Savannah After the Outbreak

Colonial Park Cemetery Savannah GA Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1820 Marker Memorial

A marker in the Colonial Park Cemetery of Savannah, Georgia. It marks the death toll of the Yellow Fever epidemic. A small memorial for the 700 people dead.

In the years that would follow the 1820 outbreak there would be many more. Hundreds of more lives would be claimed in the 1870-72 outbreak in Savannah. The ideas that Waring and Daniell had expressed in their respective books were sadly not utilized during the later outbreaks. It is important to note that their contribution to Savannah was not short lasting and that over the years they have helped inform the public about the effects of disease. Savannah, as a port city, would be subject to many outbreaks over the years as their position of importance constantly brought in a variety of people and their accompanying afflictions. These disease would impact every level of society. No one was truly safe from the fever, not a slave or the exclusive elites. A quick note on the source used for this section, “Savannah of the 1870’s” was written by a Thomas Waring MD in 1936 and has no clear relation to the William Waring of this investigation.10

Treatment of the Yellow Fever would wait until 1900 when Walter Reed discovered that the Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. To be specific they were transmitted by the species Aegeis Aegypti. Reed worked to find the source of the disease while working with eight other physicians who experimented on themselves in the hopes that they would find the cause. This process of self experimentation shows how the practice of medicine was still evolving even at the turn of the century. There is a claim however that the disease’s cause was actually discovered by Jesse Lazear, one of the junior physicians working under Reed, who was the one to infect himself via a mosquito. Lazear died of the infection, but was able to prove that the Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. Contemporaries of Reed’s time argued that this experiment was not proof enough, but Reed then set off for Cuba to further prove his discovery.11 

Upon proof of Reed’s theory the process of vaccinating the infection became common place. This contention, though it seems to be minor, is an important distinction in the field of medical history because if Lazear did indeed prove it through his self infection then it would taint the honor Walter Reed’s discovery. Needless to say, whoever discovered the vehicle of infection and the true treatment is a hero because we no longer have to fear the outbreak of the Yellow Fever.

Within the field of medicine we would see a shift from the faith based practices that existed towards a more scientific approach in the mid 1800s. Both Daniell and Waring were on the forefront of doctors who took a scientific approach to the understanding of ailments. Through their approach based around the quantification of the symptoms that people exhibited, most often the black bile that they would throw up or the inflammation in the eye. This is no small thing, their approach is one that cannot be traced throughout history but nevertheless must have had an impact upon the development of the medical sciences.

Savannah After the Outbreak