What is Cholera?

Cholera is an acute, infectious disease characterized by profuse diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. It is caused by a potent toxin produced by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which acts on the small intestine to cause secretion of large amounts of fluid. The painless, watery diarrhea and the passing of rice-water stool are characteristic. Great body-salt depletion occurs. Cholera is spread by feces-contaminated water and food.  Cholera epidemics struck the Quincy area in the years 1832 and 1849.

The Cholera Epidemic of 1849

This was a gloomy and depressing period for Quincy, as it was for nearly every other place in the west.  Pestilence placed its paralyzing hand on all the interests with a grasp and weight that can only be realized by those who have felt its dark experience.  The conditions of sixteen years before were repeating, when preceded by two sickly seasons of fever, the Asiatic cholera, decimated, within one week, the entire population of the little village, then containing between four and five hundred people.  Many of the early settlers still vividly retained an apprehensive recollection of the sad scenes through which they had gone during that brief visitation of this desolating scourge.  The smallpox, a more odious pest than the cholera, had in the winter and early spring prevailed to such an extent as to arouse public alarm and to call for the preventive action of the authorities, in the prescribing of general vaccination, isolation of the sick, establishing a pest house, etc.

During the preceding year cholera had swept through the seaboard and lake cities and early in the spring developed itself in the Mississippi Valley, coming upon Quincy like a lightning stroke.  On Saturday, March 17th, five cases were reported, all of which proved fatal during the night and Sunday.  Two of them were four miles north in the country, at Miller’s or Leonard’s Mill.  The other three were in the south part of the city of Quincy.  Only one more death occurred during this month and none in April, thus giving hope that the blast had passed by, but with a like suddenness it reappeared on the 13th of May, when five deaths were reported, and before the end of the month seven additional fatal cases occurred; yet on the 1st of June and for the following ten days there were none.  But, with a deadlier stroke it returned for the third time, on the 11th of June, and from that time continued to increase in the number of cases and malignancy, up to the 4th week in July, when it commenced abating.  About the first week in September it finally disappeared.

How it affected public feeling and business is expressed by the Whig, which, in its issue of July 10th, says: “The sickness last week, and the increased number of deaths, seems to have spread a gloom over the city, visible in the countenances of all.  It is indeed a trying time in the history of Quincy.  All business in a measure is suspended.  Our country friends seem to have deserted us, but few visit the city, and those only who are compelled to do so, to provide the necessaries for the harvest.  Travel, to a great extent, on the river, is suspended for the present and the packets now plying between this city and St. Louis are probably not paying expenses.  How long this state of gloom and despondency is to last, the Great Disposer of events only knows.”

Two hundred and thirty-six deaths from cholera were officially reported as late as the latter part of August, when the disease had nearly run its course, but this record is defective, since many burials were unreported.  The distinction between deaths from “cholera” and “other causes” was for reasons that will be understood, usually made to discredit the extent of the epidemic so as to allay apprehension.  An addition of at least one hundred to the above figure would be not far from correct.  The heaviest mortality was in the last week in July, when 44 deaths were reported.

Besides its free ravage among the immigrants it found a field among the families which, because of the unusually high water, were driven from the bottom lands, near Quincy, and had crowded themselves together in temporary homes.  Therein was a feast for the pest. In one house, thus occupied, on Vermont street, eight died within three days.  In a German family, on the corner of Jefferson and Seventh, consisting of eight persons, all died save one, an infant.  It destroyed entire families.  The wife of a well-known Magistrate, Prentiss, was taken by it and died on Monday.  On Thursday the grave was opened for the husband.  Dr. Stahl, the earliest German physician, who had more to do with the disease than any other, lost his wife and child almost at the same time.  Dr. Barlow rode out to visit a patient, a mile east of the city, was there caught by the cholera and died, and in a week his wife followed him.  The Mayor of the city, Enoch Conyers, a man of rather unusual physical health and regularity of life, was suddenly cut down on the 21st of July.  Rusk, a prominent Odd Fellow, died, “of cholera,” and was buried by his lodge on the 23rd.  Charles Gilman, a prominent lawyer, reported for the Supreme Court, attended this funeral, officiated, and in the morning he was dead.  No appreciation of the condition can be derived from description, nor can any words picture the general despondence of feeling.  The morning inquiry was: “Who is dead?”

Singularly enough, during all this time, while twice the epidemic had apparently left the city, it continuously infected the steamboats plying the river.  In early June, at a time when there was no cases in the city, a steamer, the Uncle Toby, passed up the river, landed here with three dead bodies on board and before it reached Rock Island there were twenty-four more added to the death list.

Public meetings were held to demand more complete sanitary measures, and the council ordered the examination of all strangers coming into the city, appointed inspectors of health for each ward, made free appropriations, established a pest house, etc., but the disease had its own way, and it was proven that no measures can ever drive away this fell destroyer when preventive precautions have been neglected.

The above text was extracted from Past And Present Of The City Of Quincy And Adams County, Illinois by Wm. H. Collins.  Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1905.  PP. 120-122.

Some Who Died Of Cholera In 1849 In Quincy

  • Asbury, Mary – died 27 June 1849
  • Barlow, J. K. – died 23 July 1849
  • Barlow, Mrs/ – died 5 Aug 1849
  • Brown, G. – died 21 March 1849
  • Caffrey, Hetty – died 4 July 1849
  • Casey, Daniel died – 18 March 1849
  • Conyers, Enoch – died 21 July 1849
  • Cook, Mrs. – died 15 May 1849
  • Danake, A. – died 18 July 1849
  • Demeree, Hannah – died 24 July 1849
  • Elder, Adam – died 18 May 1849
  • Elder, Mrs. Adam – died 20 May 1849
  • Floyd, Miss (female child) – died 7 July 1849
  • Floyd, Mrs. Thomas – died 8 July 1849
  • Galbraith, Elizabeth – died 20 July 1849
  • Garvin, Amanda A. – died 21 July 1849
  • Gilman, Charles – died 30 July 1849
  • Gilpin, Samuel – died 10 June 1849
  • Haworth, S. E. – died 28 July 1849
  • Hinchman, Ann W. – died 3 August 1849
  • Hopson, Mrs. – died 16 July 1849
  • Horn, Elizabeth – died 23 July 1849
  • Hurley, Timothy – died 18 March 1849
  • Hyler, Mr. – died 22 July 1849
  • Keller, Mrs. – 30 June 1849
  • Locke, Mr. – died 30 June 1849
  • Martin, Mr. – died 17 March 1849
  • Matchet, Male Child – died 22 July 1849
  • Miller, Mrs. – died 19 July 1849
  • Nichols, Caroline – died 15 July 1849
  • Notter, Mr. – died 20 July 1849
  • Pine, John – died 5 August 1849
  • Pitman, G. A. – died 4 August 1849
  • Prentiss, Lyman S. – died 20 July 1849
  • Prentiss, Mrs. Lyman – died 9 July 1849
  • Rice, Infant – died 29 July 1849
  • Rood, Charles B. – died 29 July 1849
  • Rusk, B. F. – died 22 July 1849
  • Sanderlin, James – 11 June 1849
  • Skinner, Adeline M. – died 17 June 1849
  • Slack, Ann Eliza – died 1 August 1849
  • Smith, John – died 22 July 1849
  • Stahl, Helen M. – died 27 July 1849
  • Stahl, Theresa – died 17 July 1849
  • Stone, M. H. – died 6 July 1849
  • Swan, Samuel – died 18 March 1849
  • Verheiler, Mr. – died 18 July 1849
  • Verheiler, Mrs. – died 19 July 1849
  • Waller, female child – died 9 July 1849
  • Welch, female child – died 24 June 1849
  • Wellmann, Mr. – died 29 July 1849
  • Wellmann, Mrs. died 27 July 1849
  • Whistler, Joseph – died 31 July 1849
  • Zink, Mrs. – died 19 May 1849
  • Zink, Philip – died 21 May 1849