The Cholera in Glasgow – 1853

I had not thought to cover this subject when I first started this project, but someone said it would not be right not to cover it, as it was the most tragic incident in the history of Barren County. It happened so far in the remote past that I have taken the bulk of my research from Cyrus Edwards’ Stories of the Early Days. Many stories have sprang up from this misunderstood tragedy, but the truth of the matter is that Glasgow was almost wiped out of existence, and the gentlemen, and ladies, who agreed to stay behind with the sick, did the best that they could with the resources they had available to them. And so the story goes….

Alexander Edwards was in Glasgow in late August 1853 to attend the Circuit Court Session.  He was more than 16 miles from home, so he had to stay the night.  He took a room at the Maupin Hotel at the upper part of the hill (now Beulah Nunn Park).  It was run by Col. Robert Maupin and his son, Marcellus “Buck” Maupin.  It was there, that night, that the Asiatic Cholera broke out.

A circus was in town for both afternoon and evening performances.  This was not the normal little one man, one animal circus common for that day.  This one was big, having arrived from Bowling Green, and Glasgow was packed as all the country people had come to town to see the circus.  The circus was to show at Antioch (Knob Lick) the next day; then on successive days at Greensburg, Campbellsville, and Lebanon.  As soon as the afternoon show was over they began to pack all the things not needed that evening into wagons and started that part off to Antioch to make ready for the next afternoon’s performance.  The evening performance had the carriage waiting, all ready to start early the next morning; they were to have a good night’s rest at the hotel, to be ready for the next evening’s show.

The manager, some of the head ones, and several of the best performers stayed the night at the Maupin Hotel.  The manager retired at 11 o’clock, two doors down from Edwards.  Around 1 o’clock Edwards heard terrible groans; he partly dressed and hurried to the room from which the groans were coming.  Another man, from the other end of the hall, reached the door at the same time, and both went in.  They found the man on the floor, in great agony.  One went to call a doctor and Mr. Maupin – Edwards noticed Maupin didn’t stay in the room long.  Edwards had recognized it as cholera, and said so.  When the word “cholera” was whispered among the group that had gathered, many left at once.

It was about 40 or 50 yards across the corner to Dr. George Rogers’ place, but he was not at home.  Edwards said there was no time to wait, and sent someone for Dr. Hall.  Before Dr. Hall arrived on the scene Dr. Rogers returned and immediately came over.  Mrs. Bybee lived across the street and was a very fine nurse; she was called to help care for the man.  The poor fellow got no better, though the doctor did all that was possible for him.  He died about daylight.  Dr. Rogers declared it was Asiatic Cholera; he ordered the people, “Go home and stay there!  Put about an inch of pine tar in a water bucket and drink the water off that.  STAY AT HOME!”  And they went home.

The circus people left the man to be buried, saying it would be paid for.  Another one died in Glasgow that morning.  Court was called at 9 o’clock that morning but was dismissed at once for the week, so Edwards went home right away.  Court was not resumed for some months.

The people at Antioch didn’t know about any of these happenings till noon the next day when someone arrived from Glasgow and told it.  Later 5 or 6 cases broke out at Antioch, one victim a man by the name of Fontleroy Allen.

On the following day the show was at Greensburg, where the news of conditions at Glasgow reached them.  That night 3 cases developed among the circus people, and some cases followed it to Campbellsville and Lebanon where the company broke up.  At Lebanon, the man in charge sold wagons , horses, and everything he could sell, and started with the remaining animals for Louisville and Cincinnati.  Some of the circus folk stayed in Lebanon, but the people of the town were afraid of them.

While the circus people were moving on, things were happening rapidly back in Glasgow.  7 or 8 well to do men agreed to stay in town and look after things.  They met with Dr. Rogers, and they planned as if for a siege.  Col. William E. Munford was one of those who stayed.  For himself, he had made his fortune there, and would share the fate of the others in the little city.  At the time, his family was out at their home on Beaver Creek, so he sent all his slaves out there, except one man and one woman who wanted to stay with him.  Others of this group were Tom Jones, the carpenter; Zion Huggins; Dr. George Rogers; Jimmy Miller, a cabinet workman, who made coffins, and said he wanted to stay and help bury the dead; Tom Reynolds, and others not all known by name.  Their wives stayed with them, except for Munford’s wife who was already in the country.  The others sent their children out.  Mr. Munford often stated later that very few little children died of the cholera.

Matters were handled by this group in a very businesslike manner; most of the merchants left, but they turned their keys over to Munford and his band.  Some others who stayed in town were Fleming Bybee and his wife Aunt Betsey, the nurse; he died of the cholera, and she nursed the sick all through the epidemic and was for many years after recognized as a fine nurse.  They lived where the Barren Co. Board of Education now resides, in the former post office at the corner of Washington and Race, across from Maupin’s Hotel.

Major Burwell Lawless stayed; also old Mr. Trabue, a very rich man.  A man by the name of McMurray, who kept a boarding house across the corner from the Maupin Hotel – above the lot where the Glasgow Prescription Center has occupied for years.  Meredith Reynolds, who had been a miller and kept the carding machine on Broadway.  Henry Crutcher, an old-time merchant who kept a store on the corner of West Main and North Race; it was a brick building and was known as Crutcher’s Corner, where Lou Ellis’ Photography has been for many a year now.  Crutcher was well to do, but not very popular.  He lived for years at Spottswood House and he kept a hotel.  He stayed through the cholera but was too old to help.

For about 6 weeks following the outbreak of the cholera these heroic men, and the others who stayed in the little town, had a terrible time!  People – their relatives and friends – were dying all around them and must be buried, while many sick must be cared for, and the needs of the well ones must be looked after.  Guards were put all around the town, and no one, after the first day or two, was permitted to leave the town.  Needless to say, no one wanted to enter it either.  All travel, through or near it, ceased.  Provisions gave out.  The telegraph operator had volunteered to stay at his post, so communication was kept with the outside world.  Messages were sent to Louisville daily, and from there went back, by mail and by travelers, to nearby places.  The country folk were asked to send food, and they did.

Mike Myers, living out near Beaver Creek, was a miller, and he offered to furnish all the meal and flour needed; he sent it each day to the edge of town, where it was unloaded, the driver returning home.  Old Bob, a negro, volunteered to take it, and drove a 6-horse team with food each day.

Col. Munford kept lists of all supplies taken from the various stores – food, clothing, cloth, drugs, lumber, etc.; and he listed, as nearly as he knew, the price of all things so used.  Later these men and others outside, paid for it all.  People all over the county later gave funds – and even from many other places.  During this time the stages of Glasgow were stopped; they came down by Greensburg to Goosehorn (now Hiseville), and back; on other roads they stopped either at Bear Wallow or near Green River, while coming from Nashville stopped several miles the other side of Glasgow.  For a few days there was no mail – later it could be sent into town by messenger, just as provisions were sent – but no mail went out.

Col. Munford kept no lists of the dead, and they were buried here and there all over the little town, as quickly as possible, and usually where they died – it looked for a time as if the little town might be wiped out.  After the epidemic was over, and families could be reunited, there was so much work to be done that people had no time to discuss those who had left this world in such terrible agony.  There was so much sorrow in the hearts of those left that no one wanted to relive any of it.  Afterwards, when it would have been interesting history, some had moved away, others had died, and no one knew just how many were victims.  The unmarked graves were soon obliterated, and the little town quickly recovered from the terrible tragedy.

Col. Munford was quite sure that at least three-quarters of Glasgow’s population died during those weeks, but not one of the men who volunteered their services – or their wives – ever took the cholera.  While all rendered valuable service, it is apparent that Dr. George Rogers, Col. Munford, and the un-named telegraph operator, were the masterminds in this situation.  By their careful management the town was kept closely guarded and the disease was kept confined to the town.  In the same year, Bowling Green, from July 19 to August 10, had “86 cases, 66 of them being fatal.”

Years later, when someone asked Edwards, in the presence of Tom Pritchard of Hiseville, if he knew anything about the cholera at Glasgow, Edwards told what he knew, and named the self-appointed Committee that took charge.  Pritchard’s comment to that news was, “All Republicans.”

Edwards replied, “Why, Tom!  There wasn’t any Republican party then.”

“No, ” said Tom, “but they everyone became Republicans later.”  It was true, and also a most remarkable coincidence.

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About Gclee

I am a long time genealogy and local history hunter from Barren Co., KY. I have many stories to share that may be of interest to other local genealogists and history buffs. I enjoy this as a hobby and hope I can be of encouragement to others. I also hope everyone enjoys my stories as much as I have enjoyed learning about them.
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5 Responses to The Cholera in Glasgow – 1853

  1. ludema bowles says:

    Geogette, is this the epedimic that went on and went on, and the people couldn’t figure out why. It was only later they figured out the reason. Glasgow got its water downward, from Glasgow town.The water was washing over the dead bodies and depositing it the town’s drinking water.When they moved the bodies, the epedemic stopped.To bad they didn’t discover sooner…many lives may have been saved.

    • Gclee says:

      They didn’t move the bodies. The bodies are still there, what’s left of them, all over the Square. They had to stop the people drinking out of the spring in the bottom. It was part of the reason why so many died. But everyone on the upper end of town got their water from somewhere else. Which was a good thing.
      The reason why the spring got contaminated was because it was raining most of the time of the epidemic, and the water was running underground from the Square and into the spring at the bottom of the Square. But truly when it says half of the town died, this was not the alarming amount it would be today, as there was probably about 200 people in Glasgow proper, and at least one-third of that left at the first hint of Cholera.

      • Gclee says:

        It is being noted by the author that there are some people who question the date of this epidemic. I have found no proof to support the claimed 1854 date of another local historian. There are, however, several written accounts, besides Cyrus Edwards that support the 1853 date. If anyone knows of any existant newspaper articles to support the 1854 date, please feel free to contact me.

  2. Don Raymond says:

    My great grandfather was Dr. George Edwards Rogers .See http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=90464074. Is this the same Dr George Rogers in your article?

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