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History Monday: A Fearsome Ailment, Once Rampant

By Mike Watson

Smallpox was a very real and persistent threat to life throughout the first century of Adair County's recorded history. Many nineteenth century adult survivors bore the tell-tale pockmarks of the disease. Though there is little recorded locally of the numerous outbreaks, what follows is a short item from the Adair County Court Orders that tends to make this more real to we twenty-first century citizens.

Adair County Court, August 1848: "Be it remembered, that whereas the small pox being reputed in the community and persons being in danger of catching the disease-- The Sheriff of this County summoned the magistrates of this county to meet in the Town of Columbia on this day to take such steps as may be necessary and proper in the matter... Whereupon on this 19th day of August 1848 the following magistrates assembled at the Clerk's office in Columbia: Clayton Miller, James Page, James Miller, Josiah Hunter, Andrew Ewing, Wm. B. Rogers, John Y. Wallace and Eli Wheat, Esqs.

"Whereupon they adjourned to the Courthouse and appointed Clayton Miller, chairman, and Junius Caldwell, clerk--and having investigated the matter, are of opinion that there is danger of the disease spreading. Therefore, resolved that Isaac Caldwell, Thomas R. Dohoney, Samuel G. Suddarth, Stephen White and James B. Johnson be and they are hereby appointed a committee to procure a house for at least one month suitable to be used as a hospital for such persons as may be removed there by law, or by the consent of the committee. And to procure the necessary superintendent, nurses, and provisions etc. as they may think proper for the hospital whenever in their opinion it becomes necessary. And at any time they may think it necessary they may procure medical aid and nurses and provisions etc. for any person who may in their opinion be attacked with the small pox. And all expenses incurred by the Committee and services rendered by any person under their direction shall be paid by the County Court unless the patient is able to pay for them." --Order Book G, page 425.

The Louisville Morning Courier, Louisville, KY, 13 September 1848, Wednesday, page 1, reported the following:


"Small Pox--We regret to learn that the small-pox has appeared in the vicinity of Columbia, in Adair County. A returned volunteer* took the disease very soon after his arrival in Adair and died--and some twelve or fifteen cases have occurred since his death. The greatest alarm pervades the community, but we are informed that the physicians are unremitting in their attentions to the sick, and every precaution has been taken to prevent the spreading of the disease." [*Volunteer soldier home from the Mexican War--MW]
This information was echoed in The Daily Crescent, New Orleans, LA, 28 September 1848, Thursday, page 2: "Small Pox--The small pox has appeared in the vicinity of Columbia in Adair county, (Ky.) A returned volunteer took the disease soon after his arrival in Adair, and died--and some twelve or fifteen cases have occurred since his death. The greatest alarm pervades the community."

The October 1848 term of Adair County Court listed many individuals and businesses that were to be compensated for caring for the sick during the recent smallpox outbreak. It was obvious there was quite an epidemic in the area.

One 1848 death that is known: "Died with the small pox, Eskew." [Adair Court orders, Book G, October 1848]

There was a mild outbreak in late 1861 as evidenced by the following items from the Adair County Vital Statistics: Downey T. Diddle, white, male, age 5 years, born, resided and died in Adair, son of James and M. Diddle, died 16 December 1861 with smallpox; and, George B. Diddle, white, male, age 13, born, resided, and died in Adair, son of James and M. Diddle, died 16 December 1861 with smallpox.

There seems to have been another, though less serious, outbreak in this region of Kentucky in 1873, not to be confused with the cholera epidemic of the same year. County Court expenditures show numerous payments to physicians, merchants and citizens for supplies, and those ministering to the victims.

At least one victim from this county: "Young McClister died with smallpox in Adair County." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 15 January 1873]

In Taylor County: "Gilliam Barbee, of color, died with smallpox January 27th." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 29 January 1873, Taylor County letter]

"William Barbee, of color, died just outside Campbellsville with smallpox." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 22 January 1873, Taylor County letter]

"George Faucett died in the suburbs of Campbellsville with smallpox on January 1st. He had been in Washington County..." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 8 January 1873, Taylor County letter]

"Henry Richeson, of color, died with smallpox at Campbellsville." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 22 January 1873, Taylor County letter]

"Buck Gaddy, of color, died in the neighborhood of Mt. Carmel Church with smallpox. He leaves a wife and one child. Children of Buck Gaddy died in the neighborhood of Mt. Carmel Church with smallpox." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 5 February 1873, Taylor County letter]

"Richards [or Robards], of color, died with smallpox in the Mt. Carmel Church neighborhood 12 miles northwest of Campbellsville." [The Lebanon Weekly Standard, Lebanon, KY, 5 February 1873, Taylor County letter]


This story was posted on 2021-03-01 09:31:45
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