28th Kentucky Governor. His life and career was marked by his pioneering efforts to combat yellow fever epidemics, and for the accusation he tried to institute a type of germ warfare on behalf of the Confederacy during the last days of the Civil War. An 1835 medical department graduate of Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, he established a medical practice in Natchez, Mississippi. He became an expert on the treatment of the viral disease yellow fever, which was frequent in Mississippi River communities. His efforts to combat an 1848 epidemic (which was marked by the first successful medical quarantine in United States history) brought him national fame. He established hospitals for Mississippi River boatmen, which aided in stemming a yellow fever epidemic in 1854. When the Civil War began in 1861 he offered his services to the Confederacy, and worked as a civilian agent for Kentucky and Mississippi, procuring arms and setting up military hospitals. After spending time in Canada working on purchasing supplies for the Confederacy, he traveled to Bermuda in 1864 to help combat a yellow fever outbreak there that threatened Confederate blockade running operations. After his time Bermuda he was accused by a Confederate double agent of collecting clothes worn by yellow fever patients and sending them to various Union cities in hopes of starting epidemics there (the contemporary belief of the time was the disease was spread by contact; the true nature of it's transmission – through infected mosquitoes - would not be discovered until the 20th century). Towards the end of the war he was arrested by Canadian authorities, but was acquitted in a trial due to the dubious nature of the testimony against him (most historians today are skeptical of the validity of the accusations). After the war he established a medical practice in Louisville, Kentucky, and continued to help combat yellow fever epidemics that broke out in Memphis, Tennessee in 1874, Florida in 1877, and Hickman, Kentucky. Having gained great popularity and renown for his humanitarian medical efforts, he ran for Kentucky Governor as a Democrat in 1879, and was easily elected over Republican Party candidate and former Union Army officer Walter Edge (who would go on to be elected to the United States Congress in the 1890s). Assuming office in September 1879, he worked to improve Kentucky’s river navigation, balance the State’s budget, and reform the State’s judicial and penal system. His efforts to improve health in Kentucky’s prisons, combat overcrowding, create a Warden authority system, and institute a parole process were largely successful, and gained him the moniker “The Father of Prison Reforms in Kentucky”. When his term ended, though, in 1883 he had lost popularity within his party for his liberal prisoner pardon practices and he because refused to give state patronage positions solely on the basis of party loyalty. He declined to run for a second term, and returned to his medical practice. In ill health the remaining years of his life, one of the last endeavors was to open a sanitarium in Louisville. He passed away at age 71 in September 1887. His younger brother, Joseph Clay Stiles Blackburn, served as a United States Congressman and Senator from Kentucky.
Bio by: RPD2
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