81 pages 2 hours read

Jim Murphy

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

Nonfiction | Book | Middle Grade | Published in 2014

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Chapters 1-3

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 1 Summary: “No One Noticed”

Murphy opens his historical account of Philadelphia’s 1973 yellow fever epidemic on August 3, when the first documented case of the disease appears. On that Saturday, the city is filled with particularly foul smells that are amplified by the hot weather. They emanate from the city’s many open sewers, as well as from the growing population of dead animals and a shipment of rotting coffee that has been dumped into the water off a sloop from Santo Domingo. The hot weather also attracts an abundance of insects, especially mosquitoes. They breed in the city’s many open water sources, including the sewers, which are called “sinks” (1).

The city is bustling with its usual activity at the many taverns, shops, coffeehouses, and beer gardens. As the temporary capital of the United States, Philadelphia is the nation’s largest city with a population of 51,000 people. It is home to George Washington, the nation’s first president, who is busy figuring out how to handle the situation with the French. Revolutionary France is in the middle of a war with Great Britain and has asked the United States for help. Although the French assisted the United States in its Revolution against the British, Washington issued a “Proclamation of Neutrality” (5) earlier that year in response to France’s call for aid.