Cholera was the culprit in the mid-1800’s
By David Heighway
As we struggle to deal with the impact of Covid-19, it’s interesting to look at the same sort of battles in the past. 170 years ago, Noblesville had to deal with a similar crisis – the cholera epidemic of 1850. It was part of a worldwide cholera epidemic of the 1840’s and 1850’s. (A probable major factor in the spread of the disease was the growth of the British empire.) We have very little information about the Noblesville outbreak. The only newspaper account is a report in the Evansville Daily Journal on September 3, 1850, that said, “We learn that the cholera is prevailing to a considerable extent in Noblesville, in this state.”
Most of the information that we have is from the 1901 history of Hamilton County by Augustus Finch Shirts. He had been 26 years old at the time of the epidemic. According to Shirts, Patient Zero (as we would call him today) was Lucius H. Emmons, a 42-year-old former Noblesville newspaper editor who had been serving as a postal clerk in Washington, DC. He had left his position and was returning to Noblesville to start a new newspaper. He came back to town via the Ohio River to Lawrenceburg and apparently contracted the disease there. He arrived in Noblesville on July 20 and died four days later, along with his one-year-old daughter Abigail. This was mentioned in a report in State Sentinel newspaper on August 1. Interestingly, Emmons may also have been Patient Zero for an outbreak in Indianapolis in August, having passed though there going to Noblesville.
Shirts wrote in his history: “As soon as it became known that Mr. Emmons had been attacked by the cholera, fear and consternation overcame many of the good citizens of the town. Some of them made their way as soon as possible to the country; other remained away from where they supposed they would be likely to be infected by the disease. . . . It was a long time before people recovered from the shock. Aside from the fearful loss of life, the town suffered in the loss of trade. It was a long while before the people of the surrounding country could be induced to visit Noblesville.”