Page 23 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - April/May 2020 Edition
P. 23

The Yellow Fever Outbreak of 1793                                                                                       23

                 The Yellow Fever
           Outbreak of 1793: Nine

         Observations and Lessons

                 Continued from Page 22

        1. People Stopped Shaking Hands.

        Unaware that mosquitoes spread yellow fever,
        Americans feared contact with the sick or
        unwitting carriers. In their fear of contagion,
        Americans abandoned the custom of shaking
        hands. Jones and Allen remarked that “friends,
        when they met in the streets, were afraid of each
        other.” Fenno mentioned “no shaking of hands,”
        “every one stood aloof.” Carey wrote, “The old
        custom of shaking hands fell into such general
        disuse, that many were affronted at even the
        offer of the hand.” Instead, acquaintances and
        friends “only signified their regard by a cold

        2. Fear of Contagion Made the City a

        Ghost Town.

        Fenno wrote, “The City is now in a manner
                                                         Americans resorted to preventives that Mathew Carey also suspected psychological
        depopulated—almost every person who can quit
                                                         combatted stench. John Fenno recalled that factors          increased    mortality.    On     a
        it, is gone. I should judge by appearances that
                                                         “every person was seen with a spunge or a bottle recommendation from the College of
        full one half of the People are gone—business is
                                                         at their Nose.” Carey reported, “Those who Physicians, churches no longer rang bells to
        in a great degree stagnant.” About 20,000 people
                                                         ventured abroad, had handkerchiefs or sponges mark each death.  The constant knell, Carey
        left the city, Fenno explained, so “business of
                                                         impregnated with vinegar or camphor, at their believed, worked only “to terrify those in health,
        every kind became suspended, and universal
                                                         noses, or else smelling bottles with the thieves’ and drive the sick, as far as the influence of
        stillness prevailed night & day.”
                                                         vinegar. Others carried pieces of tar in their imagination could produce that effect, to their
                                                         hands, or pockets, or camphor bags tied round graves.”
        “The streets every where discovered marks of
                                                         their necks.” Four thieves vinegar, or “thieves’
        the distress that pervaded the city,” Rush
                                                         oil,” is vinegar spiked with herbs or spices.    John Fenno opted to stay indoors to shield
        reported. “More than one half the houses were
                                                                                                          himself from the demoralizing effect of a
        shut up, although not more than one third of the
                                                         Alas, these precautions were ineffective. Rush desolate city. Fenno explained, “In addition to
        inhabitants had fled into the country. In walking
                                                         noted, “There did not appear to be any the numerous carriages employed to carry the
        for many hundred yards, few persons were met,
                                                         advantage from smelling vinegar, tar, camphor, dead, there were 8 or 9 Carts constantly
        except such as were in quest of a physician, a
                                                         or volatile salts, in preventing the disorder.”  employed in carrying out the sick.” At one stage
        nurse, a bleeder, or the men who buried the
                                                                                                          of the outbreak, “it was not possible . . . to go the
        dead. The hearse alone kept up the remembrance
                                                         4. Negativity was Fatal.                         distance of a square without meeting a Corpse,
        of the noise of carriages or carts in the streets.”
                                                                                                          & often 3 or 4.” Fenno wrote, “During this sad
                                                         Although he knew of exceptions, Carey wrote,     state of affairs—I was obliged to go into the
        Philadelphia residents made social isolation the
                                                         “The effect of fear in predisposing the body for  center of the  Town to market, & to the post-
        norm. Carey wrote, “Of those who remained,                                                        office every day—but such was the dismal
        many shut themselves up in their houses, and     this and other disorders, and increasing their
                                                         malignance, when taken, is well known.” In       scene, & so shocking the details from every
        were afraid to walk the streets.” When people                                                     quarter . . . I therefore left off going into town.”
        summoned the courage to take a walk, “the sick   many cases of yellow fever, Rush was certain
                                                         that depression was a contributing cause of
        cart conveying patients to the hospital, or the
        hearse carrying the dead to the grave,” “soon    death. “The deaths which occurred on the 3d, 5. Many People were Heroic.
        damped their spirits, and plunged them again     5th, and 7th days, appeared frequently to be the
                                                         effects of the commotions or depression, The epidemic also exposed both the widespread
        into despondency.”
                                                         produced in the system on the 2d, 4th, and 6th good citizenship of  Americans, and their low
                                                         days.” Rush also attributed high mortality expectations of each other. Rush marveled, “It
        3. Many Popular Remedies Failed.
                                                         among servant girls not only to the rigors of was remarked during this time, by many people
                                                         their work, but also “To their being left more that the name of the Supreme Being was seldom
        Many Americans subscribed to the belief that
                                                         alone in confined or distant rooms, thereby profaned . . . Two robberies only, and those of a
        foul smells communicated disease. Some
                                                         suffering from depression of spirits.”           trifling nature, occurred in nearly two months,
        Philadelphia residents believed the stench of
                                                                                                          although many hundred houses were exposed to
        rotten coffee on a wharf started the outbreak.
                                                         Likewise, the reverends  Absalom Jones and plunder, every hour of the day and night.” Jones
        Fenno was sure  Thomas O’Hara, a clerk,
                                                         Richard  Allen were shocked by the morbid and Allen also remarked that “it is rather to be
        contracted yellow fever when he passed an open
                                                         pessimism that “took hold on the minds of admired that so few instances of pilfering and
        coffin, “took the scent & died the  Wednesday
                                                         thousands.” Jones and Allen believed “dejection robbery happened, considering the great
        following.” Even Devèze, who knew the disease
                                                         and despondence” “aggravated the case of opportunities there were for such things.”
        was not contagious, believed that its “first
                                                         many; while others who bore up cheerfully got
        cause” was “alterations of the atmospheric air,”
                                                         up again, that probably would otherwise have
        air that was “more or less adulterated or
                                                         died.”                                                                  (Continued on Page 24)
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