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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Important Quotes

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“No one knew that a killer was already moving through their streets with them, an invisible stalker that would go house to house until it had touched everyone, rich or poor, in some terrible way.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 9)

In the first chapter, Murphy emphasizes the extent to which yellow fever takes the city by surprise. It is a great unseen enemy that leaves no one unaffected. Regardless of one’s station in life, there is no way to avoid the fever or its consequences. The quote also illustrates Murphy’s narrative approach, which supplements dry facts and figures with vivid characterizations like this.

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“Fear, it seemed, was spreading even faster than the disease.” 

(Chapter 2, Page 19)

When yellow fever starts to spread throughout the city in August, people begin to panic. They notice the death toll going up and no one knows exactly what the cause is. Although the mayor and governor try to take steps to contain the situation, news travels fast through the city’s taverns, markets, and shops, creating fear that temporarily overshadows the disease.

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“They heard the church bells tolling, tolling, tolling—and they ran.” 

(Chapter 3, Page 22)

Whenever people die in Philadelphia, the church bells toll. As the fever grows worse at the end of August, the church bells toll more frequently. The regular tolling helps catalyze a mass exodus from Philadelphia, with estimates putting the number who fled at around 20,000.