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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.
|1638||New England||Smallpox & Spotted Fever|
|1648-1649||Massachusetts Bay Colony||Smallpox|
|1659||Massachusetts Bay Colony||Throat Distemper|
|1677-1678||Charlestown & Boston||Smallpox|
|1690||New York City||Yellow Fever|
|1693||Boston, MA||Yellow Fever|
|1699||Charleston & Philadelphia||Yellow Fever|
|Mar 1699||South Carolina||Smallpox|
|1702||New York||Yellow Fever|
|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|
|1732||Charleston & New York||Yellow Fever|
|1735-1740||New England||Smallpox, Scarlet Fever & Diphtheria|
|1747||CT, NY, PA, SC||Measles|
|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|
|1769||New York||Throat Distemper|
|1775||North America [especially hard in NE]||epidemic Unknown|
|1775-1776||Worldwide [one of the worst epidemics]||Influenza|
|1783||Dover, DE ["extremely fatal"]||Bilious Disorder|
|1788||Philadelphia and New York||Measles|
|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|
|1834||New York City||Cholera|
|1841||Nationwide [especially severe in the south]||Yellow Fever|
|1847||New Orleans||Yellow Fever|
|1849||New York, Chicago, the Mississippi, west to CA.||Cholera|
|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|
|1857-1859||Worldwide [one of the greatest pandemics]||Influenza|
|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|
|1886||Jacksonville, FL||Yellow Fever|
|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: http://www.hhs.gov/nvpo/concepts/intro8.htm
Mark Daly’s Genealogy Research and Personal Web Site:
Various additional world-wide web sources.
Prepared by Dick McCracken
Towanda, PA, 21 Nov 2004
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