Monday, March 17, 2014

Manuscript Monday--Mortality in Gold Rush Sacramento



Mortality register for Sacramento City, 1850-1852, Vault MS 162, courtesy, California Historical Society.

Discovered in a box labeled “unprocessed genealogies,” this death register provides a remarkable record of health, disease, and death in Gold Rush Sacramento. In it, city undertakers E.S. Youmans & Co. recorded the name, age, hometown, cause of death, and physician of each deceased person for the years 1850-1852. By late October 1850, they began to enter the terrible word “cholera” on the pages on the register, marking the beginning of a scourge that, according to medical historian Henry Harris, killed approximately 15% of the population of Sacramento.

By November, the disease was killing Sacramentans (mostly young and middle-aged men) at a ferocious pace. This page records death on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of November: 

Mortality register for Sacramento City, 1850-1852, Vault MS 162, courtesy, California Historical Society.
The outbreak seemed to recede almost as quickly as it appeared. On this page, beginning on December 18, not a single death caused by cholera is recorded (although it is interesting to consider how physicians and undertakers distinguished between diarrhea as a cause of death and the diseases like cholera with which it was associated): 

Mortality register for Sacramento City, 1850-1852, Vault MS 162, courtesy, California Historical Society.
Recently cataloged, this register is a wonderful resource for historians of the Gold Rush, epidemics, and public health in California. 

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
msilva@calhist.org
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