Category Archives: Charleston

Item of the Day: Travels to the Westward of the Allegany Mountains (1805)

Full Title: Travels to the Westward of the Allegany Mountains, in the States of the Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, in the Year 1802. Containing Accounts Relative to the Present State of Agriculture, and the Natural Productions of those Districts; Together with Particulars of the Commercial Relations which Subsist between these States, and those to the Eastward of the Mountains, and of Lower Louisiana. By. F. A. Michaux. Translated from the French. London: Printed for Richard Phillips, 1805.

[Excerpted from Chapter I.]

CHARLESTON, in South Carolina, being the first place of my destination, I repaired to Bourdeaux, which is the French port most nearly connected in its commercial intercourse with the southern part of the United States, and from which vessels are continually sailing for different ports of North America. I therefore embarked on the 25th of August, 1801, on board the John and Francis, commanded by the same captain with whom I had returned to Europe several years before.

. . . on the 9th of October 1801, we made the road of Charleston in company with two other vessels, one of which had quitted Bourdeaux eighteen days, and the other a month before we sailed.

The pleasure, however, which we experienced from our safe arrival was soon diminished. The pilot informed us that the yellow fever had pravailed for some time at Charleston, where a great portion of the inhabitants had been carried off by its ravages: this intelligence alarmed the passengers, who were fourteen in number, and most of whom had relations or friends in the town. We had no sooner cast anchor, than those who had not before resided in hot climates were conveyed by their friends to the isle of Sullivan. This isle is situated seven miles from Charleston: its dry and barren soil is almost deprived of vegetation, but as it is exposed to the sea breezes, its air is fresh and agreeable. For some time past, or since the bilious and inflammatory epidemic, generally called the yellow fever, has regularly appeared every year at Charleston, a great number of the inhabitants and planters who took refuge in the town in order to avoid the intermittent fevers which attacked the seven-tenths of those in the country, have built many houses in this isle, in which they reside from the first of July till the commencement of a frost, which generally happens about the 15th of November. Some persons on the island keep bourding-houses for the reception of those who may have no establishments of their own. It has been remarked, that strangers newly arrived from Europe or from the states of North America, and who immediately land on this island, are not attacked by the yellow fever.

But these considerations, however strong they might be, cold not induce me to pass an indefinite time in a place so destitute and unpleasant; I therefore resisted the advice of my frineds, and remained in the town. I had, however, nearly fallen a victim to my obstinacy; having, a few days afterwards, been attacked with the first symptoms of that dreadful disease, from which I did not recover till I had been three months a sufferer.

The yellow fever varies every year in point of intenseness; and medical practitioners have not yet been able to determine the characteristic signs by which, at its appearance, its degree of malignity in summer might be discovered. The inhabitinats of the town are not so subject to its attacks as strangers, eight tenths of whom died in the year of my arrival; and when the former are attacked, it is always in a far smaller proportion.

It has been observed, that during the months of July, August, September, and October, when this malady generally prevails, the persons who absent themselves from Charleston only for a few days, are, on their return, much more susceptible of its attacks, than those who remain in the town. The inhabitants of Upper Carolina, distant two or three hundred miles, who come hither during this season, are as liable to take the fever as strangers, and those of the environs of the town are not free from its ravages. Hence it appears, that during one third of the year all intercourse is nearly cut off between the town and the country. The place is then supplied with provisions only by the negroes, or the native inhabitants of the country, who are not attacked by this disease. When, on my return from the tour which I had been making in the western districts, I repaired to Charleston in the month of October 1802, I did not meet in the most frequented road, for the space of three hundred miles, a single traveller either on his way to, or returning from the town; while at the houses where I stopped, they could not believe that my business could be of such importances as to induce me to repair thither in such a calamatous season.

From the beinning of November, however, till the month of May, the country makes a totally different appearance. Every thing seems to have acquired new life, commerce and the communications which were broken off are all resumed, the roads are covered with carts and wagons, bringing from all quarters the production of the interior; a concourse of coaches and cabriolets drive about with rapidity, and keep up an incessant intercourse between the town and the houses in its vicinity, where the owners pass a part of the winter season; in short, commercial activity renders Charleston at this time as animated as, during the summer, it is melancholy and deserted.

It is generally believed at Charleston, that the yellow fever, which every year prevails there, as well as at Savannah, is similar to that which appears in the Colonies, and that it is not contagious; but this opinion is not universally adopted in the northern towns. It is a fact, that when this malady appears at New York and Philadelphia, the inhabitants are as apt to take it as strangers; and therefore they remove from their habitiations as soon as they learn that their neighbours are attacked by it. But they enjoy a very valuable advantage which those at Charleston do not possess; and this is, that the country which surrounds Philadelphia and New York is agreeable and salubrious, so that, on retiring to the distance of two or three miles, they remain in perfect security, even when the disease prevails at those towns in its greatest violence.

I have made this slight digresson, in order to inform those who may have to travel to the southern parts of the United States, that they will really be in great danger if they arrive in the months of July , August, September, or October. I was, like many others, of opinion, that the adoption of proper means to prevent the effervescence of the blood, would be an infallible preservative against this disease; but every year’s experience proved to me, that those who had followed a kind of regimen proper for this purpose, though such a method is undoubtedly the best, do not always avoid the fate of such as are less abstemious. . . .

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Filed under 1800's, Charleston, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel, Travel Literature, United States, Yellow Fever