1843 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Rodney Jefferson County, Mississippi
From the Natchez Gazette, November 22, 1843
The Late Mortality in Rodney
The hand of the yellow tyrant of the tropics was sore and heavy upon our neighboring city of Rodney, especially when it is considered that most of the inhabitants fled, and that during the mortality, the population of the village, white and black, probably did not exceed one hundred souls. The following list of the names of the victims was politely furnished us by Mr. A. G. Carpenter, who volunteered, as Druggist, to accompany Dr. Benbrook, who went to Rodney in the darkest night of their peril, to risk life in the fearful combat against a disease which had prostrated nearly every physician in the place. Mr. Carpenter stayed much longer than Dr. Benbrook, and did not leave until every vestige of the epidemic had vanished. These gentlemen deserve the very highest commendation for their self-sacrificing zeal in favor of suffering humanity. The only reward they have as yet obtained, as far as we know, is the approbation of their own consciences, and the applause of their fellow citizens, who trembled for their safety while they were absent on their perilous errand of mercy. Mr. Carpenter derived the following list of the dead from Mr. Thornsbury, the mechanic who assisted in making the coffins. It is probably as correct as the disturbed and frightful state of affairs in the depopulated village could permit anyone to furnish.
List of the Dead:
Dr. James Andrews' daughter; Mrs. Montgomery; Messrs. Busk, Jeter, Ira; Mrs. Skinner; William Ballantine; Mrs. Ballantine; John Groves; Mrs. Earls; Mr. Wood, of the firm of Murray, Wood & Co.; James Ricks; Harrison Logan; Robert Logan; Mrs. Logan; Mrs. Green T. Martin; John Evans; Dr. John H. Savage; Mrs. Love; James M. Berry; Anthony Cokelin; John Whitworth; Gertrude Martin; Charles Stewart; Mrs. Divine; Josiah Lawton
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From "Random Recollections of Early Days in Mississippi" by H. S. Fulkerson, published in 1885
The Rodney Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1843
It has been my lot to pass through as many as six epidemics of Yellow Fever - in the years, 1843, '53, ''55, ''67, '72 and '78; at four different places - Rodney, Port Gibson, Vicksburg and New Orleans. [Below] I give my experience in Rodney in 1843, where I had the disease myself. In the month of August in 1843, this little town situated on the Mississippi River, for the first time was visited by this dreadful malady. It was without physicians of experience in the disease, but they treated it with such success as usually attends its treatment, some sufferers dying and others getting well in defiance of of skill and good nursing or neglect and empiricism, just as has always been the case. They die often under the most favorable circumstances, and they get well often under the worst. At this little town I had a friend who had nursed me most carefully a few years before through a severe spell of sickness. I felt very grateful to him and, after the fever had gotten well under way in Rodney, I wrote him to let me know if he were attacked, and I would go down and nurse him. I was then living at Grand Gulf, 20 miles above Rodney. I got no answer and early in September I boarded a boat one day and went down, fearing from his silence that he was sick. I found him in bed with the fever on him, which had just come upon him a few hours before. He had not yet seen a physician and I hurried off to get one. This friend of mine had organized the band of nurses of the town and was himself constantly on duty. As long as he kept up and cheered the sick with his assuring presence, all felt hopeful and manifested a willingness to stick by the stricken ones, but when it was learned that John McGinly was down, the fact seemed to paralyze the whole town and a panic was the result; causing many of the well ones to take flight, a few of them shamelessly abandoning sick friends. They went into the country where they were kindly received by the planters, a few of them having imbibed the poison and were taken down, but unlike the history of the disease in later years, it did not spread on plantations. This first day of my stay at Rodney during the prevalence of the yellow fever, was my first and last experience in a panic. I had it badly myself, I must confess, but I never entertained the idea of abandoning my friend. The thought of the sick of the town being abandoned to their fate, was enough of itself to produce the greatest possible gloom in my mind, but as the night came on, a drizzling rain set in and darkness shrouded the street. Just across the street from where I was nursing my sick friend was the undertaker's shop, and his saw and hammer were going all night. I was up all night with my friend. Nursing in this disease is very laborious, two nurses are constantly needed as there are frequent calls from the bedside to other duties and the nursing does not end with the subsidence of the fever. The exhaustion that follows the fever is a very critical period. My friend's condition continued to alternate between hope and deep anxiety until the sixth day, he getting from me such nursing as I could give in my half-asleep state most of the time, when to my great joy, two friends of mine residing in Port Gibson arrived, as they said, to look after me. One of them Dr. Todd and the other my good friend James W. Coleman, who lost his life in the late war. Neither of them had ever had the fever. The relief I felt at their timely arrival I cannot express. The Doctor we persuaded to return after two days, but my friend Coleman remained. On the ninth day, I found that the fever was upon me. Coleman and Dr. Pickett of the town, who was asleep in the next room, took care of me through that first night. With the morning, the frenzy passed off and I remained conscious through the remaining time of my illness. My friend, McGinly was up in a few days and, as strength permitted, he assisted in nursing me. Coleman, dear fellow, was quite a wit, would often rally me when I was in a despondent mood, and when wit failed, he would dance a jig for me. They nursed me until I was able to go into the country, to the beautiful and hospitable home of my old friend, Col. Tom Dobyns, which was located on the banks of Cole's Creek, until I had strength enough to return to my home. My normal strength did not return for six months. Coleman was not attacked. His cheerfulness and courage in the midst of the danger seemed to render him proof against the disease. The fever at Rodney ran its accustomed course till frost, with no greater percentage of deaths to the number attacked than usually occurs in a visitation of yellow fever. It is only now and then that one living there at that period is to be found now. Dr. W. G. WIlliams, one of the then physicians of the town, who was attacked by the disease, is living and still resides in the neighborhood.