Infectious and Epidemic Disease in History

Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker

Week 7.  Cure?

To My Beloved Sister (1793)
by Margaret Morris (1737-1816)

9th Mo 25th 4th day [Wednesday] Even[ing]

My beloved Sister--

...Will it fatigue thee my Patty to read a Narrative of what I've past thro since we parted?  I think thee answer no -- Well then I'll begin my tale of woe from the 5th of this Mo[nth]--

when I returned that eve from my Debby, who was not well enough to be about the house, was told my Dear JM [her son, Dr. John Morris, member of the College of Physicians] was ill & wishd to see me--

I went there immediately & found him very ill with a raging fever.  Dr. Park & Griffitts both attending -- I faithfully followed their orders -- the blister drew finely -- the powder had all the effect could be wished--

alas -- in the morning his skin was yellow as gold -- a convulsion fitt & delirium deprived me of hope -- yet the repetition of the powders, which operated well, revived me again, & I was willing to flatter myself -- he might recover--

As AM's [Abby Morris, John's wife] Maid was called away on 4th day [Wednesday] to attend her mother who was ill, they had only a little girl to tend the child & I told AM to write a note & beg her F[ather, grocer Benedict Dorsey] to let P[atty]. & Molly stay there, that the house might be quiet, they soon returned saying that their G[rand] F[ather] was sick & they could not be there

This alrmed my poor A -- & she begged to go see her F & stayed an hour or more -- when she returned & went up stairs, undrest & went to bed, saying she had got the disorder & she'd die.

She did not come into JM's room afterwards -- I then had 2 to nurse & 2 little ones down stairs to provide for -- at last I sent thy namesake and Wm again to the GF.  Patty, they kept, & on going in the kitchen, found Wm hid in the cellar, he said they would not let him stay, they were afraid he wd bring the disorder to them.  I sent M[olly] to my house.

On 7th day BS came there & kindly went about town to procure assistance for me, & after night sent a black man and woman to me -- who were but just done nursing at another place.

Dr. Rush came that day & tho he could not flatter me, assured me the fever was lower at night -- I watched by him till about one oclock & having been up the 2 preceding night was quite spent & as he slept quite easy, I lay down by him -- the Negro woman sitting neart the bed--

about 5 I awoke -- & feeling his pulse, thought the fever was near gone off, & went to give the medicine but he could not take it -- he spoke to me in a manner that poured balm into my wounded heart, lament the errors of his past life & had hopes of mercy -- this was all I had presumed to ask for & my chastend spirit said thy will be done--

a convulsion fitt followed & after that a sweet composure took possession of his features & he departed without sigh, groan or struggle--

All this time I was alone, the woman I had was with Abby -- the Man I sent to B Smith who took care to provide the coffin & after sitting by him awhile--

Oh then the hands of the pitiful Mother prepared her Child's body for the grave & well it had been if I had contented myself with doing all that was required of me -- but alas I got off my guard & thought that I who had been thus supported was equal to every thing & insisted on seeing laid beside the dear Companion of my youth -- & there my fortitude forsook me -- for that was not required of me -- what followed I know not -- till I found myself 2 days after in my own front parlor in the bed I had provided for others--

oh that I may be a warning to others, for I do believe if I had kept my place, I should have been abled to do more for my dear AM....

The fever still continues to be mortal in many families,--but the number of burials is less than a Week ago -- we have seen only nine go by today -- & some days past there was 9 or 10 went by before breakfast -- thro the mercy of heaven my whole family are yet well, excepting maid S, who got cold by leaving off a flanel jacket & I have got the Rhumatick pain in my back -- our dear Sist, is quite as well as usual....

I've wrote more than I expected when I began, let the occasion plead my excuse for this intruding on thee -- if it is the will of heaven to grant us a meeting on Earth -- what a mournful joyful time it will be--

Dear love to all, from my beloved Br & Sist, yr tenderly affect. sis M[argaret] M[orris]

Please to dry the flanel coat before thee wears it -- it is soaked in Vinegar. 

Go to:
  • "Procuring the Small Pox," selected communications on the method of inoculation, from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1714-1723);
  • An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae.... (1798) by Edward Jenner (1749-1843); and
  • A Short Account of the Malignant Fever Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia... (1794) by Mathew Carey (1760-1839);
  • "An Account of the Bilious Remitting Yellow Fever, as it Appeared in Philadelphia, in the Year 1793," in Vol. III, Medical Inquiries and Observations, 4th ed. (1815) by Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813);
  • An Enquiry into, and Observations Upon the Causes and Effects of the Epidemic Disease Which raged in Philadelphia from the month of August till towards the middle of December 1793 (1794) by Dr. Jean Devèze (1753-1829); and
  • "Yellow Fever," in Vol. XV, The International Cyclopedia (1898).
Weekly Readings
Lecture Notes