Friday, August 26, 2016

The Yellow Fever Epidemic in Tennessee

By Heather Adkins

Nashville Tennessean Magazine, Jan. 22, 1956, Newspapers on Microfilm Collection.

In the 1870s, a series of yellow fever epidemics ravaged the Mississippi Delta from New Orleans up through West Tennessee. Nowhere was the devastation more apparent than in Memphis. In 1873, the disease claimed the lives of 2,000 Memphians. When it returned to the city in 1878, it killed more than 5,000.

“A Quarantine Wanted at Memphis,” July 26, 1878, Daily American, page 4.

After cases of yellow fever in New Orleans were reported in July of 1878, the board of health in Memphis called for a quarantine of steamboat travelers. Health officials believed that the spread of the disease, carried by river travelers up waterways, could be contained before it reached the city. Beginning around July 27, all northbound boats were stopped at President’s Island, 12 miles south of Memphis.

“Jumping the Quarantine,” circa 1870s, Manuscript Collection.

Journal entry of a Memphis resident quarantined in Arkansas, Oct. 7, 1878, Henry Sieck journal, Trinity Lutheran Church records.

Despite the steamboat quarantine, yellow fever crept into Memphis. The first death in mid-August caused widespread panic. About 25,000 residents fled the city. As a result, local authorities took several precautions to prevent further spread of the disease. They quarantined the city and positioned an armed safety patrol outside of Memphis, not only to prevent travelers from coming into the area, but also to keep in, and at times arrest, people afflicted with yellow fever. A citizens' relief committee organized refugee camps, and nurses and doctors within Memphis were assigned to infected districts, reportedly seeing as many as 100 to 150 patients daily. The city also restricted importation and exportation of goods to lower the risk of the disease spreading. By October, the need for supplies became so dire that the federal war department ordered the steamer J.M. Chambers to carry necessary provisions, medicine and clothing from St. Louis to Memphis.

“Under the Yellow Flag,” Oct. 6, 1878, Daily American, page 3 as reported in the St. Louis Republican.

Memphis clergy played a key role during the 1878 epidemic. The Sisterhood of St. Mary became well known for its aid efforts. St. Mary’s ran a church orphanage and a girls school, and during the fever outbreaks the sisters also provided care at the Canfield Asylum, a home for African-American children. The sisters rotated between supplying food and medicine to homebound patients, bringing children to the Canfield Asylum, and caring for the orphans of St. Mary’s. From September to October, several priests and nuns died of the fever. Among those who died were Sister Constance, Sister Thecla, Sister Ruth, Sister Frances, Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons and Rev. Louis S. Schuyler. These six individuals became known as “Constance and Her Companions,” or the “Martyrs of Memphis.”

“Catholic Sisters of Charity,” circa 1870s, Manuscript Collection.

Sister Hughetta of St. Mary’s writes that Mrs. Shipwith and her baby were killed by the fever. She explains that Mr. Cline was not allowed in the sick room until absolutely necessary, for fear he too would contract the disease. Nov. 20, 1878, Manuscript Collection.

Between August and November of that year, the population of Memphis plummeted. Before the outbreak, the city’s residents numbered 47,000. In addition to the 25,000 who fled upon news of outbreak in August, it is estimated that by September only 19,000 remained and 17,000 of them had the fever. The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church is one of many examples of how the epidemic affected pocket communities. At the time of the outbreak, Trinity was thought to have had several hundred members in its congregation. That number dropped to 125 members, with church records showing two entries listing the names of about 100 members who died from the fever.

Rev. Henry Sieck, who presided over Trinity at that time, was quarantined in Arkansas, where he had traveled as a guest speaker at another church. His journal provides a detailed firsthand account describing the mass fear of contracting the disease, quarantine procedures for travelers, “yellow fever refugees” meetings, and his reactions as news of his dying congregation made its way to him.

This record includes many individual deaths due to fever from Aug. 1878 to Jan. 1879, and a large section of 38 deaths before Dec. 1878. The title of that section, written in German, loosely translates to “Died in this municipality from 14 Aug. – Dec. 1878 of yellow fever.” Statistics Book 2, 1878, Trinity Church Records.

September 26, 1878 entry of the Henry Sieck journal, Trinity Lutheran Church records.

The disease dwindled during a big freeze in October. The city sent out a message calling its residents back, though fever cases still appeared as late as February 1879. In 1879, Memphis property tax revenues collapsed and the city could not make payments on its debts. As a result, the Tennessee General Assembly revoked the city charter, classifying Memphis as a taxing district until 1893. Despite its losses, Memphis recovered with a new era in sanitation reform and improvements.

This letter from Dr. G.B. Thornton, President of the Office of the Board of Health in Shelby County, to Dr. J.D. Plunket, State Board of Health of Tennessee, details the efforts of disinfecting and sanitary work underway in Memphis to eradicate yellow fever. July 22, 1879, Tennessee Department of Public Health Records.

Perhaps the most significant impact the yellow fever made on Memphis was demographic changes. Most of the upper and middle classes vanished, having either left the city ahead of quarantine or died during the epidemic. The disappearance of these classes deprived the city of its leadership and class structure, and created a unique situation for poorer white and African-American communities. These communities played the largest role in re-establishing Memphis as a city.

For further reading, see “The Saffron Scourge”:

For more primary sources, see Education Outreach:

And view our online exhibit, "Epidemic Scourges in Tennessee" at:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files: The Case of Julius J. DuBose

By Kim Wires

Here at the Tennessee State Library & Archives, we keep more than 10,000 boxes of Supreme Court cases, but not all of these cases involve laypeople who were unschooled about the law. Some of them involve judges as participants in, rather than arbiters of, legal disputes. In this case, a colorful Memphis judge was accused of helping to facilitate an illegal duel - only to be impeached by the General Assembly years later for his behavior. Here is his story:

Julius J. DuBose was born on Dec. 13, 1839 in Shelby County. He enlisted in the 9th Arkansas Regiment in 1861 and went to law school after the Civil War. He went on to become an editor, a state senator, and in 1886, a criminal court judge for Shelby County.

In 1889, state officials and several private citizens accused DuBose of violating the state’s constitution for his alleged role in a duel in Crittenden County, Arkansas 19 years before.

State, ex rel A. J. Harris et al v. J. J. DuBose
Tennessee State Supreme Court Case Files

The pistol duel was fought between two Shelby County residents, George R. Phelan and James Brizzotari. According to the case file, DuBose was accused of “not only aid[ing] and abet[ing] the same by giving encouragement there to by his presence, but in said duel appeared and acted as the second of said James Brizzotari.” Brizzotari was seriously wounded after several shots were exchanged between the two men.

On July 3, 1889, the Shelby County Chancery Court announced that it had no jurisdiction in the matter and that the authority to hear the case resided with the Tennessee General Assembly. Therefore, the case was dismissed. The state was granted an appeal to the the Supreme Court, which held a hearing in Jackson April 1,1890. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the lower court’s decision and dismissed the case against DuBose.

At the time of the duel, DuBose had been the editor of a daily evening paper called “The Public Ledger” in Memphis. In that newspaper's June 29, 1870 issue, there was an account of the duel covering several columns.

Article from the Daily American, May 16, 1889

After more than 3,000 Shelby County residents petitioned for DuBose's removal, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a resolution in 1893 allowing impeachment proceedings against the judge. The House issued 25 articles of impeachment.

House Resolution No. 58, from 1893.

The first article said “that, unmindful of the solemn duties of his office, and contrary to the sacred obligations by which he stands bound to discharge them, and to administer justice without respect of person, and impartially to discharge the duties incumbent upon him as a judge, he has acted in an unjudicial, tyrannical, and brutal manner toward attorneys at law practicing in said court whilst he was presiding as judge thereof.”

Articles of Impeachment for Judge Julius DuBose from the Tennessee General Assembly’s Journal, 1893

The impeachment trial lasted one month and on June 2, 1893 the legislature voted DuBose guilty of a misdemeanor while in office and forever barred him from holding any office within the state. DuBose died on March 21, 1912 in Memphis of pneumonia and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

You can learn more about this case and other cases in the Tennessee Supreme Court records project on our website at:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Students Invited to Participate in Tennessee's First Ever Student Mock Election

Governor Frank Clement giving a speech,
possibly at a re-election rally in Lebanon.
This fall students across Tennessee will be able to do something most kids can't: vote for president of the United States.

The Secretary of State's office is pleased to announce Tennessee's first ever Student Mock Election. Students in preschool through high school from all public and private schools as well as home school associations in Tennessee can participate.

Paper ballots letting students choose between Democratic and Republican presidential nominees will be provided, but schools may elect to include additional candidates or conduct elections locally in different ways.

Early voting for the mock election opens October 17 and results must be submitted by Mock Election Day, November 1. Mock presidential election results will be revealed on November 2, less than a week before the real general election.

The program also offers lesson plans created by Tennessee teachers. The goal is offer an easy way for teachers to incorporate civic engagement and citizenship into their curriculum leading up to the Student Mock Election.

The Library and Archives also offers several resources for students and teachers interested in learning more about civic education and our government at the state level, including...

For more information go visit: Read more from our press release at:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

So You’re Planning to Visit the Library & Archives…

A checklist for researchers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

By Heather Adkins

The Tennessee State Library & Archives is often visited by people new to research. Walking into any archives can be an intimidating experience, if you don’t know what to expect. Here is a pre-visit checklist you can consult before leaving home to make planning easier and your visit go as smoothly as possible:

A look back an an early photo of our Tennessee Reading Room, or South Reading Room, of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Library Photo Collection.

Check the website

You can find a lot of information on an archive's website. Take some time to explore digital collections and look at finding aids and book catalogs. Your trip will be more efficient if you weed out records you can inspect from home. If you are doing family or local research, a great place to start is the genealogical “fact sheets” about Tennessee counties. The website will also present you with the archives’ policies – what you can and cannot bring, hours, location, and contact information. Here is our website:

Check your dates

We have really old records, not more recent ones, which means we may not have your birth/death/marriage certificate. What we do have are birth certificates from 1908 to 1915, death certificates from 1908 to 1965, marriage certificates up to 1965, and divorce records up to 1965. For anything more recent than those years, you will need to contact the Tennessee Office of Vital Records (615-741-1763). Remember, we retain only certificates made for people who were born, have died, or were married/divorced in the state of Tennessee.

Check your subject matter

About 90 percent of our records are about Tennessee, its citizens, government, and history. One exception is land records that were part of North Carolina before Tennessee became a state; however, these only cover areas which later became Tennessee. Another exception is a collection of record books pertaining to the states that border Tennessee. These are helpful if you have ancestors who moved, but not very far. We also have several collections from the National Archives, but they focus on Tennessee.

Check for restrictions

The Library & Archives, by law, cannot allow access to adoption records, medical records or student records.

Check your supplies

Taking notes with paper and pencil is just one way of collecting information. These days, many archives offer options for you to get digital copies rather than hard copies of the records you find. For example, we have digital book scanners and microfilm scanners, both of which allow you to make copies from books and film without the hassle of a photocopy machine. That said, photocopiers are available for use as well. The best way to prepare for making digital copies is to bring a flash drive or two.

Check for fees

Be aware that there may be copy fees for records. We have two coin-operated, self-service photocopiers available for15 cents per page. Hard copies from microfilm are 25 cents per page. Copies made from original material (in the manuscripts section only) are 50 cents per page. If you forget your flash drive, we sell 4GB flash drives for less than $5.

Check the time

The Library & Archives is open Tuesday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central time. The building is closed to patrons on Mondays and on state holidays.

Check with us!

We LOVE to help – that’s our job! If you have any questions, give us a call at 615-741-2764 or send an email to We have an answering machine, so if the line is busy or you call outside of business hours, you can leave a message and we will call you back at the earliest convenience. We answer emails as promptly as possible.

Check in! We can’t wait to meet you

When you walk in the door, you will be greeted by our security staff who will get you checked in. They will use your driver’s license to fill out a research card (like a library card). The research card is for you to keep! Bring it in every time you visit. You have the option to put your personal belongings in a security locker or keeping them with you - except in the manuscript section, where only paper and pencils are allowed. The security staff will point you to the research areas. Library staff will be on hand to help you with research and are available to give brief orientation tours of the research areas.

These pre-visit steps are not limited to just the Tennessee State Library & Archives – you can use them to visit any archives, whether local, out of state or abroad. We look forward to helping you with your research.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Free Workshop on New Digital Collection About Women's Voting Rights

Tennessee played a pivotal role in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. During a hot summer in 1920, Tennessee became the final state needed to meet a requirement that three-fourths of states approve the amendment in order for it to become federal law.

Women's Suffrage: Tennessee and the Passage of the 19th Amendment
TeVA: Tennessee Virtual Archive

Genny Carter, a librarian at the Library & Archives, will discuss the political battle that raged in Nashville preceding Tennessee's vote on the amendment during the next event in our free lecture series. Her talk, titled "Women’s Suffrage: Tennessee and the Passage of the 19th Amendment,” will be held in the Library & Archives auditorium Aug. 20 from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m.

Her presentation will focus on items in a new online collection about the women's suffrage movement, which was created using the many documents and photographs stored at the Library & Archives. This collection includes letters, telegrams, political cartoons, broadsides, photographs and audio clips. Most of the material comes from the papers of prominent pro-suffrage lobbyist Carrie Chapman Catt, anti-suffrage lobbyist Josephine A. Pearson and Governor Albert H. Roberts.

"I'm pleased that we now have this collection online to provide easier access to people who like to learn more about this important event in our state's history," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "I'm sure this talk will help raise awareness about the materials we have and why they are historically significant."

Although the lecture is free and open to the public, registration is required due to limited seating in the auditorium. To register, please visit:

The Library & Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol in downtown Nashville. Free parking is available around the building.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Friday, August 5, 2016

The 20th Anniversary of the Days the Eyes of the World Turned to a Tiny Corner of East Tennessee

By Blake Fontenay

It started out as just an idea. A crazy idea, to some people's way of thinking.

It was the late 1980s and Atlanta was preparing a bid to become the host city for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. A group of kayakers from Atlanta that had been making regular weekend trips north to paddle along the Ocoee River in East Tennessee began to wonder: If Atlanta wins the bid, where would the Olympic whitewater canoe and kayak events be held? More to the point, could those events be held on the Ocoee?

American kayaker Richard Weiss, who finished sixth in the men’s division in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
Image courtesy of Robert Harrison

The group's members decided the idea was worth pursuing. And almost immediately they encountered reluctance from a number of different quarters: The local businesses that rented rafting equipment along the river worried the disruption caused by the Olympics would cost them money. The United States Canoe and Kayak Team had been focused on its flatwater racing program and wasn't convinced the time was right to divert attention and resources into whitewater racing.

Residents in Polk County, the proposed site of the racing venue, were often divided in their views on various issues depending on which side of Big Frog Mountain they lived. The U.S. Forest Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority, two of the federal agencies whose support was needed for the project, had a rivalry of their own. And Tennessee state government officials weren't ready to commit funding to the project until they knew more about the potential economic benefits.

After Atlanta won the bid, its Olympic committee and the International Olympic Committee weren't overly supportive of the grassroots movement to hold the whitewater events on the Ocoee. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games was willing to include the whitewater events on the Ocoee, but only if someone else would pay the bills. The International Olympic Committee was either indifferent or outright opposed to the inclusion of the whitewater events, depending on which source one chose to believe.

On top of all that, the proposed site wasn't an ideal location. It was a two-hour drive from Atlanta, where most of the Olympic events were being held, in a forest accessible only by a winding two-lane highway. Cleveland, the nearest town of any size, was 30 miles away.

Olympic action on the Ocoee River course in 1996.
Image credit: United States Forest Service

Yet despite all the obstacles, the people who wanted the Ocoee River site kept pushing. They convinced local residents and businesses to get behind the effort. They convinced the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team the whitewater program would be beneficial. They convinced the federal agencies to put aside their differences long enough to bring the project to reality. And they convinced Tennessee state government officials that the potential economic benefits justified the funding necessary to develop the racing course.

Even with all the approvals in place, the project wasn't an easy one. Engineers had to build a challenging Olympic course along a section of the riverbed that was dry most of the year. They also had to install spectator seating, parking, infrastructure and landscaping. Work to get the venue ready continued into the final week before the Olympic events.

Workers at Lee University, the site of a makeshift Olympic village, had to scramble to get the campus ready for the 400 athletes, coaches and support personnel who stayed there during the three days of competition. Upgrades to Lee University's campus in Cleveland included new electrical wiring, plumbing and water heaters. Workers doubled the size of the school's cafeteria to help accommodate the voracious appetites of the high-energy athletes.

The Ocoee Whitewater Center, which remains open to this day.
Image credit: United States Forest Service

On the night before the start of the canoe and kayak events, a terrorist attack at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta cast a pall over the games. However, the events along the Ocoee went off without a hitch - and later earned national and international praise. Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said the Ocoee events "sort of saved the day. Everybody in Atlanta was down from what had happened, and it was raining and there was a general gloom over the Olympics. Then this came up on TV, and we saw everyone having a good time, and it just picked everybody up."

American kayaker Dana Chladek, who won a silver medal in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games
Image courtesy of Robert Harrison

The Ocoee whitewater events were - and still are - the only Olympic events ever to be held in Tennessee. To read more about the 20th anniversary of this historic time, please check out our Tri-Star Chronicles story, photos and videos at

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State