By: Rebecca Taylor
Of the victims of the 1862 Yellow Fever epidemic, James Sprunt, eminent historian of the Lower Cape Fear, writes:
Among the devoted band of Christians who remained at their post of duty and yielded up their lives while rendering succor to those who could not leave were Rev. R. B. Drane, rector of St. James parish, aged 62 years; James S. Green, treasurer of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, aged 63 years; Dr. James H. Dickinson, an accomplished physician and man of letters, aged 59 years; John W. K. Dix, a prominent merchant, aged 30 years; Isaac Northrop, a large mill owner, aged 67 years; James T. Miller, a prominent citizen and the collector of the port, aged 47 years; Rev. John L Pritchard, a Baptist minister, who fell at his post, never faultering, aged 51 years. Thomas Clarkson Worth, an eminent merchant, after laboring among the sick and destitute, yielded his life to the plague November 1, 1862; Cyrus Stowe Van Amringe, one of nature’s noblemen, who refused to leave and remained to help the sick, died at his post, aged 26 years. Rev. Father Murphy, a Roman Catholic priest, a hero among heroes, worked night and day until nearly the last victim had died, and then fell on sleep.” Chronicles of the Cape Fear, by James Sprunt.
Many of the town leaders who stayed to care for the sick fell victim to its ravages.
Died in this town, on the 29th inst., of yellow fever, Mr. Wm. H. Pratt, in the 27th year of his age. Mr. Pratt was a most excellent and skillful druggist and a worthy man, and his death at this time is a severe loss to the community. It is hardly to be doubted that his sickness was hastened, if not brought on, by his arduous exertions in the line of his business, at which he overworked himself to assist in meeting the calls of a suffering community.” Daily Journal (Wilmington) September 30, 1862
“The Fever – The fever still lingers in our midst, its continuance being mainly due, no doubt, to the return of warm weather. Two new cases are reported as having occurred yesterday, and we are informed that there were two burials in Oakdale Cemetery. We also hear of six deaths last night, amongst them that of the Rev. J. L. Prichard, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in this place.
Mr. Prichard had been sick for some weeks, having been prostrated with Yellow Fever, while faithfully attending to his duties as a minister of religion. He stood at his post and died in the conscious discharge of duty or from disease contracted in its discharge. He was a good, sincere, earnest working Christian, and his death is deeply regretted by the community. He leaves a family to whom his loss is a heavy bereavement.” Fayetteville Weekly Observer – November 17, 1862.
Not only the wealthy, white population suffered.
“At first colored people seemed to escape, or to have the disease in a very light form. Towards the close, however, they seemed to suffer almost as badly as the whites. The burials in the colored cemetery during the epidemic reached 111. It is likely that all the deaths of colored persons may have reached 150.
Thus, we have the following result of the progress of the disease
Died in town (white) ………….509
Died in town (colored) …..….150*
Died out of town (white) ……..30
The number of cases reported by physicians as being actually under treatment did not, we ascertain, at any time show the number of cases actually occurring, as, among colored people and indeed among many white people, no call was made for a physician. Daily Journal (Wilmington) November 17, 1862.
* In 1860 the population of Wilmington was 45% black of which 573 were free people of color.
Among those listed in the Daily Journal’s Obituaries on September 30, 1862, were Mr. Wm. Hyde, aged 26, a resident of Dock St.; Mrs. Mary A., wife of Thomas Southmayd, aged 35 years; and John McCormick, eldest son of James McCormick, aged 10 years. By mid-November local obituaries carried several family names, familiar even today. John D. Fergus, aged 27, died on October 19 and Lorenzo Risley, 36, who died on October 12. Of Mr. Risley, his obituary remarked: “Deceased was a native of Hebron, Conn., but for several years a citizen of Wilmington. Possessing in an eminent degree, the characteristic of a noble and generous heart, he had won the respect and esteem of a large circle of friends who deeply lament his loss. A bereaved wife mourns the irreparable loss of a kind, loving and indulgent husband.” Daily Journal (Wilmington) November 17, 1862
One of the problems in determining exactly how many people in Wilmington died during the 1862 Yellow Fever epidemic is that James Quigley, the superintendent of Oakdale Cemetery, died in the middle of the epidemic. Eric Kozen, the current superintendent, tells about finding incomplete burial records from the Fall of 1862 in an interview with Hunter Ingram for his Cape Fear Unearthed podcast, “Yellow Death” originally broadcast on May 30, 2019.
Today you can visit Oakdale Cemetery and view the memorials and markers that were erected to commemorate those who died in Wilmington’s worst epidemic on record.