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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Key Figures

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush is a well-known physician in Philadelphia at the time of the yellow fever outbreak. Before becoming established, he served as an apprentice for five years under John Redman, a well-known doctor, and studied with surgeons in Europe. He signed the Declaration of Independence and is part of the prestigious College of Physicians, although he ultimately resigns due to internal disagreements over the identification and cause of the fever, as well as a cure. He has a strong personality and insists from the beginning that the disease is yellow fever. He continues to see patients throughout the epidemic despite coming down with the fever twice.

Rush ignites major controversy over his cure, which involves poisoning the body and then violently purging it. Many doctors reject the treatment and criticize Rush in the city’s newspapers. He also gets into public disagreements over the cause of the fever. He does not believe, as many of his fellow doctors do, that the fever is imported. In the aftermath of the fever, he resigns from the College over the dispute. His reputation eventually suffers due to attacks by a British Royalist named William Cobbett, who calls Rush a “quack and a murderer” (112) in his newspaper, The Porcupine’s Gazette.