The ravages of an epidemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic still with us, it would be
helpful to contrast it with an epidemic that all but wiped the city of St. Joseph
off the map.
Off Garrison Avenue in Port St. Joe can be found all that
remains of the lost city of St. Joseph, where the Old St. Joseph Cemetery
preserves the brick tombs and few remaining tombstones of the residents of the
According to historian Dale Cox, in a story posted on
ExploreSouthernHistory.com, it is impossible to know how many people are buried
in the cemetery. “Unmarked graves are clearly evident from the walking path
that loops through the old cemetery and passes the few surviving tombs and
headstones,” he wrote.
Some of the graves date from the early years of St. Joseph’s
existence, when deaths of people of all ages were common during the 1830s, when
the city was established in 1835 in a remote and frontier setting. The largest
number of burials sre believed to date from the year 1841 when a deadly yellow fever
epidemic struck the city.
“It is impossible to know exactly how many people died in
St. Joseph during the summer of 1841, but the number was undoubtedly high,” Cox
writes. “The terrible disease swept the city, then home to around 6,000 people.
Many had come in response to advertisements billing St. Joseph’s ‘healthy
climate’ and fresh sea air.
“To the residents of the interior counties of Florida, the beautiful
city on the bay offered relief from the sweltering heat of summer,” he writes. “The
fever, however, ravaged the community and forever dispelled the claims of
Cox notes that newspaper articles of the time list the
deaths of numerous people during the epidemic, which included leading
politicians, businessmen, sailors, newspaper editors and their families.
According to some claims, he writes, so many people died that it was necessary
to dig mass graves in order to dispose of the bodies.
Now a memorial to the dead, the Old St. Joseph Cemetery, open
to visitors during normal daylight hours, seven days a week, includes
historical markers interpreting its significance in Florida history.