Consumption: The Taker of Young Lives

by Carol Kaplan.

In the 19th century consumption, a disease of the lungs we know today as tuberculosis, was a dreaded killer. No cure was available. More than 1,700 of the individuals buried at City Cemetery died of consumption. No respecter of persons, the disease killed a huge number of people, ranging from unnamed slave children to John L. Marling, ambassador to Guatemala (1855-1856). Young women seemed especially vulnerable, sometimes dying quickly but occasionally lingering for years.

Septima, Francis and Mary Rutledge Fogg’s only daughter, became so sick so quickly that her brother Henry*, touring Europe with a group of Nashville friends, did not find out about his sister’s illness until she was already dead. As Randal McGavock noted in his December 1, 1851, account of the group’s travels, “When I returned to the hotel, I found American newspapers . . .. I noticed the death of my old friend Miss Septima Fogg. Her brother left on Saturday with the view of reaching home before the crisis. She was a lady that I estimated very highly and I lament her early dissolution.” Henry Fogg left Naples for home on November 29, a month after Septima’s funeral at Christ Church and her burial at City Cemetery on October 28, 1851.

Araminta Jane “Minta” Wharton’s struggle with the disease was mentioned frequently in the letters of Philip S. Fall, minister of the Nashville Christian Church and former head of the Nashville Female Academy. Minta had been a close friend of two of the Fall daughters, Elizabeth and Caroline. Fall wrote his wife Anne on October 29, 1867, that “our friends her are all well, except dear Minta. She came home yesterday, not expecting to remain long with us in the flesh. She was very ill on Saturday & Dickson [her brother] went up to see her on Sunday, but telegraphed his father that she was better.” However, Minta was not better, and on Tuesday, November 5, Fall wrote, “I went home, and Kate Wharton [Minta’s cousin] told me our dear Minta had just died. I saw her on Sunday morning, and found her as calm and serene as if she were about to compose herself to sleep. She could scarcely speak . . .. We read Psalm 23 and engaged in prayer. I bade her goodbye and she said ‘We shall meet again.’ She then slept and this continued until about 9 o’clock at night when she awoke and called her father and said: ‘Pappy, goodbye, I am gone; God be with you all,” and gently fell asleep in Christ, without a struggle or groan . . .. She was the light of the household and the joy of her father’s heart. He is greatly distressed. She is to be buried tomorrow. At 10 o’clock I have to speak at the church on the occasion. How I can get through with the duty I hardly know. The reflection that Bro Wharton officiated on a like occasion for us almost overcomes me now [their son Albert had been killed at Fort Donelson], and I fear I shall break down wholly. I must cast my care, however, on Him that careth for me, and must endeavor to make such a death following such a life speak to those who may be present.”

Nine days later Philip Fall sent Anne an account of the funeral: “Our beloved Minta was buried yesterday. The body was taken to the Church, where a large & very sympathizing crowd assembled. I tried to speak, and got on tolerably until I had to speak of her, & that was almost impossible. By the request, I suppose, of the family, the plate was removed from over the face, before the service was commenced. I thought, of course, that it was desired that those who wished to see that peaceful face once more were to have the opportunity, and so announced. Remarks were made, of course, in regard to so unusual a procedure by those present. At the grave people seemed to linger, as unwilling to leave one so universally beloved. I have rarely seen an assemblage more deeply moved. It was a death rarely witnesses, so thoroughly was our dear one in her full senses, and yet so calm, so affectionate, so perfectly ready and willing to go to a cherished home.”

Minta Wharton’s grave in Nashville City Cemetery

Thanks to modern medicine, tuberculosis, which once killed so many, has been largely eradicated from our world. As the writer of Ecclesiastes 7:10 reminds us, “Do not ask why were the old days better than these?”  (2013)

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.

Author’s note: Philip Fall’s letters are part of the Philip Slater Fall Collection Disciples of Christ Historical Society. I thank the Society Archivist, Sara Harwell, for permission to quote from them.

*Editor’s note: Henry Middleton Rutledge Fogg, the last surviving child of Francis Brimley Fogg and his wife, née Mary Middleton Rutledge, was his father’s law partner at their Cherry Street (4th Ave.) office. During the Civil War Henry served as aide to Confederate Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer, a three-term U.S. congressman from Tennessee. On January 19, 1862, during the Battle of Fishing Creek (also called the Battle of Mill Springs), both Henry Fogg and General Zollicoffer were killed within minutes of each other. Young Fogg’s body was brought back to the family home on Church Street. A Nashville resident who attended the funeral wrote in her diary: “Today attended the funeral of Maj. Fogg . . . I think I never saw such grief & sorrow in any one’s face as in Mr. Fogg’s . . . His mother was wonderfully sustained by the hope she has in his death & her abiding faith in God. She sang at the funeral of her lost child.”  Fogg was buried in Nashville City Cemetery.

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