#AceHistoryReport – July.02: When more poor began to die, respectable people shrugged it off as a passing “putrid fever” brought on by rotted fish or perishables heaped on the docks: Then the young, healthy wife of a Baptist minister died, then at an ever-accelerating pace businessmen, ministers, magistrates, law officers, federal officials, men and women, the old and the young, masters and servants, the pious and the dissolute alike. It quickly became clear that no one was safe:
Yellow Fever Plague of 1793 ….Of the past shows very similar reaction and lack of awareness with todays pandemic as it was a learning curve and still is during times of crisis !
The plague that was sweeping through the city was yellow fever, one of the deadliest and least-understood contagions of the time: It was the nation’s first epidemic and it threatened not only to destroy what was then its largest city, home to some 40,000 people, but also its fragile new government, which had formed barely four years earlier: It was a terrifying warning that life as Americans knew it could be snuffed out overnight by a phenomenon that no one could control.
Businesses collapsed. Schools and newspapers closed: The post office shut. For weeks, not a single ship dared to enter Philadelphia’s harbour: Each morning yielded a new crop of corpses. They lay putrefying where they fell in homes and streets. Frightened neighbors nailed shut the doors and windows of their infected neighbors’ homes, leaving them to die. The most basic bonds of civility and the most intimate family ties frayed and snapped.
Doctors, fearing for their own lives, abandoned the ill: The poorhouse turned away the needy. Parents abandoned their infected children, and children their parents, husbands their wives, and wives their husbands: An estimated 20,000 people fled, or tried to: Terrified refugees seeking hoped-for safety in rural New Jersey or further afield were driven from town to town, many of them to die alone by the roadside.For nearly two months, the United States had no government. George Washington, a vulnerable sixty years old, was convinced to escape to the safety of Mount Vernon. He handed over management of the government to Secretary of War Henry Knox, who panicked and fled north in hope of reaching New York, but then was stuck for weeks in forced quarantine at Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton caught the fever and almost died, while every member of his staff left town: Some claimed the city’s suffering was God’s just punishment for Philadelphians’ sinful pride: Others swore that tobacco smoke, or camphor slung around the neck, or clouds of gunpowder would stem infection; for a time, soldiers rolled cannon around the streets, firing every few yards.
Benjamin Rush, the city’s most celebrated physician, preached a horrific regimen of relentless purges and bloodletting, asserting that while effete Europeans probably couldn’t endure such a treatment it was perfectly suited to hearty, republican Americans: He bled one man twenty-two times and drained him of 176 ounces of blood…………………He probably killed more patients than he saved…………….When the city’s fate seemed most hopeless, its least respected citizens stepped forward to do what no one else would. It was at first believed – erroneously, as would soon be seen — that Africans were far less susceptible to infection.
Although slavery would soon end in Pennsylvania, it was still legal under certain conditions and racism was widespread: Black people were mostly restricted to the lowliest jobs: Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an early abolitionist, begged the leaders of the city’s 2,000 free Black people for help: Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, the founders of the first AME churches, agreed: If their followers acted now as a people, they reasoned, then possibly whites would abandon their prejudices and embrace them as brothers:
#AceHistoryDesk report ……………..Published: July.04: 2020:
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