War & Wellbeing
Remaining healthy was a continuous struggle for everyone during the Antebellum Period; the deadliest diseases to strike Louisiana at this time were cholera, smallpox, malaria, and yellow fever. During the summer of 1853, over 12,000 people died of yellow fever in New Orleans, with still more deaths in rural areas throughout south Louisiana. This number marked the single highest annual death rate of any state during the entire nineteenth century. Henry Watkins Allen of West Baton Rouge wrote to the Baton Rouge Daily Comet on September 23, 1853:
“It is with melancholy feelings that I now advise you of the appearance of yellow fever in our heretofore healthy Parish…God grant that the disease may not spread over our Parish, for our citizens are already panic stricken and terror has seized the hearts of the people.”
There were also severe cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849 in Louisiana.
On rural sugar plantations, enslaved people of color suffered from malnutrition and extreme work conditions, and therefore were particularly susceptible to disease. In the sugar-cane parishes, the difference between the birth rate and death rate among the enslaved population was approximately four times lower than the regional average.
During the Antebellum Era, most communities throughout the south formed militia companies that were much like social clubs. The Tirailleurs were established in 1841. This company was originally raised in Iberville but attracted many members from the southern portion of West Baton Rouge Parish, namely Brusly Landing, and were an exclusively French-speaking company. Many Louisiana militia companies participated in the Mexican-American War. Next door to Louisiana, Texas had won its independence from Mexico in 1836, though hostilities lasted between the two governments. Texas was eventually annexed by the U.S. in 1845, which led to a two-year war between Mexico and the United States beginning on April 25, 1846. The Tirailleurs fought in this war from 1846-48 as part of the 2nd Regiment. Another local company, The West Baton Rouge Guards, was organized in 1846 under Captain William Blount Robertson, and the Voltigeurs were formed around 1841.