Local Governments Respond

Yellow fever, and other diseases believed to be brought to the state by ships engaged in trade with tropical areas, influenced the policy making of local governments.

County boards of health and city governments felt tremendous strain because of the financial and logistical demands of confronting outbreaks, always on their own with the help of citizen volunteers in the early stages, until federal authorities and state assistance arrived.

Telegram to Governor Perry from Enterprise, Florida, October 16, 1888

In this telegram from Enterprise, Florida, to Governor Edward Perry, officials in Volusia County express both the deadliness of the yellow fever outbreak of 1888 and the extreme measures local authorities are pursuing to contain the spread.

In confirming two deaths and 12 cases, the writer also states that the site of the infection has been placed inside an armed cordon to prevent further spreading, while the location has been relayed to federal authorities.

Asking the Governor for Help

Officials from the County Boards of Health of Putnam, St. Johns, Lake, Marion, Volusia, Orange, and Clay counties wrote Governor Perry as the yellow fever outbreak of 1888 intensified. The officials asked the governor to place quarantine cordons around places already infected, such as Jacksonville, and to institute all of the Marine Hospital Service's recommendations for containment.

Fearing the possibility of vagrants and “tramps” entering affected areas and traveling at will, spreading the infection as they went, the officials informed the governor of the perceived need to control the movement of that “class of people.” A greater statewide effort would, in their opinion, communicate to outsiders that the whole state was not infected and would help take the burden off of the counties for controlling the spread of the disease and maintaining civic order.

Save Me from My Friends

This letter to Governor Perry, signed simply as “Refugee,” describes the dire conditions in Millcove, Florida, during the 1888 outbreak while drawing attention to what the writer believes are inappropriate actions by local officials that will lead to further spread of the disease, such as conducting school in infected buildings.

The writer has left Jacksonville to avoid infection, only to find that it has already spread “desolation and gloom” to the surrounding communities, and feels compelled to now appeal to higher “health authorities.” The writer believes yellow fever came with the other refugees from Jacksonville, who brought the disease to what normally was a healthier place.