Tag Archives: Yellow fever

This virus is messing with business!

In consequence of your friendly letter of May 23. I wrote you on the 8th. of June that I should immediately order 10. hhds [hogheads, large wooden barrels holding 10,000 pounds] of tobo. [tobacco] from Richmond to New York, consigned to you … [I write} to enquire whether they got safe to hand and are sold or likely to be so, & what prospect there would be of selling our whole crop of the same quality? I am aware that the yellow fever may have disturbed the operations of commerce so far as to have prevented the sale. I only wish to know the fact.
Thomas Jefferson to Henry Remsen, October 14, 1799

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the yellow fever that ravaged coastal cities in the nation’s earliest years.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Extenuating circumstances leave even leaders in the dark.
Four months earlier, the Vice-President  directed his agent in Richmond, VA, to ship a quantity of tobacco to New York for Remsen to sell. Jefferson knew it had been shipped but didn’t know if it arrived or had been sold. (The value would have been from $7,000-9,000 in his time.) He asked Remsen for an update.

August and September were always the worst months for the yellow fever in coastal America. Jefferson acknowledged the illness might have delayed the shipping or sale. He just wanted to know where he stood.

Remsen replied on October 21, a letter which hasn’t been found. Jefferson wrote again in mid-January, still uncertain about the fate of his crop. Tobacco was one of only two crops farmers could raise and sell for cash. The other was wheat.

Mr. Jefferson will not be uncertain when he inspires 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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How do we respond to a troubling mystery?

The origin of the yellow fever being a vexata questio [troubling and unsolved] among the medical gentlemen, it is not for the unlearned to form an opinion on it. I believe it will be found that the close & solid method of building up cities in the cloudy climates of Europe must not be pursued under our clear sky. the quantity of our sunshine imposes a different law on us. all towns in America should be laid off on the plan of the chequer board, the white squares remaining unbuilt & in trees. every house would then front a square of trees: and the accidents of fire as well as disease better guarded against.
Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 12, 1799

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the yellow fever that ravaged coastal cities in the nation’s earliest years.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders anticipate and plan for unsolvable problems.

Writing to Dr. Rush in Philadelphia about recurrent yellow fever outbreaks in his city every late summer, Vice-President Jefferson made these observations:
1. If doctors don’t know the cause, uneducated people surely shouldn’t “form an opinion.”
2. Let America not adopt the European model of crowded cities.
3. America’s bountiful sunshine demands a lifestyle different from Europeans.
4. Cities should be developed on a checkerboard plan, with every other square undeveloped and covered with trees.
5. The twin dangers of disease and fire would both be “better guarded against.”

Note that Jefferson was being proactive, planning now for what might protect us later, rather than waiting until calamity struck and then reacting to it.

In a recent post titled “Social distancing, Thomas Jefferson style,” he proposed the same development plan for New Orleans in 1805.

Bring Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom and foresight 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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Five years later, the disease returns in spades!

I am sincerely concerned at the revisitation of your city by the yellow fever. I wish you were in some of the higher streets of the city. your danger must be considerable, but I hope your prudence will be the greater.
Thomas Jefferson to John Barnes, August 31, 1798

In the face of coronavirus, I’m excerpting correspondence about the yellow fever that ravaged coastal cities in the nation’s earliest years.

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, leaders can do nothing.
Philadelphia merchant John Barnes was Vice-President Jefferson’s business agent, something of a personal banker, handling his client’s accounts, both receivable and payable. Barnes survived the 1793 yellow fever epidemic, which claimed 5,000 of the city’s residents. The disease returned in 1798 and claimed another 3,600 lives. Two-thirds of the city fled. Of those who remained, 20% died.

The disease was believed to result from bad air at the lowest elevations along the water front. Chances are Barnes’ shop was in that endangered area. Jefferson acknowledged the danger his friend faced, wished he was on higher ground, and hoped Barnes’ wisdom would prevail.

Mr. Jefferson’s wisdom will prevail for 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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It’s a crap shoot!

Still I have not learnt how a stranger is to know into what houses he may venture, as not having had the disease at all. In fact the members have ventured into both taverns and lodging houses, where they have had it. Francis’s hotel near the Indian Queen has never had it, therefore you may safely land there. Mrs. Trist intends to take a small house and a few of her acquaintances: but I believe she has not got a house yet. In the one she formerly occupied, a person died of the fever: but Mr. Giles and Mr. Venable are there, and Stockdon has lived in the very room where the person died for a considerable time.
Thomas Jefferson to John F. Mercer, December 7, 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,  leaders have no answers, only information.
The Virginia-born Mercer (1759-1821) was now a Maryland lawyer and member of Congress. He had asked the Secretary of State about the status of the yellow fever in Philadelphia, where Congress had been called to reconvene. He also asked about the health risk of staying at certain inns or taverns.

Jefferson knew of no way a visitor might learn what Mercer asked. He reported other members of Congress were staying in both “taverns and lodging places.” He thought Francis’ hotel should be safe as none of their boarders had had the disease. A friend, “Mrs. Trist,” was moving from a boarding house where the disease had been, but two other acquaintances were there now, one living in the same room where another had died.

Mr. Jefferson will bring a healthy perspective 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 was fortunate. Others were not.

I have not yet been in [to Philadelphia from Germantown, six miles northwest], not because there is a shadow of danger, but because I am afoot.—Thomas is returned into my service. His wife and child went into town the day we left them. They then had the infection of the yellow fever, were taken two or three days after, and both died. Had we staid those two or three days longer, they would have been taken at our house. I have heard nothing of Miss Cropper. Her trunk remains at our house. Mrs. Fullerton left Philadelphia. Mr. and Mrs. Rittenhouse remained there but have escaped the fever.
Thomas Jefferson to Maria Jefferson, November 18, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
President Washington had gone into Philadelphia, but Jefferson had not, for want of a coachman. Thomas Lapseley had returned to fulfill that role after the death of his wife and child. That family had lived with or near him in the city. Jefferson acknowledged had he not fled when he did, he might have perished with them.

“Miss Cropper” was Mary’s schoolmate who lived with the Jeffersons when their boarding school closed. “Mrs. Fullerton” ran that school. The Rittenhouses, from whom he asked to borrow a camera obscura for Maria ‘s education stayed in the city but “escaped the fever.”

Countless audiences have benefited from Thomas Jefferson’s experience. So will yours.
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.
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We are struggling to get back to normal.

MY 1,oooth POST SINCE BEGINNING IN FEBRUARY, 2011!

No letter yet from my dear Maria, who is so fond of writing, so punctual in her correspondencies! I enjoin as a penalty that the next be written in French.—Now for news. The fever is entirely vanished from Philadelphia. Not a single person has taken infection since the great rains about the 1st. of the month, and those who had it before are either dead or recovered. All the inhabitants who had fled are returning into the city, probably will all be returned in the course of the ensuing week. The President has been into the city, but will probably remain here till the meeting of Congress to form a point of union for them before they will have had time to gather knolege and courage …
Follow closely your music, reading, sewing, house-keeping, and love me as I do you, most affectionately.
Thomas Jefferson to Maria Jefferson, November 18, 1793

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
This letter to his 15 year old daughter gently chided that he had not heard from her recently. (Ten weeks before, she had been living with him outside Philadelphia.) Ever mindful of his daughter’s education, she could correct her error by writing her next letter in French!

The yellow fever epidemic appeared to be at an end. There had been no new infections in two-and-a-half weeks, and all who had been ill were “either dead or recovered.” Those who fled were returning, and he expected all would be back within the next week.

President Washington had taken quarters in Germantown, where Jefferson was also living temporarily, about six miles northwest of Philadelphia. While the President had been into the city, he would yet reside there. Congress was being called back into session, and they needed the encouragement of knowing they would not be gathering in the disease-ravaged city.

Thomas Jefferson has a wealth of wisdom for 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.
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Great rains end great illness and death!

after the great rains which fell the first three or four days of this month, not a single new infection of the yellow fever took place, that those then ill of it are either dead or recovered, and that there is the most respectable assurance that there is not at this time a single subject remaining under that disorder. The refugee inhabitants have been returning into the city ever since the rain, without incurring any accident. Some who had returned before the rains caught the disease.
Thomas Jefferson to Robert Gamble, November 14, 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
Even smart leaders can be wrong about cause-and-effect.
“Bad air” associated with low-lying coastal areas affected by the tides was considered to be the cause of the yellow fever late each summer. They didn’t know the real cause was disease-carrying mosquitoes which reproduced in those swamps.

Now, Jefferson reported “great rains” had cleansed Philadelphia and ended the plague, which was killing 30 residents a day in mid-September. (The real relief was cooler weather, not heavy rains.) He estimated 99% of the city’s residents who’d fled had now returned to their homes.

Your audience will be surprised at the relevance of Thomas Jefferson’s remarks!
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.
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HELP! I have two teenagers to home school!

Thirty years ago TODAY, May 5, 1990, I made my first presentation as Thomas Jefferson to the American Diabetes Association, Missouri Affiliate Annual Meeting in Jefferson City, Missouri. Woo woo!

Th: Jefferson presents his friendly respects to Mr. Rittenhouse. He has two young ladies at his house whose time hangs heavily on their hands, and the more so, as their drawing master cannot attend them. If Mr. Rittenhouse then does not take his Camera obscura with him into the country, Th:J. will thank him to permit them the use of it a few days, that they may take a few lessons in drawing from nature.
Thomas Jefferson to David Rittenhouse, September 6, 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 be out of their league at teaching teenagers!
This is Jefferson’s entire letter to an old friend. Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was an extraordinary scientist, mathematician and astronomer. At the time of this letter, he was Director of the U.S. Mint.
Jefferson needed help. For safety reasons, he had removed his 15 year old daughter and her friend from their boarding school in Philadelphia, and now dealt with a familiar problem facing sequestered teens, “time weighs heavily on their hands.” He asked to borrow Rittenhouse’s camera obscura to occupy them in their drawing education.

Your audience will be delightfully surprised by Thomas Jefferson!
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.
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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.

Invite Thomas Jefferson to inspire, teach & entertain 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 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.)

Invite Thomas Jefferson to inspire 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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