Flattening the Curve in 1800

James Monroe was no stranger to doing his part to flatten the curve. In August of 1800, during his first term as governor of Virginia, he instituted a quarantine on ships traveling from Norfolk into other port cities in an effort to reduce the spread of yellow fever throughout the Commonwealth. Quarantines for ships and their crews were not uncommon, and could last between 10–40 days.


By the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.


WHEREAS satisfactory information has been received, that some contagious disease exists at Norfolk, which without due precaution, may be communicated to other parts of this Commonwealth, and it being the duty of the Executive, to prevent the spreading of the said disease, by causing the Laws made and provided for that purpose, to be faithfully executed:—I have therefore thought fit with the advice of the Council of State, to issue this Proclamation, injoining all vessels coming from the said port of Norfolk up James River, to perform Quarantine at Jourdan’s Point, and all other vessels coming from said port, to any other port within this commonwealth, to perform Quarantine at the places heretofore designated for such ports respectively, for the term of fifteen days, to be computed from the time they severally sailed from the said port of Norfolk.

Excerpt, (Richmond) Enquirer, 23 August 1800; Papers of James Monroe, 4:394 (http://monroepapers.com/items/show/1455)


  1. Michelle says

    Are other quarantines listed? How about quarantines for schools… ever?? or quarantines for certain hospitals or other places? This is really interesting.

    • Heidi Stello says

      At this time, quarantines were primarily contained to ships and their crews rather than to hospitals or schools. We often see references in the correspondence to individuals leaving “unhealthy” areas to stay in “healthier” areas (such as the mountains) during outbreaks and limiting their exposure in that way, but not at the direction of the local government. The National Quarantine Act was passed in 1878, and the CDC has an interesting summary of the history of quarantines following that legislation (https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/historyquarantine.html).


  1. […] assembly along with his Council of State, Monroe issued a proclamation on Aug. 23, which required a quarantine for all vessels touring to and from town, whether or not they be tiny canoe or massive ship. Monroe labored with […]

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