Archive for the ‘Epidemics’ Category

“the Dear Wife of my Bosom”

DOLLEY PAYNE TODD MADISON, who is best known as the wife of President James Madison, was born Dorothy (or Dorothea) Payne in North Carolina to Quaker parents in 1768, the fourth of eight children. See an earlier post here. Her father was a planter who, when he emancipated his slaves, moved his family, first to Virginia, and then, in 1783, to Philadelphia where he established a laundry starch-making business. When the venture failed, and following her husband’s death in 1792, Mrs. Payne for a time took in boarders, among whom was Aaron Burr. When Dolley was 21 (1790) she married John Todd, a lawyer and a Quaker; they, along with Dolley’s youngest sister Anna, lived in this brick house in Philadelphia. In 1793 when the city was struck by a yellow fever epidemic, John sent Dolley and their two small children to the country while he remained in the city. Sadly, he died as did their three-month-old son William Temple. By the terms of her husband’s will Dolley inherited their house and the property enumerated below. Todd’s will read:

I give and devise all my estate, real and personal, to the Dear Wife of my Bosom, and first and only Woman upon whom my all and only affections were placed, Dolly Payne Todd, her heirs and assigns forever, trusting that as she proved an amiable and affectionate wife to her John she may prove an affectionate mother to my little Payne, and the sweet Babe with which she is now enceinte. My last prayer is may she educate him in the ways of Honesty, tho’ he may be obliged to beg his Bread, remembering that will be better to him than a name and riches.—I appoint my dear wife executrix of this my will.
John Todd, Jr.

An inventory of the “very small estate” iincluded:

    One large Side Board
    One Settee
    Eleven Mahogany & Pine tables
    Three Looking Glasses
    Thirty-six Mahogany and Windsor chairs
    One Case of knives & forks
    And-Irons, Shovel & Tongs
    Window curtains & Window blinds
    Carpets & Floor Cloaths
    Bed, Bedstead & Bed Cloath
    Sundry Setts of China &c.
    Articles of Glass Ware & Waiters etc.
    Glass lamp, pr Scones & six pictures
    Sundry Articles of Plate & Plated ware—also Sett of Castors
    Sundry Kitchen furniture
    Desk & Book case
    An open stove
    Two Watches
    One fowling piece
    One Horse & Chair

The total value was estimated as ƒ434 5 shillings. With the addition of the house, Dolley was fairly comfortably provided for.

Source credited HERE. The inventory is taken from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dorothy Payne, Quakeress, by Ella Kent Barnard, which can be found online HERE, pages 73-75. The image of the Todd house is at Independence Historical Park, National Park Service. The painting of Dolley Madison by Vanderlyn is at Greensboro Historical Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read the TRANSCRIPT of the Public Television production The American Experience devoted to Dolley Madison.

posted September 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Madison, Dolley,Philadelphia,Quakers,Todd, John

“We yesterday gave eleven pence for two cucumbers”

REBECCA STODDERT wrote again to her niece Eliza on June 7, 1799 about the threat of a yellow fever epidemic and the difficulty of obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables in Philadelphia.

I imagine by the time you receive this you will have heard very exaggerated accounts of the yellow fever, which certainly exists at this time in Philadelphia, but is not so bad, as yet, to give me the least uneasiness. Mr. Stoddert’s office [her husband Benjamin is John Adams’s secretary of the navy] is very near the house we live in, which is at a considerable distance from the part of the city where the fever prevails. The children are taken from school; indeed I believe the schools are very generally broke up till autumn. As soon as it is improper to remain here we will go to Trenton, where Mr. Stoddert has engaged a house, so I think we are safe from this dreadful, melancholy calamity. . . .

I very often put myself in mind of the Prodigal Son, and think how glad I should be of the fruit that is left at our table when the family are done with it. I have had strawberries twice, only, and I think paid half a crown a quart, with the stems on. Raspberries were a quarter of a dollar a quart, and so bad that they made me very sick. As for cherries, I have eaten them once green. It is unlucky that I should want fruit this summer,—for the first time in my life, I believe. However, next summer will make amends for all my wants. We yesterday gave eleven pence for two cucumbers, and till within a few days that has been the price of one only. Cherries are sold by the pound; so are potatoes when they first come. When we bought first, the price was a five-penny bit. What it was when they were first brought to market I cannot say, but probably higher than that. In short, living here is dear beyond anything I could have supposed, and we buy everything we make use of except water. . . .

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, page 812-13. The view of Philadelphia in 1799 showing Christ Church, at which Mrs. Stoddert attended a service mentioned in an earlier post, is a photograph of a color engraving made by William Russell Birch (1755-1834).

posted May 5th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Epidemics,Food,Philadelphia,Stoddert, Benjamin,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes

“I give my Hand … “

Dolley Payne Todd Madison is the topic for the third episode in the C-SPAN series First Ladies which airs today, March 11, at 9pm ET. Dolley Payne, a Quaker, was married to lawyer John Todd, Jr. in 1790. Sadly she lost her husband and baby William in the yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in 1793. Left with a son, John Payne Todd, Dolley, age 26, was courted by James Madison, age 43. Her aunt Catharine T. Coles assured her that Madison

thinks so much of you in the day that he has Lost his Tongue, at Night he Dreames of you & Starts in his Sleep a Calling on you to relieve his Flame for he Burns to such an excess that he will be shortly consumed … he has consented to every thing that I have wrote about him with Sparkling Eyes.

On September 16, 1794, Dolley told her friend Elizabeth Collins Lee in Virginia of her impending marriage.

As a proof my dearest Eliza of that confidence & friendship which has never been interrupted between us I have stolen from the family to commune with you—to tell you in short, that in the cource of this day I give my Hand to the Man who of all other’s I most admire—You will not be at a loss to know who this is as I have been long ago gratify’d In haveing your approbation—In this Union I have everything that is soothing and greatful in prospect—& my little Payne will have a generous & tender protector.
A Settlement of all my real property with a considerable Adition of Money is made upon him with Mr. M—’s approbation. …
But how shall I express the anxiety I feel to see you? That friend whose goodness, at many interresting periods I have greatfully experienced would now rejoice us by the sight of her. …
Adeiu! Adeiu.
Dolley Payne ToddEvening.
Dolley Madisson! Alass!

Quoted material appears on page 190 of In the Words of Women. The portrait is by Gilbert Stuart (1804) and is part of The White House Historical Association (White House Collection).

posted March 11th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Courtship,Death,Epidemics,Marriage

“I fear the Small Pox will Spread universilly … “

Some parents today do not want their children to receive certain vaccinations fearing they may cause conditions like autism. In eighteenth-century America there was controversy over smallpox inoculations. It’s true that there were at times debilitating effects. Abigail Adams explained the lapse in correspondence with her friend Mercy Otis Warren in 1777: “My eyes ever since the smallpox have been great sufferers. Writing puts them to great pain.” Warren replied that she too had problems: “weakness … feebleness of my limbs, and pains … sufficient to damp the vigor of thought and check … literary employments.”

Attitudes toward inoculation were mixed: some religious leaders considered it “a distrust of God’s overruling care;” some communities supported it, others passed laws against it. Mary Bartlett reported to her husband (a doctor who was in Philadelphia having just signed the Declaration of Independence) that hospitals were being set up in New Hampshire to inoculate people.

Kingstown July 13th 1776P. S. I fear the Small Pox will Spread universilly as boston is Shut up with it & People flocking in for innoculation; the Select men of portsmouth have Petitiond to the Committy of Safty now Setting in Exeter; for leave to fix an innoculating hospital in their metropolis for the Small Pox and liberty is accordingly granted and the inhabitance of Exeter intend to Petition for the Same libirty.

Mary Silliman described to her parents how her husband dealt with people intent upon preventing inoculation.

[Fairfield, Connecticut] April 11, 1777You know Mr. [Gold Selleck] Silliman is state attorney … he has frequently pressing desires sent him from the neighbouring Towns that he should do something about stoping Inoculation. Then he has to send Guards to collect the infected to one place and order to let none come in or go out with out liberty. But at Stratford they have been so unruly and dispers’d the Guard, he has been oblig’d at the desire of about 80 respectable inhabitants to issue out positive orders to desist and as the civil law could have no affect they should be punnish’d by Martial. This has had its desired effect. None that we know of has transgress’d since.

As the War shifted to the South, British promises of freedom attracted thousands of runaway slaves, both male and female, who performed many useful services. This population, however, soon became a liability to the British because of their susceptibility to smallpox. Thousands contracted the disease and were cruelly quarantined and left to die. Thomas Jefferson believed that of the 30,000 Virginia slaves that had joined the British “about 27,000 died of the small pox and camp fever.”

For comments and letters by women, see In the Words of Women, pages 177 and 179. The religious objection to inoculation and Jefferson’s estimate can be found on pages 36 and 133 respectively in Pox Americana, the Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A Fenn (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), an excellent book on the subject.

posted January 24th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Epidemics,Inoculation,Slaves/slavery

My face is finely ornamented

Childhood diseases like mumps, measles, and whooping cough were serious but commonplace during the eighteenth century. Epidemics, occurring seemingly at random, were much more alarming. One of the most feared diseases was smallpox because of its relatively high mortality rate and the severe scarring that marked survivors. This acute contagious disease was especially devastating in America because its inhabitants were less likely to be immune to it than Europeans who had been exposed to it. Even with the isolation of individuals and the quarantine of ships, smallpox flared up every few years, especially in urban areas. Native Americans were particularly vulnerable. It has been claimed that the British, aware of the contagious nature of the disease, deliberately tried to infect the Indian population by distributing blankets which had been used by smallpox victims.

A method of protection against the disease called inoculation had been developed in the eighteenth century. It involved deliberately inducing a mild case of smallpox in a person, thereby conferring immunity against re-infection. In spite of its success, there was concern about its safety; indeed it was banned in some states and communities. Early on, George Washington had decided against inoculating his troops, but when large numbers of soldiers came down with the disease, he changed his mind and required new recruits who had not had the disease to be inoculated.

Lucy Flucker Knox, wife of General Henry Knox. decided that she and their daughter Lucy would be inoculated. From Brookline, Massachusetts, she wrote on April 31, 1777:

Join with me my love in humble gratitude to him who hath preserved your Lucy and her sweet baby; and thus far carried them thro the small pox—no persons was ever more highly favored than I have been since it came out—but before for three days I suffered exceedingly—I have more than two hundred of them twenty in my face which is four times as many as you bid me have but believe some of them will leave a mark—Lucy has but one—and has not had an ill hour with it—both hers and mine have turned and are drying away. …

I have no glass but from the feel of my face I am almost glad you do not see it. I don’t believe I should yet get one kiss and yet the Dr. tells me it is very becoming.

Eliza Yonge Wilkinson of Mount Royal, Yonge’s Island, South Carolina, was thankful that she was not too badly scarred by smallpox. She wrote on May 19, 1781:

I have just got the better of the small-pox, thanks be to God for the same. My face is finely ornamented, and my nose honored with thirteen spots. I must add, that I am pleased they will not pit, for as much as I revere the number*, I would not choose to have so conspicuous a mark. I intend, in a few days, to introduce my spotted face in Charlestown.
* Wilkinson is, of course, referring to the thirteen states.

Smallpox has been eradicated through the process of compulsory vaccination. The last case of the disease occurred in the world in 1978. The United States stopped vaccinating the general population in 1972, but continued to vaccinate military personnel until it was officially stopped in 1990.

The letters appear on page 177 of In the Words of Women. The image is from the World Health Organization and can be found HERE.

posted January 21st, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Health,Inoculation,Knox, Lucy Flucker,Medicine

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