Friday, July 21, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 23

Preachers Succumb to Yellow Fever, July 1867

Of all the epidemic diseases that struck Texas in the 19th century, none was more feared than yellow fever. The mosquito borne disease could kill a healthy adult in three days. What a miserable death it was! The victim vomited black clots of blood, suffered delirium, became jaundiced, and then died. Mortality rates were about 85%. Coastal Texas experienced nine recorded yellow fever epidemics in the 19th century. The last one in 1867 was particularly devastating. Galveston suffered 725 deaths while LaGrange had 204. Brenham had so many deaths a new cemetery had to be created. Half the Navasota populaton fled in panic.

The first Methodist preacher to die was Thomas Cook of Texana who died on July 24, 1867. Within a few weeks the roster of deceased ministers was as follows:
William Rees--Houston
William T. Harris-Victoria
R. Weems--Chappell Hill
James Shipman-Chappell Hill
Quinn Minifee--LaGrange
James McLeod-Houston
Samuel Lynch-Houston
Asbury Davidson-Gonzales

Methodist educational efforts in Huntsville were dealt a huge setback when President Rufus Heflin and Trustee President W. P. Kittrell of Andrew Female College both died. Soule University closed as both faculty and students fled.

The frosts of autumn brought the epidemic to an end, but the events July/August, 1867 were to have a lasting impact on Texas Methodism. Francis Asbury Mood came to Soule to bring it back to life. The town of Chappell Hill was still so deserted that Mood was offered his choice of 8 abandoned houses he could occupy. He came to the conclusion that parents would not send their children to a school in the fever belt. He began working to establish a new school sponsored by all the conferences in the state. The resolution the conferences passed stated that the university would be located "north of 32 degrees north latitude, the counties of Bell, Burnet, Travis, and Williamson excepted." Such resolution led to the creation of Southwestern University well away from the main concentrations of yellow fever.

Another 1/3 century passed before scientists discovered the role of the mosquito in spreading yellow fever. Public health measures were then put in place to eradicate this scourge of the Texas Coastal Plains.


Blogger Richard H said...

My wife's ancestor, Rev. Thomas Duncan Porter of Tennessee died of Yellow Fever while scouting out ministry opportunities in Texas back in 1837:

"From a Matagorda Newspaper, August 9, 1837, page 3, col. 2.
Died, at the Texas Hotel, on the 8th of July, of Fever, after an illness of eight days, Mr. Morghan P. Hughlett, formerly of Windham Co. Tenn., aged 3? years. On the 10th, at the residence of Maj. James A. Montgomery Rev. Thos. D. Porter, of same complaint, and from the same place, aged 49. The deceased had for a length of time, been much exposed, and were both sick long before they reached this place. As soon as their situation was known, our worthy townsman, at whose hospitable mansion the last named died, called upon them with a view of seeing if he could render them any assistance. Mr. Hughlett, to all appearance, was near his end. Mr. Porter, as soon as practicable, was removed to his residence, where he received every attention which kindness and humanity combined could suggest. His case was soon found to be beyond the reach of medical aid - he died, - but it will be a consolation to his afflicted family to know, that, although in a strange land, he found amongst strangers those who took delight in doing good; who felt a pleasure in administering to his every necessity and comfort. His remains were followed to the grave by a large concourse of citizens, who testified in this last act their respect for his character as a man and christian."

7:15 PM  

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