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Yellow Fever in Manatee and the Building of the Church

In 1887 Yellow Fever struck. 1887 had the makings of being a renaissance for the people of Manatee. DeSoto County had just been formed (taking with it a vast amount of the 5,000 square miles that made up Manatee County from 1855-1887) and the county seat was moving back to the Manatee River. The Methodist Church had a new preacher, Reverend J. R. Crowder, and they were starting to build a new church. In summer 1887, Tampa went under a Yellow Fever quarantine which cut off supplies for the church builder. The church elders were rumored to have pushed the builder to break the quarantine and go up to Tampa anyway.

Supposedly, that was the start of Manatee’s 1887 Yellow Fever outbreak. In reality, it probably had little impact. Yes, you need to have an infected person in the area for the disease to spread but it doesn’t spread person to person through respiratory droplets. Rather, it is a mosquito-borne illness that is uncommon in Florida today due, in part, to Mosquito Control. The full extent of the disease and how it spread would not be realized until a couple decades later during the building of the Panama Canal. For those who caught it, symptoms included: fever, chills, backache, neck ache, organ shock, and death.

The Manatee Burying Ground has several victims within it’s borders from the 1887 outbreak and other subsequent outbreaks including: Dr. Enos Johnson, Rev. J. R. Crowder, Harriet Wilson, Arthur Wilson, Gussie Smith Clark, and Capt. John Harllee.


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