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

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

by Jim Murphy


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1793, Philadelphia. The nation's capital and the largest city in North America is devastated by an apparently incurable disease, cause unknown . . .

In a powerful, dramatic narrative, critically acclaimed author Jim Murphy describes the illness known as yellow fever and the toll it took on the city's residents, relating the epidemic to the major social and political events of the day and to 18th-century medical beliefs and practices. Drawing on first-hand accounts, Murphy spotlights the heroic role of Philadelphia's free blacks in combating the disease, and the Constitutional crisis that President Washington faced when he was forced to leave the city—and all his papers—while escaping the deadly contagion. The search for the fever's causes and cure, not found for more than a century afterward, provides a suspenseful counterpoint to this riveting true story of a city under siege.

An American Plague's numerous awards include a Sibert Medal, a Newbery Honor, and designation as a National Book Award Finalist. Thoroughly researched, generously illustrated with fascinating archival prints, and unflinching in its discussion of medical details, this book offers a glimpse into the conditions of American cities at the time of our nation's birth while drawing timely parallels to modern-day epidemics. Bibliography, map, index.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780395776087
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 06/23/2003
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 98,452
Product dimensions: 7.22(w) x 9.74(h) x 0.73(d)
Lexile: 1130L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Jim Murphy's nonfiction books have received numerous awards, among them two Newbery Honors, the Sibert Medal, three Orbis Pictus awards, the Margaret A. Edwards award, the James Madison Book Award, and a National Book Award nomination. Born and raised in New Jersey, Jim lives in Maplewood, NJ, with his family.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A mesmerizing, macabre account...powerful evocative prose... compelling subject matter...fascinating discussion...valuable lesson in reading and writing history. Stellar." KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED REVIEW Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Leisurely, lyrical tone...Murphy injects the events with immediacy...archival photographs...bring the story to life...comprehensive history." PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY Publishers Weekly

"laudable insight...Readers view the panic from several vantage points...allows his audience to share the contemporary complexity...truly absorbing" THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS, STARRED REVIEW The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred

"solid research and a flair for weaving facts into fascinating stories...extensive and'll have students hooked on history." SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED REVIEW School Library Journal, Starred

"History, science, politics and public health come together in this dramatic account...brings the 'unshakeable unease' chillingly close." BOOKLIST Booklist, ALA

"diverse voices...representative images...Everywhere, Murphy is attentive to telling detail...Thoroughly documented...the work is both rigorous and inviting." THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE Horn Book

"Nobody does juvenile nonfiction better than Murphy...transparently clear and well-paced prose...grueseome medical details...also plenty of serious history" THE WASHINTON POST BOOK WORLD The Washington Post

"superbly written...represents nonfiction at its best...extremely accessible and outstanding annotated excellent choice" VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES (VOYA) VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

"Lavishly illustrated . . . Murphy unflinchingly presents the horrors. . . . he has produced another book that can make history come alive. . . ."—NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW The New York Times Book Review

"Murphy's dramatic history book...brings to life the determination and perseverance of a people whose future was uncertain." CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR Christian Science Monitor

Customer Reviews

American Plague 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
brikayama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very informative book on the Yellow Fever Epidemic that started in Philadelphia and claimed the lives of many. This book includes powerful illustrations and portraits of important people and important documents printed during the plague. I enjoyed reading the first hand accounts of many whose lives were impacted by this epidemic. It describes the different cures and suggestions on how to avoid getting the plague and what to do if you became infected. It presented a detailed historical account of those terrible days.
JohannaJ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a non-fiction book about the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 which is cool because it's gory. It's not overwhelming the way most information books are. It was easy to read and liked the pictures.
laurenryates on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793" is a very scary story set in Philadelphia in the summer. A rash of illnesses starts to kill off families and entire blocks of people in a very short amount of time. It seems to have started when a young French sailor was staying at a boarding house and contracted a fever with seizures. He died a few days later, along with other people in the boarding house that contracted the illness shortly there after. Soon other people and families on the block were infected by the illness and were dying off at an alarming rate. When the illness stretched a few more blocks, the people of Philadelphia began to notice. They called in a team of doctors to examine one of the women who had the illness. One of the doctors, Dr. Benjamin Rush, immediately claimed it was yellow fever. The other doctors were more hesitant to call it this since they knew the panic it could cause the town. When the news got out about the epidemic, many of the townspeople left the city in fear of contracting the disease. They left behind the servants, to look after their houses in case of looters, and the poor that could not afford to leave. Many of the African Americans who were left behind played a huge part in helping to nurse the sick. Many of these people were part of the organization, the Free African Society. The society also helped to dispose of the bodies of the deceased in a noble way instead of just leaving them to rot. There was much political and racial finger pointing in the wake of the epidemic. In all, of Philadelphia's nearly 51,000 inhabitants, 20,000 were believed to have fled during the epidemic and claimed the lives of several thousand people.While this book was very interesting and full of interesting fact and illustrations of the time, I felt the book was a little sporadic in that the author jumped around from person to person and family to family, without ever letting us get too involved in one's story. I felt the story had a good organization other than that and really liked to read about the Free African Society, as I have never heard about this organization. I felt the author could have gone more into their background.
restock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is lengthy, but full of astounding detail about the horrific facts surrounding the deadly plaque. Students that are researching information or have a high interest in the subject (above 5th grade could be an appropriate match for this book.
Bogle3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In An American Plague: The True and Terrifying story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic, the author wrote a narrative on the whole story of the Yellow Fever epidemic. It tells the story of how many families had to deal with being sick but some families were lucky to get to leave the city. However, some were not. The families that were not lucky enough to get to leave had to deal with if getting sick, they had to disinfect their everything with vinegar and even bathing in the vinegar. The story also tells us how some members of the black community helped with the sick. This story gives us an insight to how the people of Philadelphia dealt with this epidemic and the many different issues they had to deal with during the epidemic.The two themes that teachers can pull from this book is the obvious history theme and the ways that the students can avoid getting the plague. The obvious history connection is there within the whole book. The teacher can talk about the time period and the the medical help that the people had during that time. After she does this, she can then tie in that the ways that students can avoid getting Yellow Fever. The author gives tips inside the book.I did not particularly enjoy this book as much as i have enjoyed the other books that I have read this semester. It was just a little boring for me, however it was very educational. I probably would have never known all of that unless I read this book.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An unbelievably quick read, this book had Big Print and Lots of Pictures. I suspect that it was not actually targeted at my age group, that is, "old enough to know better". Still, the book was an educational look at a late 18th century yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia. George Washington was still President and humeral theory ruled medicine, so you can imagine the primitive state of medical care available to sufferers. Well researched, but written in a very simple style at a rather basic level, I finished this one in less than an afternoon. Worth reading, though, if you're a "plague" junkie like me.
xOxKyLiExOx1997 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an insteresting book. Well, I haven't finished it yet and it has been a while since I have read it. Some of it was gory, but all in all was very interesting. I had no idea about a plague that spread throughout the USA during the eighteenth centruy. I would recommend this to history lovers and medical lovers.
isaacfellows on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've never been a big reader of pre-20th century history, but if more of it were like this book then I might. What Jim Murphy does so well is his sifting through the historical material and building a narrative that does not gloss over anything but also does not get bogged down. Of especial interest to me in this work was the heroic role of the Free Africa Society in caring for the sick and dying in Yellow Fever-stricken Philadelphia. They show me one of history's functions: that many of those who came before us deserve to be remembered.
ShelbyJoMcKay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is the collection of events and letters by those who were impacted by the 1793 Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia. The disease was treated by many different doctors many different ways. Their practices were often those of supersticious acts or myths of the day. Many died; the number is unknown. The disease redefined the city of Philadelphia and our nation. The disease was contracted many summers after this and throughout the United States. Its cause was found much later and was finally realized as the mosquito.This was pretty boring. I am not sure I would use it with a Young Adult class unless they were doing research papers. It is very historical, but much more medical. I believe it would be of good use to compare our government then to now. I read the book in one afternoon. I did not know of many of the old medical practices, and was amazed by all of the claims they made to cure the disease. I feel like so many common people possess more abundent sense of medical knowledge in today's society. The book was very informative, but hardly enthralling.
allie_mansfield on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is good for references on th Yellow Fever. I didn't care for the fluidity of the text. It was difficult to understand at times. I felt like there could have been better photographs to describe what had taken place in the late 1700's.
ffox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really cool. This book is well structured, compelling, great illustrations, and fun. The history lesson is centered around a yellow fever outbreak in the early American Capital of Philadelphia. Murphy provides the reader with information on the people, the heroes (of all races), the villains, and even the gory details of the disease itself.
perihan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia. I believe the author, Jim Murphy, wrote this story to enlighten people on the plague of 1793 that was caused by mosquitoes and killed an estimated four to five thousands of people. He knew that no one has written a book about the yellow fewer. He also wanted to warn people about the possibility of an occurrence of similar epidemics in our present time. I felt for all those people who died during that time, who felt helpless trying to help like Dr. Benjamin Rush, and especially the black people of Philadelphia who tried to nurse ill people without thinking of escaping slavery or without thinking of catching the disease themselves. I also feel fortunate that I did not live at that time, but it is very scary to know that even today we still do not have a cure for yellow fever. The book is research based, gives details and copies of actual newspaper clippings of the time, and displays the role of the government¿s dealing of the disease. I think this book does not have just one greatest value. Everything in it; the information, readability, and the illustrations altogether give this book a great value.
slmturner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story recounts the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia during 1793. It gives great details of the geography of Philadelphia during that time period, the daily life of the citizens, as well as politics. It describes the city and the horrid smells so vividly that would make one wonder how the citizens could stand it. It goes on to describe the first few cases of yellow fever all the way to present day. The story also details the doctors' odd remedies to cure the fever and tells how long it took for someone to finally figure out the cause of the fever. It gives accounts of the Free African Society and their generous contributions to the citizens of Philadelphia in their time of need. This story has a lot of interesting information about the yellow fever of 1793 as well as a brief account of what actions were taken to help prevent further epidemics.The reason I checked out this book was because I read the fictional book "Fever 1793" by Laruie Halse Anderson and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to learn more about the yellow fever. Jim Murphy does a wonderful job of providing non-fictional information about the yellow fever of 1793 as well as the citizens of Philadelphia, the doctors, and additional information about the people who tried to find out the cause of yellow fever. He even includes illustrations from that time period to help illustrate the life back then. Jim Murphy gives many references at the end of the book to do further research. I enjoyed this book so much that I plan to by a personal copy.This would be a good book to use during a history lesson about Philadelphia or George Washington. It could be read to the class as extra information. Students could learn about George Washington's part during the yellow fever epidemic. The teacher could also use some of the information from this book to emphasize the impact that mosquitoes have to the human race during a science lesson. This book would also be good reference material to use for a report.
TeddyR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An American Plague is a wonderful work of non-fiction. The book describes the true story of the Yellow Plague in Philadelphia, PA in 1793. Real life figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are discussed. An American Plague makes a point to talk about the couragious and selfless acts of African Americans during the plague and how they were treated after the plague diminished. It also talks about how doctors eventually found the cause of Yellow Fever. Modern problems with Yellow Fever is also discussed in a non alarmist way. May take a little prodding to get started, but the book is hard to put down once begun.
eevers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This resource is full of authentic sketches and articles, tracing the origin and effects of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Its scary how small events culminated into such a devastating plague.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this 2004 Newbery Honor book, the author makes history come alive. As always, when I read a book wherein I learn about a particular subject, I'm intrigued to learn more.The summer of 1793 brought death came to more than ten percent of the population of Philadelphia, PA. When the yellow fever abated, estimates are that at least five thousand died within a few months time.This book is excellently researched and it meticulously portrays not only the devastation of the yellow fever, but in addition, the reader has a clear sense Philadelphia's role in the early beginnings of American democracy.The summer was exceedingly hot, the mosquitoes were plentiful, the air was close and putrid as waste filled the streets and alleyways. For blocks the stench of waste permeated the air as a huge shipment of coffee rotted on the shipping dock.Originally striking the poor, the rich believed themselves exempt. Though suddenly, the yellow fever showed no discrimination. Those wealthy enough to flee to the countryside did so, leaving a newly formed government struggling to dispose of waste, help those who were dying, and run the government with few officials.President George Washington fled, and in doing so, a constitutional crisis ensued.Admirably, there were heroes who could have left, but stayed behind to help the afflicted. Prominent doctors struggled to find the cause and cure for the sudden outbreak. Panic ensued as they argued, and as bodies piled high and as food supply became dangerously low, the social fabric fell apart.On the front line was the Free African Society. Founded in 1787 with the mission to help members who were poor, this incredibly brave, self sacrificing group, nursed the sick, cared for the parent less children and buried the dead, sadly, tragically, history shows that despite their incredible efforts, they were later condemned for their contributions.Highly recommended
amandacb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An American Plague is a well-written and eye-opening detailed account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1793. Murphy can certainly turn a phrase; case in point: "Water cascaded off roofs, splashed loudly onto the sidewalks, and ran in burbling rivers through the streets. The howling wind and pounding rain made a frightful noise, and yet through it all a single, chilling sound could still be heard--the awful tolling of the church bells." Since Murphy's language is sophisticated, the account would be better suited for advanced and older intermediate readers (i.e., grades 6-8). It would also be well-used as an excerpted read-aloud during a science or health class.
elizabethholloway on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a gripping account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Murphy captures the intense odors, the heat, and the social and emotional turmoil of the period. The descriptions of the victims are grizzly. For older readers, Murphy's descriptions of Philadelphia as the epidemic was beginning foreshadow the eventual discovery of the means of transmission. For all readers, Murphy creates a sense of the overwhelming nature of the plague. He also portrays the courage of those who stayed in Philadelphia willingly to help the city and the city, notably Dr. Benjamin Rush and the Free African Society. He also presents the profiteering and accusations that came after the plague. It's hard to create closure when an epidemic just seems to fade away after awhile, but Murphy manages by portraying the discovery of the yellow fever carrier--the mosquito. This book avoids embellishment and presents vivid factual accounts. The illustrations are taken from archives and add dimension to the story. At the end, Murphy documents his many sources. This is a worthwhile read for grade 5 and up.
farfromkansas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Earlier this summer, I read Laurie Halse Anderson¿s Fever 1793, a piece of historical fiction which recounts the widespread yellow fever that nearly wiped out the booming city of Philadelphia shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War. Anderson¿s book is told through the eyes of a teenage girl whose family is torn asunder by the fever and who must quickly ¿grow up¿ in order to survive the plague. Prior to reading Fever 1793, I was previously unaware of this calamity, and I did not realize just how traumatic this experience was for the city of Philadelphia.Jim Murphy¿s An American Plague mines similar territory as Anderson¿s Fever 1793, but presents those events without the aid of a fictional narrative. Surprisingly, Murphy¿s recounting of the events is actually more entertaining and educational that Anderson¿s novel; in fact, An American Plague might even be the most fascinating ¿history book¿ that I¿ve ever read. Murphy uses some very traditional ¿textbook¿ devices, such as the frequent incorporation of vintage illustrations and documents, but what really drives the novel is Murphy¿s narrative style. Murphy is a gifted storyteller who manages to make dull history come alive through his poetic narration of events ¿ no small feat for retelling a little-known piece of American history.The most interesting aspect of the book, for me, was the discussion of African-American scapegoat-ing (discussed in chapter ten). Although Anderson takes a broad hand examining the issue of race in Fever 1793, Murphy examines race relations in the aftermath of the plague with great attention to detail. Additionally, the final chapter of Murphy¿s book extends farther forward in history, describing subsequent outbreaks of yellow fever and the discovery of its origins (those pesky mosquitoes). This helps provide a sense of closure to An American Plague that seems absent from Anderson¿s historical fiction.Jim Murphy has written a compelling, engaging account of history in An American Plague. If only all American history classes were as entertaining as this novel, more children might actually enjoy history. And that truly is a testament to the power of Murphy¿s writing.Citation:Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. New York: Clarion, 2003. Print.
Samantha_Wright on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An American Plague is about the outbreak of Yellow Fever. It goes into detail about the symptoms and pain that individuals faced if they caught this disease and how it destroyed the cities. Thousands of people died and many survived this outbreak. The disease was a mystery and still is today! An American Plague is a great choice when teaching becuase it has a lot of good information in it. Any reader can learn something from this book!
clmattox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An American Plague is about the beginning and spread of Yellow Fever. It tells the symptoms, the pain and agony, and the temporary solution. It's historical, yet reads like a story. In that case, it is easy to read.
SandSing7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very insightful book not only about the history of Phildelphia, but the sequence of mini-discoveries that led to the realization that mosquitos and other insects were responsible for carrying disease, which is something that's simply taken for granted now. Most importantly, the book was written well, giving all the information of a textbook or formal report but with a readibility that was far above other information imparting texts. Highly recommended as summer reading for a 7th, 8th, or 9th grade history class.
Omrythea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well-written and informative. A nice non-fiction book to pair with Fever 1793. Actual pages from newspapers at the time add to the chilling effect of learning about this time of great despair.The yellow fever epidemic in 1793 killed more than 5,000 people, killing nearly a third of Philadelphia¿s residents. Unable to determine the true cause of the disease spread by mosquitoes, some in the town attempt to battle the disease while many others desert the city. An interesting look at all the key doctors, politicians, and charitable groups involved.
avcr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pat Bottino¿s air sucking delivery is distracting and annoying. August 3, Dr. Rush is uneasy over the heat, drought, and the abundance of pigeons. An unknown sailor developed a fever and died, followed by a slew of eight deaths in the span of a week. Philadelphia did not take notice. The description of the symptoms is frightening and disgusting. They did not know about bacteria at the time, they still relied on the Greek philosophy of body humors. Rush was the Dr. that announced the Yellow Fever plague.If You Like This, Try: Great Fire by Jim Murphy, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman, Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo.Awards: Newbery Honor
224perweek More than 1 year ago
Very interesting and easy to understand. Very informative.