Today, we continue looking at the 1888 yellow fever outbreak that caused widespread panic in North Florida.
On August 15, the same day that the Suwannee County Commissioners had enacted an ordinance refusing to receive people and items from Jacksonville, the Live Oak Town Council appointed Dr. Carroll (the mayor) and Dr. Overstreet (chairman of the Council) to confer with the County Commissioners “and learn what they had done in regard to quarantining the County.” The Council agreed that after the County Commission placed their police force on incoming trains, that they would discharge from the police force all but one man; however, additional men could be employed if deemed necessary.
The County set up a “suspect camp” for those who were suspected of carrying yellow fever. The County paid several men for their guard duty during the epidemic, noting their locations in the January 1889 minutes. Most of the men were stationed at Columbus (now the Suwannee River State Park), Live Oak and Branford.
In Jacksonville and other locations, there was even greater hysteria. In Jacksonville, the hotel where the first confirmed case had stayed was burned to the ground as a precautionary measure. There was a common belief that shooting guns in the air would help kill the germs, so the day and night were lit up with the sound of gunfire. It died off when one of the most prominent supporting doctors came down with the fever. Other methods were tried, including burning barrels of tar, dousing trees, hitching posts, curbs, street cars, etc., with disinfectants made of lime or a mercury solution. Soon, no city would take residents from Jacksonville, and the surviving citizens were forced to create their own quarantine camps. Mail from Jacksonville was individually fumigated piece by piece. Ad-hoc quarantines were established in various communities by armed men with orders to shoot anyone who refused to turn back. There are various first-hand accounts of hotel staff throughout the State quitting at a moment’s notice upon hearing about the epidemic, some abandoning their posts while breakfast was still cooking. Government broke down as law enforcement, firefighters and even the mayor fled Jacksonville and other communities.
In the midst of the epidemic, Live Oak’s marshal, W. P. Mosley, and Council Chairman S. T. Overstreet resigned from their positions. S. S. Sims was elected as Mosley’s replacement, and W. L. Whitefield was Dr. Overstreet’s replacement. A possible reason for Dr. Overstreet’s resignation was that his medical services were needed to help contain the yellow fever, and he did not have time to perform his civic duties otherwise.
We’ll complete our study of the Yellow Fever epidemic next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at email@example.com or 386-362-0564.