The Cholera Season of 1832.


"Look how the world’s poor people are amazed

At apparitions, signs and prodigies." – SHAKSPERE.

"The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear, and with good reason; that passion alone, in the trouble of it, breeding all other accidents." – MONTAIGNE.


CLOUDS of dark and gloomy portent hung over Saratoga during the season of 1832 – a season that was probably the worst one she has ever experienced. In that year, Providence had seen fit to afflict the nation with that awful scourge, the cholera; and it was then raging with unabated force in New York City, scattering mourning and desolation throughout the land.

On the first appearance of this epidemic in New York, the physicians prohibited the use of Congress Water; and although, influenced by the statements of the late Chancellor Walworth, they subsequently changed their opinions upon the subject, it was too late to infuse vitality into the season.

Nor was this gloom lightened by the numerous and singular atmospheric phenomena of this year. Meteors flashed across the heavens. The light of the sun and moon was admitted by astronomers to be greatly lessened in brilliancy – the shadows of objects being proportionately less distinct and well defined. The moon especially, was of a deep gold color, instead of the bright, silver lamp of evening; and thought the sky was clear, yet it reflected but very little light – gleaming, apparently, through a mist, which mist could not be perceived. The same unwonted appearance, which was thus noted elsewhere throughout the country, was observed and commented upon at Saratoga; and, indeed, to such an extent was this felt, that many, not generally superstitious, were fain to confess that perhaps the alchemists of the Middle Ages were not far wrong in their belief that the planets exercise a malignant influence over the affairs of men.

Another peculiarity of the present season was the fact that there were no birds . The wild woods were no longer vocal. One might ride for miles in the country surrounding the village, through woods and groves – the branches of which were in former years alive with the feathered songsters of nature, warbling their rich melodies in countless numbers – without starting from their resting places as many birds as one may see wrens upon the New York Battery. This total absence of the "wood notes wild" caused a depression, in the minds of many of the visitors, of a melancholy character. Some persons, it is true, charged this desertion of the forest choristers to the preceding winter, which had been a very severe one, by which, they argued, they might have perished. But as birds are chiefly, if not all, migratory, this desertion from their wonted haunts was generally ascribed to the calamities of the year.

The epidemic first came to Whitehall from Canada. At that day the stage-route was down the Hudson River to Albany. The news of its having reached Whitehall was received at Saratoga in the evening, and at once aroused the citizens to a sense of their apparent danger. "The latter," writes the late W.L.F. Warren to the author, "immediately assembled in public meeting, and took a variety of sanitary measures to meet the enemy, which was confidently expected the next morning. All night the note of preparation was sounded; and when the sun arose the next day, it disclosed a scene of remarkable beauty – an entire village exhibiting order, cleanliness, and a uniform application of lime, and other disinfectants, on tree, house, tower, and steeple, contrasting with the green vegetation of garden, shrubs, and herbage, in the most attractive manner. All this had been effected during the night, and alleviated greatly the threatened contagion." Still, to such a condition of fear were the inhabitants reduced, that a "pest-house," for the reception of the expected cholera patients was put up on the road to Ballston, a mile south of Beekman’s (Finlay’s) woods. Happily, the result proved these alarms to be without foundation – only one person dying from cholera on his way from Troy to the Springs, and another case, proving on an examination by Dr. Steel, to be only one of drunkenness ! {The fears of the people of Saratoga were by no means unjustified. In the journal of Elkanah Watson, quoted in a former chapter, he says: "The cholera appeared at Quebec, advanced to Montreal, where its ravages were appalling. Thence in proceeded south and west, and spread rapidly, even to Chicago, fastening upon Plattsburgh, Burlington, and Whitehall; in its southern course it burst upon New York, Albany, and most of the towns and villages on the Hudson, and thence to Long Island and Connecticut. It raged, an awful scourge, throughout the land. Most of the steam-boats were stopped on the Lake (Champlain), commerce totally at a stand. At this moment (August 8), a universal gloom pervades the nation. All seem to feel that they are trembling on the brink of the tomb, with uplifted hands crying to the great Jehovah for protection and relief. Fasts are held everywhere; and it seems in some places as if the judgment of Heaven was stayed suddenly, and in almost a miraculous manner; but often, after leaving a city, it would return, and again burst forth with redoubled violence. ‘Amen! God’s will be done!’ And yet the village was never more cleanly, healthful, and enjoyable than in this year – not a single case of cholera (as mentioned in the text), epidemic, sporadic, or otherwise, appearing in Saratoga or Ballston."}

In addition, moreover, to all this, the railroad between Schenectady and Saratoga, begun in 1831, had come to a dead halt for want of funds. The prospect, indeed, seemed dark. "The hotels here," writes Colonel Stone, on the 7 th of August of this year, "are large and airy, as the world knows. They never were in finer order – and yet they are nearly empty ." Even the presence of the Vice-President, Van Buren, and of Washington Irving and his brother the judge, together with Benjamin F. Butler, Jesse Buel, and a Democratic caucus held in the village under the auspices of Edwin Croswell, failed to revivify the season. However, "notwithstanding all of these drawbacks," adds the writer above quoted, " Davison’s Reading Room in the village is as well kept and supplied as ever, and we there have the latest intelligence from New York, which, by steamboats and railroads, is now brought within sixteen to twenty hours." {Gideon M. Davison, one of the best and most patriotic citizens Saratoga ever had. The reading-room was on part of the site now occupied by the Marvin House.} On the 13 th of September, the hotels were all closed; and in them a silence as profound as that within the cloisters of a deserted monastery reigned supreme.



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