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Yellow Fever 1793
Transcript of Yellow Fever 1793
Did this Epidemic really happen?
Battle of the Doctors
Yellow Fever Today
The yellow fever outbreak that struck in Philadelphia in 1793 was one of the wost epidemics in United States history.
In three months it killed nearly five thousand people, 10 percent of the city's population.
Thousands of people tried to escape the disease including George Washington.
Mayor Matthew Clarkston was one on few high ranking government officials courageous enough to stay.
Medicine in the late 1700s was crude. The stethoscope had not yet been invented, nor had the thermometer.
People did not understand how disease was spread.
At the beginning of the epidemic, about eighty people practiced medicine in Philadelphia.
The doctors were divided into TWO CAMPS: Followers of Dr. Benjamin Rush and followers of French physicians like Dr. Jean Deveeze.
Dr. Rush gave patients mercury, calomel , and jalap (to make patients throw-up and have diarrhea). He also drained blood from them (a common practice to rid the "pestilence" from their bodies). Medical experts speculate that Rush's treatment killed many of patients.
Dr. Deveeze (and other French doctors) prescribed rest, fresh air, and lots of fluids. That was the best way to treat the disease. It still is.
Philadelphians were desperate for anything to prevent or cure Yellow Fever.
They soaked sponges in vinegar, then stuck them up their noses.
They washed their hair and clothes in vinegar.
They even drank vinegar.
Cannons and guns were fired on the streets in the hopes that the gun powder would clean the air.
People wore nasty-smelling bags of camphor (waxy and white solid) around their necks.
People chewed garlic, and drank vile potions of herbs.
People buried their beds underground, then dug them up in an effort to kill whatever was causing the disease.
Nothing worked. People kept getting sick until the frost killed of the mosquitoes that spread Yellow Fever.
Yellow fever still exists, but not in the United States.
In 1902, Dr. Walter Reed discovered that the female mosquito spreads the disease.
In the 1930s a vaccine was developed, but yellow fever still kills thousands of people each year in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South America.
Where are they buried?
Some fever victims were buried in the churchyards and cemeteries throughout the city, but many lie anonymously in what today is known as Washington Square (the old potter's field).
The Amazing Peale Family
There really was a Peale family, though they did not have an apprentice named Nathaniel Benson.
The Peales were sometimes referred to as "The First Family of American Art".
Charles Wilson Peale was one of the finest portrait painters in the United States.
Peale fathered seventeen children and named many of them after famous artists.
Peale's second son, Rembrandt Peale, was a noted artist who painted his first portrait of George Washington when he was just seventeen.
Free African Society
The Free African Society was founded in 1787 by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones.
Richard Allen was born a slave in Philadelphia in 1760. He bought his freedom and went on to help the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became its first bishop.
Absalom Jones, born a slave in 1784, was the first African-American to be ordained an Episcopal priest.
Allen and Jones founded the society as a mutual aid organization devoted to helping widowed, ill, or out of work African-Americans.
The society was also dedicated to abolishing the evil institute of slavery.
Allen and Jones worked tirelessly to aid those who were infected with Yellow Fever.
Coffeehouses were all the rage in the 1790s (WOW- that's way before Starbucks!)
People gathered there to conduct business, talk politics, and catch up on the news of the day.
Owning and operating a Coffeehouse was considered a "respectable business" for a widow.
The most famous coffeehouse in Philly was called The London Coffee House. It was opened in 1754 by William Bradford.
Famous People touched by the Fever
Dolly Payne Todd Madison:
Dolly's first husband, John, died during the epidemic in 1793, along with the couple's young son and John's parents.
Dolly eventually become the First Lady of the United States when she married James Madison (America's fourth president).
She is famous for organizing the First Easter Egg roll on the Capitol grounds and for saving the famous life-size portrait of George Washington when British soldiers burned down the White House in 1814.
was in his second term in office when the epidemic hit Philadelphia, then the Nation's capital.
He left the city on September 10th. He did not want his family to be around the city with riddled with Yellow Fever.
He died, of a throat infection, on December 14th, 1799
More people touched by the Fever
Dr. Benjamin Rush
: Although Dr. Rush's practices were dangerous and useless, he was in demand during the fever outbreak.
At the height of the epidemic, he was seeing 120 per day.
He contracted the disease, but survived.
He fought against slavery and capital punishment.
He argued for public schools, the education of girls, and compassionate treatment of the mentally ill.
To Market, To Market
There were no refrigerators in 1793, no freezers, no twenty-four-hour grocery stores, and no canned hams.
Most city dwellers bought their food from at the marketplace.
Farmers from the countryside would pack their wagons with eggs, cheese, milk, meat, and bread and drive before sunup to Philadelphia.
With the government shut down, the farmers were scared to come into the city, getting enough food to eat during the epidemic was a problem.
All over the East Coast other communities imposed quarantines on people from Philadelphia- that meant that Philadelphians were NOT allowed to come into their towns, not even to buy food.
There are no records indicating that people actually "starved to death" during the epidemic, but people, especially the poor, were hungry.
Some neighboring towns donated food, firewood, and cash to help out.
The Miraculous Moving Capital
Washington DC was NOT the first capital of the United States. In fact, the capital moved all over the place before settling down on the banks of the Potomac River in 1800.
The Continental Congress met for the first time in Philadelphia in 1774. Philly was the largest city in the colonies and it was centrally located.
Philadelphia remained the base of the government for years, but the Revolutionary leaders were occasionally chased out by British soldiers.
The Congress then moved to Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland; Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; and Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey. (While on the run the Congress met in courthouses, taverns, and private homes).
After the peace treaty was signed with the British, the new American government set up in New York City - George Washington's first inauguration took place on April 30, 1789.
After many fierce debates, the capital was moved to a more "centrally located place" - it was a geographic compromise between the North and the South. Congress decided to "carve out" a piece of Maryland and Virginia and a create a Federal District- The District of Columbia.
Fear and Panic
At the beginning of the epidemic most people remained calm.
There had been "fevers" in the city before, and few thought it was anything to worry about.
As the death tolled rose, panic took over.
The fever closed businesses and the government.
All anyone could talk about was "Who is dead?" "Who is sick?"
Men pushed around handcarts carrying corpses to the burial grounds and called out, "Bring out your dead?" just as they during the Bubonic Plague in England.
There were many reports of sick people being abandoned by their families, some thrown into the streets to die.
Kindness seemed to evaporate.
In a few short weeks the city was transformed into a living nightmare, with the sick dying, the healthy paralyzed with fear, and the doctors helpless.
The brave people who stayed in the city and the volunteers of the Free African Society are the TRUE heroes in this story.