The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 was one of the deadliest outbreaks of illness in history. Researchers estimate that 400,000 Americans lost their lives from the virulent flu strain. An estimated 50-100 million people died worldwide.
It spread into Gadsden County during the second week of October 1918. The Quincy area, where many people worked in tobacco packing houses, was particularly hard hit:
QUINCY IS GRIPPED BY INFLUENZA: 1,000 CASES REPORTED
Quincy is in the grip of an epidemic of the Spanish influenza and there are an estimated total of 1,000 cases of the disease in and about the city, according to R.L. Sweger, publisher of the Gadsden County Times. The situation was so serious last Thursday [Oct. 10] that word was sent that outside assistance must come for the overworked physicians and nurses, or the disease would reach dangerous proportions. [I]
The raw numbers reveal much about how fast the illness spread around Quincy. First reports on October 8 indicated that 500 people fell ill almost simultaneously. By the 13th, just five days later, 1,000 people were sick.
The mayor issued an executive order closing all public gatherings. Churches, schools, dance halls and the theater shuttered their doors but it was too late. The influenza had spread through the community:
All of Quincy is suffering from the epidemic as there is scarcely a family in town that has not a sick member. Nearly all of the physicians here are confined to their beds. The Red Cross, under the leadership of Miss Sallie Love and Mrs. W.J. Cox, is distributing soups, gruel and medicine among the negroes whenever a committee of colored women appointed for the purpose reports a case that has not received proper attention. [II]
Quincy had five doctors at the time but two – Drs. Davis and Goddard – quickly fell so ill that they could not rise from their beds. The situation was much better on the coast in Apalachicola and the Red Cross chapter there responded to the emergency by sending nurses to help:
The local chapter of the Red Cross sent nine practical nurses to Quincy to assist that city during the epidemic of influenza. There were three white nurses and six colored. The white nurses were under direction of Miss Eleanor Porter and M.G. Smith, chairman of the colored branch, was in charge of the colored nurses. Apalachicola is pleased to have been able to send assistance to her sister city, reviving in the minds of old Floridians the Southern generosity and loyalty that was always in evidence during the historic epidemics of the past. [III]
The reference to “historic epidemics of the past” was likely to the yellow fever and malaria outbreaks that had plagued Apalachicola during the 19th century. The nurses knew they were taking their lives into their own hands by going to Quincy, but they went anyway and likely saved many lives.
The Spanish influenza was deadly beyond belief. Weaker victims often lost their lives on the very day that they first showed symptoms in the illness. In Quincy, it did not take long for business to grow brisk for the coffin makers and grave diggers:
Quincy, Fla., Oct. 11. – Elwood Malone, nephew of the late Judge John Malone, died this morning, following an attack of Spanish influenza, which was complicated with pneumonia. He leaves a wife and four small children. [IV]
Quincy, Fla., Oct. 14. – William H. Baur, depot agent for the Seaboard Air Line railroad and a member of the City Council, was buried here Sunday, following a week’s illness from influenza and pneumonia. He leaves a wife and three children. [V]
Quincy, Fla., Oct. 14 – The body of Charles Carlyle, civil engineer in charge of the paving of the Quincy streets was sent today to his former home in Anderson, S.C., accompanied by his wife and baby and his father from Anderson, who is a Methodist minister. His death was due to Spanish influenza. The situation here continues serious. [VI]
Quincy, Fla., Oct. 16. – Robert D. Sylvester, owner of the Quincy ice plant, died this afternoon after a short illness from Spanish influenza. He leaves a wife and two children. [VII]
Quincy, Fla., Oct. 21. – Joseph Howard Woodward was buried here Sunday afternoon. His death resulted from complications with influenza. He was superintendent of one of the American Sumatra Tobacco Company farms and was a prominent citizen. He leaves a wife, who was Miss Pearl Butler, of Calvary, Ga., one little daughter, Bessie, and a large family connection to mourn his loss. [VIII]
[Quincy, Fla., Oct. 21] – The body of Mrs. J.W. Roach, who leaves a husband and four children, was buried here this afternoon. Her death resulted from pneumonia. [IX]
The above reports provide just a sampling of names from the death toll in Quincy. The city would eventually report that 20 people died from the Spanish Influenza in October 1918. The number, however, was not accurate.
Quincy – as was the custom in most Florida cities of that day – only reported the number of deaths among white residents. The African American community suffered a much higher death rate:
The graves of over one hundred negroes have been dug around Quincy and the fatality list among this race has been very large all over the county.
One large farmer, with forty-five sick negroes on his farm, never had a doctor and never lost a case. He went in his car from house to house three times a day, seeing that they took their medicine and had proper nourishment.
Practically all business in Quincy has been suspended except in the drug stores and shops for making caskets. [X]
How many people died from the Spanish Influenza in and around Quincy will never be known. Newspaper reports by the end of October placed the number at over 120, but people – especially African Americans – continued to die from the sickness through the end of the year and into early 1919.
Initial research shows that the following individuals lost their lives in Quincy:
- Harry Bachelor (Age 1)
- William H. Bauer
- Charles Carlyle
- Darris Helen Cox (Age 6)
- Elwood Malone
- Bertha L. Roach
- Will Scott
- Margaret Smith
- Robert D. Sylvester
- Clayton Van Landingham (Deputy Sheriff)
- Joseph Howard Woodward
At least 110 others remain unidentified and the number is probably much higher. In the African American community, where over 100 deaths were reported, only one victim – Will Scott – has been identified.
[I] Pensacola Journal, October 13, 1918.
[II] Report from Quincy dated October 11, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 12, 1918.
[III] Report from Apalachicola dated October 22, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 23, 1918.
[IV] Report from Quincy dated October 11, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 12, 1918.
[V] Report from Quincy dated October 14, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 15, 1918.
[VII] Report from Quincy dated October 16, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 17, 1918.
[VIII] Report from Quincy dated October 21, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 18, 1918.
[X] Report from Quincy, dated October 26, 1918, published in the Pensacola Journal, October 27, 1918.