. Often has he heard him warning the people of his flock against reliance upon the feelings and raptures of a dying hour. These, he would say, might proceed from other sources than from Christian faith and hope. A holy life was the Christian's best preparation for death—not words of rapture, or visions of ecstasy in the trying moment. Is it presumptuous to believe that he wished to confirm this great and too-often-forgotten truth in his own bearing on the bed of death, and thus to seal the teaching of the pulpit by the testimony from his own silent, serene, and peaceful exit from earth? "His death-bed," says a beloved brother, "teaches a great lesson, which (especially in these days, when so many seem to look upon death-bed evidences, and what they call people 'being resigned' and 'reconciled,' as the great thing) is of the 'utmost importance, viz: that a holy life is the best of all evidence which we can have of a man's Christian character and everlasting life; and that the truly humble disciple is ready, and cheerfully ready, to glorify his Saviour, if need be, by a silent and obscure exit from this world. Our [107] Saviour himself died under a cloud. Why should the disciple refuse to forego the bright and often visionary manifestations of what the world calls a 'triumphant death-bed?' The triumph has been achieved long before, through God's Spirit, in his life; and the heavenly light which dwelt in him, as he humbly walked by faith, may have been obscured from the beholder by death, to shine all the more gloriously above in our Father's mansions, and here on earth in the shining track which his holy life has left behind."

It was a day of deep gloom and sadness to the Church and the community of Norfolk when all that was mortal of this honored servant of Christ was committed to the tomb. The solemn funeral services of the Church were performed by the Rev. Lewis Walke and the Rev. Aristides S. Smith. "I have not seen so large a funeral," writes one, "since the prevalence of the fever." Many of the colored communicants of his Church came forward and asked permission to take a last look at their beloved Pastor and accompany him to the grave. Mr. Jackson's remains were interred in Cedar Grove Cemetery, by the side [108] of the Rev. Upton Beall and the Rev. Mr. Lowe, former Pastors of Christ Church. There his ashes sleep, along with many who fell with him by the deadly pestilence, and in the midst of a community for whom he willingly sacrificed his valuable life. Long will the impress of his life and ministry remain upon the people of his charge; and to their children's children will be told the history of their sainted martyr-pastor.


* * * * * *

Originally appeared in Southern Magazine, revised for The Monthly Visitor.
Vol 3, August 1872, pp 23-26.
Obtained from the Virginia Historical Society.

[23] How came the pestilence so dread?
As steals the huntsman on the stag,
Or flies the dart by archer sped,
That smites the eagle from his crag.
It came as come the earthquake's throes,
Crushing gay dancers in bright halls,
Startling the dreamer from repose,
With toppling spires and crumbling walls.

It came as hostile armies come
At night upon a camping host,
With muffled tread and noiseless drum,
When sentries sleep upon their post.
It came as bursts the surging flood,
Unwarned by storm or clouds of dun;
The moon's white robes changed not to blood,
Nor darkness veiled the stars or sun.

No cannon flashed from anchored fleets,
No sword-blades glittered in the air,
No trumpets echoed through, the streets,
And yet those streets grew still and bare.
Cheeks ruddy once are blanched with fright;
Forebodings shake the stoutest hearts;
In panic thousands seek in flight
A refuge from the viewless darts.

Death enters hovel, cot, and hall;
He spares not beauty, rank, or lore,
But leaves in every home a pall,
His sable badge at every door.
Yet nature wears no aspect strange;
The sun still shines with dazzling rays;
The clouds from gold to crimson change,
And birds still wake, their matin lays.

The jasmine, with its blooms of white,
Festooning o'er the lattice twines,
And purpling, in the mellow light,
Grape-clusters droop the burdened vines.
[24] The fig-tree blooms in richest green,
The roses scent the vacant bowers,
And butterflies, in rainbow sheen,
Still banquet on the nectared flowers.

Moons wax and wane in soft blue skies,
The dews distill, the breezes blow,
And stars in splendor sink and rise,
Unmindful of our joy or woe!
The Sabbath dawns, divine, serene,
Morn of repose from toil and care,
And yet no wending throngs are seen,
No silvery chimes float on the air.

Unopened God's bare temples stand;
Unread the sacred volume lies;
The hymn now hushed, the anthem grand,
The pealing organ's symphonies.
The town-clock, with its deep-toned bell,
Still counts the hours of day and night,
And with each hour slow strikes the knell
Of some loved spirit in its flight.

The watchmen from their posts retreat;
The dogs forsaken moan and howl,
Or through dark lane and lampless street,
At night in packs neglected prowl.
The grating wheel of passing hearse,
The dead-cart's rumble, dull and drear,
The piercing wail, the dying curse,
Are sounds that thrill the watcher's ear.

Some staggering by the wayside die,
In solitude some raving sink,
No friend to close the glazing eye,
No hand to give the cooling drink.
Hearts that could once with pity throb
Are changed to stone or cold as dead,
And, fiend-like, some the dying rob
Ere yet the gasping breath has fled.

The suckling babe, the blooming maid,
The hoary sire, the youthful bride,
Alike now fell, alike were laid
[25] In gaping pits or trenches wide.
All night the sexton plied his spade,
By flickering torch, or lantern-ray;
Each hour fresh pits and graves were made,
And still the dead unburied lay.

Amid this reign of death and woe,
Lo! Science dares with dauntless band
The charnel-gates, and fronts the foe
From which the bravest shrink unmanned.
They come, the good, the skilled, the learned,
From kindred lands, o'er dark blue wave;
They came; but ah! how few returned,
How many found a stranger's grave!

They came, but not as conquerors come,
With scarlet pennon, dancing plume,
With bugle-blast and din of drum,
With sabre-stroke and cannon's boom.
O'er such the poet chaunts his lays,
In tones through unborn years that roll,
And History prolongs their praise,
And gilds their conquests on her scroll.

For such the painter blends his dyes,
The sculptor carves the shaft and bust,
Whilst Abbey with Cathedral vies
In homage to their mouldering dust.
And shall their deeds no bard inspire
On tuneful lyres their fame to swell,
Who grappled with a foe more dire
Than bayonet or bursting shell?

Let marble shaft and sculptured urn
Their names record, their actions tell;
Let future ages read and learn
How well they fought, how nobly fell!
Like him who at Pompeii's gate
Stood sentry on her last dread night;
Who, though he saw his awful fate,
Yet scorned to stir his foot in flight.

Though rumbling earthquakes shook the spot,
Red lightnings glared and thunders rolled,
[26] And ashes rained fast, thick, and hot,
He grasped his spear with firmer hold.
And lo! when now our modern hands
The city's streets and arches clear,
His skeleton still upright stands,
His bony fingers clasp his spear.

Lo! summer dies; woods change their hue;
The weeping skies are gray and cold,
And russet autumn hastes to strew
Its bier with leaves of brown and gold.
Through forest dome and mossy aisles,
Winds mutter dirges wild and dread,
Like priests in gloomy Gothic piles
Chaunting their masses o'er the dead.

The faded blossoms noiseless fall
In songless bowers and gardens sere,
And curling from the chimneys tall,
The smoke-clouds blur the city's air.
Her frosted spires at dawn are white,
And sparkle in their jewelled sheen;
Death's angel pauses in his flight,
And sheathes his sword still red and keen.

Her scattered hosts return once more;
Ships seek her harbor now in fleets;
The merchant opes his rusty door;
The crowds refill the grass-grown streets.
Can Time the vacant chair refill,
Restore the hand we grasped for years;
Re-warm the hearts now cold and still,
Re-open eyes we closed with tears?

Ah! no—but still with soothing art
He calms the aching, troubled brain,
Applies a balm to wounds that smart,
And brightens grief's wan cheek again.
Ah! no—yet violets will bloom
Above earth's graves, though fresh and rude,
And birds, amid the church-yard's gloom,
With carols cheer the solitude!