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Do the locals have “herd immunity”?

the shade [of illness] next above it [yellow fever], called the stranger’s fever has been coeval [contemporary] with the settlement of the larger cities in the Southern parts, to wit, Norfolk, Charleston, New Orleans. strangers going to these places in the months of July, August or September, find this fever as mortal as the genuine yellow fever. but it rarely attacks those who have resided in them some time.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes,  leaders don’t understand what’s happening or why.
Excerpted from a longer, complicated passage in this letter to his French scientist/philosopher friend, the President introduced a malady called “stranger’s fever.” Very much like the yellow fever in its symptoms and mortality, it attacked only newcomers, i.e. strangers, to southern coastal cities. The locals were rarely affected. The yellow fever attacked everyone.

Jefferson didn’t make the claim or explain, but perhaps he was describing a natural “herd immunity” enjoyed by the locals, built up over time.

He went on to propose his disease-thwarting “checkerboard plan” for urban development, described in several earlier posts in this series.

You will need no immunity to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom, only an open mind.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Right idea. Wrong premise.

a vessel going from the infected quarter, and carrying it’s atmosphere in it’s hold into another state, has given the disease to every person who there entered her. these have died in the arms of their family without a single communication of the disease. it is certainly therefore an epidemic, not a contagious disease; and calls on the chemists for some mode of purifying the vessel by a decomposition of it’s atmosphere, if ventilation be found insufficient.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Empirical evidence leading to a logical conclusion might be wrong.
Jefferson concluded the yellow fever was not contagious but endemic, transmitted not by people but by fouled air generated in certain conditions along the coast. To buttress that position, he wrote that a ship sailing from one diseased area would carry it to another in the fouled air below deck. If ventilation could not be improved, it fell to the scientists (in this case, chemists) to devise a new method “of purifying the vessel.”

The real cause of yellow fever, the mosquito, would remain undetected for another 100 years. It is likely the ships in question carried not diseased air but disease-bearing insects from one port to another.

Your audience is invited to judge the applicability of Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom to the current age.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You have the yellow fever in France!

The account you give of the yellow fever, is entirely agreeable to what we then knew of it … facts appear to have established that it is originated here by a local atmosphere, which is never generated but in the lower, closer & dirtier parts of our large cities, in the neighborhood of the water: and that, to catch the disease, you must enter the local atmosphere. persons having taken the disease in the infected quarter, & going into the country, are nursed & buried by their friends, without an example of communicating it.
From Thomas Jefferson to Constantin François Chasseboeuf Volney,  February 8, 1805

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders heed empirical evidence.
Volney (1757-1820) was a French philosopher, author and politician. He met Jefferson  during the latter’s tenure as Ambassador to France. Volney visited America during the 1790s. Jefferson sponsored Volney’s membership in the American Philosophical Society, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific organization. Both shared similar views on government and religion.

In a November 1803 letter to Jefferson, Volney said he nearly died in September from a “cruel illness … the fever…” He was heeding his doctor’s advice to relocate for the winter. Neither this letter nor his previous ones to Jefferson made specific reference to the “yellow fever,” but the President assumed it was the same malady in both countries.

Jefferson continued his theme that evidence pointed to the disease occurring only in dirty, densely populated, waterfront areas. That made it endemic to those areas. Afflicted people taken inland, whether they lived or died, did not give the fever to their care-givers. That meant it was not contagious.

Mr. Jefferson will bring his evidence-based wisdom to your audience.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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I will stay in my lane.

still it is not within my province to decide the question: but as it may be within yours to require the performance of Quarentine or not, I execute a private duty in submitting Doctr. Rush’s letter to your consideration. but on this subject ‘nil mihi rescribas, attamen ipse veni.’
Thomas Jefferson to John Page, August 16, 1804

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Respectful leaders do not usurp another’s authority.
Jefferson concluded his letter to Virginia’s Governor saying any decision to quarantine areas affected by the yellow fever lay with Page. He forwarded Dr. Benjamin Rush’s opinionated letter on the subject  to Page as a “private duty,” not a public one.

“nil mihi rescribas, attamen ipse veni,” means “writing back is pointless. Come yourself!” The translation is given in the footnote to a 1795 Jefferson letter to James Madison. Perhaps he meant that debating the issue by letter was pointless, that he would rather see his old friend and discuss it in person?

Mr. Jefferson would prefer to meet your audience in person!
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I thought one way. Facts proved another.

in the early history of this disease [yellow fever], I did suppose it to be infectious … until the fever at Alexandria brought facts under my own eye, as it were, proving it could not be communicated but in a local atmosphere … we know only that it is generated near the water side, in close built cities, under warm climates … where one sufficient cause for an effect is known, it is not within the economy of nature to employ two. if local atmosphere suffices to produce the fever, miasmata [foul discharge] from a human subject are not necessary, and probably do not enter into the cause.
Thomas Jefferson to John Page, August 16, 1804

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders are willing to  change their minds.
In the previous post from this letter to Virginia’s Governor Page, the President raised the question: Was the yellow fever contagious, passed from person to person, or was it endemic, its cause being associated with a particular place? Experts disagreed, but Jefferson thought the former.

Facts (Jefferson loved facts!) from the outbreak in Alexandria, VA, caused him to change his mind. The fever ran rampant only in warm weather and in densely populated cities close to the water. Reason told him (he really loved reason!) if one cause was identified, a second cause was unnecessary. Thus, the disease was “probably” not infectious but caused by unique, local conditions.

Jefferson was correct in identifying warm weather and a waterfront as contributors. He may have been correct about densely populated cities, but he disliked those, anyway. Everyone would be wrong about the real cause for the next 100 years: the lowly mosquito, active in warm weather, needing water to reproduce, and appearing more of a menace in urban areas.

Your audience is welcome to challenge Mr. Jefferson.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Don’t lay blame. Instead, decide and act!

on the question Whether the Yellow fever is infectious [contagious], or endemic [confined to a certain place], the Medical faculty is divided into parties, and it certainly is not the office of the public functionaries to denounce either party as the Doctr. [Benjamin Rush] proposes. yet, so far as they are called on to act, they must form for themselves an opinion to act on.
Thomas Jefferson to John Page, August 16, 1804

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders see no value in placing blame.
Virginia’s Governor Page (1743-1808), a life-long friend, was facing the seasonal return of the deadly yellow fever in the state’s coastal region. Jefferson enclosed a letter from a mutual friend, Dr. Rush, expressing his (Rush’s) opinion on the disease and criticism of those who disagreed.

Jefferson would have none of it. Laying blame would serve no purpose, especially when the medical experts themselves were divided about the cause of the disease. Facing the unknown, “public functionaries” (government and public health leaders) had the responsibility to form the best opinion possible from conflicting information and act on it.

Thomas Jefferson will act upon your invitation to speak.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Health, Leadership, Protecting ourselves Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Keep my name out of it!

I pray you to recieve & apply the within sum of one hundred dollars to the use of those among you afflicted with the present sickness, who may be in need of it. I further request that no acknolegement may be made of it in the public papers, nor otherwise in any manner. I offer my best wishes for the reestablishment of the health of Alexandria, & to yourself my respectful salutations.
Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Snowden, September 29, 1803

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders don’t need credit for their good deeds.
This post clarifies an earlier one drawn from Jefferson’s Memorandum Book for 1803. He did forward the $100 he had just received to Snowden as a charitable contribution for those suffering from the yellow fever outbreak in Alexandria, VA.

Snowden, a newspaper publisher, was also involved in the local relief effort. The President stipulated his contribution was to be kept anonymous, both in “public papers” and elsewhere. Snowden published the amount of the donation but not the source. A Founders Archives footnote to this letter indicates Jefferson was outed anyway, by a grateful local minister who also mentioned the amount in writing and speculated the source, “supposed to be the President.”

The principled leader Jefferson desires to share his wisdom with your audience.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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Will fresh air defeat disease?

… you mentioned the plan of the town which you had done me the honour to name after me, and to lay out according to an idea I had formerly expressed to you … I do believe it to be the best means of preserving the cities of America from the scourge of the yellow fever which being peculiar to our country must be derived from some peculiarity in it. that peculiarity I take to be our cloudless skies … a constant sun produces too great an accumulation of heat … ventilation is indispensably necessary. experience has taught us that in the open air of the country the yellow fever is not only not generated, but ceases to be infectious.
Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, February 27, 1803

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders design for others’ health.
Harrison (1773-1841) was Governor of the Indiana Territory and christened Jeffersonville, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, KY. He also wanted to lay out the new city on the President’s checkerboard plan, where squares of one color were developed, those of the other color left as open land.

Jefferson believed that clouded European skies prevented the urban heat build-up sunny America cities experienced every season. Perhaps urban heat contributed to unhealthy air, the cause of yellow fever. More ventilation in our cities would reduce that heat and defeat the disease. Leaving half of a city’s land undeveloped would accomplish that.

Some of Mr. Jefferson’s many ideas appeared logical and reasonable, but were impractical to implement or maintain. His plan for urban design was one of those. He was also wrong about the cause of yellow fever, but so was everyone else for the next 97 years.

Harrison became President in 1841 at age 68, the oldest until Ronald Reagan assumed the office in 1981. He died just 31 days after his inauguration and was succeeded by his Vice-President, John Tyler. Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was elected President for one term in 1888.

Mr. Jefferson will share his practical leadership ideas with your audience.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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If you are blessed, share with those who suffer.

Gave in charity 4.D. do 1.D.
Recd. from J. Barnes 100.D
Inclosed the same to S Snowden in charity for the sick of Alexandria
Gave in charity 4.D.
Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum Books, 1803 (Entry for September 29)

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Grateful leaders are generous people.
Jefferson’s Memorandum Books were a detailed record he kept for many years, primarily of his income and expenses. This date’s entry records four charity donations. “4.D.” would be $4. “do 1.D.” would mean ditto (do.) $1. Perhaps both amounts were given at the same time? Later in the day was another $4 for charity.

In between, he recorded the receipt of $100, followed by another entry, a donation “for the sick in Alexandria.” Perhaps “Inclosed the same” meant he sent the $100 he received from Barnes to the relief effort. Footnote 54 for this entry referenced a serious yellow fever epidemic in Alexandria, VA.

The President spent August and September every year at Monticello, escaping the worst months for the yellow fever along Atlantic coast. Many were not so fortunate to be able to flee inland. He was aware of their plight.

A compassionate Thomas Jefferson awaits an invitation to share his story with your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
1 Comment Posted in Grief & loss, Health Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Your family comes first.

I sincerely condole [grieve] with you on the sickly state of your family and hope this will find them reestablished with the approach of the cold season. as yet however we have had no frost at this place, and it is believed the yellow fever still continues in Philadelphia if not in Baltimore. we shall all be happy to see you here whenever the state of your family admits it.
Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, October 25, 1802

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about diseases that ravaged the nation in Thomas Jefferson’s time.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Yellow fever wasn’t the only deathly scourge leaders faced.
Massachusetts born Lincoln (1749-1820) was Jefferson’s Attorney General. In a letter to the President eight days before, he wrote of the desperate illness that had afflicted his large family. Lincoln seemed to have remained healthy but wrote the constant attention to his family was wearing him down. They were recovering, and he hoped to be back in the capital in early November. (A footnote to Lincoln’s letter referenced a dysentery in New England in the fall of 1802 that claimed a number of lives. Children were especially vulnerable.)

Jefferson wrote the yellow fever still plagued large coastal cities. The fall frost, which marked the end of the seasonal and sometimes fatal fever, had not yet come to Washington City. He welcomed Lincoln’s return “whenever” his family recovered.

Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak to your audience.
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NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
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