As I have just finished a series of articles on the Spanish Influenza pandemic and we are still in the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping around the world, I felt it informative to talk about another health issue that swept through Suwannee County more than 100 years ago. The articles this week and next are reprints from ones I did back in 2018, but I felt them appropriate for us to revisit. I read them recently with a different perspective, one that I did not have two years ago. Doubtless you will, too…

Over the centuries, populations have endured health-related panics, both real and imagined. Well-known incidents of real health scares include the Black Death in Europe (that killed one-third of Europe’s population) and the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 (killing 50-100 million people, a higher death toll than all four years of World War I that ended in 1918).

In mid-1888, an outbreak of yellow fever struck Jacksonville and the surrounding areas. Over one-third of Jacksonville’s population of approximately 14,000 were stricken with it, and at least 427 soon died from it. Hysteria gripped the State. Even the governor’s race that year was impacted because candidates had to wait 10 days to cross county lines to make sure they didn’t have the fever.

On Aug. 10, 1888, the Live Oak City Council was concerned with the possibility of a yellow fever outbreak locally. On that date, the mayor and marshal were appointed to “wait upon those persons who are now in our town from the yellow fever district at Jacksonville, and inform them that they will be subject to being sent to rest house, so long as they remain in town.” An ordinance was also passed, which stated:

“Section 1: Be it ordained by the City Council of Live Oak that quarantine be established against the city of Jacksonville, and all other regions infected with yellow fever, and that no persons nor goods nor chattles (sic) from the said city of Jacksonville or other infected place, be allowed to stop or landed in the city of Live Oak until this Board shall further order.

“Section 2: That any one violating this ordinance shall be subject to a fine of not less than ten ($10.00) dollars nor more than fifty ($50.00) dollars and that this ordinance go into effect as soon as signed by the chairman of this Board and approved and countersigned by the mayor.”

The ordinance was signed by W. J. Carroll, Mayor; S. T. Overstreet, Chairman; and J. B. Evans, Clerk.

Five days later, the County Commission met and discussed the situation. The County Commissioners passed orders stating:

“Whereas, it is evident that yellow fever prevail in some portions of our state as epidemic, and

“Whereas, we believe the protection of our citizens from contagious diseases demands that we should use every precaution in establishing a strict quarantine against all infected or suspected districts, and that W. H. Sessions, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, be and he is hereby empowered to employ good responsible men of sound judgement and as many as may be required to board all trains carrying passengers that enter the County, and proceed to carefully examine the health certificates of all persons desiring to stop off within the County, and to prevent any person, baggage or freight from an infected district from stepping off the cars at any point within the County.

“Ordered, that these proceedings be published in the Banner (The Banner of Liberty, a local newspaper of the time, EM) for two weeks, and that the authorities of the infected Districts be notified at once by telegram to issue no certificates to any one for Suwannee County.”

The order also allowed for $300 in expenses (about $8,500 in 2017 dollars, but worth far more in buying power) to establish and maintain the quarantine. To compare expenses, a few days later the Board of County Commissioners authorized the construction of a bridge over Rocky Creek for a total price of only $25, and the entire yearly salary for the “Commissioner of Registration” (Supervisor of Elections today), Robert F. Allison, was $125, so the $300 was a sizeable chunk of change for the day.

We’ll finish our look at the 1888 yellow fever outbreak next week.

Eric Musgrove can be reached at ericm@suwgov.org or 386-362-0564.

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