August 18, 2001

New York City was really becoming quite an urbane sort of place in 1822 with, for example, a growing number of water connections with the outside world. Even Hoboken. A ferry of that name was begun, advertised to make the round trip to New Jersey every two hours. Regular service by coastal vessels was established to Charleston, North Carolina. Long Island packet boats could get you to Boston in just 25 hours. If your travel plans included the Continent a line of packets leaving every other month could whisk you to La Havre, France. Not that ship travel was always that safe. Enough vessels were lost this year that U. S. inventors began working on the problem. Enter "Moccasin" Jackson, a local eccentric who owned a shop on Pearl Street where he sold beds and bedding. Not surprisingly, his effort in designing some sort of "life preserver" turned out to look quite a bit like a mattress. Not a huge success, it seems. But our leather-footed entrepreneur had other irons in the fire. He was one of those early Yankee Doodle Dandies who took race horses to Europe.

If you couldn't afford the time or money to travel to Europe, with or without a horse, you could always keep fairly up-to-date with the former Mother Country by reading Dr. J. S. Bartlett's new publication the Albion, which devoted its pages to British news.
New York was also becoming more and more of a theatre town. The Chatham Garden, near today's Foley Square, opened in June as a saloon with a small "concert" stage, but within a year it would upgrade to a full-scale theatre. In July the City Theatre opened nearby on Broadway. If a play or concert wasn't to your taste there were always the outdoor public gathering places such as Tammany Hall and Richmond Hill Garden.

For pleasure on a more lofty plane you could always go to a talk at the American Bible Society. If you were there on May 9th, you were treated to an address by the society president, former U. S. diplomat and state governor John Jay, who discussed the inadequacy of reason to penetrate the mystery of God. There was another mystery as yet unpenetrated, one that made an appearance here every few years. On June 17th a case of yellow fever broke out on Lumber Street, near the Battery. As the situation began rapidly deteriorating the city declared anything below City Hall an infested district and put up a barricade along Chambers Street. Lower Manhattan became deserted as people fled northward to anywhere the air was considered more wholesome. One of the favorite destinations was a village partway up Manhattan Island called Greenwich. It's population exploded. The various ferries, including the new Hoboken one, changed their New York moorings to Greenwich. A boarding house for 300 people popped up where corn had been growing two days previously. Where Chelsea's McBirney YMCA now stands, a whole neighborhood sprouted, where Scotch weavers began plying their trade, the area quickly being dubbed Paisley Place. Before autumn ended the epidemic, 388 New Yorkers had died. By October things returned almost to normal, except for those who decided to stay in Greenwich and settle. Yellow Fever remained a mystery on into the next century. New Yorkers remained almost clueless. Churchyard burials did become suspect, and were banned. However the use of free-range hogs to eat the garbage in the streets would continue unabated for another three years.

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Mino



The term Yellow Fever was first used in the year 1739 but the disease itself in North America dates back to 1702, when it was known as malignant distemper. It would reappear from time to time throughout the following centuries. It made several appearences in Philadelphia in the 1790s as well as in New York City through the 18th and 19th centuries. For a closer online look at the Philadelphia epidemics go to

and read Destroying Angel: Benjamin Rush, Yellow Fever and the Birth of Modern Medicine, an on-line book by Bob Arnebeck. As well as the book you'll find a number of accompanying essays and supporting documents, including: an 1802 letter on insect transmission of fevers, letters Rush wrote to his wife such as one on his efforts to find a cure early in the 1793 epidemic, a list of New York's dead during the 1795 epidemic and the final report of the Health Committee, Monson's account of the 1794 epidemic in New Haven, Connecticut, and _An Account of the Bilious Yellow Fever As It Appeared in Philadelphia in the Year 1798_ by Benjamin Rush. No one was aware of the true cause in those times, but the cure would turn out to be much the same as precautions we're urged to follow today, to prevent the modern mosquito-borne disease West Nile Virus.


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©2001 David Minor Eagles Byte



© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte