(Note: The following is the first of a series of columns looking at the establishment and growth of doctors, hospitals and the health industry in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
In the 1700s, doctors needed to earn the respect, instead of suspicion, of the local populations. This was especially true in the Deep South, where "Fevers" ravaged the populations of large cities unchecked.
Savannah's Dr. Louis Falligant wrote in 1876 during the yellow fever epidemic about "the heroic work of our medical fraternity … (battling) the destroyer with fortitude … and endurance."
The South's doctors needed to find the basic cause of these swamp-borne yellow fever epidemics. Soon, they focused on the introduction of "wet culture" rice-planting as the primary cause.
In 1806, Dr. J.E. White of Savannah delivered a report on the "medical topography" of the city to the Georgia Medical Society, in which he identified certain problem areas around Savannah.
One such area was between Spring Hill and the Savannah River. Here were found "two tan yards," "the places for slaughtering cattle" and "the depository for the dead."
There were "scavengers" whose job it was to remove this animal and vegetable filth. White decried that these duties "are unfaithfully performed. … Evils are the consequence of this carelessness."
He lamented "the filthy state in which most of our yards and back buildings" and declared that with such "uncleanliness … it is not a matter of surprise that evils are deservedly the result."
White concluded that "it is plainly a melancholy fact, from the nature of our climate, and the existence of causes riveted to it and to the soil in the vicinity of Savannah, it must remain forever unhealthy."
In 1809, a "Committee of Three" made of members of the fledgling Georgia Medical Society released a "Report on the Health of Savannah," which focused on the suspected role of rice-planting as the primary causes of the disease.
They first stated, "All cities furnish an abundance of (dead animals) … (which) putrefy under the agency of the autumnal sun, and contaminate the air."
However, because Savannah's streets weren't paved, they stated that these "putrescent matters … are rendered inoffensive … (by) rain … dissolving them ... beyond the reach of the solar heat."
The report next examined Savannah's "autumnal atmosphere, from which four-fifths of our diseases are derived." As scientists had "proven" the "marshes … highly noxious and pestilential," they reasoned that "impure and hurtful airs (must) emanate from (Savannah's swamps)."
Specifically, the report argued that the "hurtful airs" were coming from "Springfield & Vale Royal … Hutchinson's Island … the Five Fathoms (lowlands) … (and) the rice fields from Mr. Turnbull's to town," all areas naturally or artificially flooded most of the year.
As a solution, "the report suggested planters abandon the cultivation of rice … let every spot covered with water … be carefully drained."
The city's planters were not all thrilled with their recommendations, to say the least.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at email@example.com.