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 4-8

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 4 Summary: “Confusion, Distress, and Utter Desolation”

At the end of August, the state legislature, which is in disarray due to its greatly reduced numbers, meets at the state house to enact resolutions to address the yellow fever crisis. Among the measures it passes, the most significant is the decision to hand all emergency powers to Governor Mifflin, who then turns the situation over to Mayor Clarkson before leaving the city. Mifflin offers Clarkson neither emergency funds nor any guidance on how to control the situation, which includes halting ships from the West Indies and calming the panicked masses.

Although Clarkson comes to city hall every day to gather information, he faces growing challenges as people stop coming to work. One of his main concerns is what to do with the hundreds of impoverished people who fill the poor houses or wander the streets. He asks the “Overseers and Guardians of the Poor” (38), the city’s only “official” (38) organization for assisting those in need, to help him figure out where to place the destitute who are sick since the hospital is not accepting them due to possible overcrowding. The Guardians first take over Ricketts’ Circus, an empty entertainment venue run by John Bill Ricketts who has left for Manhattan.