As we complete the second decade of the 21st century, we lose sight of how difficult life must have been for the Americans who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. Families often lost members to consumption (TB), diptheria, measles, small pox, and cholera. Only in the mid 20th century did many of these diseases come under control, to the point now where most Americans cannot think of anyone who has suffered from them.
In May, 1831, while a resident of Philadelphia, John Norvell received from President Andrew Jackson an appointment to the office of postmaster of Detroit, Michigan, and in 1832 he and his family left for the west. Little of John Norvell’s writings and reporting still exist from this period.
In 1832 he sent the following dispatch to the Gettysburg newspaper, showing how precarious a move must have been at this time
Detroit, July 16 1832.
One or two deaths from cholera have occurred within the last 48 hours. The weather is again becoming warm;— but we hope that the prevailing disease is so far subdued.
Detroit was only a small village of about 1,800 residents; indeed, the census of 1830 showed only 30,000 in the entire territory of Michigan. Life in the Michigan Territory posed many challenges. In Mackinac, cholera broke out again and twenty-five soldiers were dead and with sixty more on the sick list. The severity of the epidemic caused Territorial Governor Porter to impose a quarantine on the city. The mail coach en route to Detroit was halted. When the driver resisted, the quarantine officers fired. The Cholera epidemic cast an atmosphere of doom and depression over all the territory’s residents and the death of Porter left Michigan without a Governor.
In 1832, Cholera raged all summer and there seemed to be no relief in sight.