The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic In Mississippi

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Charles Bolton

Advisor Department



In 1878 yellow fever struck Mississippi in July and raged until the end of November. Previous yellow fever epidemics had plagued the state, but none rivaled the far-reaching effects of this disaster. This epidemic affected towns that previously had been fever-free. Quarantine lines, oftentimes guarded with shotguns, quickly strangled commerce in the state. As a result, business deteriorated to the point that Mississippians soon required vast amounts of monetary aid and huge quantities of donated merchandise to aid the stricken state. Mass confusion and panic permeated Mississippi's towns as news of the contagion's ever-increasing spread reached new locales. As the epidemic swept across Mississippi, citizens suffered greatly. Death rates were extremely high. Mississippi was in the grip of yellow fever. This study explores these issues. Relying primarily upon primary source material, this work attempts to illustrate the profound effects that the 1878 yellow fever epidemic had upon Mississippians. An examination of family letters, Bibles, and newspaper clippings reveals a story of intense suffering. Oftentimes entire families perished, sometimes within days of one another, as the epidemic hit their area. In a variety of ways, Mississippians tried to deal with an unseen foe that was sweeping through their state. This study also establishes the fact that Mississippians often overcame racial tensions grounded in Civil War and Reconstruction experiences to work together for the relief of their fellow men. In light of past events, this cooperation was truly a remarkable occurrence. In this gross disaster, past social and political differences apparently were put aside in order to cope with the yellow fever epidemic in 1878.