Epidemics in U.S. - 1633 - 1952


Epidemics have always had a great influence on people -- and thus influencing, as well, the genealogists trying to trace them. Many cases of people disappearing from records can be traced to dying during an epidemic or moving away from the affected area. Some of the major epidemics in the United States are listed below:

1633 Massachusetts: (Indians) Smallpox, probably brought on arriving ships of settlers. At least 15 children died on incoming ships, as well as about 20 colonists already resident.
1634 Connecticut : Smallpox, introduced by Dutch traders and killed 95% of the Indians and spread north into Canada.
1648-49 Massachusetts colony: Another smallpox outbreak and of whooping cough.
1657 Boston: Measles
1687 Boston: Measles
1690 New York: Yellow Fever
1699 Charleston, SC: Yellow fever; probably about 160-190 died.
1702 New York: Yellow fever killing more than 500 people over a three-month period.
1702-03 Boston: Smallpox, again, and scarlet fever about 300 died.
1706 Charleston, SC: Yellow fever again. About 5% of the population died.
1713 Boston: Measles
1721-22 Boston: Smallpox again, about 6000 people affected in a total population of 11,000, of whom 844 died.
1728, 32 Charleston SC:  Yellow fever twice in a four year period.
1729 Boston: Measles
1732-33 Worldwide: Influenza
1735-40 New England: Epidemics of diphtheria and scarlet fever. Referred to as "throat distemper." Hundreds of people died, most of them children.
1738 South Carolina: Smallpox
1739-40 Boston: Measles
1743-45 New York: Yellow fever struck New York again.
1747 Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania & South Carolina: Measles
1759 North America (areas inhabited by white people): Measles
1761-61 North America & West Indies: Influenza
1763-64 Boston: Smallpox again, with about 170 deaths.
1772 North America: Measles
1775 North America (especially hard in New England): Epidemic (unknown)
1775-76 Worldwide: Influenza
1781-82 Worldwide: Influenza (one of worst flu epidemics)
1788 Philadelphia & New York: Measles
1789 New England, New York and Nova Scotia: epidemic of influenza hit in fall 1789. Most deaths appear to have been from secondary pneumonia.
1792-99 Charleston, Philadelphia, New Haven, New York, and Baltimore: Yellow fever  
1793 Vermont: Influenza and a "putrid fever"
1793 Virginia: Influenza (kills 500 people in 5 counties in 4 weeks)
1793 Delaware (Dover): "extremely fatal" bilious disorder
1793 Pennsylvania (Harrisburg & Middletown): many unexplained deaths
1794 Philadelphia: more than 4,000 residents died from yellow fever.
1796-98 Philadelphia: Yellow Fever
1803 New York: Yellow Fever
1820-23 Nationwide: "fever" (starts on Schuylkill River, PA & spreads
1826-28 Savannah, Georgia, to other cities along the southeastern coast, and the Caribbean:  Dengue fever
1831-32 Nationwide: Asiatic Cholera (brought by English emigrants)
1832 New York City: July & August, over 3,000 people killed in a cholera epidemic.
         New Orleans: October, cholera took the lives of 4,340 people.
1833 Columbus, Ohio: Cholera
1834 New York City: Cholera
1837 Philadelphia: Typhus
1841 Nationwide: Yellow Fever (especially severe in South)
1847 New Orleans: Yellow Fever
1847-48 Worldwide: Influenza
1848-49 North America: Cholera
              New York City: more than 5,000 deaths caused by cholera.
1850 Nationwide: Yellow Fever
1850-51 North America: Influenza
1850-51 Charleston SC, then to Savannah, Augusta, New Orleans, Mobile, Galveston: dengue fever
1851 The Great Plains, Missouri and Coles Co., Illinois: Cholera
1852 Nationwide: Yellow Fever (New Orleans: 8,000 die in summer)
1853 New Orleans: yellow fever killed 7,790.
1855 Nationwide (many parts): Yellow Fever
1857-59 Worldwide: Influenza (one of disease's greatest epidemics)
1860-61 Pennsylvania: Smallpox
1861-65 The U.S. Civil War brought epidemics of dysentery, typhoid fever, hepatitis, malaria, smallpox, measles, and venereal diseases. More than three times as many soldiers died of infectious disease than died of battle wounds.
1865-73 Philadelphia, New York, Boston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Memphis, & Washington D.C.: a series of recurring epidemics of Smallpox, Cholera, Typhus, Typhoid, Scarlet Fever & Yellow Fever
1867 New Orleans: 3,093 perished from yellow fever.
1868-75 New York, Philadelphia and other cities: Smallpox outbreaks
1873-75 North America & Europe: Influenza
1878 Southern States: over 13,000 people died from yellow fever in lower Mississippi Valley.
1885 Plymouth, PA: Typhoid
1886 Jacksonville, Fl: Yellow Fever
1893-94 Boston, New England, Vermont:  Polio in the U.S. began of 132 cases documented in Vermont, there were 18 deaths and 30 victims left with permanent paralysis.
1901-03 New York and northeast U.S.: Smallpox
1907-16 New York: Polio turned into a major problem in the U.S.
1916 Nationwide: over 7,000 deaths occurred and 27,363 cases were reported of polio (infantile paralysis) in America's worst polio epidemic.
1917-19 Nationwide: outbreak of Spanish influenza killed over 500,000 people in the worst single U.S. epidemic.
More people hospitalized in World War I from Influenza than wounds. US Army training camps became death camps --with 80 percent death rate in some camps.
1931 Another outbreak of polio during the summer of 1931, killing more than 4,000 people, about 12 percent of the reported cases.
1942-53 Polio continued to ravage the U.S., peaking in 1952 with about 60,000 cases. Worst epidemic since 1916.


sources: South Bend, IN Area Genealogical Society, April 1996 , Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, edited by George C. Kohn, published by Facts On File, Inc., 1995 and The Family Education Network.

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