“My Dear Dear Wife,” that’s how Napoleon, my great grandfather, begins his letter to his new wife Annie, my great grandmother. In the Summer of 1888, Annie had gone to visit her family in New York City. Now her husband pleads with her not to come home.
August 24th, 1888 Jacksonville, Florida My Dear Dear Wife, We are quarantined all around by other states and counties and the outlook is anything but encouraging. I would dislike bringing you here as the yellow fever is a very bad kind all around our house in East Jacksonville. Bless you dear. I would be so glad to see you, but I would feel very bad to have you come home and get sick. N.B. Broward
Yellow Fever Epidemic had Florida in its Grip. Sheriff Broward fears for the life of his young wife Annie. “Don’t come home!”
The future Governor of Florida was the elected Sheriff of Duval County in 1888. While he expressed calm in his letter to his wife, in truth, hundreds were dying. Bodies were stacked on the street corners. The Mayflower Hotel, where the pandemic was thought to have started, was condemned and burned to the ground. Her husband would work throughout the day and late into the night as news went from bad to worse. Panic was setting in. Florida’s leaders did not know the yellow fever was carried by mosquitos. Canons were fired into the air to disperse this treacherous killer.
Napoleon had grown up in Florida while Annie had grown up in New York City and Cape May New Jersey. He knew all too well of malaria and dengue fever. These killers were long known to take the lives of his loved ones. His mother Mary Dorcas Parsons Broward and his father Colonel Napoleon Broward had died of the fever in the immediate aftermath of the civil war (1869-1870). His first wife was stricken with dengue fever as she was delivering their first son, Napoleon III. His wife and son perished. Carrie Kemps succumbed to the fever in 1883, and the infant boy died of starvation in his father’s arms weeks later as Napoleon was unable to find a wet nurse to keep his son alive.
In the summer of 1888, Yellow Fever claimed hundreds of lives regardless of race or socio-economic backgrounds. The pandemic, just two decades after the civil war, was a reminder to Annie and Napoleon that nothing was ever certain in life, and that war and disease seemed destined to be human companions. They would soon be busy having many daughters to carry on their shared values of Christian faith, compassion, industry, education, and government leadership.
As their family grew, the yellow fever became less of a threat. In 1900, Majors Walter Reed and James Carroll of the United States Army proved that mosquitos carried the disease. Today we talk more about malaria and West Nile. The mosquito was and still is the carrier of diseases that kill and cripple people living in warm climates. That’s why organizations all around the world, including the CDC out of Atlanta, Georgia, consider the mosquito to be the most dangerous animal on the planet.
Annie’s husband would not live to see the next pandemic “The Spanish Flu.” Napoleon Broward succumbed to gall bladder disease in 1910 as he campaigned through his gall bladder illness. He won the U.S. Senate seat and lost his life. He died on an operating table in Jacksonville, Florida before he could take office in Washington D.C.. His death was a shock to the thousands who loved the big man. Annie was left a widow at 43 with nine children. She was left to face the Spanish Flu as a single mother.
The Spanish Flu of 1918 – 500 Million People – One third of the world was infected with the virus
According to descriptions given by my great aunt Florida Douglass Broward Segrest, the Spanish flu hit the girls in the family hard. Florida, named for the state, was one of only three of the eight daughters spared from the Spanish Flu. Through the power of prayer and service, all the children survived. Florida said her mother made big pots of steak soup for sick neighbors. Annie cooked and cared for her sick children while also caring for their sick neighbors in homes close by.Annie sent her healthy children out to deliver soup to houses where many died of the flu.
As the deadly flu continued to afflict families for years, Florida’s husband Henry Neill Segrest became sick with the virus as he was being sent to serve in World War I. My cousin Stephen Segrest says his father described how all the sick men, who had previously been preparing to join the European theatre in the first World War, would instead be sent to cots in military camps in the Northeast. He says his father told him you would hear the men cry at night, and when they began to call for their mothers, he knew they would be dead by morning. The next day another soldier would occupy the same cot and often the same fate. The casualties stateside from the Spanish Flu only added to the grief of families throughout the nation as their husbands and sons went off to fight in the first World War. My great uncle Henry Neill Segrest would suffer health problems from the flu for the rest of his life as he raised five sons with my great aunt Florida in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Hereditary Diseases afflicting the Girls on the Porch and their Descendants
Grandmother Enid Lyle Broward Hardee succumbed to pancreatic cancer at 47 years old. My aunt Annie Lee Hardee Tate was interviewed for Girls on the Porch and said her mother was afflicted with an illness doctors didn’t know very much about in the early 1940’s. Enid was certainly living through a great deal of stress as World War II was beginning. She knew her sons and sons-in-law would have to fight overseas if America joined the major world powers to stop Germany and Hitler from invading the countries of origin of many immigrant families in the nation. Her ambition for the cause of a woman’s right to elected office saw her traveling to Chicago in 1940.
Enid would win statewide office as the Florida Democratic Committee Chairwoman and suddenly become a woman to watch in the nation. Her husband Gus was concerned about her health and took her to many doctors while she continued to give talks about women, children, and families during her travels. Emboldened by her Christian faith, she believed she could make a difference in the lives of families by advocating for voting rights, the right to jobs, and benefits that would feed hungry families in a nation where many were hungry.
In Chicago, she watched First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accept the Democratic nomination for her husband Franklin Roosevelt for his third term. He was his party’s choice once again to be President of the United States of America. Grandmother looked smart in her conservative suit with her ‘donkey’ pin and her little rhinestone flag. This photograph of her in 1940 (below) has always been a treasured and framed picture in my home. I would never meet her because of cancer. Though she would guide my life and the lives of many of her grandchildren who knew her as “Mother Hardee.” The big bow, her hat, short hair, gloves, and handbag, along with steely, determined eyes, still frame her as an icon of the Broward “Girls on the Porch.”
Her mother Annie Douglass Broward was still busy advocating for higher education when she learned her daughter would follow in her father’s footsteps in Florida politics. Enid died a little more than two years after this photograph was taken. Would she have become a mayor? A member of Congress? A Governor like her father? A US Senator like her father? Only the cancer would stop her from her march to Washington D.C.
Hereditary Diseases like Pancreatic Cancer would also claim the lives of other descendants of Annie and Napoleon Broward
As I have researched my book that is now in progress, “Girls on the Porch”, I have interviewed many descendants of Annie and Napoleon across the country. The eight daughters went in scattered directions to Seattle, to Alabama, to New York, to Connecticut, to Massachusetts. Two stayed in Florida. Their brother Napoleon IV traveled but returned to Florida to raise his family in the home on Fort George Island which is now known as the “Broward Historic Home” and is part of a federal park now open to visitors.
I’ve learned a granddaughter of Annie and Napoleon, Dorcas Crawford Casey, also died of pancreatic cancer. Her daughter, Dorcas Anne Casey, died of the disease in 2008 when she was only 35 years old. My first cousin, Connie Constance Tate Perry, died of breast cancer; it was such a great loss to our family as she was one of the first grandchildren of Enid and Gus Hardee. Now in 2021, I am learning of hereditary hemochromatosis – a genetic disorder characterized by the excessive intestinal absorption of dietary iron which is linked to all these cancers. While I have no way of knowing if this inherited blood disorder, the most common of inherited diseases of families descended from Northern Europe of “Celtic” descent, afflicted the beloved Girls on the Porch and their descendants, I am curious. According to Wikipedia, Hemochromatosis has a prevalence of one in two hundred with one in ten of us carrying a mutation of genes regulating iron metabolism.
While the condition is more prevalent in men, the blood disorder gene does afflict women and is still being studied. Geneticists believe the disorder can be traced back to a single “Celtic” individual 60-70 generations ago and might have been caused by evolutionary factors with an absence of iron in the diet of the individual. Annie Douglass was of ‘Celtic’ descent, a second generation American. Her grandparents were Scottish immigrants in NYC and New Bern, North Carolina. During the Civil War they fought on both sides which caused grief and distrust for generations.