An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

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Annotation: Describes the illness known as yellow fever and the toll it took in Pennsylvania, relating the epidemic to the major social and political events of the day and to 18th-century medical beliefs and practices.
Genre: Health
Catalog Number: #11902
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
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Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
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Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition Date: c2003
Pages: 165 p.
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-395-77608-2 Perma-Bound: 0-605-13680-7
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-395-77608-7 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-13680-9
Dewey: 614.5
LCCN: 2002151355
Dimensions: 25 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
ALA Booklist
History, science, politics, and public health come together in this dramatic account of the disastrous yellow fever epidemic that hit the nation's capital more than 200 years ago. Drawing on firsthand accounts, medical and non-medical, Murphy re-creates the fear and panic in the infected city, the social conditions that caused the disease to spread, and the arguments about causes and cures. With archival prints, photos, contemporary newspaper facsimiles that include lists of the dead, and full, chatty source notes, he tells of those who fled and those who stayed--among them, the heroic group of free blacks who nursed the ill and were later vilified for their work. Some readers may skip the daily details of life in eighteenth-century Philadelphia; in fact, the most interesting chapters discuss what is now known of the tiny fever-carrying mosquito and the problems created by over-zealous use of pesticides. The current struggle to contain the SARS epidemic brings the unshakeable unease chillingly close.
Horn Book
Murphy culls from a number of historical records the story of the yellow fever epidemic that swept Philadelphia, skillfully drawing out the fear and drama of the time and making them immediate to modern readers. Attentive to telling detail, Murphy offers representative images, from black-and-white portraits to plague scenes. Thoroughly documented, with an annotated source list, the work is both rigorous and inviting. Ind.
Kirkus Reviews
A mesmerizing, macabre account that will make readers happy they live in the 21st century. The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 snuck up on the people of Philadelphia during the hot summer; by the end of the year, some 10 percent of the city's population lay dead. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Murphy ( Inside the Alamo , p. 393, etc.) takes readers through the epidemic, moving methodically from its detection by the medical community; through its symptoms, treatment, and mortality; its effects on the populace, and what Philadelphia did to counter it. Individual chapters recount the efforts of the heroes of the epidemic: the quasi-legal committee of 12 who took over the running of the city government; the country's preeminent physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush; and the Free African Society, whose members toiled valiantly to ease the victims' pain and to dispose of the dead. Powerful, evocative prose carries along the compelling subject matter. Even as the narrative places readers in the moment with quotations, the design aids and abets this, beginning each chapter with reproductions from contemporary newspapers and other materials, as well as placing period illustrations appropriately throughout the text. The account of Philadelphia's recovery wraps up with a fascinating discussion of historiography, detailing the war of words between Matthew Carey, one of the committee of 12, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, the leaders of the Free African Society—interesting in itself, it is also a valuable lesson in reading and writing history. Stellar. (bibliography, illustration credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10+)
Publishers Weekly

In marked contrast to the clipped, suspenseful pace of his Inside the Alamo (reviewed above), Murphy here adopts a leisurely, lyrical tone to chronicle the invisible spread of the deadly disease that not only crippled Philadelphia (then the temporary capital of the U.S.) but also set off a constitutional crisis. The author evokes the stifling August heat as well as the boiling controversy surrounding President Washington's decision not to support the French in the war against Britain. The residents, so distracted by the controversy, did not take note of the rising numbers of dead animals lying in open "sinks," or sewers; swarms of insects festering, and a growing population of ill citizens climbing until the church bells tolled grim news of death almost constantly. Murphy injects the events with immediacy through his profiles of key players, such as local doctors who engaged in fierce debates as to the cause, treatment and nature of the "unmerciful enemy"—among them the famous Benjamin Rush. The text documents many acts of heroism, including the Free African Society's contributions of food, medicine and home care: the Society was rewarded afterwards only with injustice. Archival photographs and facsimiles of documents bring the story to life, and a list of further reading points those interested in learning more in the right direction. This comprehensive history of the outbreak and its aftermath lays out the disputes within the medical community and, as there is still no cure, offers a cautionary note. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)

School Library Journal
Gr 6-10 If surviving the first 20 years of a new nationhood weren't challenge enough, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, centering in Philadelphia, was a crisis of monumental proportions. Murphy chronicles this frightening time with solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories, beginning with the fever's emergence on August 3, when a young French sailor died in Richard Denny's boardinghouse on North Water Street. As church bells rang more and more often, it became horrifyingly clear that the de facto capital was being ravaged by an unknown killer. Largely unsung heroes emerged, most notably the Free African Society, whose members were mistakenly assumed to be immune and volunteered en masse to perform nursing and custodial care for the dying. Black-and-white reproductions of period art, coupled with chapter headings that face full-page copies of newspaper articles of the time, help bring this dreadful episode to life. An afterword explains the yellow fever phenomenon, its causes, and contemporary outbreaks, and source notes are extensive and interesting. Pair this work with Laurie Halse Anderson's wonderful novel Fever 1793 (S & S, 2000) and you'll have students hooked on history. Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA
School Library Journal Starred Review
Gr 6-10-If surviving the first 20 years of a new nationhood weren't challenge enough, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, centering in Philadelphia, was a crisis of monumental proportions. Murphy chronicles this frightening time with solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories, beginning with the fever's emergence on August 3, when a young French sailor died in Richard Denny's boardinghouse on North Water Street. As church bells rang more and more often, it became horrifyingly clear that the de facto capital was being ravaged by an unknown killer. Largely unsung heroes emerged, most notably the Free African Society, whose members were mistakenly assumed to be immune and volunteered en masse to perform nursing and custodial care for the dying. Black-and-white reproductions of period art, coupled with chapter headings that face full-page copies of newspaper articles of the time, help bring this dreadful episode to life. An afterword explains the yellow fever phenomenon, its causes, and contemporary outbreaks, and source notes are extensive and interesting. Pair this work with Laurie Halse Anderson's wonderful novel Fever 1793 (S & S, 2000) and you'll have students hooked on history.-Mary R. Hofmann, Rivera Middle School, Merced, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (p. 141-153) and index.
Word Count: 29,029
Reading Level: 9.0
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 9.0 / points: 6.0 / quiz: 69054 / grade: Upper Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:8.9 / points:9.0 / quiz:Q33632
Lexile: 1130L
Guided Reading Level: Z
Fountas & Pinnell: Z

1793, Philadelphia. The nation's capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown . . . In a powerful, dramatic narrative, critically acclaimed author Jim Murphy describes the illness known as yellow fever and the toll it took on the city's residents, relating the epidemic to the major social and political events of the day and to 18th-century medical beliefs and practices. Drawing on first-hand accounts, Murphy spotlights the heroic role of Philadelphia's free blacks in combating the disease, and the Constitutional crisis that President Washington faced when he was forced to leave the city--and all his papers--while escaping the deadly contagion. The search for the fever's causes and cure, not found for more than a century afterward, provides a suspenseful counterpoint to this riveting true story of a city under siege. An American Plague 's numerous awards include a Sibert Medal, a Newbery Honor, and designation as a National Book Award Finalist. Thoroughly researched, generously illustrated with fascinating archival prints, and unflinching in its discussion of medical details, this book offers a glimpse into the conditions of American cities at the time of our nation's birth while drawing timely parallels to modern-day epidemics. Bibliography, map, index.


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