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Benjamin Rush Portal: Yellow Fever

Benjamin Rush: Physician, Pedant, Patriot
From Robert Thom's "History of Medicine" (Pfizer)

This Yellow Fever page allows you to easily access Benjamin Rush’s almost-daily letters to his wife, Julia, who was safely away from the city with their children. From the calendar, you can see the actual handwritten letter he sent on each marked day (courtesy of Duke University Library Special Collections). From the “Letters of Benjamin Rush” link you can see every one of these letters fully transcribed and annotated by historian Lyman Butterfield from Vol 2 of “Letters of Benjamin Rush” courtesy of Princeton University Press. (For a recent history of the Yellow Fever epidemic: Yellow Fever Stalks the Founders by Stephen Fried in American Heritage.)

Click on Calendar For Rush’s Actual Handwritten Letters

Dates and links shown in the calendar above.

Click on Book for Transcriptions & Annotations

Lyman Butterfield's Letters of Benjamin Rush, Volume 2

What Were the Guidelines and Procedures Taken to Prevent the Spread?

  • Avoid "unnecessary intercourse"
  • A mark should be placed on the door/window of any house with an infected person inside
  • Infected people were to be placed in the center of a large and airy rooms, in beds without curtains, their linens frequently changed and washed and "all offensive matters" removed from near them
  • For the poor- create a new "large and airy hospital"
  • The dead should be buried as privately as possible
  • Streets and wharves of Philadelphia should be kept clean to prevent "contagion"
  • Avoid "all fatigue of body and mind"
  • Avoid "standing or sitting in the sun" in a "current of air, or in the evening air"
  • Avoid dressing too warmly

Black Clergy Assists Rush

On September 11, 1793, Jones and Allen put up an ad to assist physicians like Rush to fight against the epidemic: 

"As it is a time of great distress in this city, many people of the Black colour, under a greatful rememberance of the favour received from the white inhabitants, have agreed to assist them as far as in their power for the nursing of the sick and burial of the dead."

Absalom Jones

Absalom Jones (1746-1818), co-founder of the Free African Society (Episcopal Archives)

Richard Allen

Richard Allen (1760-1831), co-founder of the Free African Society (Documenting the American South)

Video: Rush and Yellow Fever

Primary Materials on Yellow Fever & Aftermath

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