Friday, May 20, 2011

The Québec Cholera Epidemic 1832 and the Champlain Canal

Isabelle Casssegrain/duBorg dit St-Chaumont/Livernois (I'll explain all the surnames in a later posting) was the grandmother of Solyme Beauvais who came to Cohoes from St. Césaire, Québec.  Isabelle, 72 years old,  died in August 1832 of cholera when the Quebec Cholera Epidemic of 1832 was raging in lower Quebec. Isabelle lived in the area of St Mathias, Pointe Olivier an important port on the Richelieu transportation network.

 A new paper published this month in the Journal of Public Health Policy, "Cholera, canals, and contagion: Rediscovering Dr. Beck's Report" (advance online publication 5 May 2011; doi:10.1057/jphp.2011.20)  describes the work of Dr. Lewis Beck who tracked the  epidemic's rapid spread from Quebec City to Montreal down the Richelieu Valley to Lake Champlain, to Whitehall, down the Champlain Canal to Rensselaer and Albany counties. From those counties, it spread west along the Erie canal and south to New York City along the Hudson.  The disease was following the major commercial transportation routes of its time.  Dr. Beck's data supported a contagious theory for the rapid spread of cholera.  The paper points out despite the strong evidence, the doctor's "disbelieved" his own evidence and argued the disease was brought on by excesses of appetites, intemperance and other immoral behaviors.

Click on the link below to see the

As I continue to research our family lines in the Richelieu Valley, no doubt, more of our ancestors who died in the cholera epidemic of 1832 will be made apparent.  Meanwhile, it is a comforting thought to know our tap water and shellfish can generally be trusted in New York State and the northeast.   More readings about cholera epidemic of 1832:

Below is the Pubmed Abstract for the recent paper about Dr. L Beck and his conclusions
J Public Health Policy. 2011 May 5. [Epub ahead of print]

Cholera, canals, and contagion: Rediscovering Dr Beck's report.


Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Room 678, 155 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 3M7. E-mail:


Cholera first appeared in North America (in Montreal and Quebec) in 1832 and spread rapidly across the eastern half of the continent. The dispatch of American disease control experts to Lower Canada in anticipation of cholera's spread implies that medical professionals expected spread, possibly from contagion, even though the notion that cholera was contagious was disparaged in medical writings of the time, and would be until John Snow's landmark work in London in the 1850s. Snow's insights derived largely from his observations on spatial and temporal patterns of cholera cases. We discuss a document from the 1832 epidemic, the report of Dr Lewis Beck to New York's Governor Throop, which anticipates Snow in presenting geospatial data that imply cholera's contagiousness. Beck shows that the movements of immigrants along the newly completed New York state canal system resulted in sequential cholera outbreaks along the canal's path. Although aware of the degree to which this suggested contagion, Beck argues strenuously against the contagiousness of cholera. We explore the social context of early nineteenth-century medicine that probably led Beck to disbelieve his own observations, and to favor a medical model inconsistent with his data. Themes that emerge from our inquiry include belief in disease as a physical manifestation of defective morality, stigmatization of the poor and immigrant groups, and reluctance to overturn prevailing medical models that themselves reflected the economic position of medical practitioners. We show that these themes continue to serve as obstacles to innovation in medical and public health practice today.Journal of Public Health Policy advance online publication, 5 May 2011; doi:10.1057/jphp.2011.20.
PMID:21544099 PubMed - as supplied by publisher
Here are links to other stories on this blog about our family and medial diseases
Tobacco Addiction

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