Our current problems with COVID-19 are actually nothing new if you study history.
Plagues and pandemics have ravaged our world and our nation since the beginning of recorded time.
As we have seen in our last few articles, smallpox was the first of many plagues to run rampant across the American continent. While it decimated the Native American population, it continued to be a problem until a vaccine was found.
Yellow fever also caused a panic among people.
In 1873, 2,000 people died from yellow fever in Memphis. When it struck again in 1878, within 10 days of the first death, half of the population left town!
A former resident of Trousdale County wrote home from Oklahoma to tell her Hartsville relations that people there had to fly a yellow flag at the front door if they had someone ill. She wrote, “There was scarcely a house where there was not a case.” She added, “People were not allowed on the street except for an emergency.”
Last week we wrote about the cholera epidemic that hit Hartsville.
Walter Durham, author of several books on Sumner County history, wrote this about that disease, “The most lethal of the pestilences during the 1800’s was cholera. At least one person out of every ten in Gallatin died in the epidemic of 1849… In 1873, it came again… fifteen% of the population fell to the epidemic with as many as eighteen deaths reported in a single day.”
Today we don’t worry about smallpox as it is eradicated from the world, or yellow fever or cholera. But they were not the only diseases to run amok among the population of Hartsville.
In September 1912, diphtheria hit Hartsville. The Nashville newspapers reported, “Diphtheria had made its appearance in Hartsville. Two children of Rev. D.A. Dosor have it and other suspicious cases. On this account the public school has suspended…”
Unknown before an outbreak in Spain in 1613, the diphtheria bacterium causes a swelling of the throat and a cough. It was deadly, especially to children.
It returned to Hartsville in September 1921 and again schools were closed to break the cycle of spreading it from one person to another. Again we quote from the Nashville papers, “Prof. R.N. Chenault, principal of the local high school, has decided to close school until Oct. 8.”
In 1902 an epidemic of typhoid fever hit the Cato community — 25 persons were sick and one death was reported.
Like the other diseases, typhoid would hit, then lie low for a while and then return.
In November 1920, a press release from Hartsville was, “The body of Jack Langford, aged 19, who died Thursday after seven week’s illness of typhoid fever, were interred in the Hartsville cemetery Friday afternoon.” He was a student at the high school and played on the football team.
Typhoid was another illness only found in humans. It is found in contaminated food or drink and can be spread from person to person — often lasting for weeks or months. It can be fatal. Typhoid was unique in that a person could be a carrier of the disease and yet not get sick with it themselves. You may have heard of ‘Typhoid Mary,” who infected hundreds of people but never got sick herself.
We have in the Historical Society archives a collection of articles on other deadly illnesses that would strike Trousdale County, such as milk sickness, rabies, hookworms, polio and, of course, the deadly influenza of 1918.
All of the above hit here and left behind a trail of coffins.
Fortunately, as medicine and science progressed over the last 100 years, all of the aforementioned diseases have become treatable and even rare.
Vaccines are routinely given to children protecting them from the most deadly diseases and even the more common measles and mumps. I can personally attest to having mumps as a child, and it was no fun!
We can be sure that mankind will find a vaccine for our current dilemma. Hopefully soon, we can all return to the normal ebb and flow of our lives — until the next contagious virus strikes!