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Militia mobilized in 1800 to prevent smallpox spread
Militia Order 1800 smallpox threat
Shown is the order of mobilization for the militia unit from the governor. Militia members were mobilized from June-September 1800.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Norman Turner compiled a booklet of data titled “The Mobilization of the Effingham County Militia in the summer of the year 1800 to prevent the spread of Smallpox then in Chatham and Bryan County.”

Smallpox is an acute, contagious virus that is characterized by high fever and pustular eruptions. In the year 1800, there were no antibiotics or vaccines and dreaded diseases including smallpox were highly contagious, spread quickly among contacts and were usually fatal. There was no way to prevent getting sick except isolation or quarantine of the sick.

Today smallpox is no longer a threat in the U.S., having been eradicated by a vaccination program. I am one of the last who was smallpox vaccinated in the county as a young child.

Sometime during the spring and summer of 1800, a smallpox epidemic broke out in Chatham County and spread into the lower part of Bryan County. The governor of Georgia issued proclamations mobilizing the Georgia Militia along the coast from Effingham County south to Liberty County in order to prevent the spread of smallpox. The plan was to stop all traffic coming from the counties of Chatham and Bryan until the epidemic was over. Militia from the counties of Effingham, Bulloch and Liberty were called to serve.

In Effingham, Major Thomas Polhill of the Effingham County Militia ordered a guard consisting of men on both sides of the county to enforce the quarantine. At the time there were two main routes through Effingham.  One was the Old Augusta Road near the Savannah River and the other on the Old Louisville Road near the Ogeechee River.

There were only a few people at that time using boats on either river. By posting guards on both of these roads, they would control traffic coming out of Chatham County. The order also stated they would control traffic on both the rivers.

The first group of militia served from June 21, 1800 to July 8, 1800. Other soldiers replaced the group and each group was replaced until the last group which served to the end of September 1800.

Many of the names on the payrolls were misspelled and Norman corrected some of the names. A subaltern by British definition held rank just below that of captain such as lieutenant, ensign or cornet. A British definition of dragoon was a mounted infantryman armed with a short musket, also called a cavalryman.

Norman found three of his great-great-great-great-grandfathers and three of his great-great-great-great-uncles who served during the period. They were: Private John Berry, Private Benjamin Dasher, Private Jonathan Rahn, Ensign John Grovenstein Jr., Private Abil Schweighoffer and Private Thomas Schweighoffer Jr.

Names included in the payroll lists include: Matthew Weitman, Andrew Gnann, Jacob Hinely, Charles Heidt, J. Seckinger, Wilson Pace, David Groover, David Porter, Joel Kessler, John Powers, James Goldwire, Jonathan McCall and many many more.

To see if your relatives served, you may view the entire article by Norman Turner in the files of Historic Effingham Society from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday at Effingham Museum.

Although it is still a threat in other countries, we have seen the dreaded disease smallpox eradicated in the U.S., as well as polio. We are indeed blessed that the field of medicine has advanced to prevent the spread of many of the communicative diseases through our vaccination programs.

The resurgence of illness like whooping cough makes us aware that the booster series of shots is still necessary even for adults to protect against tetanus and diphtheria. Influenza and pneumonia vaccines help to prevent or lessen the course of these illnesses.

This was compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society with data from Norman Turner. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: