In June 1855, a ship, the Benjamin Franklin, coming from the West Indes was placed under quarantine in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The captain broke quarantine. 3000 people–1/3 of the population of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va.–died of yellow fever.

The first doctor treating patients to die was Dr Richard Silvester (he thought he might have immunity from previous exposure) in August. In September, his wife Lydia, his son Richard also a Doctor, and a younger son, William, were struck by the fever and died. Before winter, a daughter, Margaret, also died of the fever.

The elder Dr Silvester was my great-great-great-grandfather. The story of how the family was nearly wiped out by the captain breaking quarantine has been in my family since.

Yellow Fever was localized, carried by mosquitoes (that was not understood at the time. Vapors and the like were blamed), but ravaging. Today’s pandemic is at global scale, but the swiftness of the spread, the quarantine, and costs of particular lives echoes the so-called Great Pestilence in Virginia.

(note to myself: add links to this later)