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Pearl Fisher: Caleb Fellows and Cholera

Pearl Fisher: Caleb Fellows and Cholera

by Dillon Bustin


Captain Fellows had become familiar with the term Hindustan, which he spelled Hindostan, while defending English traders in India, and he prevailed upon the other proprietors to name the new Indiana town Hindostan Falls, hoping to provoke a pearl rush. His gifts as a promoter in extolling the waterpower available there to prospective pioneers may be recognized by the fact that there is no waterfall in sight, only a riffle of four to six inches over a submerged ledge.

Unfortunately, the settlement was depopulated by an outbreak of cholera during 1820–1822, so its dreams of glory were never realized. The town of Shoals, located a few miles downstream on the river, eventually became the county seat later in the nineteenth century.

There were seven global pandemics of cholera, also known as yellow fever, between 1817 and 1861, all emanating from the Bay of Bengal. The first, 1817–1824, began near Calcutta (now Kolkata); it spread throughout South Asia including present-day Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the coast of East Africa. Although the outbreak infected Turkey and the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, it did not reach Europe beyond the Caspian Sea, nor the

The second pandemic of cholera, 1829–1837, did reach Europe including Russia and it did spread to North America. It ravaged the eastern seaboard from Quebec to Louisiana before extending to Cuba and Mexico. It reached the west coast via the Pacific Ocean but affected the interior of the United States only along major rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri, and along the Great Lakes, carried by steamboat passengers. Only the third pandemic, 1846–1860, carried by overland emigrants, greatly afflicted interior regions.

It seems plausible to me that Captain Fellows, who had been in India in 1818 at the beginning of the first global plague of cholera, had carried the bacteria directly to the United States and was the vector who infected the settlement of Hindostan Falls by 1820, a very early and isolated outbreak of the disease in Indiana and not part of an epidemic in the larger region at that time.