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the deadly yellow fever

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At First, The Yellow Fever Refused To Surrender 

By Aaron B.

The Yellow Fever Destroyed Cities For Over 100 Years,

 But Eventually It Was Defeated By People’s Will To Survive










At First, The Yellow Fever Refused To Surrender

by Aaron B.











I dedictae this book to anyone who has ever devoted their time to curing disease


   They’ve changed the world, they’ve wiped out entire civilizations, but we have always found new medicines. For thousands of years diseases have puzzled all civilizations.

   The United States has had very few major disease epidemics. This is the story of the Yellow Fever epidemic. It all started in Philadelphia.

The Yellow Fever Mound  

      The first major American Yellow Fever epidemic came in the August of 1793. It struck Philadelphia without warning. Most of the hospitals or medical stores were not ready for this attack. This was not good for the U.S.A., because Philadelphia was the capital city. Philadelphia was also the country’s busiest port. The fact that Philadelphia was such a busy port was one of the most prominent reasons that the Yellow Fever started.

This is Philadelphia as a busy port

The epidemic started when refugees from the Caribbean came in by the hundreds. The refugees were escaping political conflicts. Additionally, most of these refugees had caught the Yellow Fever before coming to Philadelphia.

Carribbean refugees escaping

The spreader of the disease

   Now the disease had two ingredients warm weather and lots of people. At this time, all it needed was a way to spread. This way turned out to be the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. This mosquito would bite an infected person and then bite a perfectly healthy person. A few weeks later the person bitten by the mosquito would fall ill. With this mosquito delivering Yellow Fever and the disease’s ability to spread rapidly, Yellow Fever soon spread throughout Philadelphia.

   The first people devastated by this invisible menace were the people near the Delaware River. What were they thinking when the disease attacked their town? Were they surprised or confused?


Concentration of Yellow Fever

    By October 11th, 100 people were dying each day from the Yellow Fever. Even with Rush’s brutal attempt at curing the Yellow Fever, it was getting worse. It was getting so bad that some people banished a family member out on to the street if they even complained about a slight headache.

Philadelphia by October 11th

Thousands of people fleeing the Yellow Fever 

      Over 17,000 people fled the Yellow Fever, which drastically reduced the population. Almost all of the rich people fled the city. The Yellow Fever even had an effect on some of our Founders. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were some of the people who fled with the government.     

      There were some people who didn’t believe that the disease was contagious. These people refused to leave the city while they could. This was not a good choice for them. This choice may have cost them their lives.

   The first person who realized that the disease was Yellow Fever was Benjamin Rush. He was a recognized doctor and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He thought the disease came from rotting coffee beans on the docks, although Rush’s theory would later be proven wrong.

Portrait of Benjamin Rush

   Many people accused the Caribbean refugees of starting the Yellow Fever. Since Rush was a supporter of anti-segregation he defended the refugees.  After defending the Caribbean refugees for a while, he convinced people that the refugees had not started the disease. This made people start listening to his theory and they began to clean the docks and empty the swamps.

Benjamin Rush hard at work

   Rush had a very harsh approach to try and cure the Yellow Fever. He believed in taking some of the blood out of the patient and replacing it with a mercury compound. This was supposed to speed up the discharge of the sickness. Many people criticized him for this. Although this approach basically ruined his reputation, Benjamin Rush kept trying to find a cure.


Formula for Rush's treatment

   Rush also believed that African-Americans were immune to the Yellow Fever. Many African-Americans believed this as well. This led Rush to ask many of the free African-Americans to help take care of the many sick patients. Soon in almost all the hospital rooms you would see only a single African-American. The African-Americans would use rush’s treatments on thousands of patients a day. Many new quarantine hospitals were built for Yellow Fever patients.

African-Americans helped the sick

Quarantine hospitals

   In addition to the cure not working very well, Rush’s theory was wrong. Many African-Americans started dying from the Yellow Fever just like other people. In fact, half of the people who stayed in Philadelphia died.

Important observations

"It was not long after these worthy Africans undertook the execution of their humane offer of services to the sick before I was convinced I had been mistaken. They took the disease in common with the white people, and many of them died with it."


--Benjamin Rush, An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever, as it Appeared in Philadelphia, In the Year 1793 .

   Using the newspapers, Benjamin Rush wrote advice to the people that had left Philadelphia. He advised them not to come back until after a cold front or a long frost. Many people had decided to flee at once. This caused a lot of commotion. Also, many people such as Samuel Breck thought that “The horrors were heart rending.”

The newspaper article

   Finally, a cold front came and eliminated most of the mosquitoes. Although many of the African-Americans who helped the most died from the Yellow Fever, nobody praised them for their help. 240 African-Americans were killed. Eventually over 5,000 of the people who lived in Philadelphia were killed in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793.


A house in Philadelphia after the bought of Yellow Fever

   Nearly a century later we have finally found a cure for the Yellow Fever. Through all of our doctors' perseverance we have made the world a better place. This scene in the U.S.A. motivated us to find ways to prevent new attacks.

   We have cured some of the diseases that have been in the world for centuries. In summary, the Yellow Fever epidemic helped start some of the discoveries that have improved the world forever. 

This is the vaccine for the Yellow Fever 

Appendix A.1 - Benjamin Rush Biography (


Representing Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress

by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress




December 24, 1745


Byberry, Pennsylvania.


B.A. at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), M.D. at the University of Edinburgh (Physician)


Physician, Professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia, 1769; Writer, Member of the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia, 1773...; Elected to Pennsylvania provincial conference, Elected to Continental Congress, 1776; Appointed Surgeon-general to the armies of the middle department (of the Continental Army), 1777; Instructor, Physician, University of the State of Pennsylvania, 1778...; Treasurer of the U.S. Mint, 1779-1813; Professor of medical theory and clinical practice, University of Pennsylvania, 1791-1813

Died: April 19, 1813


Appendix A.2 (continued) - Benjamin Rush Biography


Benjamin Rush, eminent Physician, writer, educator, humanitarian, is as interesting a figure as one could find in the formation of the United States. A wildly popular and much loved man, he was nonetheless a fallible character. He was born in December of 1745 in Byberry, Pennsylvania, some twelve miles from Philadelphia. His father died when Benjamin was six, and his mother placed him in the care of his maternal uncle Dr. Finley who became his teacher and advisor for many years. In 1759 he attended the College of Philadelphia, where he ultimately attained a Bachelor of Arts degree. He continued his education with a Dr. Redman of Philadelphia for four years and then crossed the Atlantic to attend to an M.D. at Edinburgh. He spent several years in Europe studying and practicing Medicine, French, Italian, Spanish, and science. He returned in 1769, opened a private practice in Philadelphia, and was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia.


Appendix A.3 (continued) - Benjamin Rush Biography


Benjamin Rush was soon beloved in the city, where he practiced extensively amongst the poor. His practice was successful, his classes were popular, and he further began to engage in writing that would prove to be of considerable importance to the emerging nation. Rush published the first American textbook on Chemistry. In 1773 he contributed editorial assays to the papers about the Patriot cause and also joined the American Philosophical Society. He was active in the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia during that time. In June of 1776 he was elected to attend the provincial conference to send delegates to the Continental Congress. He was appointed to represent Philadelphia that year and so signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1777 he was appointed surgeon-general of the middle department of the Continental Army. This office led to some trouble for him; he was critical of the administration of the Army Medical service under Dr. William Shippen. He complained to Washington, who deferred to the Congress. Ultimately Congress upheld Shippen and Rush resigned in disgust. As the war continued and Army forces under General Washington suffered a series of defeats, Rush secretly campaigned for removal of Washington as commander in chief, and went so far as to write an anonymous letter to then Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia. He was caught in the act and confronted by Washington, at which point he bowed out of any activities related to the war.

Appendix A.4 (continued) - Benjamin Rush's Biography 


Rush's teaching career and medical practice continued till the end of his life. He became the Professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the consolidated University of Pennsylvania in 1791, where he was a popular figure at the height of his influence in medicine and in social circles. He was also a social activist, a prominent advocate for the abolition of slavery, an advocate for scientific education for the masses, including women, and for public medical clinics to treat the poor.

Benjamin Rush was a regular writer, and many notes about the less well known signers of the Declaration come from his observations on the floor of congress. Other members of congress, Franklin, and John Adamsforemost, had some harsh observations to make about Rush. He was handsome, well-spoken, a gentleman and a very attractive figure-he was also a gossip and was quick to rush to judgement about others. He was supremely confident of his own opinion and decisions, yet shallow and very unscientific in practice. His chief accomplishment as a physician was in the practice of bleeding the patient. It was said that he considered bleeding to be a cure for nearly any ailment. Even when the practice began to decline, he refused to reconsider the dangers of it. He died at the age of 68 at his home in Philadelphia, the most celebrated physician in America.

Appendix B.1 - Epidemic in Philadelphia, PBS (


In 1793 Philadelphia was the nation's largest city and its capital, home to prominent citizens like Thomas JeffersonGeorge Washington, and Alexander Hamilton. It was also the site of the most fearsome epidemic to strike the young nation.


The First Cases
Benjamin Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the city's most prominent physicians and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was called to the home of Dr. Hugh Hodge on August 5. Hodge's young daughter was jaundiced, suffering from a high fever, and vomiting blood. She died that day. Over the next two weeks, Rush saw many

Appendix B.2 (continued)


more patients with the same symptoms, several of whom also died. On August 21, he told Mayor Matthew Clarkson that unsanitary conditions in the bustling city were causing a yellow fever epidemic.


Conflicting Theories
Not everyone agreed on the cause. While Rush determined that the illness originated locally, the governor blamed foreigners from the West Indies. Other doctors argued that the disease had arrived on boats from the Caribbean and supported a quarantine of the vessels and passengers. Doctors also disagreed about treatment, with some advocating bleeding and purging while others proposed milder remedies such as teas and cold baths. Regardless, nothing was working to stem the crisis.


Appendix B.3 (continued)

"Quit the City"
Alexander HamiltonThe mayor convened the College of Physicians, which on August 27 advised people to avoid infected cases if possible and keep the streets clean, among other measures. Rush beseeched all "that can move, to quit the city." About 20,000 people fled, including George Washington, who explained that "as Mrs. Washington was unwilling to leave me surrounded by the malignant fever which prevailed, I could not think of hazarding her and the Children any longer by my continuance in the city, the house in which we lived being, in a manner, blockaded, by the disorder." Thomas Jefferson observed: "Everybody who can, is fleeing from the city, and the panic of the country people is likely to add famine to the disease." Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton left also but not before contracting the disease. He recovered but as he fled to Albany was treated as an outcast, a treatment typically afforded sick refugees.

Appendix B.4 (continued)


Fear Rushes In
As the deadly disease spread, Irish American publisher Mathew Carey chronicled the reaction of city residents who remained: "The consternation of the people of Philadelphia, at this period, was carried beyond all bounds. Dismay and affright were visible in almost every person's countenance." Acquaintances and friends avoided each other in the street, he noted. In some households, family members were banished into the street when they complained of a headache, a common precursor to yellow fever. "Parents desert their children as soon as they are infected," lamented Rush, "and in every room you enter you see no person but a solitary black man or woman near the sick."


Appendix B.5 (continued)


Serving the Afflicted
Independence HallIndeed, most of the black residents of Philadelphia remained in the city and helped the stricken white residents. Members of Philadelphia's African Society, who held the common belief that black people were immune to the disease, offered their services to the mayor, fulfilling many responsibilities abandoned by white residents. The mayor would later write of the volunteer effort among black residents: "Their diligence, attention and decency of deportment, afforded me, at the time, much satisfaction." The belief in immunity turned out to be unfounded; 240 black residents died of yellow fever.


Appendix B.6 (continued)


A Welcome Frost
On September 12, Mayor Clarkson warned a group of citizens that the city was approaching anarchy. At the time, the epidemic was worsening, with deaths ranging from 67 on September 16 to 96 on September 24. The city's burial grounds were nearly filled. Meanwhile, cities in surrounding states established quarantine houses or roadblocks to stop Philadelphians from entering. October brought higher death tolls but also relief. At the end of the month, a welcomed frost, which had been known to end previous epidemics, arrived. On October 31, a white flag flew over the city hospital, signifying that no yellow fever patients remained. The disease caused an estimated 5,000 deaths that year in Philadelphia, about a tenth of the residents of the city and its suburbs.

Appendix C - Map of Philadelphia Landmarks

Map of Philadelphia With Landmarks

Appendix D -  Symptoms

Common symptoms of the Yellow Fever

About The Author and Blurb

      I am a sixth grader in small town in New York. I chose to write about the Yellow Fever because I knew it had a big impact. I also knew that many people lost their lives in the Yellow Fever and I wanted people to know about it.

    The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 was one of the worst epidemics in history. Many people fled as soon as the disease started. The Yellow Fever of 1793 divided many families that year. Eventually people would resort to throwing family members out onto the street.