Flu pandemic deadly to dozens of local residents a century ago

101418 Flu illustration
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An illustration from the October 1919 edition of the "Health Bulletin" published by the North Carolina Board of Health accompanying a report on the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

101418 Flu pandemic

By Mike Goodman
Publisher/Executive Editor

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sallie Jennette was 40 years old when she developed pneumonia in November of 1918. As in other cases of Spanish Flu, her condition had followed a similar course, growing more severe and almost impossible to treat. Complications from influenza took her life on Nov. 20, 1918.

Jennette was the wife of entrepreneur Warren H. Jennette, who with his brother Lawrence Jennette, founded the Elizabeth City business institution that today is Jennette Brothers Produce. Her death was widely publicized and mourned, according to a news story published on the front page of The Daily Advance on Nov. 21, 1918. The story reported the city was "sobered and saddened by the news" after Mrs. Jennette, the mother of eight children, died at the family home on West Main Street.

Jennette was described by those who knew her as "being held in the highest regard" and "a Christian woman if ever there was one," the story read. But neither family position nor faith could save her and so many others unfortunate enough to have contracted the Spanish Flu a century ago.

Jennette was among 12 Elizabeth City residents to die from the flu in November 1918. A month earlier, the pandemic killed 21 city residents, according to death certificates that year.

The virulent and deadly contagion was indiscriminate, rendering rich, poor, young, old, black, white, male and female all susceptible to the pandemic. Government and medical records estimate the flu took between 60 and 100 million lives worldwide in 1918.

The Spanish Flu erupted at the worst of times, as millions of soldiers had been thrown together across the battlefields of World War I in Europe as well as the many military training camps in America. Its effects were particularly harsh to those infected.

Initially, symptoms of Spanish Flu were common to other flu — fever, nausea, aches and pains, diarrhea. But that would be followed soon with pneumonia or other lung infections. According to medical records, dark spots would often appear on the cheeks of those infected, who would turn blue, suffocating to death from a lack of oxygen as the lungs filled with bloody fluid.

New research indicates the Spanish Flu virus originated in birds, mutated and spread to humans. It  took its name from the first widely reported effects of the illness coming out of Spain, but could have been named for a dozen other nations — including the U.S., where  research indicates it started.

Fast-moving, the flu spread quickly over the U.S. and much of Europe in 1918. Its impact, however, had gone mostly unreported in the U.S., due to the blackout of information during the war. Officials worried what it might do to the war effort and morale for U.S. soldiers — even as non-combatant civilians were dying by the thousands at home.

Spain, on the other hand, was neutral during the campaigns of World War I. There, the population and medical providers had no need to hide the grim details. Hence, most early public reports on the epidemic focused primarily on grievously high mortality rates in Spain.

And as happens in war, as soldiers were furloughed or released back to their hometowns, many carried the pandemic's microbial invaders with them.

Back home, influenza was already on the march.

In Elizabeth City, Jennette was among 47 city residents to die from flu in 1918, according to death records at the Pasquotank County Register of Deeds office. Of those flu-caused deaths, 45 were recorded between Oct. 5 and Dec. 29, 1918, when the worst of the pandemic swept the nation.

According to the "Mortality Statistics for 1918" compiled in 1919 by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 7,948 North Carolina residents died of influenza in 1918. That early number was premature and woefully low, however, as later accounting of the lethal toll placed the total number of the state’s Spanish Flu deaths much higher, at about 14,000.

Nationwide, the 1919 report lists 244,681 deaths attributed to flu in 1918, but more modern research puts total U.S. fatalities from the flu that year at about 650,000.

Even underestimated, the 1918 statistics for North Carolina provide a stark comparison to the 389 state residents who died during the most current flu season (October 2017 to May 2018) — one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory.

The lives taken in Elizabeth City that fall of 1918 included the very young, from several months old, to the elderly, with two or three residents dying on some days.

Across Pasquotank County, death records show 81 deaths from influenza in 1918, with all but two of them recorded between October and December. The flu epidemic was especially cruel to the county’s black population, many of whom had no medical care.

Among them was 3-year-old John Freshwater Jr., of Nixonton, who succumbed on Oct. 30; his mother Susie, 28, followed a day later.

And in Newland, in just over a span of three weeks, influenza killed three members of the Stokely clan — Charles Stokely, 25, on Oct. 5; Beisha Stokely, 24, on Oct. 11; and 3-year-old Ida Stokley on Oct. 27. 

Across all of Pasquotank, of the total flu victims, 49 were black and 32 were white. Meanwhile, a larger percentage of Elizabeth City dwellers who died from the flu were white. Twenty-six city victims were white, while 21 were black.

Other than death certificates, few official records remain to tell the story of how the Albemarle region coped with the 1918 pandemic. The list of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County flu victims, gleaned from official 1918 death certificates, offers a limited glimpse of how Spanish Flu affected the local population, which at the time stood at about 17,500 in Pasquotank County.

(Sources for this story include: Albemarle Regional Health Services, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; Pasquotank County Register of Deeds (Vital Statistics, Deaths 1918, Pasquotank County; Vol. 5), Museum of the Albemarle; Centers for Disease Control, journals Science and Nature, National Public Radio, Jennette Brothers family on-line records, and The Daily Advance.)

Pasquotank County deaths caused by Spanish Flu: 1918 

Influenza listed as cause or contributor to death in Pasquotank County Death Records for 1918.

(Source: Pasquotank County Register of Deeds; Vital Statistics, Deaths 1918, Pasquotank County; Vol. 5)


Flu deaths 1918: 47

(Record: name, age, death)

97: A. Riddick, 33, March 31

103: H. Whitfield, 65, April 5

223: Lillie Lee, 26, Oct 5

230: Willie Cramer, 3, Oct. 14

232: Edward Griggs, 27, Oct. 14

233: A. Price, 70, Oct. 15

236: Leroy Spruill, 2, Oct. 16

237: Moses Brickhouse, 2, Oct. 16

238: Mary Jones, 1, Oct. 17

239: Charles (Spirio), 49, Oct. 18

240: David Rogerson, 1, Oct. 18

241: James Elliot, 11, Oct. 18

242: Mary Snow,18, Oct. 19

243: Ben Anderson, 29, Oct. 19

245: Pauline Taylor, 26, Oct. 20

247: J. Liverman, 37, Oct. 21

249: Lila Sutton, 31, Oct. 21

250: Charles Bright, 4, Oct. 22

253: B. King, 7, Oct. 22

254: J. Scott, 63, Oct. 23

255: Katie Alexander, 2 mth, Oct. 24

258: W. Ellis, 4, Oct. 25

261: Margaret Liverman, 1, Oct. 28

265: E. Basnight, 5, Nov. 5

269: Eve Harvey, 7 mth, Nov. 9

274: Georgina Allen, 33, Nov. 10

272: Charlie Wilkins, 1 mth, Nov. 11

275: Olivia Stancil, 3, Nov. 12

276: Mary Allen, 10, Nov. 14

278: Luther Pool, 1, Nov. 16

279: Sallie Jennette, 40, Nov. 20

280: Henrietta Pool, 40, Nov. 22

281: Mary Stanley, 19, Nov. 23

286: Beatrice Bomes, 1, Nov. 26

289: Mary Johnson, 2, Nov. 29

290: S. Liverman, 18, Dec. 6

291: Mattie Johnson, 50, Dec. 7

292 Anna Sawyer 23 Dec. 9

296 Phonie Harrell 29 Dec. 17

298: Sarah Hill, 14, Dec. 18

299: Walter Sawyer, 55, Dec. 18

300: Mary Benbury, 39, Dec. 21

302: James Bradley, 7, Dec. 22

303: Ruth Ranery, 43, Dec. 25

304: Laurie Cohoon, 2, Dec. 25

307: Mamie Morris, 25, Dec. 28

309: Curtis Roach, 2, Dec. 29


Flu deaths, 1918: 34


24: Kenneth Cartwright, 24, Nov. 7

25: Charlie Pendleton, 26, Nov. 8

26: Sarah Sessom, un, Nov. 9

29: James Confline, 16, Nov. 11

30: Winterfert Bowe, 2 mth, Nov. 11

31: Bessie Bowe, 33, Nov. 12

32: Annie Meads, 8, Nov. 15

35: Rebu Morse, 4, Nov. 23

36: Frank Cartwright, 32, Dec. 16

37: Maggie Spellman, 1, Dec. 18


340: Alexander Pool, 13, Oct. 13

341: Samuel (Louis), 7, Oct. 15

343: Hattie Banks, 19, Oct. 27

344: John Freshwater Jr., 3, Oct. 30

345: Susie Freshwater, 28, Oct. 31

346: Epheseus Godfrey, 64, Nov. 5

347: Allie Dance, 17, Nov. 6

348: Bessie Bailey, 25, Nov. 8

350: Galen Owens, 5, Nov. 15

351: Adius (Shannon), 6, Nov. 15

352: Mary Baum, 5, Nov. 5

353: Mary Virginia Butts, 16, Nov. 13

354: Augustus Whedbee, 21, Nov. 26

357: Irving Boyd, 1, Dec. 31


385: Sausbury Long, 3, Dec. 19


410: S. White, 48, Oct. 18

411: Nelson White, 9 mth, Oct. 19

413: Floceie C. Stewart, 7, Oct. 10

416: Charles Stokley, 25, Oct. 5

417: Beisha Stokley, 24, Oct. 11

421: Ida Stokley, 3, Oct. 27

418: Elizah Riddick, 17, Oct. 30

420: Lee Gallop, 20, Nov. 2


437: Eliza Pritchard, 24, Nov. 18