The national government reacted slowly as the disease spread. Soon, citizens donned protective masks, and the authorities ordered quarantines. The streets emptied. Doubters questioned the science and disobeyed. The year: 1793. The place: young America, from Baltimore to Boston but especially in Philadelphia, the nation’s largest city and seat of the federal government. Trade ships from countries with endemic yellow fever carried infected mosquitoes to the United States, and for three long months, the yellow fever virus ravaged the eastern seaboard. The federal government abandoned the city and scattered, leaving a dangerous leadership gap. By the end of the pandemic, ten percent of Philadelphians had died.
On May 3, we engaged in a thought-provoking conversation with Dr. Robert Watson, a distinguished American History professor and Avron Fogelman Research Professor at Lynn University.
During our webinar, Dr. Watson discussed his upcoming book, “America’s First Plague,” which explores the heavily politicized 1793 yellow fever pandemic that ravaged Philadelphia, the interim capital city. We learned the responses of medical professionals and founding fathers like Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson as they struggled to deal with the crisis. Our discussion also highlighted the tragic reality of how the yellow fever pandemic draws many parallels with the current COVID-19 crisis, making this topic that much more important.
Dr. Robert Watson is an award-winning author, professor, historian, and media analyst with a passion for history and politics. He has published over forty books, five works of fiction, and hundreds of scholarly journal articles, book chapters, and reference essays.
Dr. Watson has been the editor or a board member for several scholarly journals, has served on the boards of local non-profit organizations as well as the Harry Truman Foundation, the Calvin Coolidge Foundation, and George McGovern Library and Center for Public Service, co-convened a half-dozen national conferences on the American presidency and was the co-founder of the annual Truman Legacy Symposium which is held at the Harry S. Truman Little White House and sponsored by the Truman Presidential Library.
Discover the captivating story of America’s forgotten crisis in “America’s First Plague,” set to release this June. This definitive telling of the 1793 yellow fever pandemic uncovers the wave of fear that engulfed the fledgling republic and the unintended yet far-reaching consequences that impacted the development of the United States and the Atlantic slave trade. Don’t miss out on this must-read story of human nature, fear, and the struggle to govern during a crisis.