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So many are gone, it is difficult to pay you.

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to Mrs. Fulle[rton,] whose account he has received and left in the hands of Mr. Bankson, at his office, with an order to pay it out of monies he will receive at the treasury for Th:J. in the course of the week after next. The present difficulty of money transactions in the city, on account of the absence of so many people and his own journey, has put it out of his power to be more immediate in the discharge of Mrs. Fullerton’s account.
Thomas Jefferson to Valeria Fullerton, September 16, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders know everyone has trouble paying bills in a crisis.
The widow Fulton maintained a boarding school that Jefferson’s daughter Maria attended. He had withdrawn her from school a few days before to distance her from the yellow fever, but he still owed Mrs. Fulton for her services.

He had received her bill and given it to his clerk Bankson with orders to pay her once he was paid in two weeks. Many were gone from their posts. He was leaving town himself in the next day or two. There was no way to get her money to her any faster. Since he would be gone, he had no way of knowing if she would get paid at all.

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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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The fever is worse. I am caught up. I leave soon.

Having found on my going to town … that I had but one clerk left, and that business could not be carried on, I determined to set out for Virginia as soon as I could clear my own letter files. I have now got through it so as to leave not a single letter unanswered, or thing undone, which is in a state to be done, and expect to set out tomorrow or next day …
Colo. Hamilton and Mrs. Hamilton are recovered [from the yellow fever]. The Consul Dupont is dead of it. So is Wright.
P.S. Sep. 16. … Since writing the above I have more certain accounts from the city. The deaths are probably about 30. a day, and it continues to spread. Saturday was a very mortal day. Dr. Rush is taken with the fever last night.
Thomas Jefferson to [President] George Washington, September 15 & 16, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Everyone, leaders included, suffer personally in a devastating crisis.
Having decided to leave Philadelphia after first determining to stay, Secreatry of State Jefferson has tied up every possible loose end before his departure. He planned to stop at Washington’s home on his way to Monticello.

He reported that Treasury Secretary Hamilton was recovering, while two others in their circle had died.

He added a P.S. countering his earlier assertion the fever was abating. Also, eminent physician, Declaration of Independence signer and friend Dr. Benjamin Rush became ill overnight. (Rush would survive, live another 20 years and be instrumental in facilitating the reconciliation between John Adams and Jefferson in 1812.)

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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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All is suspended. There is no point in staying here.

I have duly recieved your favor of the 6th. and immediately wrote to Mr. Serjeant, your lawyer. I inclose you his answer, by which you will perceive that the fatal fever of this place has not been without it’s effect on you also. I had intended to go to Monticello a fortnight hence; but the suspension of all business by the malady, renders it more convenient that I should be absent now. I think therefore to set out in one, two, or three days.
Thomas Jefferson to James Currie, September 15, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
There is no point in leading if there’s nothing to do.
Currie (1756-1805) was a Scottish physician who spent a few years in Virginia in the early 1770s. An ardent loyalist, he returned to Great Britain when America declared independence. Jefferson’s correspondence to and from Currie’s lawyer, Jonathan Sergeant, has not been found but appears to involve a long-pending legal matter. Something in Sergeant’s reply indicated that the yellow fever ravaging the east coast also affected Currie’s case.

Jefferson had written just days before of his plans to remain near the nation’s capital throughout the month, because President Washington and practically all of his cabinet had departed inland. He thought at least one officer should remain for the safety of the nation. Now, he had changed his mind.

The epidemic had brought a halt to everything except illness and death. Since there was no protective role to play, there was no point in his remaining. He planned to leave within the next three days.

The lawyer Sergeant would succumb to the yellow fever in three weeks.

Ask Mr. Jefferson about disease, treatment, doctors and hospitals in his time.
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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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Those fleeing the city will only spread the disease.

it may be sometime before I write to you again on account of a contagious and mortal fever which has arisen here, and is driving us all away. It is called a yellow fever, but is like nothing known or read of by the Physicians. The week before last the deaths were about 40. the last week about 80. and this week I think they will be 200. and it goes on spreading. All persons who can find asylum elsewhere are flying from the city: this will doubtless extend it to other towns, and spread it through the country unless an early winter should stop it.
Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, September 11, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders know a simple “solution” often makes matters worse.
Humphreys (1752-1818) was a Connecticut soldier, farmer, diplomat, businessman and poet/playwright. At the time of this letter, he was American minister to Portugal.

Jefferson reported on the ravages of the yellow fever. Its mortality had doubled in each of the last three weeks. Doctors had no understanding of the disease or treatment to care for its victims.

All who could leave Philadelphia were doing so. He feared they would carry the disease to others unless an early winter intervened.

It would be another 100 years before mosquitoes were identified as the infectious agents. Those insects were at their worst in coastal cities like Philadelphia in August and September. Cold weather didn’t end the disease in itself, only the insects which carried it.

Thomas Jefferson delights 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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Thomas Jefferson works remotely.

The President [Washington] sets out the day after tomorrow for Mount Vernon, and will be back about the last of the month. Within 4 or 5. days or a week after his return I can set out. The yellow fever, of which I wrote Mr. Randolph [Martha’s husband] last week still encreases. The last week about twice as many have died as did the week before. I imagine there are between 3. and 400. persons ill of it. I propose after the President’s departure to remove my office into the country so as to have no further occasion to go into the town.
Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, September 8, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders can still lead from a (short) distance away.
Jefferson reported to his daughter that the epidemic was getting worse.
An earlier post referenced Jefferson’s decision to remain in the nation’s capital, because all the other officers were leaving to escape the epidemic. President Washington was about to depart and would return at the end of September, when the yellow fever usually abated.

After the President returned, Jefferson would come home to Monticello. In the meantime, he would move his office out of the city to some country house, close enough to carry out his official duties but be socially-distanced from the disease.

Thomas Jefferson will not socially-distance himself from 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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The truth? Or a serious blind spot?

Hamilton is ill of the [yellow] fever as is said. He had two physicians out at his house the night before last. His family think him in danger, & he puts himself so by his excessive alarm. He had been miserable several days before from a firm persuasion he should catch it. A man as timid as he is on the water, as timid on horseback, as timid in sickness, would be a phænomenon if the courage of which he has the reputation in military occasions were genuine. His friends, who have not seen him, suspect it is only an autumnal fever he has.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 8, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
It is hard for a leader to cut a serious opponent any slack.
This is the final except from a letter from President Washington’s Secretary of State to his good friend Madison, about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital.

Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was ill, perhaps with the fever. Jefferson believed Hamilton made himself worse by worrying in advance that he might get sick, then over-reacting when he did.

He found Hamilton to be a timid man, on the sea, on horseback and now in illness. How could he be as brave in military endeavors as he claimed to be?

Jefferson would resign his position at the end of 1793. He was eager to retire to Monticello after much absence in the previous nine years. He was also eager to be done with the near-constant confrontation with Hamilton in the President’s cabinet. The two men were like oil and water.

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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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He dined with me a week ago and is now dead.

Poor Hutcheson dined with me on Friday was [?] sennight [one week], was taken [ill] that night on his return home, & died the day before yesterday.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 8, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Death strikes close to home for leaders, too.
“Hutcheson” was James Hutchinson, physician, University of Pennsylvania chemistry professor and political organizer for the republican cause. Jefferson liked to share the main meal of the day with others, usually around 3:00 PM. A week before, Hutchinson was his dinner guest, took ill that night and died September 5.

With the yellow fever epidemic far behind him,
Thomas Jefferson will bring an inspiring message to your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archives. 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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Everyone else is gone. SOMEONE needs to stay in town.

The Presidt. [Washington] goes off the day after tomorrow as he had always intended. Knox [Secretary of War] then takes flight. Hamilton [Secretary of Treasury] is ill of the fever … I would really go away, because I think there is rational danger, but that I had before announced that I should not go till the beginning of October, & I do not like to exhibit the appearance of panic. Besides that I think there might serious ills proceed from there being not a single member of the administration in place.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 8, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Responsible leaders put themselves at risk for the cause.
Secretary of State Jefferson wrote his friend Madison that Hamilton was ill and other senior government officers were leaving Philadelphia to escape the yellow fever epidemic. (There is no mention of the whereabouts of VP John Adams and Attorney General Edmund Pendleton.) He preferred to leave himself in the face of “rational danger.”

However, he had previously made it known he would stay in Philadelphia until October. If he left, too, it might “exhibit the appearance of panic” to a city already engulfed in panic. Also, he thought it unsafe to leave the nation’s capital with “not a single member of the administration in place.” For reasons both domestic and foreign, he would leave himself at risk.

Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak at your meeting.
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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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What to do when no one knows what to do?

The yellow fever increases. The week before last about 3. a day died. This last week about 11. a day have died; consequently from known data about 33. a day are taken, and there are about 330. patients under it. They are much scattered through the town, and it is the opinion of the physicians that there is no possibility of stopping it. They agree it is a non-descript disease [without distinctive features or characteristics], and no two agree in any one part of their process of cure.
Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, September 8, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital at the time, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes there are no answers.
Secretary of State Jefferson reported to friend and Congressman Madison at home in Virginia on the yellow fever devastating Philadelphia. Evidence-based medical practice was in its infancy, yet all doctors, college trained or self-taught, agreed on two things:
1. There was no uniform description of the disease.
2. There was no way to stop it.

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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In a crisis, panic makes reality worse.

A malignant fever [in] Philadelphia … has given great alarm. It is considerably infectious … Tho there is some degree of danger, yet, as is usual, there is much more alarm than danger; and knowing it to be usual also to magnify these accounts in proportion to distance, I have given you the particulars, that you may know exactly what the case is.
Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., September 2, 1793

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, which killed 5,000 of the city’s 50,000 residents.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders also address the alarm that arises in crises.
Jefferson wrote his son-in-law, Martha’s husband, about the fierce yellow fever plague attacking Philadelphia. Although Randolph was inland, several hundred miles away and safe from the scourge of disease, he could not escape the alarm spread by newspaper accounts and gossip.

Jefferson believed there was “more alarm than danger,” and the alarm was magnified the further it traveled. Thus, he reported accurately the situation in Philadelphia to his family, that the alarm might not exceed the reality.

“If I didn’t know any better,
I would swear I just spent an hour with President Thomas Jefferson.”
Executive Director, Wisconsin Agri-Business Association
Spend an hour with President 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.

 

 

 

https://founders.archives.gov/?q=%22yellow%20fever%22%20Author%3A%22Jefferson%2C%20Thomas%22&s=1111311113&r=6

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