Archive for the ‘Epidemics’ Category

“whole families dying, and no one to nurse the last”

Following on yesterday’s post, the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia (1793) was cause for concern in other parts of the country. Isabella Graham, writing from New York, gave a heartrending description of the situation in that stricken city to a friend.

A pestilential fever made its appearance in Philadelphia about two months ago. Between the 19th of August and the 5th of October, four thousand and sixty-four of its citizens died, besides many who quitted the city with infection on them, and died elsewhere. By yesterday’s accounts matters are no better: several of the physicians have been carried off by it, and some of them have fled. Doctor [Benjamin] Rush’s praise is in every mouth; he is still in the city, exerting himself to the utmost, and his prescriptions are universally followed. No neighbouring town will suffer any person to enter their gates till they have been fourteen days out of the city. The stages have been stopped, and even the horses shot, in some cases, where they have been bribed to force their way through. The most dismal stories have been related of whole families dying, and no one to nurse the last. It is not uncommon for people to be well, and in their graves in twelve hours. No friends attend the funerals; most of them are buried in the night, and every precaution taken to conceal the real amount of evil.

It appears that one attempt to prevent the spread of the disease was the imposition of a quarantine.

The excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 6, page 180.

posted May 10th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,Epidemics,Graham, Isabella,Health,Medicine,Philadelphia

“over 300 children lost father and mother”

Epidemics in the eighteenth century were regarded with apprehension and terror, understandable because there was little knowledge of their causes or treatment. In 1793, Philadelphia, the largest city in the nation, was in the grip of a yellow fever epidemic. The summer had been hot and dry, and there had been an influx of refugees from a revolution in the French colony of Sant Domingue (now Haiti), many of whom were already infected. Mosquitoes, which bred in stagnant pools of water, spread the disease. Christina Young Leech of Kingsessing, Pennsylvania, noted in her diary the effect of the epidemic on her family and on the city.

September 9th. My eldest son, William Leech, died at 7 o’clock in the morning of yellow fever, at the age of 37 years and two months, after a sickness of five days. Many people in the town died of this disease. …

There died in the town of Philadelphia, between the 1st of August, and November 9, 4031 people of yellow fever or pestilential fever; it bears a great resemblance to that dreadful disease, the plague. 17,000 inhabitants moved out of the City, and at Bush Hill was the Hospital; over 300 children lost father and mother, and were placed in one house to be cared for.

Modern scholars reckon the loss of life was closer to 5,000 people, a tenth of the city’s population of 50,000. The noted physician Dr. Benjamin Rush treated those stricken by bleeding and purges (induced vomiting and diarrhea), attempts to flush the disease out of the body. It was not discovered that yellow fever was spread by infected mosquitoes until 1881.

The excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 6, page 180. The image is from the Centers for Disease Control, James Gathany.

posted May 7th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,Epidemics,Health,Leech, Christina Young,Medicine

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