An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy1793, Philadelphia. The nations capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown . . .
Jim Murphy describes the illness known as yellow fever and the toll it took on the citys residents, relating the epidemic to the major social and political events of the day and to 18th-century medical beliefs and practices. Drawing on first-hand accounts, Murphy spotlights the heroic role of Philadelphias free blacks in combating the disease, and the Constitutional crisis that President Washington faced when he was forced to leave the city--and all his papers--while escaping the deadly contagion. The search for the fevers causes and cure, not found for more than a century afterward, provides a suspenseful counterpoint to this riveting true story of a city under siege.
1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic
The death toll from a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia hits on this day in By the time it ended, 5, people were dead. Yellow fever, or American plague as it was known at the time, is a viral disease that begins with fever and muscle pain. Some of the afflicted then suffer even worse symptoms. Many victims become delirious before dying. The first yellow fever outbreaks in the United States occurred in late s. Nearly years later, in the late summer of , refugees from a yellow fever epidemic in the Caribbean fled to Philadelphia.
Few disease outbreaks in the history of early America proved as tragic as the Philadelphia Yellow Fever epidemic of summer, , and fewer still have lingered longer in historical memory. A bustling center of international trade and commerce that welcomed people, goods, and pathogens from around the world, Philadelphians were well-acquainted with infectious disease prior to the outbreak. The city had even known sporadic Yellow Fever outbreaks at various points throughout the eighteenth century. But that feared disease returned to Philadelphia with a vengeance in summer, , via West Indian trading vessels carrying French refugees fleeing the island of Santo Domingo in light of long-standing civil unrest and slave rebellion. Over two thousand refugees flooded into Philadelphia, some of whom had succumbed to Yellow Fever at sea.
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The summer was the hottest in years. The humidity was hardly bearable. The muddy swamps of Philadelphia spawned round after round of mosquitoes which relentlessly assaulted their human blood meals. An eerie chill bestowed the empty streets of Philadelphia as the only sound heard is of the carriages making their rounds to pick up the dead. However, twenty thousand people, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and much of the federal government had fled the city to escape the fever thereby making proportion of deaths among those who remained quite high. What could cause such a devastating epidemic to occur on Pennsylvania soil?
During the Yellow Fever Epidemic of in Philadelphia , 5, or more people were listed in the official register of deaths between August 1 and November 9. The vast majority of them died of yellow fever , making the epidemic in the city of 50, people one of the most severe in United States history. By the end of September, 20, people had fled the city. The mortality rate peaked in October, before frost finally killed the mosquitoes and brought an end to the epidemic in November. Doctors tried a variety of treatments, but knew neither the origin of the fever nor that it was transmitted by mosquitoes which was not verified until the late nineteenth century.