An 1873 Diary
By Ann Middleton
Recently a generous visitor to the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center donated a CD to be added to the collections here. The CD, Hamilton History, tells the story of the Fort, Gayle and Hamilton families in the Shreveport-Bossier area in the years following the Civil War and into Reconstruction years.
The genealogy and histories of the families are fascinating. Just as intriguing is the diary of a man not connected to the families, but living in the area at the same time as the above noted families-Reconstruction times following the close of the Civil War. The diary of Henry Gerard Hall is included as a contemporaneous record of what was happening in the Shreveport-Bossier area from January 1, 1870 through October of 1873.
Hall was born in South Carolina and moved to Texas as a young boy. He was an attorney who practiced in East Texas as well as in Caddo Parish. He became a Caddo Parish judge who lived in Shreveport. His diary is filled with names of local people of the time, especially in his accounts of those who died from the yellow fever epidemic in 1873.
But especially poignant are his entries about his family and their activities during the epidemic. His entry of September 11, 1873 notes that the area was in the midst of the terrible yellow fever epidemic. On September 20th he documents that he wrote a codicil to his will designating persons as executors jointly with his wife, perhaps realizing that he, too, might be stricken.
On September 21, 1873, Hall's small daughter Hally was taken ill with chills, fever and vomiting. The next day his wife Eugenia had the same symptoms. Both suffered with severe pain in the head and back. Hall was left to nurse his wife and daughter, taking care to assure that a good supply of ice was available for eating as well as for applying to their foreheads. Eugenia's condition became worse and worse, and about 9:00 pm on September 25th she died. Two days later he wrote that he wrote that a few days before she was taken ill, while preparing dinner for the family, she was "powerfully moved to prayer, more powerfully than ever before. Thus her preparation was made calmly, in full exercise of her faculties before the disease began to affect her."
By September 28th, Hally seemed about to recover. During his daughter's recovery Hall wrote that a supply wagon stopped at his gate. It carried bread, potatoes, eggs, tea, ice, ale, porter, wine, flour, tea, a little ham, condensed milk, candles, salt, rice and sweet potatoes. The supplies were provided by the famous Howard Association that was formed in 1855 in Norfolk, Virginia for the relief of yellow fever victims. Hall recognized this as "A most gratifying instance of practical charity."
Hally continued to improve but took no food directly except lemonade and an occasional sip of champagne.
On October 6th Hall expressed hope that he would escape the plague and prayed to God that he would continue to be spared for the sake of his children. The last entry in his diary was on October 7th. His young son Henry had become ill and the Howard Association had sent a nurse to assist Hall. Hall himself was feeling chilly and died soon after of yellow fever at the age of 40 years.
To read more of this diary, as well as the genealogies of the Fort, Gayle and Hamilton families, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.