Eliza Croghan and Cholera in Kentucky

A few weeks ago, Louisville suffered a major water main break, which meant that much of the city, including Locust Grove was under a 24-hour boil water advisory. In the midst of this event, I started thinking, as one does, about the connection between cholera and the Croghans. You see, Eliza Croghan Hancock died of cholera at Locust Grove on July 12, 1833, 182 years ago today, during a major cholera epidemic in Kentucky. Cholera, a waterbourne disease, was a common cause of death in cities, like Louisville, that were connected by river traffic. Clean drinking water through standardized sanitation practices was of especial importance to fighting the disease, but could be difficult to come by on the frontier of Kentucky. Eliza’s death from the disease occurred during  the major pandemic of 1832-1833. Lexington was hit especially hard during this period, as more than 500 people in a population of 7000 people died of cholera during the summer of 1833.

Elizabeth (Eliza) Croghan was born on April 9, 1800, the fifth child and second daughter of William and Lucy Croghan. She, along with her older sister Ann, was educated at home by her mother, father, and aunt Emilia Clarke. Eliza and Ann briefly attended Louisa Keats’ Domestic Academy in Springfield in 1810, but Eliza was so homesick they returned home to Locust Grove to finish their education. Eliza married George Hancock, a Virginia planter and the brother-in-law to her uncle William Clark on September 29, 1819. The Hancocks owned and lived at Locust Grove from 1828 to 1834.

Eliza Croghan Hancock

Eliza Croghan Hancock

As morbid as it seems, I have pulled the following letters from the Locust Grove manuscript collection between Eliza’s husband, George Hancock, and her brother-in-law, Thomas Jesup, detailing the cholera epidemic in Kentucky and Eliza’s death. As death from cholera is relatively quick, it is likely that Eliza was already suffering from another illness before her death, as indicated by Hancock’s earlier letters. Before she died, Eliza was a lively member of the Croghan family, so the first letter presented here was written by a ten-year-old Eliza to her older brother, William, Jr. I thought it might be nice to commemorate her life as well as her death.

Eliza C. Croghan to William Croghan Jr.:

[December 25, 1810]

Dear Brother

As Mr Walker is going up to Lexington Mama told me to Wright to you.  Sister Ann is just return from Cousin Eliza Gwathmy wedding and brought us some cake to dream on she says they wear very mery at the wedding and Cousin Betsy looked very pretty but what devirted me most was the blusxder Coock Robin made Aunt had a large cake made of brown sugar for the servoants and Coock Robin thru mistake toock one of Aunts best cakes and left her the one that was made of brown sugar.  The pretty Miss sally hughs is married to Mr Wade the dancing Master Mr and Mrs Hughs was very much against the match and sent Mr wade away but Miss sally said she loved him so well if he did not come back she would die so they sent for Mr wade back and they were married.  The very same day Mr wade toock his wife have behind him on his horse to Louisville home Miss Polly Prather I believe to Mr Newman.

I suppose you will be supprised to hear we are at home we went as far as Uncle Andersons but when we came to part some body began to cry recan you think it was me Mama got uneasy and said she could not part with us so here we are at home.  I am trying to learn what I can under the tuishion of Papa Mama and cousin Emilia I often think of the girls at the academy & Mama Keats, but we should have had to part some tim or other.  I think by this time I have tired you and if you will only excuse my bad writing bad spelling & bad diction I will forever be your affectionate sister.

Eliza C. Croghan

George Hancock to Genl. T.S. Jesup:

Locst Grove Octr 26th 1832

Dear Genļ

We reached home 5 days since, after a very fatigueing journey.  We found William quite ill, but…will be soon restored to health.  I was anxious that Eliza should have remained in Lexington…I could not prevail on her to do so.  She was indisposed on the road, and after arriving at home was quite ill, she is now however much better, …

Th Cholera is I think subsiding in Louisville.  Most of the cases are mild, and 4 in 5 cured – deaths about 5 to 8 per day.  The deaths almost entirely among the dissolute; the Better classes almost without an exception are cured of it.  In some instances it has been severe on farms.  Judge Speed lost 6 nigro men in 2 days.  I have had 2 cases on this place – but both cured – & I take some credit to myself for their recovery, (there being no physician at hand).  In town we have lost 2 … I intended to remove all mine, Charles yours & the Doctors to L.G. but Dr Tompkins persuaded me that if I crowd them with those here, that all will be in danger.  I therefore have left all in town.

…The farm has suffered awfully with Bilious fevers this fall, only one death however…but nearly all have been sick – some dangerously.  Chs McSorly was confined 3 weeks…my business of course much changed on the farm.  …

Yours truly

Geo: Hancock

Locust grove Nov. 1 1832

Dear Gen.

…Eliza is much recovered and in a few days will be well.  William has improved astonishingly and will be well in a week more I think.

Since my last we have had one case of Cholera – cured – and as the disease is said to be abating in Louisville, I hope we will soon have nothing to fear in the country – on yesterday a man belonging to Charles [Croghan] died very suddenly (Harry) only sick two or three hours.

…Doctr Tompkins stays constantly with us, and this of course [illegible] us somewhat to our being here.  …


Geo: Hancock

Locust Grove June 20th 1833

Dear Sir:

It has been a long time since we have heard from our friends in Washington, and I think the uneasiness on their account, felt by my wife, tends very much to retard her recovery from a violent Bilious (sic) attack.

Some days since we thought her nearly well, but within the last two days she has relapsed; and is now quite ill – Doctr Tompkins (who is with us) think her better since morning however; … the Cholera, and sickness of the neighborhood prevents my leaving home for Va.  …

–The cholera has made dreadful havoc in the country around us, on Mr Browns farm 12 men died in 36 hours.  Wm Bullitts, Wm Thompsons &c. have all suffered.  We have no case on the farm yet.  I keep us strict [illegible] and hope we may excape.

This morning it is reported that some Farmer (probably Judge Speed) has discovered an infallible remedy for it, in any Stages; having cured every case & having 40 cases.  – it is Cayenne Pepper mixed with Castor oil, and a warm Bath.  …

Geo: Hancock

Locust Grove June 24th 1833

Dr Sir

…Eliza is better today.  Mrs Pearce is with her, the Doctr thinks her convalescent.  The cholera is with us; we have 5 cases today – it yields readily to medicine and I hope none will prove fatal.  You can conceive nothing to equal the gloom spread over the country here.  No one leaves home.  Crops of wheat standing uncut, corn fields abandoned to winds. – and what makes all worse is it is incessantly raining; as yet there are few cases in Louisville.  … I hope Mrs Jesup & the children are well, and that they will come out with Mrs Croghan & see us again.

Yours truly

Geo: Hancock

Locust grove June 30th  1833

Dear Genļ

Since my last to you the Cholera has increased to an alarming extent.  We have not well ones enough to attend the sick – and it is difficult to get a Physician.  Dr. Tompkins is with us now and has promised not to leave us until Eliza is better.  I fear her situation is very critical.  My mother was taken with Cholera (I fear) tonight.  If Dr Croghan is with you for Gods sake send him on to us.


Geo: Hancock

     William Croghan, Jr.  to Charles W. Thruston:

Pittsburgh Sepr 8, 1833

Dear Charles

From my summer excursion, …I have in a great measure attained…my health, which is much improved.  The trip to Quebec, I did not make; learning when in New York of the decease of my poor dear Sister, my plans were all immediately changed, & forthwith, I hastened to Washington City, feeling a dub anxiety on the occasion for my aged Mother.  The safe return of the Dr about that time after a protracted voyage & in fine health, had a happy influence & I left her, doing quite well, & resigned to this heavy affliction.  …The Cholera here the past season, has offered to many … a pretext for not paying me my Rents, …

W. Croghan

While it was a trying 24 hours under the boil water advisory, 1833 was an even more difficult year for Louisville. I for one am certainly thankful for the Louisville Water Company, and the Lexington health ordinance that prevented pigs from roaming free in the streets.

With best regards for your continued good health,


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