Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Yellow Fever

One of the places I still work as a volunteer is the James and Ann Whitall House at Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ.  I also continue to volunteer at Gloucester County Historical Society Library in Woodbury.  I'll take a little digression here to tell you what I do in these places:  At Whitall House, I am a docent, mainly on the special event days once a month during the season from May through December.  Our upcoming event is the Herb Festival on the 19th.  The special event days are always Sundays.  On the 23rd, all the docents who are interested will also be taking training on our newly opened upstairs bedroom.
If you have visited the house in the past and wondered about the upstairs, which has never been open to the public before, here is your chance.  The upstairs has now been certified as safe for visitors (not safe so much for the people but for the house itself which dates back to 1749 and needs protection from wear and tear and the weight of hundres of visitors.)
The upstairs bedroom will feature a discussion yellow fever because the main household member featured in the history of Red Bank Battlefield, is Ann Whitall who stayed in the house during the battle and nursed the wounded in her house afterwards.  I know there is controversy in regard to this history, but so far, we have been convinced this is accurate.  It is in Job Whitall's diary that the family returned to the house and were there during the battle.  Oral history has it that Ann was a notable herbal healer and being a Quaker, would have helped those in need and did so with the wounded Hessians.
Eventually, Ann Whitall, too, succumbed.  She died in 1797 during the yellow fever epidemic which spread from Philadelphia across the Delaware River to NJ.
It is said that mosquitos carrying the disease came up the river with refugees from the Carribbean where a civil war/revolt was taking place.  Ann had lived a long life; she was 81 when she died.  Her husband lived on after her death.
What brought this to mind was an article in the Sunday, May 5th Courier Post, in the South Jersey Living Section, under ARTS, entitled "Recalling an epidemic."  The article talks about an exhibition on the Yellow fever epidemic which is in the Emlen Physick House in Philadelphia.  Ten percent of the inhabitants in Philadelphia died between August 1 and November 9 of 1793, around 5000 people.  The article didn't give statistics on the effect on the people of New Jersey, but those who are familiar with our history know that the ferry boats plied back and forth across the river from NJ to Phila. from numerous points.  The Cooper family, of which Ann Cooper Whitall is a descendant, had ferryservices and a tavern in Camden.  Remember, water wasys were the highways of the period. 
Cape May visitors will wonder about the connection to the Emlen Physick Estate in Dape May.  That man was the grandson of Philadelphia's Emlen Physick.
Yellow Fever still exists and the article said 200,00 cases per year spring up mostly in the African countries of Rwanda and Sierra.  There is a vaccine for the fever now.  The reason it was called "Yellow Fever"  is that it caused liver failure and jaundice which turned people's skin and the whites of their eyes yellow.  Dr. Emlen Physick was killed by the disease.
For more, either visit the Physick house or read the book "Bring Out Your Dead"  which is in my library and I highly recommend it as readable and interesting.

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