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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 He had withdrawn her from school a few days before to distance her from the yellow fever, but he still owed Mrs.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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