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.