Wilmington Wrapped in Gloom
The following is excerpted from “One Good Man, Reverend John Lamb Pritchard’s Life of Faith, Service and Sacrifice,” originally written by Rev. J.D. Hufham in 1867, and edited in 2007 by Jack Fryar, Dram Tree Books. Rev. Hufham directed the proceeds of his book to Mrs. Pritchard for the education of their six children.
Rev. Pritchard, born in Pasquotank County, North Carolina in 1811, became pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington in early 1856. There he remained with his flock until his death from yellow fever.
Wilmington Wrapped in Gloom
“In July 1862, the dashing little Kate, formerly a Confederate packet-boat, steamed boldly through the Northern fleet blockading the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and brought to the wharves of Wilmington a valuable cargo from Nassau. She rapidly unloaded, as rapidly re-loaded with cotton, and departed on her second voyage. But she left behind her that which brought to Wilmington many a sad day, and before which even the horrors and excitement of a great war were forgotten. She left behind the seeds of the dreadful scourge, the yellow fever.”
By mid-September it was conceded that yellow fever was indeed here, and by mid-October there were some 431 cases in town and a total of 102 deaths. These grew until nearly 500 had died of the fever, plus the death of 150 black residents was reported. Wilmington clergymen who perished were Rev. John L. Pritchard and Rev. Dr. Robert Drane, plus Dr. James Dickson who was one of the North Carolina’s most eminent surgeons and President of the NC Medical Society. Dr. T.C. Worth, brother of the Governor, and James S. Green, Treasurer of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad both succumbed to the fever. Before his death, Rev. Pritchard wrote often to his wife in Richmond, who had departed with the children to visit relatives a few months earlier.
Sept. 22, 1862: “Dear Wife: I do not think there is any visible abatement in the disease. There have been so many deaths, but don’t be alarmed as we are just as near to God here, as anywhere out of Heaven. Let us humble ourselves and pray to God for his protection. I feel calm and resigned and pray that God will bless you all.”
The streets had become deserted after residents not-stricken abandoned town, and harbor traffic came to a standstill as word spread on the high seas and adjacent ports. The black smoke of tar barrels filled the air with soot, somehow thought to clear the air of the contagion.
In answer to appeals for provisions and medicines – home remedies from long ago had to suffice due to the North’s blockade of medical supplies – towns up the Wilmington & Weldon tracks and beyond sent much-needed supplies. A local charitable association was formed by Mayor John Dawson to assist the families of those afflicted.
September 29th, 1862 : “Dear Wife: It is no longer the Wilmington you left. But the Lord is still with us and still will be. I have heard of several deaths this morning, several others expected to die. You cannot conceive of the desolation of our town. We find that many who have left have died. It is thought that it is safer to remain than to leave. I cannot reconcile it to myself to leave the many who must suffer, if someone does not attend them, and I try to be much in prayer. Let no one think me reckless of life, or regardless of my wife and children. No indeed, I yield to no one in my love of life or of my family. But must a minister fly from disease and danger and leave poor people to suffer for want of attention? How can he more appropriately die, than when facing disease and death for Christ’s sake?
Rev. Pritchard’s last letter to his wife was begun on October 14, 1862:
Dear Wife: Heard that Dr. Drane died . . . such a night my poor sister had: perfect prostration and utter weakness. I sat up some time . . . and listened to her plaintive moan. Well, my dear wife, do you ask me, how I feel in view of never meeting my loved ones again on earth? I cannot tell you. I must not conceal from you the true state of the case by which we are surrounded. I am sick now. My poor back and head ache, the true symptoms of fever. This is my bodily condition. I have no other trust but the precious Redeemer and He is precious to me. Though it may be feverish excitability, I am not afraid to commit you and my dear six children to Him.”
The hand of the destroyer was upon him as he wrote. After lingering nearly a month, though the fever’s grip on Wilmington was abating, Rev. Pritchard passed away on November 13th, 1862.