Yorkville Enquirer Smallpox Epidemic 1909

This article was transcribed from:

The Quarterly—York County—South Carolina
March 2010, Volume XX.I, Number 4
A Publication of York County Genealogical and Historical Society
Member of Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies
PO Box 3061 CRS
Rock Hill, SC  29732


Transcribed by Matthew Kruse

Yorkville Enquirer, 16 March 1909:

There was a death from smallpox in the York Cotton109 mill settlement on the outskirts of the town last Sunday night. The victim was Kirby Pugh, an operative, who had been sick about two weeks. His was the only case and it is not known where he contracted the disease. As soon as they learned that they were contending with smallpox, the mill authorities had the premises thoroughly fumigated and notified Dr. C. F. Williams, secretary of the state board of health, who was expected to arrive in Yorkville this morning. There is no excitement or alarm over the situation.

Yorkville Enquirer, 2 April 1909:


There have been no new cases of smallpox since the last issue of The Enquirer, so far as can be learned by inquiry of the authorities this morning, and with the exception of Hiram Alexander, who died at the county home last Tuesday night, all the other cases mentioned are getting along nicely.

The cases at the York cotton mill are those of Mrs. Joseph Pugh, Mrs. Kirby Pugh and daughter, Mr. Robert Price, and Miss Julia Williams. Miss Janie Pugh, who was mentioned as acting as nurse for the others, is a sister of Kirby Pugh, who died, instead of a daughter as stated, and is still acting as nurse with no sign of ill effects except perhaps from anxiety and continued strain.

There was a rumor on the street this morning that Peter McFadden, the negro victim was dead, but inquiry by telephone of people living in the vicinity developed that Peter is getting along very nicely. The rumor was only one of the many such stories that gain currency from irresponsible sources under such circumstances.

Hiram Alexander, the man who died at the country [sic] home on Tuesday night, was an aged and decrepit indigent. There is no doubt of the fact that he had a genuine case of smallpox, and that his death was due to that disease; but at the same time his condition was such that he would not have been able to withstand any of the lesser sporadic contagions.

Dr. C. F. Williams, secretary of the state board of health was in Yorkville last Tuesday, and took a look over the situation. He expressed himself as well satisfied with the steps that had been taken by the local health authorities, and was not able to offer any additional advice, except that the vaccination campaign should be continued.

Vaccination has been more general throughout Yorkville than for many years, and sore arms are common everywhere especially among the school children and mill operatives. The colored population has also been vaccinated quite generally.

Information from the York cotton mill village, is that while a strict quarantine is being maintained around the known cases as well as the suspects, there is little apprehension or fear of further spread of the disease. The mill is running night and day and there is no scarcity of help.

The town of Yorkville continues to maintain a strict quarantine against the York cotton mill village; but the people quarantine does not extend to people coming into town from the country.

Because of wild reports, the town of Chester has quarantined against the York cotton mill village and is watching the trains for people who may come in from that place; but because of the regulations here, the Chester authorities will hardly have occasion to hold anybody up.

The Chester Reporter, which reached Yorkville this morning, had an accurate and common sense statement of the situation at this place.

Yorkville Enquirer, 6 April 1909:


There were two more deaths from smallpox last Sunday, both without the incorporate limits of Yorkville, one in the strictly quarantined Pugh house, and the other in the house of Jeff Williams, who lives next to the cotton mill property on the southeast; and two or three hundred yards away.

This makes eleven cases in all, from which there have been six deaths, as follows: Kirby Pugh, Mrs. Robert Price, Mack Thompson, Hiram Alexander, a daughter of Mrs. Kirby Pugh, Jane Williams, daughter of Jeff Williams, colored. The two last named died Sunday.

The cases now under attention are those of Peter McFadden, in his house on the northern outskirts of Yorkville and rapidly convalescing, Mrs. Joseph Pugh, Mrs. Kirby Pugh, Miss Julia Williams and Robert Price, all in two quarantined houses in the York cotton mill village, and all giving promise of speedy recovery.

The case of the daughter of Mrs. Kirby Pugh, who died last Sunday has been previously mentioned. The case of the daughter of Jeff Williams, colored, was not reported until last Friday evening, and the disease had been in progress for some days, and death followed Sunday morning.

The history of the case of the Williams girl as far as it can be ascertained is that she went into the house where Kirby Pugh was sick, and was vaccinated almost immediately afterward. She was in a bad way last Tuesday; but as the vaccination was taking nicely, her people thought that vaccination was her trouble, and they did not report to the health authorities until Friday when the case was diagnosed as smallpox. The woman had been through a round of smallpox in her own family some seven years ago and thought she was immune.

A case that gave considerable uneasiness; but which is now believed to threaten no further danger is that of Jefferson Pettus, the well known Confederate soldier in the county home. When Hiram Alexander went out to the county home feeling very sick and before there was any suspicion of what the trouble was, he was put in a house with Pettus. A day or two afterward when Dr. Bratton110 diagnosed Alexander’s case as smallpox and turned it over to Dr. Walker, Dr. Walker vaccinated Pettus, and had him detained in the same house. The two men remained together until Alexander died, when Pettus was provided with clean clothes, required to wash himself thoroughly and was removed to the pesthouse that had been built in the meantime. The information this morning is that Pettus is in good shape and apparently out of danger of contagion.

The local board of health continues in close touch with the situation and investigates every reasonable rumor of new cases. There have been rumors of cases among the negroes, and others, in different parts of Yorkville; but prompt investigation has shown that all of these rumors were incorrect.

A negro named Charlie Moss was arrested yesterday on a warrant issued by Magistrate deLoach and sentenced by that official to $50 fine or thirty days on the chaingang for violation of the state quarantine laws. Working at the York cotton mill village and living in Yorkville, Moss had been evading the guards and coming into town as he pleased. The officers had quite a chase after him before he was finally captured. He was turned over to Sheriff Brown and put in the town lockup, where he will be held until all possible danger is over, and then when the physicians say so, he will be provided with clean clothes and taken to the chaingang. As a matter of fact, the negro is hardly regarded as a suspect. He was vaccinated a week or ten days ago, and so far as is known has not been exposed. His arrest and punishment is more because of his disregard of the law than because of anything else.

Chairman Montgomery of the Yorkville board of health had considerable difficulty in having the body of Jane Williams buried. All the local negroes to whom he applied promptly declined. Finally he went in the country, picked up two negroes he knew and remained with them until the work was done. As people along the road were warned of the coming of the coffin they gave is [sic] a clear right of way. The burial was in a deep grave in the county home land.

A careful count of the vaccine points and tubes, distributed by the town, sold by the druggists and furnished by the local physicians shows that hardly less than seventeen or eighteen hundred people have been vaccinated. There has been but little opposition on the part of the white people, far less than has ever been known before. The negroes were rather slow at first, but last week they commenced moving toward the offices of the doctors in streams, and a large per cent of them have been vaccinated. It is the purpose of the board of health to complete the work as far as possible, having regard not only to present conditions but contingencies of the future.

From reports of people in Yorkville from the country yesterday, it appears that rumors of the outside make the situation much worse than it really is. There have been all kinds of absurd stories in circulation, and many of them are well calculated to give an insight into the curious workings of human nature.

A Yorkville man reports that he was at a hotel in Camden the other day and hearing a traveling man say that there had been seventy deaths from smallpox in Yorkville, took occasion to give him the facts. The traveling man, however, would hear nothing of the kind, but insisted on getting further away from the Yorkville man.

Chester, Rock Hill and Gastonia have been careful and considerate enough to apply to Mayor Hart for exact information, which he has not hesitated to give them, and while quarantines have been instituted against the York Cotton Mill village, so far as has been learned there is no quarantine against the town.

All along The Enquirer has been trying to get its information direct from people who know, believing that the publication of the exact facts will be best for all concerned. The best informed and most intelligent people of the town consider the situation as well in hand, and they are not apprehensive of further serious developments unless they come from sources that have heretofore escaped suspicion. The local board of health and the local physicians are exercising the utmost vigilance, and there is but little that escapes them.

Yorkville Enquirer, 9 April 1909:


When the last issue of The Enquirer went to press, the smallpox situation was quieter than it had been since the first alarm on March 14, and since then there has been further improvement, rather than otherwise.

There have been no new developments of the disease within the limits of the town of Yorkville, that of Peter McFadden, on the outskirts, being the first and only one up to this time. On Tuesday McFadden was thought to be out of danger; but on Wednesday he had a relapse, supposed to have been caused from imprudence, and his condition again became serious. Information today is to the effect that he is improving and that he will probably get well.

The only new cases reported are those of Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Williams at the York cotton mill village. These are the parents of Miss Julia Williams whose case has been previously mention [sic], and they have became [sic] infected through nursing their daughter. Mr. Williams had not been vaccinated; but Mrs. Williams has been, a short while after the disease developed in her house.

Jefferson Pettus, out at the county home, is still free from the disease. He has been having quite a painful time with his one arm; but shows no sign of smallpox. It is thought that he is now safe, and there is but little fear of further outbreak on the county home premises.

The excitement that was prevalent throughout the town of Yorkville upon the first development of the smallpox on the outskirts, seems to have about subsided; but the health authorities have in no wise relaxed their vigilance.

Traveling people who were for some days a little shy about coming to Yorkville, have gotten a more satisfactory comprehension of the situation, and are transacting their business as usual.

Yorkville Enquirer, 13 April 1909:


There are now only four cases of smallpox out at the York cotton mill, two of them convalescent, one serious and the other in a critical condition. The last case to develop in this quarter, was that of Mr. John Thompson, whose son was among the first victims, and his case and that of Mr. W. W. Williams are the two that are regarded as serious. Mr. Williams is not expected to live, and Mr. Thompson is regarded as facing a serious ordeal.

Peter McFadden, colored, whose case has been previously mentioned, and who was thought to be getting along fairly well last Friday morning, died in the afternoon. The doctors say the cause of his death was pneumonia which, of course, was superinduced by the smallpox. The health authorities had considerable difficulty in getting McFadden buried but finally succeeded at a cost of nearly $50.

Jefferson Pettus, the one armed Confederate veteran at the county home whose case has been previously mentioned, died Saturday night and was buried on Sunday. The doctors say positively that Pettus did not have smallpox; but that his death was due to apoplexy. The old fellow had gotten caught in the same house with Hiram Alexander before Alexander’s case had been identified as smallpox, and he had to be kept in the same house with Alexander, until after the latter died when, as stated, he was moved to the newly provided pest house. He had been vaccinated in the meantime, and his vaccination was doing all that was to have been expected of it. He was considered to be out of all danger from the smallpox, and the apoplexy, to which he has been subject for quite a while, developed suddenly and carried him off.

There are now no cases of smallpox within the town of Yorkville, that of Peter McFadden, originating as stated from the case of Kirby Pugh, at the York cotton mill, being the only one up to this time.

The local board of health is holding about thirty negroes in detention for violation of the quarantine laws. No cases have developed among them, and unless there is some change in the present situation within the next few days, these negroes will be released.

Yorkville Enquirer, 16 April 1909:


There was another death from smallpox in the York cotton mill village, at about 2 o’clock Wednesday morning, making nine since the beginning of the outbreak about the 7 of March.

The last victim was Mr. W. W. Williams, whose critical condition was mentioned in the last issue of The Enquirer. The understanding is that he had never been vaccinated, because at the beginning of the outbreak, he said he feared vaccination more than smallpox.

The other patients in the cotton mill village are convalescent with the exception of Mr. John Thompson, the outcome of whose case is not to be predicted at this time with a great deal of assurance.

There are no cases of smallpox in the town of Yorkville or on the outskirts, except those already mentioned at the York cotton mill and there is but little fear of further spread. The health authorities in Yorkville feel confident that the disease has been stamped out; but they have not yet abandoned their vigilance.

Vaccination has been more general than has ever been known in the community before, and it having been demonstrated that vaccination ensures immunity, there is but little material for disease to work on.

Yorkville Enquirer, 20 April 1909:


The Yorkville board of health on last Saturday night, raised the quarantine that had been enforced against the York cotton mill village for some weeks on account of the outbreak of smallpox; and the mill people and others who desire to do so, are at liberty to go and come between the town and mill as they please.

There have been no more cases in the mill village other than those mentioned. The case of Mr. John Thompson, the last to develop was very mild he having been vaccinated some forty years ago, and the other cases have recovered without serious harm to any of them.

As an extra precaution, the houses in which the smallpox patients lived are still guarded, and it is the purpose of the mill authorities to do everything that experience and prudence can dictate to prevent a recurrence of the disease from any of the late infections.

In May 1911 there was another, smaller outbreak of smallpox at the York Cotton Mill. The Yorkville Enquirer carried the following article on 29 May 1911:

The sporadic outbreak of smallpox at the York Cotton mill did not amount to a great deal, except to demoralize some of the help and develop a large crop of sore arms. The cotton mill employs a number of negro laborers usually, and most of these ran away, leaving Supt. Killian with a good deal of trouble on his hands in getting their work done otherwise. But within the past week the situation has been very nicely straightened out and things are running as before.


On December 31, 2009, members of the Yorkville Historical Society dedicated a monument to the victims of the smallpox epidemic of 1909. At the time of the outbreak, the victims were buried in a small cemetery located at the intersection of Ross Cannon Street and Highway 49 near the site of the old York Cotton Mill, better known today as the Cannon Mill. Most of the graves were originally marked with headstones, but only two markers are still intact and only one is now legible. It reads, “W. W. Williams, died April 14, 1909, age 50 years.” The rest of the tombstones have been so badly damaged over the years that the exact identities of those buried in the various graves are not known. The monument erected by the Historical Society has the following inscription:


IN 1909




109 Later known as Cannon Mill.

110 Probably Dr. Rufus Andral Bratton, son of Dr. James Rufus Bratton and Rebecca Massey.