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The untold stories of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia

By Edited Nov 2, 2015 0 0

In 1793, an epidemic hit one of the largest cities of our newly formed country, Philadelphia. The epidemic was yellow fever and in the first month it had take ten percent of the residents of Philadelphia. As many physicians began to leave Philadelphia, one prominent physician decided to stay and help the residents. This man was Dr. Benjamin Rush, known as the Father of Medicine. If this name sounds familiar, that is because he is one of  the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Although, Dr. Benjamin Rush deserves many honors for his role in the Yellow Fever Epidemic, I want to focus on those that also played a major role during this epidemic yet have not received their place in our history. This article will focus on the events described by William Cooper Nell in his book entitled, “The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution”.
During this epidemic, Dr. Rush was assisted by three colored men, Rev. Absalom Jones, William Gray and Rev. Richard Allen. These men stayed and helped care for the sick during this terrible time in our history. Other colored people were asked to help during this time and they answered the call. These are their stories.  In one instance, there was a sick white man who was at his window begging people that walked by for some water. Several fellow white men hurriedly passed and none gave the poor man water. Then along comes a poor black man that hears this man’s plea for water, he stops and runs for water and takes it back to the sick man. Not only did this benevolent black man stop to give the sick man water but he stayed and nursed the man. The sick man was grateful and wanted to pay the benevolent black man but the offer was refused.
A young black woman was offered any price to take care of a white merchant and his wife. The woman helped them but didn’t take any money. She stated, if she went from holy love, she might hope to be preserved, but not if she went for money.  The young black woman contracted the disease herself but recovered. Next, there was a black man riding on horseback through the streets, when he saw a white man push his wife, whom contracted the disease, out of the house. The woman was weak, staggered and fell into the gutter unable to get up. The black man dismounted and gently took the woman to the hospital.
Although, the colored men and women of Philadelphia served the sick during the epidemic, not everyone accepted their help. Rev. Absalom Jones and William Gray gave an account of a white man that threatened to shoot them if they passed by his house with a dead body. The man dead three days later.
Rev. Absalom Jones and Rev. Richard Allen where honored with a certificate from Mayor Matthew Clarkson of Philadelphia.
Although this is a great piece of history showing how the black community of Philadelphia served the sick people of Philadelphia in a time of crisis, it is a shame that these stories have gone untold for so long. Again, these stories are taken out of William Cooper Nell’s book, titled “The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution”. I highly recommend reading his book.

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