A brief history of epidemic and pestilential diseases; with the principal phenomena of the physical world, which precede and accompany them, and observations deduced from the facts stated. : In two volumes.
Webster, Noah, 1758-1843.
Page  283

SECTION VIII. Historical view of pestilential epedemics, from the year 1788 to 1798 inclusive, comprehending the last epidemic period in America.

THE winter of 1787-8 was colder than usual in America, but not of great severity.

In Europe prevailed epidemic catarrh in 1788. It appeared at Vienna in April—was in Poland and Russia in May—at Lon|don in June—and at Paris in August. In St. Luke's Hospital, it began on the 16th of July, and a few cases occurred till Nov. 10th; but only twenty-five persons out of 190 were affected; a proof that it has little contagion. Gent. Mag. 1789. 346. The invasion of this epidemic was less sudden than usual.

On the 22d of July was a violent tempest from the N. E. which occasioned a very high tide in the Chesapeek, and no small damage. This is a singular occurrence. A north-east gale in June or July on the American coast, must be attributed to some extraordinary cause; and perhaps this may be ascribed to the approach of a comet, which appeared in October and No|vember following. This comet was predicted by Mr. Herschel, who made previous preparations for examining it.


Courant, August 11, and 25, and April 28, 1788.

The summer was remarkably tempestuous. On the 29th of August, a severe gale of wind did great damage in many of our ports. Of 30 sail of vessels, in certain rivers and bays of North-Carolina, 26 were destroyed. A tempest in the begin|ning of the month had been terribly destructive. No one event is more certain, than a vast increase of tempestuous weather du|ring the approach of comets. The tempest of the 19th exten|ded over the whole face of the country, penetrating to Vermont, levelling buildings, trees and corn. Many cattle and one child Page  284 was killed by falling timber and trees. To enumerate the par|ticulars, would fill many pages.


Courant, Sept. 1, 1788, and 8.

It is remarkable that this tempest in the United States was but two or three days after a tremendous hurricane among the windward islands, which was supposed to do more injury than the great tempest of 1766. At the leeward also the same calamity befel the islands. In Martinico the barometer fell nearly to 27 inches.


Courant, Oct. 27, 1788.

About the same time similar disasters befel France and Eng|land. A tornado of great violence occurred about Paris, in which, the gazettes declare, fell hail-stones of 8lb. weight. Du|ring a tempest in London, a fire ball entered a house and struck down two persons.


Courant, Oct. 27, 1788.

In the West-Indies hurricanes were repeated in September with destructive rage.

On the evening of the 17th of October 1788 was seen, at various places, in Connecticut and New-York, a meteor or fire ball, whose apparent diameter was equal to that of the sun in the meridian. It passed from the eastward to the westward with amazing rapidity, illuminating the earth, and approaching near the western horizon, it burst with a heavy report.*


Courant, Oct. 27, 1788.

The comet already mentioned first appeared about this time. It rose about 3 o'clock in the morning in the north-east. A violent north-east gale occurred on the 11th of November.


Courant, Nov. 3 and 17.

This summer in America was very rainy; earthquakes hap|pened in Italy and Mexico; and a shock was felt in July in the isle of Man.


Sinclair's Scot. vol. 6. 625.

The thermometer on one day in July rose to 103 in Colum|bia College, in New-York; but the general heat of the sum|mer was not excessive.


Museum, vol. 7. 36.

Page  285In November 1788 appeared the measles in New-York. On its first invasion, it appeared with great malignity. The same distemper appeared in the northern liberties of Philadelphia, in December; and spread till it became epidemic in February and March.


Courant, Nov. 24, 1788, and Rush, vol. 2 234.

The eastern parts of Europe were sickly during the summer of 1788. The immense armies on foot, in the war between the Austrians, Russians and Turks, contributed to increase the mortality. It was estimated that 80,000 Austrians perished, mostly by disease. The year however was generally healthy.

The winter of 1788-9 was colder than usual in the United States. On the morning of the 2d of February, the mercury in Farenheit fell to 28 deg. below cypher; 4 degrees lower than had before been observed in Hartford. The season how|ever was on the whole less severe than in 1780 and 1784.


Courant, Feb. 1789, and 9th.

In Europe, the winter appears to have been unusually severe. The frost penetrated to the southern parts of Spain and Portu|gal; and the rivers in Estremadura and Alantejo were covered with ice. The Pyrenees were involved in deep snow in March.


Courant, Aug. 3, 1789. Univ. Mag. 1789.

It should have been related under the year 1788, that almost all the cod-fish taken on the banks of Newfoundland, in that year, were thin and sickly; when dried, they were of a dark or bluish color, little better than skeletons, and not well received in foreign markets. This condition of that fish was confined to those banks; as the cod taken at other places were in their usual state.


M. S. letter from Dr. Holyoke.

On the 28th of May 1789, appeared in Connecticut a most singular halo, of which the public prints contain a particular de|scription. This phenomenon seems to indicate the approach of tempestuous weather, and was in this instance, followed by a heavy wind and rain. But when this appearance is of singular brightness or extent, it indicates a state of the atmosphere highly electrified perhaps and certainly tempestuous, and storms are numerous and violent. Thus the remarkable hurricanes of Page  286 1780 were preceded by as remarkable haloes. The halo of May 28th was preceded by a most splendid lumen boreale.

The instance under consideration was surprising and to gloomy minds, awful. A clergyman, since dead, wrote a moral essay on the occasion in which he predicted great calami|ties to happen; and he mentioned other events, of that period, as unusual numbers of flies, caterpillars, locusts, and dearth of corn, in confirmation of his opinion that the arm of the Lord was extended in wrath over our land.


Courant, June 8, 1789, and June 15.

It is true that our crops had been thin, in the preceding year, and the northern states, in the spring of 1789, experienced a dearth, approaching to famin. In Vermont, people were re|duced to the necessity of feeding on tad-poles boiled with pea|straw. In one instance four potatoes sold for nine pence. None of the human race were actually starved to death, but a few died of a flux in consequence of bad diet.* Cattle however perished in considerable numbers. Such were the gazette ac|counts of the day. It is certain that a similar scarcity had not been experienced in America for many years. Whether the failure of crops and the sickly state of the cod-fish marked a de|rangement of the elements, let the philosopher determin.


Courant, June 15, 1789, and June 22.

The spring of 1789 was cold and vegetation tardy, beyond what could be recollected by the oldest persons living. Part of the summer succeeding was excessively hot. For nine or ten days successively, in August, the heat was above 90 deg. and in the midst of the day, it rose nearly to 100 deg. The mean temperature of the summer was however not much above what is usual. Rush, vol. 2. 234. Courant, Aug. 24 and 31. On the 4th of June ice at Wioming was as thick as window glass.


Courant, June 22.

The failure of crops in the Carnatic in 1788 occasioned a se|vere famin, by which thousands perished in the succeeding year.


Courant, April 27, and Sept. 28, 1789.

The hydrophobia showed itself in America early in 1789.

Page  287A man in Coeyman's precinct, state of New-York, died in July of that dreadful malady, taken as was supposed, by skinning a cow that died of the disorder in the April preceding.


Courant, Aug. 3, 1789.

In Maryland, the autumn was distinguished by an unexam|pled mortality among horses.


Courant, Dec. 31, 1789.

In Europe also crops had failed, and England, Holland and France apprehended the most calamitous effects. In Paris the cry of bread, bread was every where heard, and many riots and mobs marked the distress of the inhabitants.


Courant, Oct. 12, 1789.

The empire of China experienced the same calamity, and the people suffered indescribable distress from famin and disease. In Madras died 30,000 people by famin in 1788. Courant, April 27, 1789. In this instance, crops failed over the whole earth, in the same year.

On the 10th of July a most tremendous earthquake convulsed Iceland. Large chasms were opened in the earth, and some mountains were rent asunder. Several shocks happened on sub|sequent days, and a violent shock in September is mentioned in the 6th volume of Sinclair's Statistical works, 625.


Courant, January 21, 1790.

On the 30th of September occurred a violent earthquake in Tuscany, by which some villages were destroyed and several thou|sand lives. On the same day, but not at the same hour, a small shock was felt at Edinburgh. On the 5th of November, a shock was felt at Crieff, 50 miles from Edinburgh; and on the 10th and 11th, severe shocks were felt at other places.


Courant, Dec. 7, 1789. Sinclair, vol. 6. 625.

On the 4th of December arrived at Lieth, Capt. Stewart of the ship Brothers, from Archangel in Russia; who informed that on the coast of Lapland and Norway, he sailed many leagues among multitudes of dead haddock floating on the water. He spoke several ships which also passed among them.


Sinclair, vol. 6. 627.

Whether these fish were killed by an earthquake or a discharge of subterranean vapor or heat, or died by sickness, is not known. Page  288 If they were killed, it would seem probable that other fish in the same seas, would have shared the same fate; which does not ap|pear to have been the case; for the accounts make no mention of the death of other kinds. And what renders it probable that they died of disease, and a disease peculiar to that kind of fish, it, that for some years after, no haddock came to the markets in Scotland, as before that mortality. That species appeared to be almost extinct; whereas there is no mention made of a failure of other kinds of fish. Careful observations and precise dates would assist our researches into the causes of these wonderful phenomena.

In October, Vesuvius was in a state of eruption for several weeks, and discharged small streams of Lava. The plague pre|vailed at Constantinople and Smyrna.


Gent. Mag. 1789.

On the 29th of October from 2 o'clock P. M. to half after 4, Kentucky was enveloped in thick darkness, so that people were obliged to use candles.


Courant, January 4, 1790.

It will be observed that this darkness, and the beginning of the influenza in America coincide nearly in time with the erup|tion of Vesuvius, and many earthquakes.

Such universal disorders in the elements never fail to produce epidemic diseases; and those here related were the heralds of the most severe period of sickness that has occurred in the United States for 30 years.

The first appearance of that series of epidemics to be hereaf|ter described, seems to have been in the measles at New-York in November 1788, and at Philadelphia in December following. This disease became epidemic over the northern states in 1789, but I have not the means of describing its progress. I find, in bills of mortality, from various places, deaths by measles are mentioned in 1789 and 90.

In autumn 1789 appeared the influenza or epidemic catarrh. The precise time and place of its appearance, are not ascertained. Some accounts say, it originated in Canada. But I shall con|fine my observations to its progress in Atlantic America. It was first observed about the close of September 1789, in New-York Page  289 and Philadelphia. Dr. Rush informs me, that it was brought to Philadelphia by the members of Congress, who returned from New-York, about the first of October. Another account, writ|ten by one of the faculty in Philadelphia, and published in the 7th volume of the Museum, mentions its first appearance there, about the time of the Friends Yearly Meeting, in September. The precise time is probably not ascertainable; the opinion of its propagation by infection is very fallacious, as I know by repeat|ed observations. It probably appeared in detached cases, some days before it became a subject of observation.


Museum, vol. 7. 231.

From the middle states, it moved rapidly over the whole coun|try. It appeared in Hartford, where I then resided, about the middle of October. On the 19th of that month, I left Hart|ford for Boston and arrived the next day in good health. I was seized with the influenza on the 23d, and by the aid of a dilu|ting regimen, recovered in four days. No person who attended me was seized with the distemper, sooner than the other inhabi|tants of that town. I mention this to disprove the common opin|ion of its infection; not that I deny it to be in a degree, infec|tious; altho my own observations do not warrant that conces|sion; but I aver that its propagation depends almost entirely on the insensible qualities of the atmosphere. Two ladies who left Boston with me on the second of November, before the disease had appeared in their family, and before it was a subject of con|versation, were seized with it in Hartford, at the same time, that it became epidemic in Boston, one on the 8th and the other on the 12th.—The disease had then passed Hartford, and there is no evidence of their being exposed to any person infected. This fact shows a regular progress in the state of air producing the dis|ease —as persons leaving Boston and travelling one hundred and twenty miles distance, were effected precisely at the time the disease became epidemic in that town.

This disease pervaded the wilderness and seized the Indians— it spread over the ocean and attacked seamen a hundred leagues from land, and as to infection, entirely insulated—it appeared in the West-Indies nearly at the time it did in the northern Page  290 states. It overspread America, from the 15th to the 45th de|gree of latitude in about 6 or 8 weeks; and how much further it extended, I am not informed.

It should have been mentioned that, in September, anterior to the invasion of the catarrh, the scarlatina anginosa appeared in Philadelphia; but in October it yielded to the influenza, the controlling epidemic. The scarlet fever re-appeared in Decem|ber, and became epidemic; often blending itself with the influ|enza. It exhibited one predominant feature of the whole series of succeeding epidemics, a prevalence of bilious matter, which was often discharged by purging and vomiting. This disease con|tinued to prevail in Philadelphia, and if my information is cor|rect, in some parts of New-Jersey, till the spring of 1790. The measles occurred in some cases, but was not epidemic.


Museum, vol. 7. 120, 175.

It is remarkable that the scarlatina anginosa was cotemporary in Edinburgh with the epidemic measles in America in 1789, and nearly so, with the death of the haddock on the coast of Norway.

It will be observed that the scarlet fever, tho epidemic in Philadelphia, did not spread over the country in 1790. It was little known in the northern states, till two years after—this is among the proofs that this disease does not depend on infection for its propagation. If infection was its only or principal means of propagation, the fomites existed in great abundance, in par|ticular places in 1790, and sufficient to have spread it over the United States. But a disease however infectious, will not spread far in an atmosphere that will not generate it. Indeed scarcely a year passes in which sporadic cases of scarlatina, or anginas of other kinds do not appear in particular places; but they never spread without some uncommon concurrence of causes.

The winter of 1789-90 was one of the mildest that is ever known in this country; there being little frost, except for a few days in February. There fell frequent snows and in great abun|dance; but they were immediately followed by warm southerly winds, and dissolved.

Early in the spring of 1790 we had a second epidemic ca|tarrh. I was attentive to its origin and progress. I found it at Page  291 Albany in the last week in March, and heard of it in Vermont about the same time. I returned to Hartford, but altho exposed repeatedly to its infection on my journey, I was not seized earlier than others in Hartford, where the disease appeared about the middle of April. It spread to the southward, arrived at Phi|ladelphia near the close of that month, and disappeared in that city about the middle of June. In the northern states, as far as my knowledge extends, the disease was more violent, than in the preceding autumn. Many plethoric persons of firm habit almost sunk under it; while consumptive people and hard drink|ers fell its victims.


Museum, vol. 8. 65.

The spring and summer of 1790 were mostly rainy; but oth|erwise seasonable weather. No remarkable epidemics prevailed, except those already described, but an increase of mortality, in some places, is visible in the registers of deaths. Severe earth|quakes occurred on the African coast.

Let it be observed that the measles appeared in autumn 1788, just after great volcanic eruptions, and a most tempestuous sum|mer, when the element of fire appeared to be in universal com|motion; just after the meteor, and during the appearance of the comet.* Let it be observed also that the harvest failed, at this time, in China, India, Europe and America, and let any man deny the all-controlling influence of the elements in producing these events.

The winter of 1790-91 commenced early and with severe weather. The last week in November was cold; Connecticut river at Hartford was closed with ice on the 9th of December, and not open till the 12th of March. On the whole, the season was not of unusual severity. The spring and early part of sum|mer were, in most parts of the country, very dry, until the middle of June.

On the 15th of January, a considerable shock of earthquake was experienced at Richmond in Virginia. At the same time catarrhs were so prevalent in that state and in Pennsylvania, as to excite an apprehension of another visit of the influenza. Page  292 Inflammatory diseases were very frequent during the winter. In Philadelphia the scarlatina anginosa appeared late in January and was very prevalent in February. In the interior of Carolina it was sickly, but I have no particulars. The whooping cough prevailed in many parts of the country.


Courant, Jan. 21, 1790. See Museum, vol. 9. 65.

In the month of April, some fishermen at the Narrows, near New-York, caught fourteen thousand shad at a single draft; to secure which, it was necessary to add several seines, one upon the other. This circumstance is mentioned, because several medical authors have related that an extraordinary abundance of fish is among the precursors of pestilence. It will be noted that the pestilential fever, which has prevailed for many years past, first appeared in New-York, in the autumn succeeding this sin|gular draft of fish.


Courant, April 25, 1790.*

On the 16th of May, at half past 10 o'clock P. M. in a serene, moon-light night, an extensive earthquake was felt in the northern states. It was preceded, a few seconds, by a rat|tling sound; its duration was short; its course as usual in Amer|ica, from N. W. to S. E. No injury was sustained.


Courant, May 23.

On the morning after the earthquake, was observed at Mid|dletown in Connecticut, a substance like honey or butter, cov|ering the grass and earth for a considerable extent. See an ac|count of a similar phenomenon in Ireland under the year 1695.

To these phenomena succeeded in Connecticut the generation of millions of that species of black worm, described under the year 1770. I believe they were far less numerous than in 1770; they however appeared in Hartford and in Norwich, and dis|appeared at the same time. They were very destructive to the grass and corn, but their existence was short; all dying in a few weeks.

Page  293A paragraph in a Maryland paper dated June 1, 1791, men|tions animals, there called caterpillars, but evidently the same species of worm. They are represented as marching in legions from place to place, and devouring the grass.

About the same time appeared at Lansingburg on the Hudson, a species of worm that greatly injured the fruit-trees.


Courant, June 25, 1792.

But the most extraordinary phenomenon was the existence of the canker-worm, in numbers before unexampled. Whether these animals had made their appearance in the preceding year or not, I do not recollect But in 1791 they devoured the or|chards over the New-England states; and their ravages were re|peated in the two following years. Orchards, standing on stiff clay and in low grounds which are wet in spring, escaped; but on every species of light and dry soil, the trees were as dry on the first of June, as on the first of January. Many trees have never recovered from the effects of their ravages.

Another worm of a distinct species, and called at the time, palmer-worm, overspread our forests in this or the next year, devouring the leaves of oak and other species of wood.

It is a prevalent opinion that uncommon flights of wild pigeons in America, indicate the approach of a sickly season. I am not inclined to credit any popular opinion, without good grounds; but this seems to have been formed on a long series of observa|tions. Certain it is that pigeons in the summer of 1791 were unusually numerous. In Maine, there were tracts of forest of miles in extent, the trees of which were covered with their nests.


Courant, July 11.

The summer of 1791 was excessively hot. At Salem the thermometer was at and above 80 deg. no less than 55 days, and above 90, twelve days—an instance that had not happened in many years, in that cool place; altho it often happens in the middle states.


Mem. Am. Acad. vol. 2. 91.

On the 27th of November Lisbon sustained severe shocks of earthquake.


Courant, April 2, 1792.

Page  294In autumn, bilious remittents assumed, in Philadelphia, the inflammatory diathesis, so predominant in the last pestilential constitution. Dr. Rush, in his public lectures, mentioned this fact at the time, altho he little suspected what effects that con|stitution was to produce in subsequent years. It was found ne|cessary to bleed from one to three times. In most cases, the liver was affected with all the symptoms of Hepatitis.


M. S. letter from Dr. Rush.

At this period the pestilential or epidemic constitution of the atmosphere began to show itself in the infectious yellow fever. It appeared in New-York, in autumn, along the east river, and carried off about 200 persons. This gave some alarm, which soon subsided.

It must be noted that the measles in 1788, the disease which marched in the van of this series of epidemics, appeared first in New-York—this was probably the fact also in regard to the in|fluenza of the succeeding year—and the scarlatina anginosa at the close of 1792. The scarlatina of 1789 and 91 in Philadel|phia was local, or if it appeared in a few other places, it did not spread over the country. All the last great epidemics have ori|ginated nearly in the same longitude between Connecticut and Pennsylvania. It is not to be concluded from this fact that they have been propagated by infection from one spot, as from a cen|ter; we know this is not the fact; the same diseases originating in remote places.* But it serves to show that the cause or prin|ciple of disease in the elements is of various force, and will first show its effects in places where it has the most strength.

In the same summer of 1791, the pestilential principle began to exhibit its effects in the increased malignancy of the tropical fevers. The "unusual epidemic fever" in Grenada, described by Dr. Chisholm, in the Edinburgh Medical Commentaries for 1793, and which was the occasion of no small surprise, was the commencement of that series of fatal diseases, which, in subse|quent years, made dreadful havoc in the Islands. This fever became so violent and infectious, contrary to the common fever Page  295 of the tropics, that a labored attempt was made to trace it to fomites from the coast of Africa. The truth is, the fever was nothing more than the common fever of the climate, with the super added malignancy derived from the existing constitution of the elements. The same fact took place on the African coast; that is, the usual fevers of the climate became more malignant.

This idea is suggested by a series of similar events in other cli|mates; all the diseases of America, at the same time, assuming a similar augmented violence, and sporadic cases of malignant fever appearing in all parts of our country. Such has been the fact in all other epidemic periods.

To confirm this idea, let it be observed that in the same year, when this malignant fever appeared in the African Seas on board of ships, in Grenada, and in New-York, as well as in sporadic cases in other parts of America, the plague carried off two or three hundred thousand people,* in Egypt, and raged in Constan|tinople with great mortality. In all these distant countries, the same or similar effects were nearly cotemporary. The plague in Egypt continued into the next year; but I have no details of its progress and termination. The same general principle was ex|perienced in Great-Britain, and the bills of mortality in London continued to swell, till the year 1793.

The winter of 1791-2 was somewhat colder than usual. The month of January was remarkable for severe weather of three weeks duration. In March a slight earthquake was felt in the middle states, but I have no particulars.


Courant, March 19, 1792.

The spring months were very rainy in the southern states and the islands, which experienced distressing inundations.


Courant, May 28, 1792.

In the northern states there was a period of singularly cold weather in the beginning of June, occasioned by a dry N. E. wind. Some persons used fires as late as the tenth day of that month. The heat of the following summer, in general, was not extreme.

Page  296In May and June, a species of locusts appeared in the north|ern parts, of the state of New-York, which committed ravages among the grain. The wheat-insect continued its ravages, and appeared this year as far southward as Elk Ridge in the state of Maryland. On Long-Island the destruction of wheat was great and distressing.


Courant, June 25, and July 2, 1792.

In July happened at Philadelphia violent tornado; but the summer was not distinguished for the number of this species of tempest. In one instance, in Vermont, the hail-stones which fell are said to have been from 3 to 6 inches in circumference.

About this time, a malignant fever began to rage in Charles|ton, South-Carolina, carrying off the patient in three days, and occasioning a considerable mortality.


Courant, August 6, 1792.

In the following winter, Egypt was a prey to famin; and the streets of Cairo were filled with dead bodies.

In November 1792 several smart shocks of earthquake were felt in Perthshire, a county in Scotland.

In Philadelphia appeared an insect in the form of a fly, which generated a small worm or caterpillar, that attacked the tree, called Lime Tree, which is there used for shade. From that year to the year 1798, this insect has ravaged those trees, and destroyed some of them. Just philosophy will not hesitate to believe the cause of this phenomenon and of the pestilence suc|ceeding, to be connected.

In this year, 1792, commenced that scarlatina anginosa which became epidemic, with great mortality. I regret that a want of exact registers, will not permit me to trace it to its sources with the precision desireable in all such cases. I am informed that well defined cases of the disease were observed in New-York, as early as the month of August. But it occasioned no considera|ble mortality in that city, until the following winter.

At Bethlem, in the western part of Connecticut, there were five deaths in this year by the cynanche trachealis. I have not heard of any other instance. In August, there were seven or eight cases of the scarlatina anginosa, but so mild as not to prove mortal. The reader will note the last circumstance; for I am Page  297 able to prove, that this disease in Connecticut, was progressive in a remarkable manner, and from the fact, which I believe is not uncommon, will be drawn most important consequences.

The autumn was one of the mildest ever known, November was so warm that we sat with open windows, at Hartford, on the 19th of the month. This moderate weather was succeeded by severe cold, and Connecticut river was closed by ice on the 10th of December. The latter part of winter however was not very severe, except a week or two in February.

On the 11th of January 1793 appeared a comet in the con|stellation of Cepheus. It was seen for the last time by Mr. Rit|tenhouse on the 8th of February.


Phil. Trans. Phil. vol. 3.

In the course of this winter and the spring succeeding, the scarlet fever raged in New-York, with considerable mortality. It became epidemic also in Philadelphia, in the course of the spring months.

Catarrh was very prevalent in the northern states, at the same time; and the small-pox by inoculation at Hartford proved un|usually obstinate and fatal; indicating an insalubrious state of the atmosphere.

In February 1793 the scarlet fever invaded the town of Beth|lem, like "an armed man," says Mr. Backus, Medical Reposi|tory, vol. 1. 524. He calls the disease angina maligna, and it doubtless put on the symptoms of i in many places. It seized almost every family and child. It abated in May, disappeared in November, and re-appeared in January 1794 with nearly its former violence. Nineteen children died in the first invasion, and fourteen, in the second.

We have here distinct marks of progression. The disease in a mild form appeared in August 1792, then disappeared. In February following, it invaded the town in its worst form. Six months therefore intervened between its precursor, or mild form, and its invasion with full force.

The same disease appeared in the neighboring district of coun|try and in distant parts, in nearly the same longitude, in the course of this year; but I have not materials for a detail of facts.

Page  298I find however, it prevailed in Litchfield in 1793, and was supposed to be imported into that town from Vermont. It was also very mortal in New-Fairfield, the same year. I therefor presume the disease to have been very general through the western districts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, and to have prevailed as far westward as Pennsylvania, in this year. Of its progress beyond that state, I have no information.

In September and October of this year, about the time the distemper subsided in Bethlem, it began to exhibit appearances of approach, in the maritime towns of Connecticut. Its precur|sors at New-Haven, as described by Dr. Monson, a good judge of the subject, were "slight influenza, slinging pains in the jaws and limbs, soreness in the muscles of the neck, with a slight fever."

In November and December following, several cases of ulce|rous sore throat occurred, but they had a favorable issue, and the symptoms were not alarming.

In January 1794 arrived the crisis of this disease; it put on its malignant symptoms, and in the course of the six following months, seized more than seven hundred persons, principally youth, of whom died fifty two.


See Dr. Monson's account in my Collection, p. 173.

Here again is distinctly marked a regular progression of symp|toms from September to January; the precursors being four or five months in advance of the disease in its most violent form.

In Hartford, on Connecticut river, about thirty miles east of Litchfield and Bethlem, I had an opportunity to make per|sonal observations on the origin and progress of this epidemic.

I do not know the date of the first case: but in my own mem|oranda, its appearance in my eldest daughter, then in the 3d year of her age, is noted under the 12th of May 1793. The attending physician informed me, that the disease was then epi|demic. Its first appearance therefore must have been a week or two earlier.

This disease was a mild scarlatina anginosa. The patient had considerable fever—the parosisms were daily, and terminated in prosuse sweats—there was a partial efflorescence of the skin about the neck and breast, and some affection of the throat. Its crisis, Page  299 if I do not misremember, was about the eighth day. I was inform|ed that in no case, did this disease prove mortal, during this in|vasion.

The reader will observe the dates—this mild angina invaded Hartford in April and May, about the time, the severity of the disease began to abate in Bethlem.

Nine months after the invasion of this mild angina, that is, in February 1794, this disease appeared in Hartford in its formida|ble array, and many children became its victims.

Nothing can prove more clearly that infection had no concern in the origin of this distemper, than this gradual augmentation of its symptoms. If any fact were necessary to demonstrate the all-controlling influence of the elements, in the propagation and ter|mination of the disease, this progression alone would be sufficient. The mild epidemic of May 1793, was the same species of disease with that which was then destroying life, in the western parts of the state, and in New-York and Pennsylvania; but the condition of the atmosphere at Hartford was not, at that time, fitted to give the disease its full degree of violence. The summer season perhaps suspended the operation of the general cause, by means to us unknown. In February following arrived the crisis of the disease.

I know not whether other epidemic anginas have been charac|terized by the same progressiveness in the symptoms. It is not improbable that they have; and that age after age has passed away, without noticing the circumstance; a circumstance that throws more light on the origin, causes and philosophy of epi|demics, than all the dissertations on the subject, since the days of Hippocrates.

My own children were affected with the mild angina in May. I removed, with my family, to New-York in November 1793, before the fatal angina invaded Hartford, and after it had finished its course in New-York; my children escaped its violence, and probably in consequence of this removal. This was an acciden|tal circumstance in my family, but I suspect a similar removal of children, during the progress of that malady, might save a mul|titude of lives; altho the circumstances of many people will not Page  300 permit them to avail themselves of the expedient; and in some cases probably it would fail of success. It however deserves con|sideration. The angina had completed its course in New-York in 1793 or nearly. It did not invade Boston till 1795. A re|moval of the children from the atmosphere of Boston in 1795, to an atmosphere where the disease had ceased, would probably have secured most of them from an attack.

The summer of 1793 was excessively hot, after a dry spring, and produced a great number of violent gusts, with rain and hail. The autumn was very dry. A fatal dysentery prevailed in Georgetown, on the Potomak, and in the vicinity, which swept away many hundreds of the inhabitants. The same disease prevailed in Coventry, in Connecticut, and killed almost every person whom it seized. A nervous or long fever prevailed in Wethersfield. In short, in most parts of the United States, the pestilential principle exhibited its effects, in some form or other, and every where swelled the bills of mortality. It extended to the West Indies, and so violent was the epidemic at Grenada, that the physicians and inhabitants, unable to account for it, re|ally supposed it an imported disease. The treatise written by Dr. Chisholm to prove it imported, is satisfactory evidence to me that the disease was an epidemic. The disease corresponds in its prin|cipal character, with the pestilential fevers of this country, many of which are known to be generated in our own climate.

In August 1793 commenced in Philadelphia that dreadful pestilence which alarmed the United States, and spread terror and dismay over that city. The spring diseases, which ushered in this malady, were influenza, scarlatina and mild bilious re|mittents. See Rush's Treatise on that fever. These are the most certain and immediate precursors of pestilence, in this country; and the influenza seems to be so, in all countries.

During this epidemic, the weather was very sultry and dry. A|bout the 12th of September, fell a meteor between the city and the hospital. The number of victims to this disease was 4040.

A controversy arose among the physicians in Philadelphia, relative to the origin of the plague, one party tracing the dis|ease, as they supposed, to infected vessels from the West-Indies; Page  301 the other ascribing it to exhalations from damaged coffee and filthy streets. This controversy has occasioned an unhappy schism among the medical gentlemen, and the citizens of Phi|ladelphia.

It is greatly to be regretted that gentlemen of the faculty committed themselves, by prematurely giving positive opinions on that important question, and thus laying the foundation for permanent evils to the country. It would have been wiser to have instituted a regular enquiry into historical facts, relating to pestilential diseases, antecedent to any positive decisions on the subject.

By an account of the deaths in Algiers, kept by Capt. O'Brien, while a prisoner, I perceive that 4893 persons died in 1793 by the measles and plague. There was a considerable increase of mortality in that year; and we observe the measles and plague prevalent in the same year—an evidence that on the Barbary coast, as well as in Europe and America, these epidemics are allied.

By this account also it appears that in 1789 a number of per|sons died by the asthma. It is not probable this was epidemic, and I suspect by this name was intended catarrh or influenza. As this disease was then epidemic in the United States, it would be gratifying to know whether the same epidemic prevailed on the African coast, at the same time.

It is remarkable that in the spring of 1793, when the scarla|tina anginosa had first commenced its progress in America, it began also in England. It appeared first in the villages about London, and afterwards descended into the city. Med. Mem. vol. 4. It continued to prevail for several years, with different degrees of violence, at different times. See the Monthly Mag|azines.

The winter of 1793-4 was milder than usual in America. The thermometer in New-York, in a northern exposure, descen|ded no lower than 13 deg. above 0, and but twice to that degree.

On the 17th of May was a singularly severe frost in the northern states of America, which destroyed garden vegetables and the leaves of trees. The wheat, oats and flax in many places turned yellow, and fruit was destroyed.

Page  302This frost was preceded by a few remarkable hot days, such as we usually have in June; and speedily followed by a long se|ries of rains, with easterly winds.

This frost has been supposed to kill the canker-worms, which had ravaged the orchards, for some years preceding. Another opinion is, that a hard frost in April, destroyed them, just after they were hatched. A third opinion is, that they had run thro their period of existence, and perished in a natural way. In confirmation of which opinion, it is said they were evidently declining in the preceding year. There is probably truth in both the latter opinions.

The summer of 1794 was, on the whole, not intemperate. We had hot weather, but frequently was the earth refreshed by showers, and cool westerly winds. The whooping cough pre|vailed in New-York.

The scarlet fever, in the course of this year, spread over Con|necticut. Its effects are very apparent in the bills of mortality.

It appeared in 1795 in Boston, in the spring or early in sum|mer, and continued to prevail in Massachusetts and New-Hamp|shire in 1796. Its progress from New-York to Maine, about 300 miles or perhaps 400, was run in about four years. It trav|elled therefore about 100 miles in a year. Such also was the fact in the preceding period; as well as in 1735. It should be observed also that its direction, in the two last epidemic periods, has been opposite to that of the disease of 1735. The latter began in New-Hampshire and marched to the westward; the former began in the middle states, and advanced to the eastward.

On the 10th of June 1794, the bilious plague made its ap|pearance in New-Haven, a seaport in Connecticut. The person first seized with the disease was, the wife of Isaac Gorham, liv|ing on the wharf, and the nature of her complaint was not un|derstood, nor suspected, till near the time of her death, on the 15th.

No sooner was it known that a pestilential fever was in the city, than the inhabitants took the alarm, and directed an exam|ination to be made into the causes. On enquiry, the following appeared to be the sources of the disease, or were reported to be the probable causes.

Page  303In the beginning, of June, Capt. Truman arrived from Mar|tinico, in a sloop, which was hauled up by the store of Mr. Eli|jah Austin, a few rods from the house of Mr. Gorham. This sloop was supposed to be infected with the pestilential fever of the West-Indies. From this sloop was landed a chest of clothes, which had belonged to a seaman who died with the fever in Martinico; which chest was opened and the contents inventoried by Mr. Austin, in his store, in presence of Capt. Truman, of Henry Hubbard, a clerk in the store, and of Polly Gorham, a niece of Isaac Gorham. Mr. Austin and his clerk were seized, a few days after the opening of this chest, (but how many days is not stated) and died about the 20th of June, Polly Gorham was seized on the 12th and died on the 17th of June.

These circumstances appeared to the people at that time, to be clear and decisive evidence of the importation of the fomites of the disease; and especially the fact, that Mr. Austin and his clerk were attacked with the symptoms, nearly at the same time. This acquiescence in an opinion so important to society and truth, renders it necessary to state the result of more careful enquiries.

In the first place, the opinion that the sloop could communi|cate the infection, is unfounded; for it does not appear that any person, ill with yellow fever, had been on board—there cer|tainly had not been any sick on board, after her leaving Martin|ico. The sloop was taken by the British troops, when they took that island, and lay in port some weeks, unoccupied; until Capt. Truman had an opportunity to purchase her. In the mean time, some of the crew, to keep themselves employed and procure bread, went in the business of droging; that is, trans|porting goods from place to place. One of them died with the fever, but on shore, and he had not been on board of the sloop, after his illness. On the passage home, the seamen were all in good health. Then, is therefore not the least ground to suppose the sloop contained any infection, and no part of her cargo was supposed to be in a bad state. The external parts of a vessel or house cannot retain or communicate infection.

Secondly. As to the chest of clothes, it is probable it con|tained no infection from diseased persons; for by the affidavit of Page  404 Capt. Truman, taken before Alderman Furman of New-York, at the request of Dr. Baily, the Health Officer of that port, which affidavit I have consulted, it appears that the clothing, worn by the seaman who owned the chest and died at Martinico, was all wrapped in his blanket with his body and buried. As Capt. Truman is a man of good character and has made his affi|davit, four years since the disease at New-Haven, when all ap|prehensions of injury from declaring the truth, have subsided, there seems to be no reason to question the fact.

But as men, who have not attended to the great operations of nature in producing epidemic diseases, naturally look for the causes among visible and tangible substances, they still found a resource in a British regimental coat, which was in the chest, and which, it was supposed, might have belonged to a soldier who might have died of the yellow fever. In consequence of these suspicions, the contents of the chest were all burnt.

On examination it appears that the coat was new—and the mate of the sloop has sworn that he saw the coat plundered by the seaman from a bale of goods, and he believes it had never been worn. It was taken by the seaman in the business of drog|ing, from among the packages of clothing sent by the British government for the use of the troops. But had we no such evi|dence, common sense might inform us, that a man, laboring un|der a fever in the sultry climate of the West-Indies, would not wear his regimental.

In the chest the 〈◊〉, as in the sloop, we can find no infec|tion of yellow fever. If Mr. Austin and his clerk received the seeds of disease from the clothing in the chest, as it is possible they did, the sources of the disease must have been the fetid effluvia or dirty clothes, which had been kept a long time, close packed in a chest, in a sultry climate. It is not necessary to sup|pose the clothes to have been worn by a diseased person. The sweat and filth from a body in health, if confined in the hot sea|son, will ferment and produce a poison injurious to health, and productive of yellow fever or other disease.*

Page  305But as some reports have been circulated, in contradiction of the testimony of Capt. Truman, and as there is a possibility that he might have mistaken the facts, I lay out of this question all the evidence respecting the sloop. For whether the trunk con|tained infected clothes or not, is wholly material; and with|out any reference to that point, the evidence that the fever in New-Haven did not spring from any imported source, is complete.

Mr. Austin went on business to New-York, was seized with fever and died. His body was conveyed in a sloop to New-Haven, and buried. It is an agreed point, that no friend, nurse or other person took the fever from him.

Mr. Hubbard went on business to Derby, ten miles distant, was taken ill and died. His body was carried to New-Haven, and buried. It is agreed that no person took the disease from him.

It is not known that Polly Gorham was ever near the trunk of clothing—the report of her being present rests on the story of a child. But if she was, it makes no difference, for no per|son who attended her was affected, except her mother, who had a slight fever. She lived and was ill, a mile from the wharf, and no person in that neighborhood was afterwards affected. In short, it is not pretended that the infection proceeded from either of these persons—the only persons who could possibly have taken the disease from the trunk of clothing.

It is admitted on all hands that the infection must have pro|ceeded from the house of Isaac Gorham. Now it happens that Mrs. Gorham who was first seized and five days before Mr. Aus|tin and his clerk, had never been near the trunk of clothing, nor was an article of clothing from the sloop carried into the house. For this assertion, I have the authority of Mr. Gorham himself, who is admitted to be a man of veracity.

Had the origin and phenomena of epidemic diseases ever been understood, the people of New-Haven would have foreseen, with Page  306 a good degree of certainty, that they could not escape pestilence. This will appear from the following facts.

In the winter and spring of 1794, the scarlatina anginosa pre|vailed generally in New-Haven and the neighboring towns; manifesting a highly pestilential condition of the elements. One case of bilious fever, attended with a vomiting of black matter, occurred as early as the last week in March.

For many months preceding the invasion of the fever, the oys|ters, on the coast of Connecticut, were in a very sickly state. Many people can testify to the truth of this fact; but I have an account of it recorded at the time by the late President Stiles. In a letter to his son-in-law, the Rev. Mr. Holmes, of Cam|bridge in Massachusetts, dated Sept. 25, 1794, be writes, that for twelve months past he had eaten very few oysters, as they were diseased, poor and dropsical. He remarked this of the oysters from New-York to Boston. Those caught on the shores of Branford, Killingworth, and at Blue-Point on the south side of Long-Island, were intolerable. At the date of the letter they were recovering and becoming more palatable. This is a striking proof of the derangement of the elements.

Further evidence of this fact was furnished by the multitudes of caterpillars which overran the city of New-Haven, in the sum|mer of 1794.* In such numbers were these insects, that they almost covered the trees, fences, and houses to the tops of chimneys. The preceding history furnishes many instances of this phenome|non, preceding and accompanying pestilence.

Had these phenomena been understood, the people of New-Haven would have had no occasion to appoint a committee to ex|amin into the causes of the fever. It was hardly possible, in the nature of things, that the human race should escape the calamity of epidemic diseases, under the operation of cause so general and powerful.

But these were not all. Mr. Gorham, whose ily first suf|fered by the fever, had, in the month preceding the invasion, cleaned a great number of shad, upon the wharf by his door, Page  307 and thrown the garbage, to the amount of a car load perhaps, in|to the dock.

The alternate washing of the tide, and action of a hot sun, had rendered the putrefaction of this mass of filth extremely ra|pid; and there being no current to remove it, the stench be|came intolerable. On the other side of the wharf, a few rods distant, a boat load of clams had been deposited an the mud, that the water, during the slux of the tide, might preserve them; but a great part of them were soon spoiled, and added to the fetor of the atmosphere.

To complete the list of nuisances, some barrels of damaged pickled cod-fish had been thrown from a store into the dock, and the whole was left vncovered during the recess of the tide. So noisome was the air of the place, for sometime before the fever appeared, that the proprietor of the wharf desisted from his usual morning visits before breakfast. For all these facts I have the declarations of the persons concerned and eye witnesses.

The putrefaction of flesh, from thirty years observations, I can testify, will not always produce disease. But in a pestilential state of air, the dissolution of flesh is unusually rapid, and the acid evolved, peculiarly noxious. In such circumstances, putres|cent substances of all kinds appear to be powerful auxiliary cau|ses of disease. The condition of the elements accelerates putre|faction, and that putrefaction in turn increases the deleterious quality of the air.*

Under the operation of so many causes of disease, instead of being surprised at the appearance of a pestilential fever, we are rather to wonder that its ravages were not more extensive.

That the putrefaction of the fish was an exciting cause of the fever in New-Haven, is probable from the early appearance of it in summer. The first cases occurred about the 10th of June, which is earlier than the epidemic pestilence of America usually occurs; and which indicates the existence of strong local causes. What further confirms this opinion, is, that after a few weeks Page  308 the distemper was nearly or wholly extinct. In July died only three persons, and for about two weeks, no new case occurred. But in August, the usual time of the appearance of this disease in this part of America, it broke out with fresh violence. It is probable therefore that the morbid local causes induced the fever in one small spot, before the proper season for it to prevail. These causes being gradually extinguished by the tides and a hot sun, the disease subsided, until the usual season for such fevers. The same took place in New-York in 1795—in 1796—and 1798.

That the plague in New-Haven was the effect of a condition of the elements united with local causes, is proved by subsequent events. In the following year, a malignant dysentery originated and prevailed in New-Haven, destroying more lives than the bil|ious plague of 1794. This disease is acknowledged by able phy|sicians to be of the same species as the yellow fever. See Lind on that point, and Rush's Works vol. 5. 5, where it is stated, on the authority of Dr. Woodhouse, that several persons took the yellow fever from soldiers, laboring under the dysentery. It is well known also that an epidemic yellow fever has been converted, by a sudden change of weather, into an epidemic dysentery, and vice versa; as at Baltimore in 1797. It is also true that the yel|low fever in autumn passes off in dysentery, as in New-London in 1798. The same is at times true of the plague in Asia.

This disease in 1795, as well as a similar dysentery in Derby in 1794, demonstrated the deleterious condition of the elements in that region or vicinity.

If further evidence was necessary, we have it in the bad state of the water in some of the wells in New-Haven, during the preva|lence of these diseases, in which, one of the physicians of the city has informed me, were animalcules visible to the naked eye. This fact corresponds with what occured in Athens, during the plague, where the badness of the water, it is supposed, led the people to ascribe the disease to the poisoning of the wells by the Lacede|monians. A similar fact probably led the Germans, in 1349, to suspect the Jews had poisoned the wells, and on suspicion alone to massacre them without mercy. This state of the water, and the sickness of the oysters alone decide the point, that the princi|pal sources of the epidemics of 1794 and 5, were in the elements.

Page  309It has been asserted that no person in New-Haven was affected by the fever, without intercourse with the sick or with infected clothing. On careful enquiry, I find this is not true. Several persons were affected who were not in the rooms, nor even in the houses of the sick, and who could not be exposed, other|ways than by passing along the streets. But such persons could not take the fever from the effluvia of the diseased. Men who suppose this, are unacquainted with the powers of infection. Dr. Chisholm states expressly that the infection of that disease in Grenada never exceeded ten feet; that it was easy to avoid it, and many who lived in the houses of the diseased, escaped. Med. Repos. vol. 2. 288. Dr. Lind, the ablest writer on the subject, who spent his whole life in jails and hospitals, has ad|vanced the same doctrin. A great number of sick in a narrow close built street, may render the air of it infectious, but a few diseased persons in the wide streets of New-Haven could not produce this effect. In general however the disease in this place was propagated by infection; the pollution of the atmos|phere being confined to a small district on and near the wharf, on low ground, to the leeward of the putrid substances before mentioned, and near the creek.

But there is one fact that will decide the question relative to the origin of the pestilential fever in New-Haven, and every other place. It is stated by the physicians that all other diseases yielded to this fever. After it appeared in June, the scarlatina subsided, and "in September, when the fever was most preva|lent, the inhabitants in general were almost entirely free from every other complaint."


See Dr. Monson's account of the fever, in my Collection, p. 178.

Here we have an infallible criterion by which to determin whether a disease is an epidemic of the place, or introduced and propagated solely by infection. A disease of mere infection can never extinguish other diseases of the place. The small-pox introduced by variolous matter, and communicated to every fam|ily would not absorb a dysentery or scarlet fever prevailing in the same place; every hospital will demonstrate this principle. A disease of mere infection would not affect another disease even Page  310 in the next house. Every disease that extinguishes another dis|ease current in a town, is an epidemic originating in that place. It not only proves that the atmosphere will produce that distem|per, but it proves that it will produce no other. On this princi|ple I will rest the question, as it regards not only the fever in New-Haven, but every pestilence that ever existed.

The summer of 1794 was, in most places, less sickly than in 1793 and 1795; yet the scarlatina extended its ravages over Connecticut, and Philadelphia and New-York experienced the predominant epidemic constitution. In Philadelphia died from 70 to 100 persons of the bilious plague; in New-York twenty or thirty cases of the same disease indicated the same condition of the atmosphere. It was the general opinion in New-York, that the city was remarkably healthy; but this opinion, so flat|tering to the people, was a fallacy. The bills of mortality were higher than in healthy years, and this augmented mortality was a prelude to the epidemic of the succeeding year.

On the 15th of June was a great eruption of Vesuvius, nearly equal to that of 1779. The lava ran down the mountain on the west and extended to the sea, overwhelming the town of Tome del Greco.


See Universal Mag. for Aug. 1795.

In this year the bilious pestilence prevailed in Baltimore. No suggestion has been made that it was imported, and the physi|cians and inhabitants seem to admit the disease to have been on|ly a more malignant form of the ordinary autumnal remittent.

In the succeeding winter, the epidemic of the summer and autumn changed, in Philadelphia, into the form of catarrh or pleurisy, and in many cases, was attended with delirium and mania. See Rush on this subject.

Pestilential epidemics, or rather the state of the atmosphere which produces them, usually affects the brain, in a most sensi|ble degree. This is obvious from the vertigo, so frequent during sickly periods; pains in the head, dizziness and nervous debility often complained of by studious men. In some periods, this affection of the brain has appeared in epidemic madness. See the years 1355; 1373 and 4.

Page  311A few cases of a disorder of this species appeared in New-Haven and its vicinity in the winter after the pestilence. The patient was seized with a violent pain in the head, between the Os frontis and the Coronal Sutures, which was periodical, com|mencing about 11 o'clock A. M. and increasing till 2 P. M. In some cases, the paroxism was accompanied with delirium; but the pain was limited to the head, and unattended with fever. Bleeding, purging and opium produced no alleviation; but a blister on the forehead or temple, soon relieved the patient, and effected a cure. This account is taken from Dr. Hotchkiss, the attending physician.

The winter of 1794-5 was very cold in Europe, and in January 1795, the French troops marched into Amsterdam, over the rivers and canals, on the ice. This severity was to be expected from the great eruption of Vesuvius in the preceding summer.

The catarrh was epidemic in January and February, in the British channel fleet. In one ship it assumed the symptoms of a pure typhus.


Trotter's Med. Naut. p. 366.

In America, the same winter was milder than usual. Per|sons walked on the battery at New-York, for pleasure, on Christmas day, with no covering but their ordinary autumnal clothes; and vessels sailed up the Hudson and Connecticut till January. In the latter part of the winter, we had some cold weather, and a cool late spring.

About the 20th of July, began a series of hot, damp, rainy weather, with light southerly winds; a season answering to the description which Hippocrates has given of a pestilential consti|tution. Heavy rains were followed by a humid, close, sultry air; no thunder and lightning; no north-westerly winds to cool and refresh the fainting bodies of men. For many weeks the atmosphere was so loaded with vapor, that no electricity could be excited with the best instruments. Fruit perished on the trees and fell half rotten and covered with mold. Sound potatoes from the market perished in my cellar in thirty-six hours. Cab|bages rotted off, between the head and the stalk, as they stood Page  312 in gardens. The moisture penetrated into the inmost reces|ses of desks and bureaus, covering books, papers and clothes with mold, under two locks. The walls of houses, and the paper of inner apartments became white with mold and required scraping. This state of the air produced also musketoes without number; while flies disappeared. It is observable that these two kinds of insects thrive in different conditions of the air— flies in a hot, dry air; musketoes, in a hot, moist air.

It is necessary here to correct a mistake of Dr. Currie on bil|ious fevers, page 12, where he mentions the years 1795 and 7 as "wetter and cooler than many preceding seasons." The truth is, the latter part of the summer of 1795, was on an average three degrees by Farenheit, warmer than the weather had been in the ten preceding years. See a letter from Professor Kemp in Dr. Bailey on yellow fever, p. 54. In the course of my life, I never experienced a state of air so debilitating and un|friendly to animal spirits, as the month of August 1795. The effects of it are very visible in the bill of mortality for that year in Philadelphia, which contains double the usual number of deaths.

In July of this year appeared the bilious plague in New-York. The first case that excited public attention was that of Dr. Treat, the Health Officer of the port, who fell a victim, on the 29th of the month. His disease has been ascribed by some persons, to infection taken on board a vessel from the West-Indies, the brig Zepher in which a person died, whom Dr. Treat assisted in burying. But it is not probable, that this was a just opinion; as many other persons visited the same vessel, and the wardens of the port were on board, while a part of her cargo, some damaged coffee, was thrown into the stream, without the least inconvenience to their health. The plethoric habit of Dr. Treat, and his great fatigue in an open boat and in a burning sun, are sufficient to account for his disease.

But admitting him to have taken his disease from the fomes of a sick or dead person, or from the foulness of the brig, the fact does not in the least aid the advocates of infection, for no per|son, nurse, attendant or visitor, received the distemper from him, Page  313 nor did the disease prevail, in the street where he died, during the subsequent season.

It was said that three or four seamen, belonging to the ship William, were seized with the distemper in consequence of visit|ing the brig Zepher. But on enquiry, it was found, that these men only came along side of the brig and purchased some fruit. To suppose these men should all take a disease from the brig, when two or three wardens of the port, who were some hours on board, while a damaged cargo was discharged, escaped without the least affection, is ridiculous.

But what cuts short all controversy on this subject, is, that fourteen days at least before the death of Dr. Treat, a man in the hospital died of a similar fever; and the late Dr. Pitt Smith, in|formed me in the autumn of 1795, that he visited another patient a blacksmith, with a similar disease, early in July. In fact then, the disease was in New-York before the arrival of the supposed infected vessels; and the cases which occurred early in July, were precursors of the epidemic which was to follow.

It must also be observed that the disease in New-York never spread over the whole city. It ran along the low streets on the East river, in what was formerly the swamp and in the narrow alleys. The high grounds in the center of the city, and the wes|tern side of the island, were healthy as usual; and the disease, when carried from the infected streets, upon the elevated parts of the city, exhibited no contagion, but disappeared.—A small part only of the citizens fled; most of them remained, and pur|sued their occupations, in the greatest part of the city, with per|fect safety. The deaths were about seven hundred and thirty; among which at least five hundred were foreigners, most of whom had recently arrived from Scotland and Ireland.* The mortal|ity in New-York was mostly owing to this influx of foreigners, not seasoned to our climate.

This fever in New-York was preceded in spring by epidemic measles, which disappeared totally during the three months, when Page  314 the fever was the ruling disease, and re-appeared in November— a decisive evidence that the fever was produced and controlled by the same cause, as the measles.

In this year also appeared the same disease at a landing, called Mill-river four miles from Fairfield, in Connecticut, and about sixty miles from New-York—a small village, near the water. It was reported that this distemper was propagated at Mill-river, by infected persons from New-York. I have taken pains to en|quire carefully of both the attending physicians and the clergy|men, who visited the sick, who all agree, that one man from New-York had died of the fever in the village, that summer, and he was dead, three weeks before, Mr. Tharp, the first man seiz|ed, was taken ill.

The disease affected others of his family, but spread no fur|ther; and the gentlemen above-mentioned do not believe it to have been derived from imported infection.

The bilious remittent fever, is annually the disease of autumn in some parts of the southern states; and strangers, visiting that country from the Delaware to Florida, in the hot season run the hazard of a fever. Drs. Taylor and Hansford, two old practitioners in Norfolk, Virginia, speaking of the yellow fever of 1795, say, "The same fever, with all its malignant and uncontrollable symptoms, occurs every year, in scattered in|stances, and about the same season."


See my Collection on Bilious Fevers, p. 151.

But during pestilential periods, this disease in that unhealthy country, takes a wider spread, and becomes infectious.

In 1795 this was the case at Norfolk—a town that is situated on low flat land, a few feet only above high-water, and subject to autumnal fevers. The disease prevailed most in the narrow streets and poor small houses, and was most fatal to strangers.

Two remarkable facts occurred there and are related in the account last cited, to prove that the disease was occasioned solely by a general state of the atmosphere in and about the town, without a dependence on infection. The first is, that traders who visited the port, altho they were not known to have had in|tercourse with the sick, took the disease and died on their re|turn into the country. But a more remarkable fact is, that the Page  315 seamen of a ship from Liverpool, which did not approach near|er than five miles distance from the town, and which had no communication with the shore, except by means of the health-boat, were almost all attacked with the disease, in ten days after their arrival. This was late in the season, and when the disease had nearly disappeared in town.

In the year 1794 several cases of the same disease had occur|red in Norfolk. In 1797 the disease was again frequent. In 1795 and 7, the disease was supposed to have been augmented by the great rains and floods which had preceded, and which had brought down the river and spread on the shores, large quan|tities of vegetable substances.

The extreme unhealthiness of the summer of 1795, was man|ifested by unusual mortality in various other parts of the country. On the level plains of Duchess county in New-York state, pre|vailed a mortal dysentery and typhus fever. At Coxsakie on the west of the Hudson, raged similar diseases with fatal effects. In some western parts of the state, near the marshes which border the waters of the country, a malignant bilious fever was more terribly fatal, than the fever in New-York.

In Sheffield, a western township of Massachusetts, near two large ponds which form marshy grounds, bilious fevers, which had not been known there for many years, before, prevailed and in some cases were mortal.


See Dr. Buel's account of these diseases, in my Collection, p. 53.

In that town, the progressiveness of the morbid principle of this pestilential period, was clearly discoverable. Many cases of intermittents occurred in 1793; and a few instances of bil|ious remittents. This was during the plague in Philadelphia. In 1794, early in spring, inflammatory diseases of the pneumo|nic kind, were unusually frequent. These were succeeded by intermittents, which were more frequent than in the preceding year. In July, the bilious remittent appeared, and 80 inhabi|tants out of 150, who lived within a mile and a half of the south pond, were affected. In 1795, of 200 inhabitants within three fourths of a mile distant from the north pond, 150 were affected with the same disease—but few died.

Page  316In 1796, the dysentery, which had not appeared in many preceding years, began its attacks on children, and not long af|ter adults were taken either with the same disease or with the bil|ious remittent. Of one hundred families living within a mile and a half of one of the ponds, not ten escaped sickness—more than half of the inhabitants were, in the course of the season, attacked with one or other of the abo•• mentioned diseases. Of 150 persons who lived nearest to the pond, not ten escaped. The deaths by these diseases were forty-four. Here then was a regular increase of malignancy in the autumnal diseases, from in|termittents, to the worst form of dysentery and bilious remittent.


Med. Repos. vol. 1. 456.

In the preceding period, great mortality prevailed among the geese in some parts of our country; and in the year 1796, a similar mortality among other fowls. I have not been able to ob|tain a particular description of the symptoms, but it was observed the transition from apparent health to death, was very rapid.

In 1796 the measles which commenced in New-York in 1795 was epidemic in Connecticut; and unusually prevalent in London.

In 1796 also the bilious plague again appeared in New-York, but in a different quarter of the city from that which was princi|pally affected, the year preceding. In 1795, it began and was most general in the north-eastern part—in 1796, in the south-western part, near the battery; and in both summers, its seat was along the wharves on the East river, and in the adjoining streets and alleys. All this part of the city is a level, formed by extending the land and wharves into the East river. The land is of course loose and porous, admitting, in many places, the wa|ter of the sea into the cellars of the houses; some of which are penetrated, on every flux of the tide. These artificial streets, Front and Water streets, are not easily washed clean, on account of their level position, and they receive the filth washed from the higher grounds of the city. To these streets, and similar ones in the swamp on the north-east, was the malignant distemper principally limited.

In 1796 a new wharf below Exchange slip, which had been timbered the preceding autumn, and left unfilled, had become a Page  317 reservoir for all kinds of putrid, filthy substances, and was sup|posed to be a powerful cause of disease.

Besides, the quarter in which the disease raged this year, is al|most wholly covered with old wooden houses, and many of them, built before the raising and paving of the street, have their lower floors two or three feet below the surface of the pavements. In this district appeared the yellow fever in June; but a series of rainy weather and cool westerly winds, suspended its action, in the beginning of July. Succeeding hot weather renewed it, and in the limits above described, extending about forty or fifty rods, about seventy persons fell victims. The other parts of the city remained in the usual autumnal state of health, with only a few scattering cases of the plague.

At Wilmington, North-Carolina, prevailed a similar disease. It was preceded by the dysentery, in July, after a very wet spring. When the bilious fever commenced in August, the dysentery declined, and those who had been affected with it es|caped the fever. About one hundred and fifty deaths, by these two forms of disease, occurred in 130 families. Different opin|ions were entertained about the origin of the fever; but the phy|sician who gives this account has no doubts of its domestic origin. He informs us further that a few cases, in that town, occur annu|ally, which assume all the symptoms of a violent yellow fever.


Med. Repos. vol. 2. 153. Dr. Rosset's letter.

In this year, the disease occasioned a considerable mortality in Charleston, South-Carolina, and in Newburyport, in Massachu|setts. It appeared in Boston also, but was not general nor severe.

In Charleston, it succeeded one of the most destructive fires, ever known in that city; and was in part ascribed to the stagnant water which accumulated in the open cellars.

In Newburyport, there was no plausible pretext for ascribing the disease to imported infection; and the general belief was, that the immediate exciting cause, was, the remains of large quanti|ties of fish which had been left to corrupt on the wharf, near which the distemper originated, and which occasioned an intolerable stench. But in that town, a previous increase of mortality indi|cated a sickly state of the elements; as in all other places, where Page  318 the pestilence has made its appearance. In none of the northern states, which are usually healthy, has the bilious plague occurred without other diseases for precursors.—The disease in Newbury|port was confined to a low street or two, and when carried upon the high grounds, it exhibited little or no infection, but disap|peared with the death or recovery of the patient.


M. S. Letter from Nicholas Pike, Esq.

In Boston, the disease spread only in a small part of the town, adjoining the water. The physicians were unanimously of opin|ion, that it was not occasioned by any fomites from infected arti|cles imported, but generated in the town.


See Dr. Warren's Letter in the Medical Repository, vol. 1. p. 136.

The pestilential state of the elements was strongly marked, this year, by the poorness of the shad brought to market in New-York. These were all thin, lean and small; and for this reason, I pur|chased none for my own use, during the season. Other persons observed the fact; and I am since informed that such of those fish as were pickled, perished in defiance of all human care to pre|serve them. The same state of the shad was observed in Con|necticut.

Some cases of yellow fever occurred in Philadelphia in 1796; catarrh was frequent in the winter, followed by measles of a most inflammatory nature. A remarkable halo appeared on the 25th of July.


Rush, vol. 5. 9.

It has been already observed that the winter of 1795, was remarkably severe in Europe. In America the same winter was as mild as usual. But in the summer and autumn of 1796, the northern states experienced a most severe drouth.

The following winter was very severe; the cold exceeding what is usual, and being of long duration. The summer of 1797 was cool and wet. The winter of 1797-8 was severe— and the cold of very long duration. It commenced early in No|vember and continued till March. The Hudson and Connecti|cut were closed in November; a very rare occurrence. For several weeks in November and December, the wind, without much snow on the earth along the Atlantic coast, was from the north-west and intensely dry and cold.

Page  319In August 1797 appeared a comet, which, according to cal|culations of astronomers, passed near the earth, altho it was of small apparent magnitude, and seen by few people.

The influence of this species of bodies in occasioning great tides, and violent storms, has been already mentioned, and of that influence, in the present instance, I was a witness. In 1797 my residence was, as it had been the preceding year, on a height of York Island near Corlaer's Hook to the northward of which is a flat, which is never covered with water by a common tide, but is overspread by spring tides, or any unusual swell in consequence of easterly winds. I observed, as early as the last week in May, high tides were unusually frequent and the swell extraordinary. In the city of New-York, the same fact was observable; and the inhabitants about Beekman slip will recol|lect how often the wharves and street were covered with water. These tides were not to be accounted for, on any known prin|ciples of lunar influence, and I frequently mentioned the phe|nomenon to my friends, but without suspecting the cause. The same phenomenon was noticed at other places. In Norfolk, the epidemic fever was, in part, ascribed to unusual tides; as I was afterwards informed. On the Delaware, the overflowing of the low lands, below Philadelphia, was extraordinary, and some physicians ascribe to this cause the yellow fever, which swept away most of a family by the name of Whitall.

I was lately mentioning these events to a respectable gentleman in Stamford,* who instantly recollected a fact which confirms the foregoing account. He remarked that the common practice in that town, is to mow the salt meadows, at the quadratures of the moon, on account of small tides; but in 1797, the calcula|tions failed, and the people were much troubled to collect their hay, on account of high tides—a circumstance that was very surprising to him at the time, but he did not advert to the prob|able cause. This was in August; about the time that the comet was first observed. The fact then of the influence of comets, in raising the waters of the ocean, is well established; and the Page  320 appearance of a comet in autumn explained the phenomena of the tides to my satisfaction.

The influence of comets in augmenting tempests is equally certain and remarkable.

On the 19th of August, a storm and whirlwind in South Prussia tore up forests carried trees along like sheaves of wheat, and levelled several villages.

In Rome and Naples happened a most extraordinary tempest on the 25th of September, such as the oldest man could not re|collect. It took up men and carried them some distance. The astronomers were consulted and they ascribed it to the approxi|mation of the comet.

A storm of hail in the province of Macconnois, in France, and on the borders of Burgundy, destroyed the vines and fruits of the earth in thirty-four villages. In the appropriations made afterwards by the councils of France, four millions were granted to repair the losses by hail, inundations and other disasters.

On the 7th of September, a considerable shock of earthquake was felt in the Western Pyrenees. On the 28th of the month was a volcanic eruption in Guadaloupe; and many earthquakes occurred during the autumn.

In England, the summer was so rainy and wet, as to injure the corn and threaten the inhabitants with scarcity. It would require pages to relate all the accidents by floods in Great-Brit|ain from August to the close of the year.

During the autumnal months, the Black sea also was unusu|ally tempestuous, and the loss of shipping alarmed Constantino|ple, with apprehensions of a scarcity of provisions.

In February, 1797, South-America was terribly convulsed. Quito and the neighboring provinces suffered, by the destruction of almost every house. Mountains were detached from their stations and rolled against each other, burying villages in ruin. Volcanoes emitted fire, lava, and rivers of water. It is said, that 40,000 inhabitants perished.

On the 11th of January 1798 a shock of earthquake was felt in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the neighboring towns, during which appeared to issue from the earth a flame or blaze, like the burning of a chimney.

Page  321In this month, the severe cold reached the West-Indies, and frost appeared, for several mornings, on the windows in Port Royal Parish, in Jamaica. A small earthquake was felt there in January.


Royal Gazette, Jan. 29, 1798.

In February 1797 also violent earthquakes were experienced on the western coast of Sumatra, in the East-Indies.

This year, 1797, was remarkable for other singular phenom|ena in Europe and America.

In England a pestilence among cats swept away those animals by thousands. It seems that this disease began as early as April, and succeeded an epidemic catarrh among the human race. The same cat-distemper was afterwards epidemic in France. A so|ciety at Montpelier instituted an enquiry into this remarkable phenomenon.

The cat-distemper appeared in Philadelphia, as early as June, and proceeded northward and eastward, like the catarrh of 1789. In August it was very fatal in New-York, and in the course of the summer and autumn, it spread destruction among those ani|mals over the northern states.

In August, dead fish, in great numbers, were seen to float down James' river, in Virginia, for many days in succession.

Canine madness, during the same year, was unusually epidemic and attended with fatal effects, of which full accounts may be seen in the first volume of the Medical Repository.

These phenomena indicate an unhealthy state of the elements. But it is a remarkable fact that, in some places and seasons, the principal force of the epidemic constitution seems to be spent on one species of animals, while others are exempt. Thus in Eng|land, the catarrh, which had affected mankind in 1797, ceased, before the epidemic seized the cats. In America, the northern states, with the exception of a few places, were remarkably healthy, in 1797, while cats died in multitudes. And it is a frequent occurrence in Europe, that while the plague or some other malignant disease is afflicting 〈◊〉 human race in one coun|try; in another country, mankind w escape, and a most terri|ble mortality will occur among cattle, horses or sheep.

Page  322In 1797 the bills of mortality in the northern states, which had been swelled very high by angina and malignant fevers, fell nearly to the standard of health. There are a few exceptions.

The plague appeared in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk and Charleston. In the two latter cities, it is considered, as the usual autumnal fever, with aggravated symptoms, from sea|son or other local or temporary causes.

In Baltimore, the disease appeared first in the form of a com|mon remittent, but increased in malignancy till late in autmn and became infectious. The history of this epidemic is minutely stated by the magistracy of Baltimore, and is too interesting to be passed with a slight notice. The following is a correct ab|stract of the statement made and published by authority.

The commissioners state to the mayor of the city;

That the first appearance of the fever was near the end of June in two young men, Parkin and M'Kenna, who occupied a ware|house in South-street and who died in a few days. The ware|house was examined, and was found to contain nothing which could be the special cause of the fever; nor is it suggested that they were infected from abroad. No person received the disease from them. From this time till the close of August, West Baltimore remained in a state of unusual health.

In East Baltimore (Fell's Point) a bilious fever had showed itself early in the season, and gradually spread and grew worse; but was supposed to be no other than the common sickness of the season. It therefore excited no alarm, till the 26th August, when a rumor prevailed, that the fever was something more than common. The chairman of the board addressed a letter to each of the physicians in that part of the city, requesting to be informed whether any case of contagious disease had come under his observation.

Dr. John Coulter wrote for answer that since the third week in June, a fever had prevailed and become epidemic, affecting all descriptions of people, but mostly those who labored hard, in the heat of the sun, intemperate persons and those who expo|sed themselves to night air after the labors of the day. The disease was violent, and unless speedily assailed with powerful Page  323 remedies, proved fatal. It had on that day, August 26th, be|come general, and "assumed to itself the sole government of the diseases," in that part of the city. "During the wet weather, in the last of July and beginning of August, it yielded, for near two weeks, to the dysentery," which aftewards gave way to a recurrence of the yellow fever. [The reader is desired to note that fact.]

Dr. Coulter calls the fever an epidemic, in contradistinction to imported contagion, and says, "it is in the locality of our atmosphere, the source of which I can perceive in every ten steps I take in our streets, ponds of stagnant water, and sinks of putrid animal and vegetable matters, exhaling perpetually under a hot sun the most offensive effluvia." The conclusion he draws is, that the disease was not individually infectious. He then men|tions the uniformity of the symptoms, and the correspondence of the fever with the diseases which have prevailed in that city and in other parts of the continent for a number of years past. He enumerates the symptoms, which are exactly the same, as observed in New-Haven, New-York and Philadelphia.

Doctors Alexander and Jaquitt agree in the facts that the disease was not imported nor specifically contagious.

The board of health then called a meeting of the physicians in West Baltimore, and inquired whether any contagious sick|ness had come under their knowledge. They answered in the negative. Three of their number, at the request of the meeting, went to East Baltimore and visited a number of the sick. They reported on the 29th of August, that the disease was not a ma|lignant, contagious or yellow fever, but the bilious remittent. Their report quieted the alarms of people.

On the 2d of September the commissioners were alarmed with the opinion of the physicians in that part of the city, that the disease was something more than common.

Five members of the board, with Dr. Moores, went to the point to examin for themselves. They found the disease had spread, chiefly among the poor, who lived in confined dwellings —a few persons were dangerously ill; but on the whole, were convinced that the disease was not contagious.

Page  324The next week, the disorder assumed a more threatening aspect. The launching of the frigate on the 7th of September, col|lected many people together, who were exposed to a hot sun and fatigue, which spread the disease to West Baltimore. The next day the board of health received regular information that there was contagion in the disease. A meeting of the faculty was cal|led, and suitable directions given to check and alleviate the ca|lamity.

The whole number of interments in the city and precincts from August 1 to October 29th—Adults 408; children 137. Total 545. Number of inhabitants at Fell's Point (where the disease principally raged) who removed during the sickness 671. Those who remained were 2679. Total 3350.

This plain and candid narrative of facts, which is certified by the presidents of both branches of the city council and by the mayor, Mr. Calhoun, does great honor to the integrity and dil|igence of the commissioners; and if the laws of nature are to be relied on as uniform in their operation, this report alone will de|cide every disputed point relative to the origin and phenomena of the yellow fever.

It is here decided by unequivocal evidence; evidence that precludes the carping of prejudice and the casuistry of interest, that the yellow fever and the bilious remittent are the same dis|ease, differing only in degrees of violence; and it is agreed on all hands that the remitting and intermitting fevers are the same disease, with a similar difference in violence.

The disease began at Baltimore early in the season, in June, and for more than two months, prevailed as a remitting fever of the common kind, without infection, and it is agreed on all hands not to be of imported origin. During a wet season, the damp weather cast the disease upon the intestines, and it appear|ed in the form of a dysentery—a most important fact, which proves what Dr. Lind has asserted, that a dysentery is a yellow or malignant fever seated in the bowels. The wet weather ceas|ing, the fever resumed its former appearance, and gradually in|creased, till it exhibited its worst forms and became infectious.

Had the advocates for the domestic origin of this fever con|trived and directed a series of facts, to prove their own doctrines, Page  325 it would not have been possible to collect stronger evidence in their favor, than the report of the board of health in Baltimore.

In Philadelphia, the disease in 1797 appeared, in a few cases, as early as June—one on the 5th—one on the 9th—one on the 15th and another on the 22d. These cases, instead of being considered as proofs of a pestilential air, and precursors of more general sickness, are thrown entirely out of the question, by the advocates of imported fomites. The division of opinions, which originated in 1793, relative to the causes and origin of that dis|ease, was revived with asperity. One party among physicians contended that the distemper was introduced into the city by the ship Arethusa, which arrived from Jamaica and Havanna, on the 23d of July. Another party believed the sources of the disease to have been, noxious exhalations from putrid substances in the city, with an augment from the foul air of the snow Nav|igation from Marseilles. The evidence to support each of these opinions, is published in the proceedings of the College of Phy|sicians, and of the Academy of Medicin.

The city of Philadelphia was deserted by a great proportion of its inhabitants, and thus the mortality was limited to about one thousand victims. It prevailed principally in the suburbs.

This epidemic was followed as usual by the influenza.

By foreign publications, it appears that the catarrh was epi|demic in England in the four first months of 1797. I have no particulars of the violence or extent of this disorder; but if it was severe and general, no event is more certain than that sickly seasons will follow.

What confirms this opinion, is, that in the following summer, the plague raged in Constantinople, on the Barbary coast, and in Corsica. It appears by an official letter of the French min|ister Sotin, that there was a difference of opinion in regard to the epidemic in Corsica—some calling it the plague; others, a malignant fever. Those who called it the plague, were prepar|ed to account for it, by the tale of a Turkish vessel wrecked upon the island, with diseased people on board. But the disease subsided without very extensive ravages.

This malignant fever however occasioned no small alarm in England. The government sent orders to ships cruising in the Page  326 Mediterranean to have no communication with vessels from Cor|sica, and a proclamation was issued ordering strict quarantine to be performed by all vessels from Corsica, Minorca, Gibraltar and Spain within the Mediterranean.

In 1797 the bilious plague carried off forty-five of the in|habitants of Providence. Of this disease, I have a minute and judicious account from Mr. Moses Brown, which is here a|bridged.

In 1791, the year when the disease first appeared in the West-Indies and New-York, several persons died of a similar fever in Providence. Two women died in one family, near the centre of the town, after three days illness. They vomitted bilious matter, and were yellow, with livid and purple spots. The second, being seized two days after the death of the first, might have taken the disease by infection; but no suspicion ex|isted that the first had access to any infecting cause.

On the 14th of August died another person in a different part of the town, and on the 21st of September, a fourth, with similar symptoms. As no alarm had then been excited by yel|low fever, little notice was taken of these cases; but the attend|ing physician, a respectable character, who visited many patients in 1797 and was affected with the disease himself, has since pro|nounced the disease of 1791 and of 1797 to be the same.

A case very similar to these occurred in September 1792; and on the west side of the river, prevailed a singular epidemic, in which persons became yellow, with black urine, costive bow|els, pains in the right hypochondrium, without fever. Some had petechial spots, and one person, petechia, vibices and hemhor|age, yet the disease was not mortal, nor malignant.

In 1793 a person from Philadelphia was ill and died of the yellow fever in Providence, but no other was infected.

In 1794 several persons had the same disease, but they took it probably in Carolina, where they had been on a voyage; the disease did not spread by infection.

On the 11th of July 1795, died Capt. J. Gifford, a respect|able man, of the same disease. No infection was supposed in the case—he was buried under arms, but no inconvenience was experienced from it, at the time. Yet two years after, viz. in Page  327 1797, his family were affected with the disorder, at the time when it became epidemic in the neighborhood.

Several other cases occurred, in the same year, and one of them exhibited infection.

These cases demonstrate a pestilential principle existing in that town, in every season from 1791 to 1795 inclusive; at the time when other parts of the United States were more severely afflicted. They were the distant precursors of a more general calamity in that town, which did not arrive till 1797.

Sporadic cases of pestilential fever do not render it certain but probable, that the disease will, in a future season, become epi|demic. In 1796 cholera infantum and dysentery were prevalent.

In 1797 the hydrophobia was prevalent in the state of Rhode-Island, as well as in other states. One T. Lyon was bitten by a dog, the wound healed, and he was seized four months after, and died. The pestilence among cats prevailed also in Provi|dence.

In this year also prevailed at Westport in the same state, and on Nantucket island, a very malignant epidemic dysentery. At Westport died 30 patients of 79 who were seized. On Nan|tucket the disease was less mortal; about 100 died out of 2000 patients. On examination, it was found that under the house of the family first seized, there were some barrels of putrid fish, and other nauseous matter.

It was supposed also, that the disease might have been aug|mented by the effluvia of a large pond, at some miles distance, which had become stagnant, filled with grass, and the shores strewed with dead fish. A number of men, on this discovery, opened a trench to drain off the water, and let in the tides, af|ter which, it was supposed, the disease assumed a less malignant aspect.

The pestilential condition of the air at Providence in 1797, manifested itself very early in the season; the first death occur|ring as early as May 5th—the next on the 25th of June—the third on the 4th of July—the fourth on the 27th—the fifth on the 29th, and the sixth on the first of August. The symptoms in all these cases, were the predominant ones of the true yellow Page  328 fever; and the bodies exhibited more or less petechiae and bices. These cases occurred before the arrival of the schooner, to which popular clamor afterwards imputed the whole evil. These were the scattered precursors, which, had the subject of pestilence ever been investigated, with philosophical ingenuity and Christian candor, would have rendered the epidemic a prob|able event to the citizens of Providence, as early as July and would have taught them to use all human means to avoid or miti|gate the calamity.

On the 8th of August arrived the schooner Betsey, Capt. Barton, from the Mole of Cape Nicholas, after 24 days pas|sage. Her cargo was only a few hogsheads of coffee. She lay at the wharf, till the 20th, when an increasing alarm from new cases of the fever induced the police to order her to be removed and cleansed.

On enquiry, it was found that three of the schooner's people had been ill in the West-Indies, but no one died. One of these only had been ill on the passage, but had recovered so as to do duty, seven days before her arrival. There were five per|sons on board, during the passage, none of whom were affected by disease from infection or other cause.

The death of Mr. Arnold, the custom-house officer, who was said to have visited the schooner, and several of his family, gave rise to the report that the fever began from fomes on board of her. This point will be hereafter disproved. Certain it is, that another officer of the customs slept on board of the schoon|er seven nights; another five, and another young man two nights, with Brown, the owner of the blankets hereafter to be mention|ed; all of whom escaped disease of any kind.

It was also said that the woman who washed two blankets, belonging to a diseased seaman, took the fever and died. On investigation, this proved to be an idle tale. The blankets were owned by one Brown, who had not been sick; and not having any use for them in warm weather, they had lain in his chest. On his arrival, they were carried home, spread out on the fence to air; they were then carried to his sister's to be washed and lay two days before the work was undertaken. The day Page  329 after the washing, the women were taken ill; which was two early for the operation of infection, unless highly concentrated. But in fact the blankets were not infected; never having been used by any diseased person; and the mother and others who handled them, when first opened, never had the disease.

But stronger circumstances attended this case. The blanket belonging to Rophy, the only sick man, on the passage, and his other clothes, worn during his fever, and colored yellow, by his perspiration, were carried to his house; the blanket spread out for children to play on, before it was washed; afterwards washed by his wife; and no person took any disease from his clothes or blanket.

Such are tales of imported diseases, raised by ignorance and propagated by interest, pride or credulity, to which the business of the merchants and the commerce of the country are to be sacrificed!

Many other reports were spread about the infection from this schooner which, upon strict enquiry, were found to be equally groundless. Such as the introduction of the fever into Warren, where the vessel stopped, on her way to Providence. The case was, one Cole, an officer of the customs, sculled a large boat a mile or two, against the tide, in a foggy evening; went on board, wet and fatigued; without refreshment or change of clothes, slept in a cabin with broken windows, took a severe cold; repeated his visit to the schooner the next day; on the third day went to Providence, a distance of ten miles in the rain; tarried two nights without a change of clothes; returned on foot, and was taken ill of a bilious fever and died in about seven days. Yet after all this fatigue and imprudence in the man, enough in all conscience to kill him, men are found weak enough to charge his disease to the schooner.

But it happens, that other similar cases of fever occurred in Warren, in persons who had never visited Cole or the schooner; and one at the distance of three miles from the town. The whole tale therefore comes to nothing.

One fact more, and I will quit the subject of correcting the popular errors on this head. The men belonging to the schooner Page  330 were dismissed at Providence and returned to their families, with their sea clothes of course. My informant took pains to enquire of every family, whether any of them had been infected; and he found not one instance, altho the families consisted of about forty souls!—The case of the unfortunate family of Mr. Arnold would a ford some slight ground to suspect the infection to be communicated from the schooner to him or his son, the latter having visited her;* but it happens that Mr. Arnold's wife, who had not been on board, nor otherwise exposed, was seized fifty-six hours before her son and more than three days before her hus|band. Thus the reports of infection from abroad, when well sifted, vanish into smoke; and I am persuaded this would gene|rally be the result, if men would be faithful to themselves, to truth and their country.

On the 12th of August, the fever took a more rapid spread, probably from a sudden alarm by the burning of two tons of hemp, by means of a spark from a blacksmith's shop, as it was passing the door. This was four days after the arrival of the schooner, and occasioned the popular clamor which was raised about her infection. But the appearance of the disease long before her arrival is decisive of the question.

This disease had its own atmosphere; raging mostly in a part of Providence much exposed to the effluvia of great collections of filth in vaults, from a distillery, and in other places. Some cases however occurred in other situations; and many parts of the state exhibited the pestilential principle, in sporadic cases, or local epidemics, as at Bristol, Warren, Greenwich, Indian Point, Gloucester, Warwick, &c.

In Providence, the disease affected fifty-six families—8 before the arrival of the schooner, and 48 afterwards. In 33 of these families, only one person in each, had the fever; and as some of the families are large, the infecting principle could not have been very powerful. In the large house, where lived the women who were first taken ill, after the schooner arrived, resided 9 Page  331 families, consisting of 37 persons, only 12 of which were af|fected. In the hospital the nurses and attendants all escaped.

Some instances of this disease appeared in the following win|ter; and there were cases also of the ulcerous sore throat. In the north part of the town, some cases of the yellow fever oc|curred in the last summer—1798.

In 1797 a malignant fever is said to have been introduced in|to a village in Chatham, on Connecticut river, by a vessel from the West-Indies. I understand that it was confined to a cluster of houses by the water; but I have not been able to collect the facts in detail, altho I have written letters for the purpose.

During the late pestilential period, the state of the atmosphere produced its usual effects in winter; which appeared in the ex|traordinary symptoms of pleurisy and peripneumony.

It has already been remarked that in periods when plague and other mortal epidemics rage in summer, the diseases of winter assume new symptoms. The pleurisy, at such times, has often become epidemic and even infectious. It is in fact a modification of the same pestilential principle, as that which renders bilious fevers in summer epidemic and infectious. The fatal effects of this species of pleurisy in Connecticut, in the winter of 1761, have been mentioned.

In the winter of 1795-6, after the epidemic in New-York, several cases of a similar kind occurred, and an able physician of plethoric habit and strong fibres, fell a victim to a peripneumony, with anomalous symptoms.

In the following winter, a similar disorder attacked many people in Connecticut. Three men in Hartford, of one family, two brothers and a cousin, all men of robust health, were at|tacked and carried off in the compass of a few days. Others of the same family, and several persons of a similar habit were affected, but recovered. It was far less general than in 1761.

This species of pleurisy appeared in Philadelphia as early as September 1791, the month when the malignant fever prevailed in New-York. A patient of Dr. Rush had a "red face, infla|med eyes, a perpetual tossing and sighing, strong animal powers, but weak pulse and sizy blood." In February 1792 many cases of similar pleuritic fevers occurred in Philadelphia—diseases as|sumed Page  332 the inflammatory diathesis which has remarkably charac|terized the epidemic of the last pestilential period.

In the spring of the year 1798, a mortal fever raged in Fred|ericktown, Maryland, beginning with lassitude, chills and pain in the head, and producing, on the third day, vertigo and spasm in the breast.


Letter from Dr. Baltzell to Dr. Rush, dated May 2, 1798.

In summer and autumn of 1797, a malignant fever, attended with dysentery, was epidemic in Portland and its vicinity, in the district of Maine. The dysentery subsided in October, but the fever continued. It appeared in the country, as well as town; and was usually conquered by the use of alkaline reme|dies. Many of the patients had a yellow skin and the predomi|nant symptoms of the yellow fever of our cities. In one instance, this disease put on the form of pestilence. A merchant, in a country village, where no suspicion of infection could be enter|tained, was seized with a malignant fever; he lingered till the 36th day, and died highly putrid. His nurse was seized and died; after death appeared livid spots on the body. A servant also took the disease and died. The nurse communicated the disease to three persons in the family where she lay ill.

This last instance is decisive evidence that the pestilential yel|low fever not only originates in our country, but in villages, in the 44th degree of latitude, a more temperate climate than that of New-York and Philadelphia.

In the winter succeeding, the pestilential principle still exhib|ited its effects. The fever continued to prevail, being ushered in with nausea, vomiting and chills succeeded by heat; but it was generally accompanied with a sore throat and scarlet efflo|rescence. It prevailed in almost every town in the county.


Dr. Barker's letter, Med. Repos. vol. 2. 147.

The year 1798 was remarkable for the most general preva|lence of the plague of our climate, that has been known; and in some cities, the disease was peculiarly malignant.

The preceding winter had been unusually long and cold—the May following was dry beyond what is recollected in any former years—June was remarkable for deluging rains, which occasioned floods in the Connecticut, Delaware and Susquehannah rivers, Page  333 which did no inconsiderable injury. Two or three of the first days of July were excessively hot, and succeeded by twenty days of very cool weather—then commenced a long period of the most sultry weather ever known in our climate, accompanied, in some places, with great rains.

Catarrhous fevers were frequent in the spring, the constant forerunners of autumnal sickness. Bilious fevers also occurred, in a few cases very early, indicating the predominant condition of the atmosphere. In summer and autumn, the grass-hoppers multiplied to such a degree from Pennsylvania to New-England, as to devour vegetables, and essentially injure the pastures and grass fields.

The pestilential fever in Philadelphia appeared early in the season—a number of cases in June, and still more in July. In August early, the city was alarmed and soon deserted by at least three fourths of its inhabitants. The disease was unusually mor|tal; and extended to the remotest parts of the city, where it had not formerly prevailed. Owing to this circumstance, some families suffered, which had escaped in former years. The num|ber of deaths amounted to about 3440. The disease, as usual, abated with the appearance of frost; but individuals were at|tacked with it, and carried off, in the midst of the following winter.

It is alledged by some persons that the fever was introduced into Philadelphia by the ship Deborah, which arrived from Jer|emie, and anchored near Race-street wharf, on the 18th of July. It is admitted that persons who went on board, soon af|ter sickened and died; and so did others sicken and die, without going near that ship. The truth is, many cases of the disease had occurred three or four weeks, before her arrival. The ship had lost people by fever on her passage and might be infected; and persons visiting her might receive that infection; but these facts do not reach the point. The epidemic began in all parts of the city, in scattering cases, previous to the arrival of this fo|mes, and had the ship never arrived, that epidemic would have ravaged the city. This is evident from the number of its pre|cursors.

This pestilential fever carried off fifty-seven persons in the Page  334 village of Marcus Hook, where the first persons seized were a shallop-man and others from Philadelphia. But many cases oc|curred which could be traced to no infection. See Dr. Sayre's letter in Currie's Memoirs, p. 136. In Chester died 50 of the same fever.

At Wilmington, in the state of Delaware, thirty miles from Philadelphia, the same disease raged with more than its ordinary mortality. Its victims amounted to 250. It appears that the disease was introduced by the fugitives from Philadelphia, and by watermen who ply between Wilmington and Philadelphia.


See Dr. Tilton's letter in Dr. Currie's Memoirs, p. 138.

The fever also prevailed in New-Castle and at Duck creek in the same state.

Letters from respectable physicians, in the public prints, have informed us that this disease prevailed also in some parts of New-Jersey, as at Bridgetown and Woodbury; and especially near the meadows on the borders of the Delaware. From careful examination, it was found that the disease must have originated where it existed; no intercourse having been held with infected places. In some instances the fever was probably infectious.

At Norwalk in Connecticut several persons died of the same distemper. The physicians are doubtful as to its origin; as some cases may be traced to a diseased person who had been in New-York. Three cases however occurred at some miles distance from the heart of the town, in persons who had not been in the least exposed to infection.


M. S. letter from Dr. Betts.

In the first week of August, appeared a bilious fever in New-York, between Old slip and Coenties slip, in the street next to the water; a place remarked for great accumulations of filthy substances. By the exertions of the Health Commissioners, in covering these nuisances with fresh earth, this alarming fever subsided in that neighborhood, and disappeared by the 26th of that month.

But on the 12th, the pestilential fever appeared in other parts of the city, and about the 20th, began to extend and assume a more formidable aspect. The district of the city, subjected to its most deadly effects, was that section comprehended between Page  335 John-street and Beekman-street, particularly in Cliff-street and its neighborhood. The probable cause of this effect, was the fetid air from large quantities of spoiled beef, stored in the cel|lars in Pearl-street, on the windward side of this section. The cellars were filled with water by heavy rains, or were other|wise damp; which circumstance, added to the extreme heat of the season, occasioned a greater loss of salted provisions, than perhaps was ever before known. To augment the effect, large quantities of pickle had been discharged, in the process of re|packing beef not yet spoiled, but in a bad state, which pickle had been carried by the gutters into a sewer in Burling slip, from which issued a very offensive smell.*

About the last of August, the inhabitants of New-York were greatly alarmed; some removed from the east to the west side of Broadway, a part of the city which has hitherto been exempted from the violent effects of the yellow fever; but a great pro|portion of the people deserted the city. The disease was more malignant, than in its preceding visits, and exhibited more fre|quently the bubo and carbuncle. It extended over two thirds of the city, and numbered with the dead about two thousand of its inhabitants. I am informed the disease was less generally characterized with the inflammatory diathesis, and that venesec|tion was less generally attended with salutary effects, than in for|mer years.

This disease exhibited little infection, beyond the limits of its own amosphere. In the hospital, at a little distance from the Page  336 city, were admitted about 300 patients, ill with that disease; yet sixteen nurses, seven washerwomen, and the boatmen who conveyed the sick from the city to the hospital, all escaped. Dr. Douglass, the attending physician, escaped the disease, until October, when he visited his friends and slept in the city, three days after which he was seized with the fever.


See Letters from the Health-Office, by Dr. Bailey, whose zeal, talents and industry, in his employment, have rarely been equalled.

The last fact is very important towards correcting the popular errors respecting the contagion of this fever. In the city per|sons took the fever—in the hospital they did not. That is, the distemper has an atmosphere, in which it is readily contracted— beyond that atmosphere, it is not infectious. In other words, it is a condition of the atmosphere, and not the effluvia from the sick, which is to be dreaded.

Thus, in 1797, the fugitives and sick from Philadelphia did not spread the fever in Wilmington—in 1798, they did. That is, in 1797 the atmosphere of Wilmington would not generate and nurse the disease—in 1798, it would.

In Boston, the disease began near the town dock and the neighboring wharves, in the month of June; but its most vio|lent effects were experienced on the south side of Fort-Hill, an elevated part of the town and exposed to free air. This cir|cumstance has occasioned no small surprise; but as the fever of 1796 began in that part of the town, perhaps we may find the cause in the very extensive flat, between Boston and Dorchester point, which is uncovered at low water; perhaps in the expo|sure of that hill to the direct rays of the sun; perhaps in the na|ture of the soil which is clay of a solid texture, and fitted to re|tain on its surface whatever impure substances are thrown from houses.

The fever afterwards invaded the north part of the town, and a street near the pond; supposed to be excited by noxious exha|lations. Some parts of the town, which are low and filthy, es|caped the fever.

At first it attacked the most robust young men, and the diath|esis was highly inflammatory. Later in the season, it attacked Page  337 persons of all ages and habits. At first it was not infectious, but in the later stages of its progress, it exhibited infection. Is disappeared with the arrival of frost, after carrying off nearly 200 patients.


M. S. letter from Dr. Eliot.

See a full account of the disease in a letter from Dr. Rand, published by order of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. This gentleman observes that no infection appeared, except in places where the disease was originally contracted.*


Massachusetts Mercury, Feb. 8, 1799.

The same malady appeared in Portsmouth, New-Hampshire, with equal mortality, as far as it extended; but its progress was limited to one street near the water.

New-London, in Connecticut, is situated in a very healthy part of the country, on a harbor, whose shores as well as the surrounding lands, are dry and rocky—its population about 3000 inhabitants.

In the last week in August 1798, t town was suddenly in|vaded by the plague of our country, which began in the family of Mr. Bingham, keeper of the Union coffee-house. No ves|sels from the West-Indies, no sick from other places, occur, in this instance, to help out popular credulity. The idea of im|portation is abandoned by the citizens of the town. The fever was very fatal within its atmosphere, which was confined to Bank street and its vicinity; a part of the city well built, clean and airy as any street in the town. Within a small space, were fifteen houses, inhabited by ninety-two persons—of which ninety were affected with the disease; thirty-three of this number died, and two only escaped the fever. The disease prevailed about eight weeks and destroyed eighty-one lives.


Printed account of the fever by Charles Holt.

On enquiry I find that this disease in New-London had its precursors, in sporadic cases of the same fever, in the three pre|ceding summers. In 1795, died Dr. Joseph W. Lee with all the symptoms of the yellow fever. Some instances occurred in Page  338 1796; and in 1797 died of the same, Matthew Griswold, Esq. and soon after his mother; indicating the communication of in|fection. Yet in these years, it did not spread and become epi|demic. The pestilential period however was progressing in that town, as appears by the bills of mortality; for the ordinary number of deaths does not exceed 60 in a healthy year; but in 1795, the number amounted to 86—in 1796, to 80—in 1797, to 101—in 1798, to 133. Here we observe a great augmenta|tion in the mortality of the town, several years before the crisis of pestilence, and especially in the year next preceding it. The importance of this fact towards a right understanding of the causes of epidemic pestilence, cannot be mistaken.

Considerable quantities of salted fish, which lay in certain stores in New-London, and which had not been well cured with the usual quantity of salt, became fetid and offensive, altho not pu|trid, and assumed a red cast with a slimy feeling—it also lost its texture and firmness. This was opened and spread in the streets for the purpose of being dried; and from its offensiveness and vicinity to the place where the disease first appeared, it is suppo|sed to have been an exciting cause of the fever. This opinion has doubtless some foundation; but putrid fish will not always occasion disease. It is probably true that the bad state of the fish was partly owing to a previous bad state of the air; altho it afterwards became a cause of a worse state of the air.

What seems to put this beyond doubt, is, the unusual number of musketoes, in the adjacent country, and the multitudes of flies of uncommon size, exceeding what had been before obser|ved. With these phenomena before our eyes, we can be at no loss to account for the pestilential fever of New-London.

The usual lake and river fever prevailed in the same season, in many of the interior parts of the country; as at Royalton in Vermont, on the Grand Isles in Lake Champlain, at New-Mil|ford in Connecticut, and in various parts of the state of New-York; in which places, it was attended with considerable mor|tality. Sporadic cases occurred in all parts, and in the healthiest situations, of the country. In many places, intermittents and dysentery were unusually violent and obstinate.

Page  339I have no account of the temperature of the weather in any part of Europe, during the summer of 1798; except that in some parts of Sweden, the first months of the summer were ex|cessively dry, as the month of May was in America.

A pestilential fever appeared in Italy in June; but I have no details of its progress. It is however to be observed that this fever was preceded by a violent earthquake in some part of the Tuscan territories, in the month of May, which did no small injury.

In autumn broke out a pestilential fever on the Baltic, in Dant|zick or its vicinity. The government of Denmark, in conse|quence of official information of the prevalence of this disease, directed all ships from Dantzick and the neighboring ports to be watched with vigilance, and appointed a committee of quarantine.

According to the report of a master of a vessel, there was an eruption in Teneriffe in the summer of 1798, which lasted sev|eral weeks. This volcano had been quiet for 94 years.

In November and December, the pestilence in America was succeeded as usual by influenza, which was very prevalent in all parts of the country, and in the southern states attended with some mortality. This was merely a change of the form of the epidemic.

The winter of 1798-9 was very long and severe in both hem|ispheres. In the United States, it began about the middle of November, with snow, and a heavy fall of snow on the 18th and 19th was followed by severe cold that lasted till the second week in January. From this time, there was a relaxation of cold for about three weeks, and the ice in Connecticut river gave way. But in February commenced severe cold, which contin|ued, for the most part to the vernal equinox. April was also cold; severe frosts occurred often, and checked vegetation. On the 2d and 8th of May were considerable falls of snow, followed by frost. On the morning of the 4th and 5th, we had ice at New-Haven as thick as window-glass. Peaches blossomed about the middle of May, and apples were not in full bloom, till the 22d. This long duration of cold exhausted all the barns of hay and other fodder, and multitudes of cattle perished in various parts of the country.

Page  340In Europe, the winter was equally severe. The rivers in England, Germany, Holland and France were covered with solid ice, and at the breaking up of winter, the Rhine rose and burst its barriers, inundating many parts of Holland with terri|ble destruction. The severity of the winter was felt even in the south of Italy, and the French and Neapolitan troops suffered greatly from snow on the Appenine, in the vicinity of Naples. In Siberia, we are informed by the public prints, perished whole villages of men and cattle by the severity of the frost.

In America, the diseases of the winter were characterized by the predominant diathesis of the reigning epidemic constitution, a yellow skin and bilious discharges. An earthquake of consid|erable extent was felt in the Carolinas on the 12th of April. What will be the state of health in the ensuing summer, must be left to be determined by the event. The present pestilence has been long and severe and the citizens look with impatience, for the usual salubrious state of their atmosphere.

In August, about the time the pestilence began to show itself in New-York, immense numbers of flies died suddenly, and oc|casioned no small speculation and alarm. Some were found on the floors; others adhering to the ceilings of rooms, and what is singular, their bodies became whi••. A pestilential air usually generates flies in unusual numbers; but on this occasion, some sudden change in the elements, destroyed their lives. How little do we know of the powers of the elements, and the nature of the alterations in them which produce such astonishing effects. Will imported infection account for such phenomena?

This is the best statement of facts I have been able to make from sixteen months investigation. It is not improbable that some mistakes have occurred, which more time and more ample materials, would enable me to correct. But I trust that the substance of the statements is accurate, and that no error of con|sequence will be found to result from them, to impeach the gen|eral principles suggested in this work.