The Floyd Co, VA Diphtheria

Epidemic of 1862


    When eleven year old John Howard died January 14, 1861 of diphtheria,  Floyd County, Virginia may not have realized its danger.  While seventy-three people died in Floyd in 1860, none died of diphtheria.  But in 1861, 90 people died in Floyd County not including four Civil War soldiers.   Through the end of August only 6 deaths were from the disease but by years end twenty deaths or 22% of the year’s total were attributed to diphtheria.

     After John Howard’s death, February and March passed by.   Then on April 3rd George Overstreet, only 1, died followed by George Mills, 14 on April 26, 1861.  May passed and in June there were two more diphtheria deaths, Lemuel McDaniel, age 3, on June 17 and G. M. Helms, 21, on June 21, 1861.  Lydia Thrash, 87, died on July 7 and then August passed with no diphtheria deaths.

     The three deaths in September 1861 and two in October still may not have alerted Floyd County to what was on the way.  November had 5 diphtheria deaths followed by 4 in December 1861.

     Ten diphtheria deaths in January 1862 signaled a full blown epidemic.  February had 13 deaths.  This followed by a slight lull in March with 7 deaths but in April 1862, 22 deaths were recorded from diphtheria.

     There were 10 diphtheria deaths in May, 12 deaths in June, 10 more in July and then 14 in August.  In the midst of the mounting diphtheria toll, typhoid fever had also taken hold causing even more deaths.

     The September 1862 total of diphtheria deaths was 16, followed by 15 in October, 20 in November and 16 more in December.  The year’s death total was 242 not including 38 soldiers.  This was a 268% increase from 1861.  Diphtheria accounted for 165 or 68% of the deaths.  There were only 77 deaths from other causes and many of these were typhoid fever deaths. 


        The typhoid deaths deserve a brief look.  Of the 77 non-diphtheria  deaths plus the 38 soldier deaths, a total of 115 non-diphtheria deaths, 30 or 26% were from typhoid fever.  At least 11 Floyd Civil War soldiers died of typhoid away from Floyd County and at least 11 non-soldiers died in Floyd County of the same disease.  Several more Floyd County typhoid deaths were males of the correct age to be soldiers although it wasn’t specifically stated.  Three deaths in particular are suspicious.  They are of males specifically stated to be soldiers who died in Floyd County of typhoid.

     J. C. West, 22, son of Andrew & A. West, died of typhoid in Floyd County in April.  Foster Wood, 24, son of F. & M. Wood, also died of typhoid in Floyd County on April 25, 1862.  M. G. Manning, 26, son of C. L. & S. Manning, didn’t die until Oct. 30.  His sister, Sarah Manning, 19, died of typhoid two weeks earlier on Oct. 14, 1862.

     It would appear that the typhoid began in the Confederate armies and was brought to Floyd County by sick soldiers.  


     The Weddle family was among the hardest hit by diphtheria.   Samuel Weddle was a farmer born September 26, 1812 in Montgomery Co., VA.  In about 1835, he married Polly Wade, born in 1819.

      By 1860 Samuel and Polly Weddle had eleven children.  Polly died and Samuel married Mary Bowman Hylton, daughter of Christian Bowman and Hannah Rineheart.  Of Samuel and Polly’s four oldest children in 1862, three survived the diphtheria epidemic, Nancy, Caleb and Joshua.  Their eldest child, Eliza, 25, had married William C. Simmons in 1861 but was struck down by the epidemic, dying on January 4, 1862.

     Mary Bowman Weddle brought 4 children with her when she married Samuel Weddle.  They were from her previous marriage to Isaac Hylton.  The older children were sons Hyram, 14 and Benjamin, 10 and they survived the epidemic.  But on January 29, 1862 both younger daughters, Susannah, 5, and Lydia, 3, died of diphtheria.

     The epidemic had already moved into the Samuel Weddle home 7 days earlier when Louanna, 10, died on January 22.  In February, two more children died.  Alley, 12, died February 5  and Noah died February 24, 1862, at age 7.

     Samuel’s son Eli died on April 20, 1862, at age 14 and was followed in May by Malachi, who died on May 5, at age 17.

     Of Samuel Weddle and Polly Wade’s youngest children only Sarah, 6, and Owen, 3, survived the epidemic.  Samuel Weddle and Mary Hylton had one child Mary Jane born January 25, 1862 but Mary Jane died June 18, 1862.  Of 16 children alive in 1862, only 7 had survived the year.

     Samuel and Mary Weddle eventually had 4 more children, Elizabeth, Samuel Jr., Martha, and Joseph.

     Another Weddle also died of diphtheria in 1862.  Samuel Weddle’s brother, Joseph, died on April 3 just two months before the birth of a daughter on June 8.  Joseph’s wife Susannah named the child Josephine.


     The family of Jesse Pratt and Barbara Simmons were also struck by the diphtheria epidemic in October 1862.  On October 3, their daughter, Nancy, 14 died and this was followed on October 10 by the death of their son Jesse, 13.  On October 17, Barbara Simmons Pratt died of diphtheria at age 46 and a week later her daughter Catherine, 10, also died.  This family is buried in the Jesse Pratt Cemetery in a field on 722 west of the town of Floyd.  Jesse’s is the only marked stone.  Jesse’s sister Judith Pratt is also buried here.  Judith was another victim of the diphtheria epidemic dying September 29, 1862.

     A different Catherine Pratt, 16, this one a daughter of John & Agnes Pratt, died of diphtheria on December 1, 1862.  John Pratt was Jesse and Judith Pratt’s brother.


     Other Floyd County families with 5 or more diphtheria deaths were the Altizers, Andersons, Conners (13 deaths, 5 from the Jo and Lucinda Conner family), Guthries, Keiths, Kropffs, Martins, Spanglers, Wades and Wilsons. 







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