“The exaggerated stories which are being told of the smallpox raging in Kentville would be amusing, if such stories were not told with the purpose of injuring the business of the town,” wrote The Advertiser’s editor in a September, 1901, issue.
“Travellers at different places have been told the town was under strict quarantine, and that if they came to this town they would not be able to leave,” the editor further wrote. This wasn’t the case, the editor said, and only two buildings in town were quarantined due to smallpox. Kentville was wide open and “people come and go at pleasure as long as they do not come in contact with …. the two buildings quarantined.”
As mentioned, the paper broadly hinted that, in effect, rumors were started so that “other places” (stores in nearby towns and villages, I assume) would have a business advantage if Kentville was closed. Kentville was the first place to report smallpox, The Advertiser’s editorialist said, plaintively noting that it was “brought in from other places and is as liable to be brought into any other place as well.” Earlier in the year, The Advertiser reported that a sailor who arrived in a barque in Kingsport had brought smallpox to the county.
But for the fact that it was a deadly disease the paper was writing about, this report would have been humorous. Less than a year later, however, The Advertiser reported something that was amusing. A prisoner of the town jail, which was quarantined due to smallpox, caused panic in the county when he simply walked out of the jailyard and disappeared. Recaptured later and taken back to jail, he explained that since his time was up and he was almost recovered from smallpox, he decided to go home.
Apparently around 1900 and 1901 there were isolated cases of smallpox in Kings County. By 1907, however, an epidemic was raging province-wide. In February, 1908, the provincial health officer reported that 1,860 cases of smallpox were treated in the previous year. While in most cases the disease was said to be mild, five deaths were reported.
The 1907 epidemic is believed to have been one of the worst outbreaks of smallpox in the province. If you look back, however, you’ll find that almost from the day the Planters arrived here, cases of smallpox kept on popping up all over Kings County, and around the province.
In the Public Archives, for example, is a document from 1778 that refers to a smallpox epidemic in the county. Also in the Archives are four letters from the same year, petitioning the government to be excused from jury duty due to the epidemic. In 1800, Simeon Perkins recorded in his famous diary that smallpox had killed nearly 200 people in Halifax and the disease was prevalent along the South Shore.