History of the pestilence, commonly called yellow fever, which almost desolated Philadelphia, in the months of August, September & October, 1798.
Condie, Thomas, 1775?-1814., Folwell, Richard, 1768?-1814., Rittenhouse, David, 1732-1796.
Page  27


First appearance of the Disease—General alarm—Flight of the inhabitants, &c.

WE now proceed to the task of recording the rise, progress and attendant circumstances of the late Yellow Fever, the most tremendous scourge, perhaps, ever experi|enced in the United States.

Its origin is still as much a subject of controversy as in 1793. Those who support the idea of its domestic growth, insist much on the long duration of moist, sultry weather, the filth and stagnant water collected in our streets, inat|tention of scavengers, foul air discharged from the holds of vessels, with their cargoes, ballast, &c. The disciples of this system are, the Academy of Medicine and their ad|herents. The arguments brought forward in support of the above doctrine, are strongly opposed by the College of Physicians, and their adherents. They insist that it has been, most unequivocally, imported; that the weather has not been more sultry this season than in many other years, in which not even a sporadic case of the disorder was met with; that the police of our streets is vastly better than formerly, especially during the period that the British troops were here, and im|mediately subsequent to their abandonment of the city. With respect to the construction of a city, very few are equal, hardly any superior, to Philadelphia; the ventilation of which, is completely secured, let the wind blow in what|ever direction it may, by its streets intersecting each other at right angles.

Independent of these general arguments, it is contended, that the disease can be as satisfactorily traced to the vessel or vessels that introduced it, as the nature of the case will admit. For, it has been observed, that it is one of those cases, which will hardly admit of positive or judicial proof.

The examination of the nature and origin of the disease, we shall treat, at large, in another part of this work; and, at Page  28 present, confine our inquiry only to the narration of those circumstances which occurred, and excited general alarm in the city during the period of its prevalence; but, it is necessary to remark, that a difference of opinion also exists respecting the nature of the yellow fever: Those in fa|vour of its importation, assert that it is a distinct and spe|cific disease, of itself, and highly contagious. Those in favor of its domestic origin, affirm, that it is only a higher grade of the common bilious fever of this country, and that it is sel|dom or never contagious.

Some cases of highly bilious fever occurred so early as the month of June; and, perhaps, some even of yellow fever may have occurred during the months of June and July. The Academy of Medicine, in a letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania, dated December 3, 1798, mention eight ca|ses of the fever, which occurred between June 2d and July 12th; but, it does not appear, that the disease was commu|nicated by infection from any of the cases they mention; nor was any alarm excited till after that period.

Many of the inhabitants suspected, that, in certain places, the poison might remain during the winter, in the houses, beds and apparel of those who died with, or who had, the fever the preceding year, and that the heat of the sun might again bring it into action this summer, perhaps from a sus|picion, founded upon a reference to the transient recurrence of a few cases of the yellow fever, in the fall which succee|ded 1793. Upon which account, it was natural to expect, that the inhabitants would be upon their guard, and use every means in their power to prevent the return of so dreadful a calamity; and, if it should be found impossible to prevent it, that they would, upon its first appearance, sound the alarm.

The legislature of Pennsylvania, having found, by experience, that the existing "laws, for preventing the importation of infectious or contagious diseases into the port of Philadel|phia, and the Health-Office system thereby established, were defective and inadequate," in April, 1798, passed "an Act to alter and amend the same, and to extend the powers of the Board of Health." Agreeable to the tenor of this law, a Board of Health was instituted. They entered upon the important and arduous duties of their office in the be|ginning of May last; and, although they were convin|ced that the new one was still defective, and inade|quate to the purposes contemplated by its framers, they Page  29 were determined to make up for its deficiency, if possible, by their own vigilance.

On the 1st of May, the following extract from An act to alter and amend the health laws of Pennsylvania, passed the 4th of April, was published by order of the Board of Health, viz. "Sec. 8. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that every house-keeper within the city of Phila|delphia, the townships of the Northern Liberties and Moya|mensing, and district of Southwark, within one mile of the limits of the city, taking in boarders, arriving by sea or by land, from any foreign port or place, and having any board|er in his or her family, who shall be taken sick of any disease whatsoever, between the first day of May and the first day of November, in any year, within twenty days next after such boarder shall come to lodge in his or her house, shall, within twenty-four hours next after the knowledge of such sickness, make report at the Health-Office of the name of such sick person, the time of his or her arrival at the house, and of his or her being taken sick, and of the name and place of abode of such housekeeper; whereupon the Physician of the Health-Office shall forthwith visit the patient, and report to the Office his opinion of the nature of such disease, that mea|sures may be taken to prevent the spreading of infection; and if any house-keeper shall neglect to give information in the manner and within the time aforesaid, and shall be there|of convicted, in any court of criminal jurisdiction within this commonwealth, upon indictment or confession, he or she shall forfeit and pay a fine to the use of the said hospital, not less than twenty dollars, nor more than one hundred dol|lars, to be imposed at the discretion of the court, according to the circumstances of greater or less aggravation attending each particular case."

The 5th section of the same law enacted, "That all vessels arriving at the port of Philadelphia, during the months of May, June, July, August, September, October and November, from any port in the Mediterranean, or wa|ters connected therewith to the eastward of the Straits of Gibraltar, or from the coast of Africa without the Straits, other than the Cape of Good Hope, and from the main land of North or South-America, or the West-India Islands, be|tween the latitude of the river St. Mary in Georgia, and the beginning of the latitude of thirty degrees south of the equa|tor, shall be subjected to ride quarantine before the Marine Hospital on State-Island (about five miles below the city) Page  30 for a term not exceeding ten, nor more than twenty days." In consequence of which, it was the uniform practice of the Board of Managers to subject all unsuspected vessels to a qua|rantine of ten days only.

At a meeting of the Board, on the 28th of the same month, it was represented that the health laws had been frequently violated and evaded, by persons landing from vessels under quarantine, and that the resident physician and other officers of the institution, had been obstructed and grossly insulted in the legal exercise of their duties, in open and avowed contempt of the laws, and to the great danger of the health of the city. The board, therefore, "resolved, "That the resident physician, or health-officer of the marine hospital, inform all persons under quarantine, that the 2d Section of the act to alter and amend the health laws, pas|sed April 4th, 1798, will be strictly enforced, and that no person under quarantine be permitted to land, except in ease of imminent distress, or absolute necessity, agreeably to the said Section." This resolution, together with the sec|tion alluded to, was published for the benefit of all concer|ned. The following is a copy, viz.

"Sec. 2. And be it further enacted by the authority afore|said, That every ship or vessel, coming from any foreign port or place, bound to the port of Philadelphia, between the last day of April and the first day of December, in every year, shall come to anchor in the river Delaware, as near to the Marine Hospital as her draft of water and the state of the tide and weather will reasonably admit, before any part of the cargo or baggage be landed, or any person who came in such ship or vessel, shall leave her; and shall submit to the examinations, and obtain the certificate hereafter specified: And if any master, commander, or pilot, shall leave his sta|tion before the said hospital, or if any master or commander shall permit or suffer any part of the cargo or baggage, or any person or persons arriving in such ship or vessel, from any port beyond the limits of the United States, to be landed on either shore of Delaware Bay or river, before such examina|tion be duly had, and certificate obtained, the person or per|sons so permitting, and the person or persons so landing, ex|cept in case of imminent distress, or absolute necessity, be|ing thereof convicted upon indictment, under this act, by verdict, confession, or standing mute, in any court having criminal jurisdiction within this commonwealth, shall be sen|tenced to, and suffer confinement in the gaol of the county Page  31 of Philadelphia, for any space not less than one, nor more than three years."

The board, likewise, directed the Health-Officer residing at the Marine Hospital, to visit every vessel, riding quaran|tine, at least once every twenty-four hours, at irregular times, to call the roll of the crew and passengers, and to satisfy him|self that they were all on board; and, if any others should be found on board, to subject them to remain until the termi|nation of the period of the vessel's quarantine. But, not|withstanding these precautions, on the 12th of June, the Board received information that two persons had been on board one of the vessel's then under quarantine; which per|sons were accordingly prosecuted. The law was also evaded by a mode still more dangerous to the health of the city and its neighbourhood: both persons and goods were landed in the state of Delaware, previous to the vessel's reaching State-Island; which persons, together with their goods, proceeded to the city. Information of this nature was communicated to the Board on the 16th of July; and, on the same day, re|presentations of another nature, drew, from the Health-Of|fice, the following advertisement: "Whereas, representations have been made to the Managers of the Marine and City-Hospitals, that frequent communication is had between ci|tizens of Philadelphia and elsewhere, and persons on board of vessels under quarantine, by means of boats going along side, to the great danger of the health of the city: There|fore, resolved, that every vessel with which such communica|tion has been permitted, shall perform an additional quaran|tine of five days."

There is great reason for supposing that communica|tions between the city and the vessels under quarantine were carried on to a very great extent. It is said, that persons from these vessels frequently came to the city in the night, and returned again next morning. We are more particular in mentioning these circumstances; for, it is possible that some of the earlier cases of the fever were thus introduced.

About the end of June, a very great influx of foreigners from the West-Indies took place, which created the alarm of government, from a representation, that their views were hos|tile to the peace of our country; but this proved to be pre|mature. It was caused by the evacuation of Port-au-Prince by the British troops. Eight vessels arrived at the port of Philadelphia on the 5th of July, from the ports of Cape-Nichola-Mole, Jeremic and Port-au-Prince, bringing two Page  32 hundred and twenty-seven passengers, and one hundred and sixteen seamen. The sudden death of the Marquis de Rouvray, shortly after his arrival in one of these vessels, gave ground for suspicion, that the seeds of the disease might have been thus early imported.

The period of quarantine, prescribed by law, was general|ly supposed to be insufficient. The Board of Health, in or|der to obviate bad consequences from this defect, on the 2d July, procured six of Wynkoop's ventilators; the use of which had been strenuously recommended, in 1797, to the gover|nor and legislature of Pennsylvania, by the Academy of Me|dicine, as being admirably adapted for expelling the foul air from the holds of vessels, and preserving the cargo and tim|bers from putrefaction. These ventilators, the Board direc|ted the resident physician to use in all vessels that he suspec|ted might require them.

While the Board of Health were thus employing every means, which they could devise, to prevent a return of the fever by importation, the select and common councils, and many other citizens, were equally vigilant, both by private example and public authority, to guard against its domes|tic generation. The streets and alleys were kept clean; the police-officers were enjoined to be vigilant in their duty, and the inhabitants cheerfully gave them aid. The following paragraphs, from the newspapers, will convey a more perfect idea how far these precautions were respected, viz.

From the Philadelphia Gazette.

The present very warm weather, naturally reminds many citizens of the watering carts, which are deposited in the large wooden-building at the corner of Walnut and Sixth-streets.

There can be no season of the year in which they might be used to greater advantage; and it is the earnest wish, I be|lieve, of all Philadelphia, that they were immediately ap|plied to the purposes for which they were made. As to dif|ficulties, expense, &c. surely these are no objects in a city, which has too often experienced the fatal effects of dry, hea|ted air.

As the great danger is from a collection of dirt, and con|sequent putrefaction in our gutters, I would further propose, that the persons appointed to clean the streets, instead of sweeping off the loose, dry dirt, which had much better be left where it is, should be employed in pumping the water Page  33 into the gutters, and giving them, at least, a daily cleansing. Besides the public pumps, there are a great number of pri|vate ones, whose owners would be glad to have them used in this manner, not only for the general good, but for their own sakes; as it is well known nothing contributes more to mending the water, than frequent pumping.

July 2.


Advice to the inhabitants of Philadelphia and other cities in the United States.

The summer season is the season of fevers, and of those inflammatory diseases which attack man. It is principally large cities that are subject to these misfortunes.

The effervescence of the bile is one of the most com|mon causes of those diseases in the warm weather. I think it will be rendering humanity service to point out some means of preservation against the destroying pestilence.

One of the general causes of epidemical diseases, is the noxious quality of air, which becomes vitiated by a variety of circumstances to which the magistrates should pay the closest attention:

1. The streets often strewed, for days together, with the putrefying carcases of dead animals, should be cleansed.—These streets should be daily watered, and the gutters swept.

2. A watchful superintendance should take place over several kinds of manufacturies, particularly breweries, sugar|houses, and others liable to have heaps of fermenting mate|rials.

3. A severe penalty should be inflicted on keeping pu|trid substances in the city.

I will mention an instance: A few days ago, several bar|rels of putrid beef were buried a very few inches under ground, and on the outskirts of the city. Putrid substances should be thrown into the river, at a considerable distance below the city.

It would also be very adviseable to bury the dead, at least during the hot weather, at a distance from the city, and a considerable depth.

A stop put to the abuses I have been speaking of, would certainly contribute to the preservation of the cities of the United States from that dreadful disease, known by the name of the yellow fever.

As a preservation for individuals, I would recommend the use of acids and vomits to those who have the stomach Page  34 loaded with bile. The disuse of animal food, and of spiri|tuous liquors, a vegetable and plain diet; in a word, what|ever can cool down the heat of the blood and the efferves|cence of the bile, are recommended.

July 5.


In the Select and Common Councils,July 19, 1798:

Resolved, That the city commissioners be enjoined and required forthwith to employ a sufficient number of suitable persons, and to cause them, at least three times in every week, during the present and the two suc|ceeding months, to cleanse and wash the gutters of the streets, lanes and alleys, within the paved parts of the city; and that they be strictly enjoined to a most vigilant and scrupulous attention in keeping the streets, lanes, alleys and gutters of the city constantly free and clear of all noxious matter and filth of every kind.

From Porcupine's Gazette.

It gave me pleasure in observing in this morning's paper that the Select and Common Councils had enjoined and re|quired the city commissioners to have the streets, lanes, al|leys and gutters kept free and clear of all noxious matter and filth; but I am sorry they did not see the necessity of paying some attention to the different docks, and having them clea|ned and kept so; as I am of opinion there is as much danger to be apprehended to the health of the city from the putrid filth and noxious matter that lays, for several hours in the day, exposed to the sun, in many of the docks, and particu|larly at Market-street, as from any other source. If the com|missioners were to give themselves the trouble of examining the docks at low water, I am persuaded they would see the necessity of having them cleared, without a request from the councils to do what is their duty, as I am informed the power already lays with them.

August 1st, 1798.


In consequence of the extraordinary vigilance of the city commissioners, in junction with the inhabitants, the streets, lanes and alleys, within the city, were never known, in any former period, to be kept cleaner, or in better order. The board of health, the resident and consulting physicians of the port, and the other physicians of the city, were equally watch|ful and vigilant in their departments.

Page  35 On the 2d July, Drs. Wistar and Duffield communicated to the board of health, the death of Mr. Mark Miller (one of the eight cases formerly mentioned,) with the yellow fever, at the house of Mr. Mark Reeve, merchant, Callowhill-street, between Front and Second-streets; whereupon, the board ordered the house in which he died to be clean|sed and white-washed; his bedding and apparel to be taken to the city-hospital, and buried, for purification; and that Mr. Reeve's family, and those who attended Mr. Miller, be recommended to remove from the city. All this was punctually complied with, and no person was afterwards known to have taken the fever from Mr. Miller. There was not a doubt, among the physicians, respecting the nature of the disease of which Mr. Miller died. Drs. Hodge and Wistar, who attended him, de|clared it to have been a true case of yellow fever: the black vomit, one of its most sure and violent characteris|tics, appeared previous to death. This being one of the earliest cases which created alarm, or apprehension in the city, this summer, we shall be particular to ascertain the precise circumstances of the case. Dr. Currie, in his Me|moirs of the Yellow Fever of 1798, states the particulars thus: "June 27th, cool, thermometer only 76° at two P. M. Mark Miller died to-day under the care of Drs. Wis|tar and Hodge, with symptoms of the yellow fever, at Mrs. Reeves's, in Callowhill-street. He had been much fatigued and debilitated, from loading a vessel at Almond-street wharf, a mile from his lodgings, in the heat of the day, to which he had walked daily for sometime. He had, also, according to the account of Mrs. Reeves, slept on the bed in which her son had died of the fever the preceding autumn." By com|paring Dr. Currie's statement with our narration, it will appear evident, that he has been misinformed respecting some of the particulars of this case. Mr. Reeve informs us, that last fall, after the fever had so far subsided, that the citi|zens were returning to the city, a boy in his employ was ta|ken ill with what was supposed to be the yellow fever. He had a mild attack, and recovered. During his illness, a thick bed-quilt was constantly kept between the bed-linen and the bed, and that, after his recovery, the bed was, according to advice of the physician, laid in an open field amongst the grass, and there suffered to remain for a week or ten days ex|posed to the cold air and white frost. The bed was afterwards brought home, and, from that period, was in constant use in Page  36 the family. Mr. Miller slept upon it for many months pre|vious to his death. On the night of June 5th, Mr. Miller sat up to watch the corpse of Benjamin Jones, taylor, in Fromberger's court. Mr. Jones had been but six or seven weeks resident in Philadelphia. About seven or eight months previous, he had been bit by a dog supposed to be mad. He was delirious and attempted to bite his attendants. These cir|cumstances produced suspicion that he had the hydrophobia; but his physician, Dr. Physick, who opened his body after death, asserted it to be the yellow fever. Mr. Miller was taken sick on the night of June 20, some days previous to which, he had fatigued himself in shipping some goods at Almond-street wharf, upwards of a mile from his lodgings: to which he walked daily. Whether he caught the infection from Benjamin Jones, whose body had been opened, or from any remaining contagion in the bed, or any other local cause, it will be difficult to determine; the probability is, that he had imbibed the infection from one or the other of these first|mentioned causes, and that it was excited into action by over|fatiguing himself in the heat of the day.

It is said that two other persons, who were taken sick af|ter they went to the country, suppose that they caught the infection from the above-mentioned Mr. Jones. They were attended in the country by Dr. Isaac Huddleston, of Norris|town. They, however, recovered.

On the evening of the 8th July, the armed ship Deborah, captain Edward Yard, arrived at the fort from Jeremie. By the following answers to the official questions, prescribed by law, it appears that she buried eight persons during her stay there and passage home, and that the harbour of Jeremie was sickly.

Q. 1. What is the name of this vessel?

A. Ship Deborah.

Q. 2. What is the name of the captain?

A. Edward Yard.

Q. 3. Where does your vessel belong to?

A. Philadelphia.

Q. 4. How many men belong to this vessel?

A. Thirty-seven.

Q. 5. How many passengers have you brought with you? Are they now all on board? And if not, where were they landed?

A. Fifty-eight, on board, landed none.

Q. 6. When did the vessel enter on her voyage?

A. February 7th.

Page  37 Q. 7. At what port have you taken in the cargo, which you have now on board? And when did you sail from the same?

A. Port-au-Prince and Jeremie; left Jeremie 24th of June.

Q. 8. What does your present cargo consist of?

A. Sugar, coffee and cocoa.

Q. 9. What ports or places have you touched at since you have taken your last cargo? And when did you leave them?

A. None.

Q. 10. Have you touched at any sickly ports, places or islands, during your voyage?

A. None.

Q. 11. How were the inhabitants and the people belong|ing to the shipping of the port you have left or touched at, during your voyage? Were they healthy, or not?

A. Healthy on shore, but sickly in the harbour.

Q. 12. Have you brought with you all the crew, which you have taken out? If not, what has become of them?

A. Brought all the crew back but 13, Eight left me.

Q. 13. Have you lost any persons by diseases during your voyage? If so, when, in what place, and what was his or their complaint?

A. Lost 5 with the dysentery: the first at Jeremie and the last 24th June, seamen and three passengers.

Q. 14. Have you any wearing apparel or bedding belong|ing to deceased persons on board?

A. Part of the wearing apparel of the above-mentioned 5 persons, the rest was sunk at sea.

Q. 15. What vessels have you met at sea, during your last passage? What port were they from? Have you sent your boat on board of them, or did they send their boats on board of your vessel? Had they any sick on board?

A. Boarded the sloop Friendship: all well.

Q. 16. Yourself, your people and passengers, are they all now in good health?

A. All well on board, but one Negro woman, with a fe|ver and lax.


July 8th, 1798, 6 o'clock, P. M.

SWORN. James Hall, Residt. Phyn. Port. Two ventilators were used on board the ship Deborah for 〈◊〉 days.


Mr. William Allen, Health-Officer, No. 32, Walnut-street.

Page  38 While the ship Deborah rode quarantine, the following sick persons were landed from her at the Marine Hospital, viz.

  • A French black girl, admitted July 8th, died July 14.
  • John Lincoln, a seaman, admitted July 9th, died Aug. 2.
  • Robert Stone, do. admitted July 9th, discharged July 12.
  • Wm. Wallworth, do. admitted July 10th, do. July 19.
  • Jonathan Farnham, do. admitted July 11, do. July 20.
  • Robert Price, do. admitted July 11th, do. July 12.

On the 16th of July, the Board of Health directed the resident and consulting physicians, to examine the ship De|borah, and report to them their opinion respecting her con|dition previous to the expiration of her quarantine, and to cause the bedding and apparel of those who had died, to be landed at the marine hospital for purification; accordingly, on the 17th of the same month, Dr. Samuel Duffield, the consulting physician, and Dr. James Hall, the resident physi|cian, reported, that they had visited and carefully examined the state of the ship Deborah, captain Yard, from Jeremie; and had found the same remarkably clean, and the people on board, in perfect health: Captain Yard informed them, that he lost three of his people in Hispaniola, and two on his pas|sage home; the last on the 24th of June, besides three pas|sengers; one was a lady just from Europe: she died on the 2d of July, of a fever, which terminated in constant purging, but without vomiting, or any uncommon yellowness of the skin. A white child died on the 26th of June, and a Negro child died on the 7th of July. The latter supposed to be occasioned by a wound which it had received on the head, by running against one of the pikes. That the captain was of opinion, that all his people who died, brought on their dis|eases by intemperance, and by exposing themselves, when in that state, to the rain and night air. That he further declar|ed to them, that none of the people who died, either of his crew or the passengers, had any thing like black vomiting, extraordinary yellowness of the skin, or, as far as he was a|ble to judge, with any of the striking symptoms of the yel|low fever; and that their diseases were not communicated to any other persons from any of those that died. That upon considering the report of captain Yard, and comparing it with the present very healthy appearance of the people on board, none of whom appeared to them to have been affect|ed by the diseases of those who died, and the number of per|sons now on board (ninety-five) they were of opinion, that Page  39 the diseases of which the before-mentioned persons died, were not of a contagious nature: That they were more con|firmed in this opinion, from the state of the four persons be|longing to that ship, who were then in the marine hospital, none of whom exhibited any symptoms whatever of a conta|gious or malignant nature: That they were also of opinion, that the ship was now in a perfect and wholesome state; that the people were free from every appearance of contagion: that the bedding and cloathing of all the persons who died in the vessel, had either been thrown overboard, or landed at the hospital.

In consequence of this report, the Deborah was permitted to proceed to the city; where she arrived on the 18th of Ju|ly, and discharged her cargo near Race-street wharf.

Many circumstances have occurred to excite strong suspi|cion that the contagion was imported in the ship Deborah. In consequence of which, we have endeavoured, as far as is in our power, to acquire a just knowledge of the most im|portant facts relative thereto; and to state them with all possible precision, that the public may be the better enabled to form a correct judgment upon this important question.

The Deborah sailed from Philadelphia in February, 1798, for Cape Nichola-Mole; where she arrived in March; in April she sailed from thence to Port-au-Prince, from Port|au-Prince to Jeremie, and from thence back to Philadelphia.

These places, which are in the island of Hispaniola or St. Domingo, had long been garrisoned by British troops. In consequence of which, they were more peculiarly adapted to the generation of pestilential diseases.

Dr. Curric was informed by Mr. Lewis, the mate, that previous to the Deborah's taking in her cargo, at Jeremie, she was employed as a transport in the British service. That the yellow fever prevailed in those places to which the Debo|rah went is ascertained by captain Yard's answer to the official question, No. 11. He also acknowledged

in conversation with a gentleman shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia, that while he lay at Jeremie, a very mortal disease was pre|valent there, which the natives called the Maladie de Slam (a name by which the yellow fever is known in many parts of the West-Indies, particularly the French Islands) of which the captain and the chief part of the crew of an English ship, from Liverpool, died.*

Page  40 The prevalence of the yellow fever in St. Domingo, at that period, is further confirmed by the following letter to Dr. Griffitts, from Dr. Edward Stevens, who was there shortly after; and who is well acquainted with the disease, viz.


During my residence at Santo-Domingo and the Cape, I received frequent information that the yellow fever prevail|ed in almost all the sea-port towns in the French part of His|paniola, particularly at Cape Nichola-Mole. It raged so vio|lently at this latter place, and the mortality was so great, that it obliged the British to abandon the post sooner than they intended. About the same time this disease made its appearance in the harbour of St. Thomas, and was so des|tructive to foreigners, that it obtained the name of the plague from all those who spoke of it. At Santo Domingo I saw several cases of it, during the months of August and Septem|ber. These were entirely confined to American seamen, while the native inhabitants of the city were altogether ex|empt from it. The privateers which frequented this port lost also several of their crew by this fever, while they re|mained at anchor.

I mentioned to you that a similar disease had broke out on board of the schooner Swift, at Porto-Rico. The follow|ing are the facts respecting that vessel, viz. On the 11th of last March, she sailed from the Delaware, and, after touch|ing at Tortola and St. Thomas, arrived at the city of Santo Domingo on the 13th of April, where she continued until the 26th of June, when, she went to the Cape, and returned again on the 1st of August, without touching at any other port. She remained at Santo Domingo until the 28th of October, and then sailed for Porto-Rico, where she arrived on the 5th of November. She anchored at the entrance of the harbour, at a considerable distance from any other vessel. A short time before she left the city of Santo Do|mingo, she took on board, from a French privateer that had been dismantled, a quantity of rigging, sails, guns and am|munition. From the time that she left Philadelphia until her arrival at Porto-Rico, the crew were healthy, except two of the sailors, who were affected with venereal complaints. The second day after she anchored at this latter port, the mate and one of the sailors began to complain; and the greatest part of the crew, together with the captain, were successive|ly attacked. The two first died after a short illness, and one Page  41 of the others during her passage to America. The captain escaped, in consequence of being brought on shore and care|fully attended, at the commencement of the disorder. When she arrived at Porto-Rico, and during her stay there, both the harbour and city were remarkably healthy, and her crew had little or no communication with either the shore or the shipping. These are all the facts which have come to my knowledge respecting the existence of this disease in the West-Indies, during the last summer and fall.


Walnut-street, December 26, 1798.

Deposition of Mr. John Boden, carpenter of the ship Deborah: State of New-Jersey, city of Burlington, ss.

On the 27th August, 1798, before Joseph Bloomfield, mayor of the city of Burlington, appeared John Boden, of said city, ship-carpenter and free-holder in the same; and being duly sworn, deposeth and saith, that on the 1st Dec. 1797, this deponent shipped himself as carpenter on board the Deborah, Edward Yard, commander: that said ship sail|ed from Philadelphia in February last, for Cape Nichola-Mole, and arrived at said Cape about the middle of March; from whence the said ship, in April last, went to Port-au-Prince; while at Port-au-Prince, Henry Philips, one of the sailors of said ship, was taken very ill with what is called the yellow fever: that, during his illness, the said Henry Philips told this deponent (and often times since) that he had taken the yellow fever, in attendance upon a man of his ac|quaintance, who had the yellow fever, and died on board an English brig at Port-au-Prince, while the said Philips was on board said brig, and with his said acquaintance. This deponent further saith, that said Henry Philips has a wise in Philadelphia; but is now on a voyage to Europe. That this deponent ass••ted in nursing said Philips, while in the yellow fever, as aforesaid, at Port-au-Prince, until this deponent was seized (on the voyage of the Deborah to Jeremie) with the same yellow fever, which this deponent believes he caught of Philips: That, while at Jeremie, several of the crew of the Deborah had the yellow fever; that Esdell, Ross and several others of the crew died: That in June the De|borah left Jeremie; that on her passage to Philadelphia, Mil|ler, the boatswain, Brown, Smith and one other sailor, with three passengers, died, as was generally believed, of the same Page  42 fever: That while said ship was under quarantine at Fort-Mifflin, no person of her crew died, to this deponent's know|ledge; nor was any person permitted to go on board, or on shore, to this deponent's knowledge, while riding qua|rantine, except the Health-Officers and bargemen of the yawl, which brought said Health-Officers on board: That while the said ship was discharging her cargo, at Smith's wharf, in Philadelphia, George Streeton, ship-carpenter, vi|sited this deponent, and was about half an hour on board said ship: That said George Streton has lately lost a son, as this deponent has been informed, of the present prevailing sickness in Philadelphia: That the said George Streeton has removed from Philadelphia with his family, and now resides in the Falls' township, in Bucks county; and further this de|ponent saith not.


Sworn, as aforesaid, before JOSEPH BLOOMFIELD, Mayor of Burlington.

The Deborah remained ten days at Smith's wharf, near Race-street, discharging her cargo; and, on the 25th of July, she was removed to Mr. Eyre's wharf, in Kensington, to be repaired. It was currently reported, and is generally be|lieved, that Alexander Philips, late of Water-street, taylor, with some other persons, from pecuniary motives, went down in a boat, while the Deborah was riding quarantine, and brought one or two sick persons from her to Philips's house*. But, after a candid and judicial enquiry, we are of opinion, that the assertion is unfounded, as will appear by the fol|lowing documents,viz.

Declaration of Thomas Town, as published by the College of Physicians.

Mr. Thomas Town, citizen of the Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, related to Dr. Wistar, that on the 1st of Au|gust, 1798, he saw Alexander Philips, late of Water-street, taylor, in Second street, and inquired of him, whether it was true (as reported) that he had brought up privately some sick men from the ship Deborah, soon after her arrival in the river, and had received ten dollars for so doing; and, that Philips replied, that he had brought up two or three in one or two boats. Mr. Town believes he said that he had Page  43 gone down as low as Marcus Hook. Philips said he had taken some of them to his own house, and that one was dead. He added, that he was sorry it had been done; that he was sick himself, but hoped his complaint would turn out a cold.

He stated that he had done it as an act of friendship, in return for favours received.

On the Sunday morning following, Mr. Town was in|vited to Philips's funeral.


Nov. 16th, 1798.

The following paper was given to Doctor William Currie, by Mr. John Purdon, and published by the College of Physicians.

Mr. Purdon says, that, on the afternoon of the 1st or 2d day of August, being at the house of Mr. Alexander Philips, in Water-street, he was informed, in the course of conversation, by Mr. Philips, that he himself had gone down to a ship at the fort, and brought from thence one of his old lodgers, then sick, to his own house in Water-street. Mr. Purdon observed to him, with horror and astonishment, that he had acted very wrong, and immediately departed from his house. Mr. Philips, on that day, was apparently in perfect health; on the Saturday night following he was a corpse. Mr. Purdon was not informed by Mr. Philips from what ship he had conveyed the sick man, but by Mr. Isaac Milnor, a few weeks after, that it was from the ship Deborah, and on the ninth night of her quarantine.

A letter from Mr. Edward Yard, late master of the ship Debo|rah, to a member of the Academy of Medicine, published by the Academy.

Philadelphia,January 11, 1799.


In answer to your request, I can assure you, that no person, sick or well, were landed from the ship Deborah, on her passage to this port, until her arrival off the marine hos|pital, when those who were indisposed were taken on shore by the resident physician.

I arrived in the bay of the Delaware on the 7th of July, in the afternoon; and anchored near the buoy of the brown. I got under way from that place at four o'clock, on the Page  44 morning of the 8th, with a ine breeze at S. S. E. and did not anchor in the Delaware until half past five o'clock, P. M. of the same day, nearly a-breast of the marine hospital. No boat was along side of the ship, nor did any boys come on board during that time; nor did any boys or men ever come inside my ship during my quarantine, or since that time.

I am, Sir, &c. EDWARD YARD.

Deposition of Abraham Snell, published by the Academy of Medicine, viz.

Philadelphia, ss.

Personally before me, John Jennings, one of the alder|men of the said city, appeared Abraham Snell; who being duly sworn, doth depose and say, that on or about the 10th day of July last, he went down the river in a boat, in the company of the late Alexander Philips, with a view of taking some articles to John Linkin, on board the ship Deborah, then performing quarantine: when arrived with|in hailing distance, we were informed that Linkin had been taken on shore to the marine hospital. That neither he nor Mr. Philips went on board the ship; nor did they bring up any persons out of her. Further, that he boarded with Mr. Philips from the 8th to the 18th of July, during which time he knew of no sick persons having been brought to the house.


Sworn and subscribed before me, the 27th day of Dec. 1798.


Deposition of Jane M'Farlin.

Jane M'Farlin, being sworn as aforesaid, doth depose and say, that she lived with A. Philips, from 8th November, 1797, to 5th August, 1798, and knew of no sick persons being brought into the house, during that time.

JANE M'FARLIN. X her mark.

Sworn and subscribed before me, the 27th day of Dec. 1798.


Page  45

Deposition of Mary Philips.

Mary Philips, widow of the late Alexander, being also sworn, doth depose and say, that no sick persons were brought into her house by her husband, or any other person, during the last summer. Farther, that no person from the Deborah boarded in her house, except Jonathan Farthingham, who had been sick and discharged (cured) from the Marine Hos|pital, after the ship arrived in the city.


Sworn and subscribbed before me, the 27th day of Dec. 1798.


Extract from Dr. Currie's defence of the opinions of the College of Physicians.

To weaken, and, as far as in their power, to invalidate the opinion of the College respecting the origin of the disease in Philadelphia last year, the Academy have brought forward the testimony of several persons in some degree interested in disguising, or at least withholding some part of the truth. These go to prove that the declaration of Alexander Philips, who told Messrs. Towne and Purdon, severally, and at dif|ferent times, that he had brought sick persons to his house, was false. Mr. Purdon had called on Philips to request pay|ment of an account he owed him—Philips assured him that he would pay him in a few days, as he had been down the river and brought up an old lodger, whom he had occasion for as a witness, but that he was then sick.

That Philips had a man, belonging to the Deborah, sick in his house, at the time he was sick himself, is certain from the testimony of Dr. Griffitts, who prescribed for him.

There was no instance of the fever being in Kensington until the Deborah went there, nor was it in any case known to be contagious before her arrival. The people belonging to her, labourers who assisted to unload her, carpenters who re|paired her, and others who visited her, were the first who were attacked with the disease; indeed, a very considerable proportion of the first cases have been traced to this vessel. [See the recapitulation at the end of this chapter.]

It is probable that the contagion was imported from the West-Indies in other vessels besides the Deborah. On the 21st of July, the schooner Aurora, with eleven passengers, Page  46 and fourteen seamen, and the Ariel, with twenty-two passen|gers, and twelve seamen, arrived at the fort from Cape-Ni|chola-Mole. Two passengers died on board the Aurora, dur|ing her passage. She was boarded in the bay of Delaware, on the 16th of July, by James Nagglee, pilot. Then it rain|ed. He got wet, and in that state, he slept upon the deck. He also slept upon the deck on the 19th, exposed to the sun; and on the 22d, he complained of pains in his legs and feet. He was taken to the Marine Hospital, on State-Island, on the 23d, and died (July 28th)—the fifth day after his admission. Previous to his death, he became delirious, vomited blood, and bled at the nose.

The mate of the Aurora also died at the Marine Hospital. When he was admitted, he had a swelling in his groin, ac|companied with sores in sundry other parts of his body—par|ticularly his head; but, upon examination, he denied that it was lues venera. When landed, he walked up to the hospital, and did not appear to have a high fever; but, the day after, he was suddenly taken with a convulsion fit, and died deliri|ous on the sixth day after his admission.

The Ariel was boarded by James Roland, pilot, on the 16th of July; he slept in the mate's birth, and was not exposed to the bad weather. He was a very temperate, sober man. On the 25th, he complained of a severe pain in the head, and was sent to the Marine Hospital on the 26th. When admit|ted, he had a slow fever, and complained of great weakness. He died on the third day after his admission. Previous to death, he was affected with the hickup, oppression of the breast, and heavy breathing. He bled once at the mouth, and his skin was yellow.

These circumstances induced the Board of Health, to pro|long the quarantine of the Aurora and Ariel to twenty days; during which, they were well cleansed, washed with vinegar, white-washed, and had two of Wynkoop's ventilators work|ing on board. They came to the city on the 10th of August.

On the 19th of July, the brig Mary arrived at the fort from Kingston, Jamaica, with six passengers and twenty-two sea|men. After ten days quarantine, she came up to the city, (July 29) and began to discharge her cargo, consisting of cof|fee and cocoa, at Ross and Simpson's wharf, below Wal|nut-street. Part of the cargo was much damaged, and in a putrid state. Several sudden deaths occurred about this time in the neighbourhood, and the inhabitants were alarmed. Page  47 In consequence, information was lodged at the health-office, purporting that the coffee and cocoa, landed from said brig, and stored at Ross and Simpson's, was in a putrid state, and extremely offensive. Likewise, that a store in the same block of buildings, belonging to Mr. Dawson, contained a quantity of hides, in a putrid and offensive condition. That Mr. Dawson had died that morning of a fever, which had excited great alarm in that neighbourhood, and that his daughter was ill of the same fever. In consequence of this report, the mayor, by request of the board, caused all the coffee to be returned on board the brig; and ordered, that she should be removed from the wharf opposite to the Wind-Mill island; from whence she was, together with all the hands who worked on board, removed to State-island, where the articles were landed for purification, and the vessel carefully cleansed.

The Academy of Medicine, in their communication to the Board of Health, of the 8th of August, say, that they derive the rapid progress of the fever, during the first week of Au|gust, to the foul air of several ships lately arrived in the port, and from the damaged coffee of the above vessel. But, as the disease had made some progress before the arrival of the bring Mary, it could not, therefore, have proceeded from her alone.

The consulting physician, on the 25th of July, intimated to the Board of Health, that two strangers, who had arrived at a tavern in Front-street, were lying sick; and, on the 30th of the same month, Christopher Holmes, from Penn-street, was sent to the Marine hospital; that the house was ordered to be cleansed, and the bedding and apparel removed to the City Hospital for purification. The same day, a report was made to the board, by Mr. James Yard and Dr. Samuel Duffield, stating, that George Ralston, who had laboured on board the Deborah, died that day, after a short illness. A letter from Dr. Hall, the same day, mentioned the death of a person, who was taken to the Marine Hospital from the ship Nestor.

The number of deaths and new cases of the fever, which daily increased from the 28th of July to the 6th of August, alarmed the citizens, and became a general topic of conver|sation. The college of Physicians met on the sixth of Au+gust: at which time about 26 cases of the fever were known to exist in the city. After conferring together, they unani|mously agreed to the following resolutions; which were im|mediately communicated to the Board of Health:

Page  48

Resolved, That the College inform the Board of Health, that a malignant contagious fever has made its appearance in Water-street, between Walnut and Spruce-streets, and in the vicinity thereof: and

That the College recommend to the Board of Health to procure the removal of all the families that are situated be|tween Walnut and Spruce-streets, and the east side of Front street and the river; and to have all the shipping, lying be|tween Walnut and Spruce-streets removed to a proper dis|tance from the city.

In consequence of this communication from the College, the Board of Health met, and on the 7th, they published the following recommendation, viz.

Health-Office,7th August, 1798.

Whereas, the Board of Managers of the Marine and City Hospitals of the port and city of Philadelphia, having received information from the College of Physicians, "that a malig|nant contagious fever has made its appearance in Water-street, between Walnut and Spruce-streets, and in the vicinity thereof;"—and the reports of Dr. Samuel Duffield and Dr. Parke, appointed particularly to examine that part of the city, specifying the particular cases found therein—Therefore, resolved, that in order to prevent, as much as possible, all com|munication with that part of the city, that the health-officer cause the vessels now lying at the wharves between Tun-alley and Jesse and Robert Waln's wharf, including the said wharf, to be removed, and that no vessel of any description what|ever be suffered to come to the said wharves until the further order of the board.

The board also earnestly recommend to the inhabitants of that part of the city, included between Walnut and Spruce-streets, and the east side of Front-street and the river, and also those immediately in the vicinity thereof, to remove without the bounds of the city and Liberties as speedily as possible.

By order of the Board of Managers, WILLIAM JONES, President. ATTEST, TIMOTHY PAXSON, Clerk.

The vessels were accordingly removed from the wharves above specified. But, instead of being "removed to a pro|per distance from the city," as recommended by the College, they were distributed to the other wharves. Most of them Page  49 were sent to the upper parts of the city. The brig Mary, who brought the damaged coffee, &c. was the only vessel which was removed from the city. Perhaps from this cause it was, that the disease, soon afterwards, so rapidly spread, and produced such a general depopulation. Another circum|stance which may have aided its spreading, ought not to pass unnoticed: a quantity of the damaged coffee, before mention|ed, was scattered on the wharf, which the itinerant poor un|fortunately gathered up; and thus, probably, carried home the instrument of their destruction!

The removal of the inhabitants, from the city, was earnest|ly recommended in the daily papers; nor was any time lost in communicating the cause for alarm. The following com|munication, recommending provision for the removal of the poor, is extracted from Porcupine's Gazette, of August 7th, viz.

The yellow fever is in this city. It is now come out, that it made its appearance about a week ago. Several per|sons are dead with it, and, according to all the accounts I have heard, it spreads with greater rapidity than it did last year.

A number of stories, with regard to its origin, are, as usual, on foot; but, I believe, the best way would be to lay aside all vain disputes on this subject, and prepare, as quick as possible, to make provision for removing those who have not the means of removing themselves, to situations more healthy.

The Philadelphia Gazette, on the same day, contained the following

Communication—An immediate attention to the advice of the board of health, in evacuating the infected quarter is, perhaps, the only measure by which our unfortunate city can be rescued from increasing affliction. Individual interest should yield to a temporary sacrifice, in order to avert the public calamity. It is a duty every citizen owes to the com|munity, as well as to himself, to be vigilant in removing the objects, and thereby impeding the progress of contagion.

To those who necessarily remain in the city, it is almost superfluous to intimate the necessity of avoiding those parts where the contagion prevails. A sentiment of self-preserva|tion, if not of duty to society, will be a sufficient restraint.—Under the favor of heaven, and our own precaution, we may then hope to be soon restored to health, prosperity, and hap|piness.

Page  50 The Academy of Medicine met on the 8th of August, to communicate their sentiments to the Board of Health: they presented the following document, which was published for the information of the public, viz.

THE Academy of Medicine of Philadelphia, having taken into consideration the existence of a malignant bilious fe|ver in this city, have conceived it to be their duty to lay before the managers of the Marine and City Hospitals, the following facts respecting its origin, and the means of checking its pro|gress.

We have, upon inquiry, discovered that a case of this fever existed in the city on the 6th of June, and that several cases of it existed in July, in parts of the city remote from the river, and wholly unconnected with each other. They ap|peared to originate from the putrid exhalations of alleys and gutters, and docks, and from the stagnating water in the neighbourhood of the city. We derive the late rapid increase of the ever from the foul air of several ships lately arrived in the port, and from some damaged coffee which arrived in a brig from Jamaica on the 29th of July. In the course of our inquiries into the origin of the fever, we did not meet with a single fact that could support the opinion of contagion be|ing imported in the bodies or clothes of sick people in the ships or vessels which lie between Walnut and Spruce streets, where the disease has prevailed most. Many respect|able modern authorities assert that the yellow fever is not con|tagious in the West-Indies, and repeated observations satisfy us, that it is rarely so during the warm weather in the United States. None of the cases we have as yet seen, have propa|gated it, and we conceive it to be an error as absurd, in its nature, as it has been fatal in its operation upon the city of Philadelphia, that the contagion of a disease should adhere to the timber of a ship after a sea voyage, and should spread from the timber of the ship without contact through an extensive neighbourhood, and cease to communicate itself afterwards by long and close connection of the sick with their families and attendants. We lament that this fact, together with many others upon the nature and origin of the yellow fever, which were stated in our letter to the Governor, on the 1st of December, 1797, and by him laid before the legislature of the state, have been treated with total neglect in the present health law: the distress we felt upon seeing that law is, how|ever, much alleviated by the reflection, that we have not con|tributed, Page  51 in any degree, by supporting an erroneous opinion, to reproduce the present alarming calamity of our city.

We beg leave to recommend for the purpose of check|ing the progress of the fever, an attention to the following directions:

1st. The removal of all the families from those parts of the city where the disease, from the contamination of the at|mosphere, appears chiefly to exist, and the preventing those parts being visited by the citizens.

2dly. The removal of all ships and putrid articles of commerce from the wharves and stores of the city.

3dly. The cleaning of the docks, wharves, yards and cellars; also the washing of the gutters every day, and of the streets and alleys three times a week, by means of pumps and fire engines.

4thly. The appointment of a sufficient number of phy|sicians to take care of such of the poor as may be affected with the fever.

5thly. Publicly to advise the citizens to avoid all the usual exciting causes of fever, such as intemperance, fatigue, excessive heat, the night air, all violent and debilitating pas|sions of the mind.

6thly. To advise them, in every case of indisposition, however slight in appearance, to apply immediately for me|dical aid.

Signed by order of the Academy of Medicine of Philadelphia,


The City Hospital was now opened for the reception of the sick, and, on the 9th, the board of health gave public intima|tion, "that on a certificate being presented to the Health-offi|cer, from any regular practising physician, stating any person to be afflicted with a contagious disorder, he is directed to grant an order, and have them removed to the City Hospital."

From the 1st to the 8th of August, the total number of deaths in the City and Liberties, was fifty-three: four sick persons were admitted into the City-Hospital on the 8th; nine persons on the 9th, and eleven on the 10th. The deaths and new cases daily became more numerous; the alarm increas|ed, and the flight of the inhabitants was now general.

Page  52

Recapitulation of the principal occurrences previous to the 9th of August, and dates of the first cases.

  • April 4. Health Law enacted.
  • May 1. Board of Health elected—the law commences.
  • 28. The Board are informed that persons and goods are landed from the vessels under quarantine, in viola|tion of the law.
  • June 5. Benjamin Jones died—See page 36.
  • 6. Mary Wrigglesworth has the sever—See appendix, page xx.
  • 11. Rebecca Trested has the fever—See append. p. xx.
  • 12. Two persons violate the Health law, by going on board a vessel under quarantine.
  • 16. The Board are informed that persons and goods had been landed from vessels, in the state of Delaware, previous to reaching the place of quarantine, and from thence brought to the city.
  • 27. Eliza Curran has the fever—See appendix, p. xx.
  • July 2. Mark Miller died of the yellow fever. See p. 35. Molly Zeller has the fever—See appendix, p. xx.
  • 5. Three hundred and forty-three persons arrive in the city, from places in the West-Indies, where the yellow fever raged—See pages 31 and 39.
  • 8. Ship Deborah arrived at the fort.
  • 11. Miss Byrne has the fever—See appendix, p. xx.
  • 12. Mr. Vannost has the fever—See appendix, p. xx.
  • 18. The Deborah arrives at Race-street wharf.
  • 25. George Ralston, a labourer on board the Deborah, attacked with the fever—died.
  • 26. A ship carpenter, who worked on the Deborah, and lodged at A. Thompson's, Water-street, dies of the yellow fever.
  • 28. Another of A. Thompson's lodgers dies of the yel|low fever—The fever was not in any instance known to be infectious previous to this date—The Deborah re|moves to Kensington.
  • 31. Mr. David Jamie, another of A. Thompson's lodg|ers, takes the fever—and on the 5th of August A. Thompson's child was attacked.
  • Aug. 1. A. Philips, next house to A. Thompson, attacked—died the 4th—James Porter, next door to George Streeton, attacked—died.
  • Page  53 Aug. 2. John Butcher, who worked on board the Deborah, attacked—James Ashmore, apprentice to Mr. Yard, worked on board the Deborah, attacked—died.—James Kerr, George Adams, and—Simons, also apprentices to Mr. Yard, were all attacked a few days after Ashmore.
  • 3. Two labourers from the Deborah, named Sutton, attacked—one died.—Samuel Baker, Daniel de Benneville, Catherine Pecky, Mrs. Benneville, Joshua Baker, and Jacob Miller, were attacked previous to the 9th August, and had either been by the Deborah, or nigh some persons sick of the fe|ver—three of them died.—John Saunders, near where the brig Mary was unloading the damaged coffee, attacked.
  • 6. The College of Physicians meet, and report 26 cases of the yellow fever.
  • 7. The Board of Health make public, the existence of the yellow fever in the city—City Hospital opened.
  • 8. The Academy of Medicine present their opinion to the Board of Health, see page 50—four persons admitted into the City Hospital.
  • 9. Nine persons admitted into the City-Hospital.