William R Waring, MD

Report to the City Council of Savannah on the Epidemic Disease of 1820

Waring's Report to the City Council of Savannah on the Epidemic Disease of 1820.

William R Waring wrote his Report to the City Council of Savannah on the Epidemic Disease of 1820 in 1821, only a year after the epidemic ravaged the city. His account is a contemporary scientific study of the progression of the epidemic throughout the city in which he demonstrates a newfound approach that relies on quantifiable data. Unlike WC Daniell, little can be garnered about his background, but we can know a great deal about his role in understanding the epidemic.

Report to the City Council of Savannah on the Epidemic Disease of 1820; Table on the Healthy, Sickly, and Very Sickly

A table indicating the progress of the disease over time and the afflications of a broad scope of individuals.

Waring, unlike Daniell stated that the epidemic began as a “mild and manageable” bilious fever but over the months it became much more fatal. The progress of the epidemic is notable because it demonstrates how Waring tracked the disease over the course of the autumn. As the photograph of the table on the right demonstrates Waring was tracking who had which affliction and the extent to which it impacted them. Also it should be noted that the table tracked the epidemic over three years, but the worst of the epidemic was during the autumnal months of 1820.

William R Waring, MD described the shift of the disease as it spread across the city. At first it primarily affected the eastern edges of the city by the port and then it spread to the west. Waring makes the distinction that the disease had the highest mortality rates in the east because of the high concentration of people there. This is interesting because it demonstrates how he approached the study of space in relation to the occurrence of the yellow fever. This type of practice was not common in the 1800s, but would later become a crux of epidemiological study.

Waring then analyzes the possibility of the disease being brought from any of the ships in the port. He argues that it could not arise from the cost of Africa, a ship named Ramirez carrying slaves, because the crew was in great health when they arrived. Instead he believes that the causes were 1) a “general epidemic condition in the atmosphere”; 2) the shorter winters and longer, hotter summer; 3) eastern winds which allowed moisture to spread; 4) the rapid increase of population in the city and the abundance of shade; 5) the high amount of foreigners and lastly 6) the marsh grounds. It is important to note that he recognized the role that the marsh played in the spread of disease, but was not able to accurately locate it to mosquitoes.1