Anderson Yellow Fever Record on 1795 epidemic

Anderson’s record of the 238 yellow fever patients admitted to Bellevue between August and October 1795; 137 of them died. (Alexander Anderson Papers / New-York Historical Society Library)

Anderson’s Diary Highlights Epidemic

“Word of the disease in New York City came “from every quarter.” The place was “besieged.” Thousands fled to the countryside—so many that transportation became impossible to find. Others huddled inside their homes. Many died. Hospitals were overrun, and nurses and doctors were among the earliest to succumb. People who ventured out held a handkerchief up to their nose and mouth, fearful of what they might breathe in. Wild claims about miracle drugs and regimens tricked some into believing they could outwit the disease. They couldn’t.”

So begins Carolyn Eastman’s article, “The Fever That Struck New York.”

Sounds like something you might read in any US newspaper beginning February 2020.

“It was 1795, and the yellow fever—which had burned through Philadelphia two years earlier, killing more than 10 percent of the city’s population—had arrived in New York. It would return in 1798, and those two epidemics killed between 3,000 and 3,500 New Yorkers. Hundreds in other parts of the East Coast died in localized outbreaks, almost always in urban centers.”

The story she tells is from in the unpublished diary of a young physician, Alexander Anderson.  1795 is the year Bellevue Hospital opens in New York City to isolate the worst cases.  For this story so graphically revealed in Anderson’s unpublished works read Carolyn Eastman’s Smithsonian article.

For an additional article on the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 and the politics of race impacting care click