Ohio History Journal

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"God's Scourge": The Cholera

Years in Ohio






Between 5 August and 23 September 1834, fifty-six residents of the small

Ohio village of Zoar, Tuscarawas County, died of cholera. Zoar was the

home of a communal society of about three hundred German Separatists, per-

sons who had differed with the doctrine of the Lutheran Church and migrated

to the United States. During the summer of 1834 a boat on the Ohio Canal

stopped at Zoar with one sick passenger, Mr. Allen Wallace; he was carried

into the canal tavern (which is still standing) and nursed by the Zoarites until

he died. He was buried in the village cemetery. A few days later a woman

claiming to be his wife arrived to retrieve some money and papers Wallace

was carrying. Wallace was disinterred and the items were recovered from his

clothing. That night cholera broke out in the village.l

The cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century reflected a basic change in

society: industrialization, worldwide commerce, massive urban centers, social

unrest, a migratory population. The disease followed the ever-quickening

transportation systems, first the waterways, then the road networks inland,

and finally the quick railroad lines of mid-century. The disease was deadly in

its homeland of India due to poor sanitation and a dense population in the

cities; in western Europe and the United States, these two factors characterized

the industrial cities with the added complication of rapid transportation.

During the early 1830s western Europe struggled with political unrest and

unstable economic conditions,2 causing thousands of immigrants to cross the

Atlantic Ocean at about the time the cholera arrived in Europe. The United

States and Canada were aware of the danger; quarantine of the ports of entry



Donald A. Hutslar, long-time curator of history at the Ohio Historical Society, is a Ph.D. stu-

dent in architectural history at The Ohio State University. He would like to thank Professor

Joan Cashin of The Ohio State University Department of History for her assistance with this



1. Hilda D. Morhart, The Zoar Story (Dover, Ohio, 1967), 75. The disease may have been

spread through the communal dairy rather than Zoar's water supply, a highly efficient, en-

closed system supplied by a hillside spring on the opposite side of the river from the tavern.

The Zoarites discovered that liquids were an effective treatment for cholera.

2. R. E. McGrew, "The First Cholera Epidemic and Social History," Bulletin of the History

of Medicine, XXXIV (1960), 66-67.