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Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Epidemics & Pandemics in U.S. 1616 to Present
by Dick McCracken
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
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Epidemics and Pandemics in the U.S.


McCracken brothers James, age 25, and William, age 23, died on 27 Oct 1793 and 16 Oct 1793, respectively, within 11 days of one another. They lived in Northampton county, near Philadelphia. In 1793 Philadelphia experienced one of the worst Yellow Fever epidemics in history, taking the lives of 10% of the city’s population and disrupting the lives of some 50% of residents who evacuated the city. Even President George Washington fled. In 1918 more American soldiers were hospitalized for influenza than from combat wounds, and extreme numbers of these troops died from the infection.

Walking through the old Barclay cemetery in Bradford County’s Franklin Township, one is struck by the number of children and young adults buried in 1871-1873, and again within 10 years before and 10 years after this span. Sure enough, there were several epidemics throughout the United States during this time span.

Epidemics have always had a great influence on people - and thus influencing, as well, the genealogists who try to trace them. In many cases, people disappearing from records can be traced to dying during an epidemic or suddenly departing the affected area. Although there is little, if any, genealogical value in attributing cause of death, such information is of great interest when preparing a family history. Following is a list of significant epidemics and pandemics having affected our ancestors since their arrival at Roanoke Colony in 1585, Jamestown and Popham in 1607, and Plymouth in 1620.

1616 New England Smallpox
1628-1631 New England Smallpox
1638 New England Smallpox & Spotted Fever
1648-1649 Massachusetts Bay Colony Smallpox
1657-1658 Boston Measles
1659 Massachusetts Bay Colony Throat Distemper
1677-1678 Charlestown & Boston Smallpox
1679-1680 Virginia Smallpox
1687 Boston Measles
1689-1690 New England Smallpox
1690 New York City Yellow Fever
1693 Boston, MA Yellow Fever
1696 Jamestown, VA Smallpox
1699 Charleston & Philadelphia Yellow Fever
Mar 1699 South Carolina Smallpox
1702 New York Yellow Fever
1702-1703 Boston, MA Smallpox
1706 Charleston Yellow Fever
1711-1712 South Carolina Smallpox
1713 Boston Measles
1715-1725 Most of the Colonies [became endemic in Boston] Smallpox
1721 Boston, MA [vaccination first used; 2% vaccinated died, 15% of the unvaccinated perished, resulting in future widespread vaccination] Smallpox
1723-1730 Boston, New York, Philadelphia Smallpox
1729 Boston Measles
1732 Charleston & New York Yellow Fever
1732-1733 Worldwide pandemic Influenza
1735-1740 New England Smallpox, Scarlet Fever & Diphtheria
1734 Virginia Yellow Fever
1738 South Carolina Smallpox
1739-1740 Boston Measles
1741 Virginia Yellow Fever
1747 CT, NY, PA, SC Measles
1752 Boston, MA Smallpox
1759 North American pandemic [areas inhabited by Caucasians] Measles
1760-1761 Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Charleston Smallpox
1761 North America and the West Indies Influenza
1762 Philadelphia Yellow Fever
1763 Philadelphia Throat Distemper
1764 Boston, MA Smallpox
1769 New York Throat Distemper
1772 North America Measles
1772-1774 New England Smallpox
1775 North America [especially hard in NE] epidemic Unknown
1775-1776 Worldwide [one of the worst epidemics] Influenza
1776 Boston, MA Smallpox
1778 Boston, MA Smallpox
1783 Dover, DE ["extremely fatal"] Bilious Disorder
1788 Philadelphia and New York Measles
1792 Boston, MA Smallpox
1793 Vermont [a "putrid" fever] and Influenza
1793 VA [killed 500 people in 5 counties in 4 weeks] Influenza
1793 Philadelphia [one of the worst American epidemics; over 4000 deaths] Yellow Fever
1793 Harrisburg, PA [many unexplained deaths] Unknown
1793 Middletown, PA [many mysterious deaths] Unknown
1794 Philadelphia, PA Yellow Fever
1796-1797 Philadelphia, PA Yellow Fever
1798 Philadelphia, PA [one of the worst] Yellow Fever
1803 New York City Yellow Fever
1820-1823 Nationwide [started on the Schuylkill River, PA and spread nationwide] "Fever"
1831-1832 Nationwide [brought by English emigrants] Asiatic Cholera
1832 New York City and other major cities Cholera
1833 Columbus, OH Cholera
1834 New York City Cholera
1837 Philadelphia Typhus
1841 Nationwide [especially severe in the south] Yellow Fever
1847 New Orleans Yellow Fever
1847-1848 Worldwide pandemic Influenza
1848-1849 North America Cholera
1849 New York, Chicago, the Mississippi, west to CA. Cholera
1850 Nationwide Yellow Fever
1850-1851 North America Influenza
1851 Coles Co., IL, The Great Plains, and Missouri Cholera
1852 Nationwide [New Orleans - 8,000 die in summer] Yellow Fever
1854 Spread from Corpus Christi, TX, Nationwide Yellow Fever
1855 Nationwide Yellow Fever
1857-1859 Worldwide [one of the greatest pandemics] Influenza
1860-1861 Pennsylvania Smallpox
1862-1863 Southern California Smallpox [Many Native Americans & Mexicans died]
1865-1873 Philadelphia, NY, Boston, New Orleans Smallpox
1865-1873 Baltimore, Memphis, Washington DC, Chicago Cholera
1865-1873 Philadelphia, New York, Boston, New Orleans,
Baltimore, Memphis, Washington DC; A series of recurring epidemics of:
Recurring Smallpox, Typhus, Typhoid, Scarlet Fever, Yellow Fever
1867 Indianola, Galveston, Corpus Christi, TX; New Orleans, LA Yellow Fever. Over 3000 perished in New Orleans alone
1873 Alabama Cholera [Moved along the railroad lines from Huntsville toBirmingham and Montgomery as these cities were industrialized]
1873-1875 North America and Europe Influenza
1878 New Orleans [severe, deadly epidemic; Last great outbreak of this disease] Yellow Fever; over 13,000 perished in the Mississippi Valley.
Spring 1878 Northern NJ, elsewhere Diptheria
1883 Alabama Yellow Fever
1885 Plymouth, PA Typhoid
1886 Jacksonville, FL Yellow Fever
1895 Washington, DC Malaria
1898 Cuba [Spanish-American War; the disease took over 5000 soldiers lives (only 968 died in combat) in just July & August] Yellow Fever
1903 Ithaca, NY; USA Typhoid Fever. Typhoid Mary Maflon infected 53 (officially) but the final number may have been over 1400.
1916 Nationwide Polio (infantile paralysis). Over 7000 deaths and more then 27,000 cases reported.
1918-1919 Worldwide pandemic. More soldiers were hospitalized during WWI from this infection than from wounds. [last great pandemic – 1 billion infected; 500,000 Americans dead, 20 to 50 million worldwide] Influenza "Spanish Flu" "Spanish Lady"
1952 Nationwide Polio. 3300 dead, over 57,000 cases reported.
1957-1958 Worldwide pandemic. [70,000 deaths in the U.S.; over 1 million worldwide] Influenza "Asian Flu"
1962-1965 Worldwide pandemic affected as many as 12.5 million, causing deafness, blindness; approx. 30,000 babies in the US born with defects due to mother’s infection. Rubella (German measles).
1968-1969 Worldwide pandemic. [34,000 deaths in the U.S.; over 750,000 worldwide] Influenza "Hong Kong Flu"
1976 Fort Dix, NJ, caused widespread panic that a pandemic similar to 1918 was imminent. Caused massive inoculations in the U.S. Influenza Scare "Swine Flu"
1977 Worldwide pandemic.  Influenza Scare "Russian Flu"
1983-present Worldwide pandemic (near 100% fatalities). Jumped from monkeys to humans. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
1889-1991 MD then nationwide Measles
1993 Spread from the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest (near 50% fatalities). Sin nombre virus (Hantavirus)
1997 & 1999 Worldwide pandemic. Influenza Scare "Avian Flu"


An epidemic is a diseaseoutbreak in which some or many people in a community or region become infected with the same disease, either because the disease has been brought into the community by an outside source (such as a traveler infected with the disease, or an insect that carries the disease and infects people with its bite), or because a pathogen (a virus or bacteria) has changed in a way that either enables it to evade the immune system or has made it more virulent--that is, stronger and more aggressive. Some epidemics occur when an entirely new disease, such as AIDS, or a new version of an old disease, such as influenza, emerges.


A pandemic is an epidemic that spreads throughout the world, as influenza did in 1918. Pandemics may involve an old disease, such as smallpox or the bubonic plague, or they may occur when a new disease or a new form of an old disease develops and spreads. If the source of the pandemic is a new virulent pathogen or a new form of an old virulent pathogen, very few people, if any, may be resistant to the disease, and the rates of illness and death may be high around the world, unless effective prevention strategies can be rapidly developed and implemented. Vaccine development is an example of a very effective prevention strategy; however, it takes a good deal of time to develop a vaccine and make sure that it is safe and effective.

The Pandemic of 1918: A common disease killed millions

Influenza should never be mistaken as a harmless disease. In addition to its miserable symptoms, serious life-threatening complications can occur, especially in infants, the elderly, and in people whose immunity is weak. And some strains of flu are deadly.

Like smallpox, influenza is a very old disease. In 412 BC, Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is known as the "Father of Medicine," recorded an epidemic of an infection resembling flu that wiped out an entire Athenian army.

Explorers brought an epidemic of the disease to North America from Valencia, Spain in 1647. Two pandemics of influenza occurred in 1847-1848 and 1889, but these were relatively mild in United States. In 1918 and 1919, however, a terrible pandemic of influenza struck. This was an especially dangerous form of "Spanish" influenza. The virus entered through the nasal passages and caused very sudden, severe illness in 20% to 40% of the population of most countries, especially in young adults. The speed with which this flu killed was frightful. Many people who woke up feeling well, became ill by mid-day and were dead by nightfall.

According to the historian Adolph A. Hoehling, among the first cases in the 1918 epidemic were two cavalrymen who suddenly took ill at Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 11, 1918. By noon that day, 107 men were in the hospital; by the end of the week, 522 cases had occurred. The disease quickly spread across the country, from Nome and Seattle to Los Angeles, where more than a quarter-million cases occurred; to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Atlanta, Georgia, and to the states along the Gulf of Mexico. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was among the hardest hit, with many hundreds dying per day. Baltimore, Maryland developed 20,000 cases over one night, and the city of New Orleans was so stricken that it had to shut down.

As Hoehling describes in his book, The Great Epidemic, both individuals and governments were gripped with fear and took extreme measures to try to stop the disease from spreading. Some cities closed down theaters and schools. Some communities shut down completely until the worst had passed. Families with small children were in serious trouble if the parents were stricken, because friends and family members were often too frightened to enter the household to assist and care for the little ones. Over twenty million people died, representing the highest mortality for any influenza pandemic in recorded history. Many senior citizens living today have recollections of this pandemic and lost family members and neighbors during that terrible time.

Even today, the 1918 pandemic sparks many questions about infectious diseases and human survival. Some tenacious scientists are still trying to understand what happened in that pandemic. In September, 1997, the New Yorker magazine reported that a group of researchers are examining tissue samples from seven Norwegian men who died during the epidemic, in an attempt to crack the genetic code of the Spanish flu. They believe that the virus may have originated with a wild duck, then mutated in the duck to a form that could infect and thrive in humans. Avian species (ducks, birds) are known to carry most of the known strains of the flu. Pigs also play a large role in incubating and shaping viruses for the human species.


Epidemics in Colonial America by John Duffy. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1953; chapters 1-4.

Down Memory Lane: Epidemics Revisited by a Prof. Goh Lee Gan and Ms. Regina Chin; extracted from: Daniels Rod (1998), "In Search of an Enigma: The Spanish Lady", National Institute for Medical Research, London.

Center for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, web site at:

Mark Daly’s Genealogy Research and Personal Web Site:

Various additional world-wide web sources.

Prepared by Dick McCracken

Towanda, PA, 21 Nov 2004

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 17 DEC 2004
By Joyce M. Tice
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