Census Lessons for Detroit From Memphis's 1870s Loss, Says Historian





But another city, Memphis, appears to have the distinction of having once lost the highest percentage of its population for an American city of any size.

In the 1870s, a series of outbreaks of yellow fever swept through the Mississippi River Valley, killing thousands of people. In 1878, the epidemic reduced the population of Memphis by perhaps as much as 50 percent.

In 1878 alone, the population of about 40,000 dropped by more than half, said Charles W. Crawford, a professor who specializes in Memphis history at the University of Memphis. He said he was not aware of any other city that had lost a greater percentage of its population in one fell swoop. New Orleans lost 29 percent after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

Mr. Crawford said that an estimated 5,500 people in Memphis died in 1878 while perhaps 15,000 fled. “Everyone was crowding the steamboat landings and the railroad station,” he said. “Politicians left first.”...


comments powered by Disqus