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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 2, Summer 1947

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. III, No. 2, Summer, 1947

OUR FOREFATHERS TACKLE AN EPIDEMY—THE CHOLERA OF 1832
Samuel Hopkins Adams

COLUMNS OF thick, black smoke rising into the upstate New York skies attracted the critical attention of visiting Britishers in the summer of 1832. The tourists surmised that the “Yankee ignorami” were propitiating evil spirits with votive fires. They were mistaken. The populace was endeavoring to protect itself against a threatening pestilence.

Cholera Asiatica had jumped the Atlantic early in the year and broken out, first in Canada, then in Phi1adelphia and New York. Central New York, vigilant but unterrified, prepared to combat it. The region was not unversed in the strategy of epidemics. Typhus had been brought in, early in the 1820s, by the “redemptioners,” degraded contract labor shipped from Europe to the hemp fields, minteries, and merino farms of the western regions. “Croup,” for which read malignant diphtheria, had ravaged die settlements and had been followed by “spotted” (scarlet) fever. Smallpox was a recurrent scourge. Cholera was something new.

The stouthearted upstaters prepared to meet it with confidence. Health Committees were organized. Inspection of shipping from Canadian ports was instituted. Enhanced powers were given to Boards of Health, Doctors were alerted and grocery stocks of painkiller replenished. ...


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