From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Slave Deaths due to Cholera, 1850 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule

The federal mortality schedules, for which data were first collected in 1849, included the cholera deaths of slaves, many listed by name. Prior to 1870, free African Americans were listed in the U.S. Federal Census by name while slaves were listed in the Slave Schedules by sex and age under the names of their owners. The mortality schedules were published 1850-1880, and the number of overall deaths in the U.S. were under-reported in the data collection.

There were hundreds of deaths in Kentucky due to cholera before, after, and during the year 1850. Cholera is an infection of the small intestine caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae (more info at MedlinePlus).

In 1850, as the U.S. was striving for better public health measures, doctors were still searching for the exact cause of the disease, its transmission method, and methods of  treatment and prevention. A nationwide cholera epidemic had taken place in 1848-1849.

Former U.S. President James K. Polk died of cholera in 1849 after a visit to Louisiana. His presidency was followed by that of 12th U.S. President Zachary Taylor, who died of cholera in 1850. [He was born in Virginia and grew up in Kentucky.] Mary A. Fillmore, daughter of the 13th U.S. President, Millard Fillmore, died of cholera in 1854. Lucy Ware Webb Hayes (, the wife of 19th U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, lost her father to cholera in 1833 when he came to his hometown, Lexington, KY, to free the slaves he had recently inherited. In addition to Dr. James Webb, his mother, father, and brother also died of cholera.

After the 1830s cholera epidemic, publications aimed at  southerners discussed the medical treatment of cholera for slaves. With the second epidemic in the late 1840s, requests called for a publication on what Dr. C. B. New considered an effective treatment. In 1850 he published Cholera: observations on the management of cholera on plantations, and method of treating the disease [available online at the U.S. National Library of Medicine].

Included in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule are 71 black slaves in Kentucky who died of cholera, most from Scott, Warren, and Woodford Counties; the schedule also lists the death of seven Kelly slaves in Warren County in June 1850. There were also 16 mulatto slave deaths in Scott, Shelby, Spencer, Union, and Warren Counties. S. M. Young, a free mulatto woman from Scott County, also died of cholera in 1850.

For more see The Health of Slaves on Southern Plantations, by W. D. Postell; Observations on the epidemic now prevailing in the City of New-York, by C. C. Yates [available full-text at Google Books]; Cholera; its pathology, diagnosis, and treatment, by William Story [available full-text at Google Books]; T. L. Savitt's Medicine and Slavery; and Finding Answers in U.S. Census Records, by L. D. Szucs and M. Wright.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Health of slaves on southern plantations
NKAA Source: Medicine and slavery : the diseases and health care of Blacks in antebellum Virginia
NKAA Source: Finding answers in U.S. census records
NKAA Source: Observations on the epidemic now prevailing in the City of New-York : called the Asiatic or spasmodic cholera; with advice to the planters of the South, for the medical treatment of their slaves

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Slave Deaths due to Cholera, 1850 U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedule,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 27, 2022,

Last modified: 2020-08-31 19:10:06