Page images

next passes to a consideration of the season, and its remarkable peculiarities.

[ocr errors]

The summer and autumn of 1795, were excessively sultry and excessively wet. Every article of household furniture, or in use about a house, susceptible of mould, was speedily and deeply covered with it. It seemed to penetrate places where we should have deemed its appearance impossible. A friend of mine found a pocket-book of morocco leather quite mouldy; though it was in the drawer of a private desk, inclosed within a large desk, both of which were usually locked, and covered by papers. Boots and shoes, hung up by a wall, near a fire-place heated every day, contracted mould within twentyfour hours. Meats spoiled in the market-place uncommonly quick; and those which were brought home, apparently, fresh and good, in the morning, were often found unfit to be eaten, when cooked and brought upon the table. Esculent vegetables in general, and especially fruits, were unusually poor, tough, and tasteless. The peach, particularly that called the cling-stone, was scarcely digestible; and often occasioned temporary illnesses, quite severe, while it doubtless aided in the production or aggravation of the fever.

Flies were very numerous and troublesome, in every part of the city, in the beginning of summer; but they suddenly disappeared, about the middle of July, from the more airy parts of the town, collecting in swarms in the less healthy parts, and succeeded every where by clouds of musquitoes, incredibly large and distressing; and these continued to afflict us, long after the time when they commonly depart. Almost every person suffered exceedingly from the bites of these insects; and foreigners especially. In some they occasioned universal swellings, and eruption, somewhat like pemphigus; and in others numerous little ulcers. These last, a physician of my acquaintance saw even in a native American. The irritation, restlessness, and consequent watchfulness and fatigue, occasioned by these animals, no doubt predisposed the well to be affected by the fever; while they extremely harassed the sick, and retarded their recovery.

During the whole of this season, I remember but one thunderstorm; and this was very gentle. There was but a single hard clap of thunder, for more than four months, that I remember; and very little thunder and lightning at any time.

'Our rains, excessive in quantity and frequency as they were, seemed to have lost their wonted power of cooling the air. In those streets, most unhealthy, and least ventillated, this effect was, in a degree, observable; but in the airy and healthy parts of the town, on the contrary, they never failed to render the heat more intolerable; and the steams from the hot pavements were like those of a vapor bath. The clouds, too, seemed to shut out every kind of breeze. One of these heavy rains, which continued two or three days, seemed to possess all the qualities of steam. It pervaded every recess of the houses, and dissolved the best glue; so that furniture, in many instances, which had been long standing, fell in pieces.

To this imperfect account of the season, I have one fact only to add, on the authority of a gentleman distinguished for his attention to meteorological phenomena. He informs me, that no aurora-borealis has been seen, of any magnitude, in our country, north of Penn

sylvania, (as he can learn,) for near four years, till the latter end of September, 1795; and adds, that his father, a respectable clergyman, now about seventy years of age, who noticed the same absence of these appearances, remarks, that according to his uniform observation, some uncommon sickness has never failed to follow a long-continued disappearance of these phenomena. How far the experience of other observers will tend to confirm this statement, I have had neither leisure nor opportunity to inquire. And if it be admitted as indisputable, it may still be questionable, whether this is to be regarded as a cause of disease, or whether this disappearance and disease be not coordinate effects of a common cause.'

In the annexed paragraphs, are given some circumstances relative to the principal sufferers by the fever.' The writer evinces, incidentally, the true American spirit of the time.

Of those who were sick and who died of the fever of 1795, the greater number were foreigners; persons either just arrived from other states, from the West-Indies, and from Europe, or who had not been many months or years settled in this city. It is probable that the proportion of citizens, who died, to strangers, did not exceed one in seven. Of these strangers, it is thought, a large number were Irish. The causes productive of disease in foreigners, in those of this nation in particular, are numerous, and some of them deserve particular attention. Both among natives and foreigners, however, the severity of the disease was experienced by the poor.

'Dr. Blane, in his observations on the diseases of seamen, remarks, 'that it sometimes happens, that a ship, with a long-established crew, shall be very healthy; yet, if strangers are introduced among them, who are also healthy, sickness will be mutually produced;' and Dr. Rush, in the first volume of his 'Medical Observations and Inquiries,' takes notice of this remark of Dr. Blane's, and confirms it, by a reference to the experience of our own country, during the late war. These are his words: The history of diseases furnishes many proofs of the truth of this assertion. It was very remarkable, that while the American army at Cambridge, in the year 1775, consisted only of New-England men, (whose habits and manners were the same,) there was scarcely any sickness among them. It was not till the troops of the eastern, middle, and southern states met at New-York and Ticonderoga, in the year 1776, that the typhus became universal, and spread with such peculiar mortality in the armies of the United States.'

It is unnecessary to enlarge, in this place, on the oppressions and distresses of what are called the lower orders of people in Europe. War, which doubles the burthens upon every rank in society, exercises an aggravated violence upon the poor. This violence, severely felt by all, in England, chiefly falls upon the manufacturing poor; who are, at the same time, the most ignorant, abject, and depraved. In Ireland, its effects are more general, including in its circle of wretchedness the cultivator as well as the mechanic. The present war in Europe, unparalleled as it is for the number of men involved in it, has given birth to oppressions and calamities equally new and destructive. Under these circumstances, and when men of fortune and respectability, disgusted and diseartened at the enormous mass

of misery which every day and every hour presented to their view, turned their thoughts toward another hemisphere, it is not to be wondered at, that the wretched and depressed poor should pant for a settlement in a country where liberty is the portion of every man, and independence the sure crown of all his honest labors; and which had been fallaciously represented as courting their acceptance, and loading their untoiling hands with every gift of fortune. The real blessings of our government and country are precious and inestimable; but they are of a nature not to be felt and enjoyed by minds depraved by ignorance, and debased by slavery. That temperate enjoyment of the goods of life, and moderate exercise of the blessings of independence, which alone enlightened liberty sanctions, can neither be conceived of, nor relished, by those who have been accustomed to crouch beneath the iron rod of despotism. Liberty, according to their ideas, was the reverse of all they felt; and independence, the unlimited gratification of all their appetites. The misrepresentations, too, of speculating and unprincipled men, who were interested in the sale of large tracts of unsettled territory, had fostered and extended these erroneous conceptions. Hence, when the poor and miserable emigrants, on their arrival here, found that neither gold, nor farms, solicited their acceptance; that in America, as well as Europe, their life was alike destined to be a life of toil; when they perceived that licentiousness, the only liberty of which they had any notion, brought punishment along with it; the disappointment, new and unexpected, became a powerful aggravation to every other cause of disease. You will not understand me as extending these last remarks to all emigrants to this country, nor suppose that deceived hope was present, or active, in every case. On some, men of the better sort, it undoubtedly had a very pernicious influence; on the poor and friendless, effects still more melancholy.

'But to return: Two motives, then, poverty and oppression at home, and the hope of independence and wealth abroad, concurred to draw to the United States an astonishing number of the inhabitants of Europe; and as these motives were mostly active among the very poor and very wretched, people of this description emigrated in the greatest numbers. Of these, the largest portions fell to the share of the states of Pennsylvania and New-York; and the most worthless and profligate, probably, rested in the capitals of those


The distresses in the West-Indies, especially those occasioned by the destruction of Cape Françoise, obliged numbers of the islanders, white, mulatto, and black, to take refuge here. This circumstance, harmless in a great measure to the people themselves, can scarcely be considered harmless in relation to the whole. Whatever effect it may have had, all things considered, it seems irrational to suppose it to have been good.

This collection of strangers, from various parts of Europe and America, which had been rapidly forming for two or three years, was greatly increased by repeated arrivals of large importations from Great Britain and Ireland, during the fall of 1794, and the spring and summer of 1795. One or two ships came into this port, after the commencement of the fever, filled with emigrants,

If, then, the opinion of Dr. Blane, corroborated by the testimony of Dr. Rush, be founded in truth, that the sudden commingling of people of various and discordant habits, climates, and nations, be a circumstance favoring the production of disease, this cause of fever was certainly present in New-York, in the year 1795.'

The general and inordinate use of scantily-dressed meats, by emigrants who had been but little accustomed to their use, in any shape, before coming to this country, is said to have been fruitful of pernicious consequences, in awakening and enhancing the disease. Personal uncleanliness, individually and in the mass, is greatly deprecated. Intemperance was another predisposing cause; and it appears, was rather encouraged than condemned.

'An idea was most unhappily circulated, and it should seem was countenanced by persons bearing the title of physicians, that free living, the plentiful use of vinous and ardent liquors, was a powerful preventive of the fever. The dreadful consequences which a belief of this sort produced, were numerous, and shocking to the last degree. The fear of death, so active in ignorant minds, when once aroused; idleness, the parent of every vice; and listlessness, the consequence of want of employment; all conspired, with this pernicious doctrine, to effect the ruin of numbers. Never, I believe, was drunkenness so common. Not a day passed, that I did not meet persons reeling through the streets, or stretched on the pavement; sometimes in the noon-day sun, unsheltered, and sometimes exposed to the heaviest rains. I have seen three men lying in this condition, in one little street. These were all among the most depraved of our poor, and most of them were foreigners. Is it possible that conduct such as this should fail of giving new activity to every other cause of disease?'

A brief recapitulation of the facts embraced in that portion of the journal over which we have passed, must close our extracts for the present paper.

It appears, that the fever of 1795 was most active in situations where there was the least chance for free ventilation; where the sun exerted the greatest and longest influence; there was the least drain for water and filth; the rains which fell, stagnated; there were, constantly, stagnant pools; the streets narrow, crooked, unpaved; the houses partly under ground, wooden, decayed, or slight; there were considerable collections of vegetable and animal matters suffered to remain and putrefy; and where the exhalations from the sewers and docks extended.

The fever first appeared, and continued to be mortal, in a season which was unusually sultry and wet; throughout which esculent vegetables were scanty and poor; meats tended very rapidly to putrefaction, and were often consumed in a state of incipient putrescency; during which insects were very numerous and noxious; there was scarcely any thunder and lightning; there were several violent and sudden alternations of heat and cold; and the city was, in the evening, often immersed in a very peculiar and pernicious fog.

The fever proved most fatal to the poor; to emigrants, more than natives; to the emigrant poor most of all; and they lived in situa

[blocks in formation]

tions mostly such as above-mentioned; were often crowded together in such houses; mingled without distinction of nation, climate, and habits; changed a mild vegetable, for an animal diet-perhaps a semi-putrid animal diet; were chicfly laborers in the open sun; were unusually intemperate; and were inexcusably inattentive to the cleanliness of their houses and persons.'

The facts here stated, were sufficient to convince our journalist that it was unnecessary to look to the East or West Indies for the causes of the epidemic, or to discuss the question whether contagion might or might not be imported. In his judgment, the causes, cure, and prevention, were equally local, and disconnected with the prevalence or absence of similar diseases in other countries. In a subsequent number, the subject will be resumed and completed, in the consideration of the evidence of the importation of the fever; whether it was epidemic or contagious; its symptoms and method of cure, with miscellaneous remarks upon the medicines used as remedies.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »