Tennessee Cholera Epidemic – Nashville – 1849–1850

The Tennessee Cholera Epidemic was brought to the Americas by way of two ports and traveled quickly!

The Tennessee Cholera Epidemic began in Nashville, Tennessee, in January of 1849 and caused many deaths in the city between 1849 and 1850.

The Nashville, Tennessee cholera epidemic was part of the third cholera pandemic that occurred between 1846 and 1860. It began in South Asia and was spread globally by travelers. In the United States, the disease outbreak was first recorded in December 1848 at two ports: New York City on December 2 and New Orleans on December 11. It spread into the interior of the country along waterways, appearing in Nashville on January 20, 1849.

The number of cases increased by June 1849. The death that month, in Nashville, of former president James K. Polk may have been due to cholera, possibly acquired during travels in other parts of the South. Cholera is reported to have been prevalent in the city around the time of his funeral, in June 1849. According to an account published in 1866, there were 311 cholera deaths in Nashville in 1849, a very large death toll for a city with a population of only about 10,000.

The number of cases increased dramatically again in June and July 1850. Estimates of cholera deaths in 1850 range from 316 to about 500. There were 64 deaths from cholera in just the first 4 days of July 1850. The epidemic led the University of Nashville to suspend operations and led its president, Philip Lindsley, to resign. In a letter written on July 16, 1850, Mary Hamilton House reported to her husband that the epidemic was waning, as the death rate had dropped to only “three to six or eight deaths” per day. The following month, mineralogist Gerard Troost died in Nashville from the Tennessee Cholera Epidemic.

credit wikipedia