A Narrative

[3]In consequence of a partial representation of the conduct of the people who were employed to nurse the sick, in the late calamitous state of the City of Philadelphia, we are solicited, by a number of those who feel themselves injured thereby, and by the advice of several respectable citizens, to step forward and declare the facts as they really were; seeing that from our situation, on account of the charge we took upon us, we had it more fully in our power, to know and observe the conduct and behaviour of those that were so employed.

Early in September, a solicitation appeared in the public papers, to the people of colour to come forward and assist the distressed, perishing, and neglected sick; with a kind of assurance, that people of our colour were not liable to take the infection. [Note 1] Upon which we and a few others met and consulted how to act on so truly alarming and melancholy occasion. After some conversation, we found a freedom to go forth, confiding in him who can preserve in the midst of a burning fiery furnace, sensible that it was our duty to do all the good we could to our suffering fellow mortals. We set out to see where we could be useful. The first we visited was a man in Emsley's alley, who was dying, and his wife lay dead at the time in the house, there were none to assist but two poor helpless children. We administered what relief we could, and applied to the overseers of the poor to have the woman buried. We visited upwards of twenty families that [4] day - they were scenes of woe indeed! The Lord was plentiful to strengthen us, and removed all fear from us, and disposed our hearts to ....

In order the better to regulate our conduct, we called on the mayor the next day, to consult with him on how to proceed, so as to be the most useful. The first object he recommended was a strick attention to the sick, and the procuring of nurses. This was attended to by Absalom Jones and William Gray; and, in order that the distressed might know where to apply, the mayor advised that upon application to them they would be supplied. Soon after, the mortality increased, the difficulty of getting a corpse taken away, was such, that few were willing to do it, when offered great rewards. The black people were looked to. We then offered our services in the public papers, by advertising that we would remove the dead and procure nurses. Our services were the production of real sensiblility; - we sought not fee nor reward, until the increase of the disorder rendered our labour so arduous that we were not adequate to the service we had assumed. The mortality increasing rapidly, obliged us to call in the assistence of five hired men, in the awful discharge of interring the dead. They, with great reluctance, were prevailed upon to join us. It was very uncommon, at this time, to find any one that would go near, much more, handle, a sick or dead person.

Mr. Carey, in page 106 of his third edition, has obeserved, that, "for the honour of human nature, it ought to be recorded, that some of the convicts in the gaol, a part of the term of whose confinement had been remitted as a reward for their peaceable, orderly behaviour, voluntarily offered themselves as nurses to attend the sick at Bush-hill; and have, in that capacity, conducted themselves with great fidelity, & c." Here [5] it ought to be remarked, (although Mr. Carey hath not done it) that two-thirds of the persons, who rendered these essential services, were people of colour, who, on the application of the elders of the African Church (who met to consider what they could do for the help of the sick) were liberated on condition of their doing the duty of nurses at the hospital at Bush-hill; which they as voluntarily accepted to do, as they did faithfully discharge, this severe and disagreeable duty. - May the Lord reward them, both temporally and spiritually.

When the sickness became general, and several of the physicians died, and most of the survivors were exhausted by sickness or fatigue; that good man, Doctor Rush, called on us more immediately to attend upon the sick, knowing we could both bleed; he told us we could increase our utility, by attending to his instructions, and accordingly directed us where to procure medicine duly prepared, with proper directions how to administer them, and at what stages of the disorder to bleed; and when we found ourselves incapable of judging what was proper to be done, to apply to him, and he would, if able, attend to them himself, or send Edward Fisher, his pupil, which he often did; and Mr. Fisher manifested his humanity, by an affectionate attention to their relief. - This has been no small satisfaction to us; for, we think, that when a physician was not attainable, we have been the instruments, in the hand of God, for saving the lives of some hundreds of our suffering fellow mortals.

We feel ourselves sensibly aggrieved by the censorious epithets of many, who did not render the least assistance in the time of necessity, yet are liberal of their censure of us, for the prices paid for our services, when no one knew how to make a proposal to any one they wanted to assist them. At first we made no charge, but left it to those we served in removing their dead, [6] to give what they thought fit - we set no price until the reward was set by those we served. After paying the people we had to assist us, our compensation is much less than many will believe.

We do assure the public, that all the money we have received, for burying, and for coffins, which we ourselves purchased and procured, has not defrayed the expence of wages which we had to pay to those whom we employed to assist us. The following statement is accurately made:

Cash Received

The whole amount of cash we received

for burying the dead, and for burying beds is 233/10/4

Cash Paid

For coffins, for which we have received nothing 33/0/0

For hire of 5 men, 3 of them 70 days each, and the

other two at 63 days each at 22/6 per day 378/0/0

Total Cash Paid 411/0/0....


Debts due us, for which we expect but little,   110/00/0

From this statement, for the truth of which we solemnly vouch, it is evident, and we sensibly feel the operation of the fact, that we are out of pocket   177/9/8

Besides the cost of hearses, the maintainance of our families for seventy days, (being the period of our labours) and the support of the five hired men, during the respective times of their being employed; which expenses, together with sundry gifts we occasionally made to poor families, which might reasonably and properly be introduced, [7] to show our actual situation with regard to profit; but it is enough to exhibit to the public, from the above specified items, of cash paid and cash received, without taking into view the other expenses, that by the employment we were engaged in we lost 177 9s. 8d. But if the other expenses, which we have actually paid, are added to that sum, how much then may we not say we have suffered! We leave the public to judge.

It may possibly appear strange to some who know how constantly we were employed, and that we should have received no more cash than 233 10s. 4d. But we repeat our assurance that this is the fact; and we add another, which will serve the better to explain it: we have buried several hundreds of poor persons and strangers, for which service we have never received nor never asked any compensation.

We feel ourselves hurt most by a partial, censorious paragraph, in Mr. Carey's 2d edition of his account of the sickness, &c. in Philadelphia, pages 76 and 77, where he asperses the blacks alone, for having taken the advantage of the distressed situation of the people.

That some extravagant prices were paid we admit; but how came they to be demanded? The reason is plain. It was with difficulty persons could be had to supply the wants of the sick as nurses; applications became more and more numerous, the consequence was, when we procured them at six dollars per week, and called upon them to go where they were wanted, we found they were gone elsewhere. Here was a disappointment. Upon inquiring the cause, we found they had been allured away by others who offered greater wages, until they got from two to four dollars per day. We had no restraint upon the people. It was natural for people in low circumstances to accept a voluntary, bounteous reward; especially under the loathsomeness of many of the sick, when nature [8] shuddered at the thought of the infection, and the task assigned was aggravated by lunacy, and being left much alone with them. Had Mr. Carey been solicited to such an undertaking, for hire, quere--what would he have demanded? But Mr. Carey, although chosen a member of that band of worthies who have so eminently distinguished themselves by their labours for the relief of the sick and helpless; yet, quickly after his election, left them to struggle with their arduous and hazardous task, by leaving the city. 'Tis true Mr. Carey was no hireling, and had a right to flee, and upon his return, to plead the cause of those who fled; yet, we think, he was wrong in giving so partial and injurious an account of the coloured nurses; if they have taken advantage of the public distress, is it any more than he hath done of its desire for information? We believe he has made more money by the sale of his "Scraps" than a dozen of the greatest extortioners among the coloured nurses. The great prices paid did not escape the observation of that worthy and vigilant magistrate, Matthew Clarkson, mayor of the city, and president of the committee. He sent for us, and requested we would use our influence to lessen the wages of the nurses. But on informing him of the cause, i. e. that of the people over-bidding one another, it was concluded unnecessary to attempt any thing on that head; therefore it was left to the people concerned. That there were some few coloured people guilty of plundering the distressed we acknowledge; but in that they only are pointed out, and made mention of, we esteem partial and injurious. We know as many whites who were guilty of it; but this is looked over, while the blacks are held up to censure. Is it a greater crime for a black to pilfer than for a white to privateer?

We wish not to offend; but when an unprovoked attempt is made to make us blacker than we are, it becomes less necessary to be over-cautious on that account; [9] therefore we shall take the liberty to tell of the conduct of some of the whites.

We know that six pounds was demanded by and paid to a white woman, for putting a corpse into a coffin; and forty dollars was demanded and paid to four white men, for bringing it down the stairs.

Mr. and Mrs. Taylor both died in one night. A white woman had the care of them. After they were dead she called on Jacob Servoss, Esq. for her pay, demanding six pounds for laying them out. Upon seeing a bundle with her, he suspected she had pilfered. On searching her, Mr. Taylor's buckles were found in her pocket, with other things.

An elderly lady, Mrs. Malony, was given into the care of a white woman. She died. We were called to remove the corpse. When we came, the woman was lying so drunk that she did not know what we were doing; but we knew that she had one of Mrs. Malony's rings on her finger.

It is unpleasant to point out the bad and unfeeling conduct of any colour; yet the defence we have undertaken obliges us to remark, that although hardly any of good character at that time could be procured; yet only two coloured women were at that time in the hospital; [10] and they were retained, and the others discharged, when it was reduced to order and good government.

The bad consequences many of our colour apprehend from a partial relation of our conduct are, that it will prejudice the minds of the people in general against us; because it is impossible that one individual can have knowledge of all; therefore at some future day, when some of the most virtuous that were upon most praiseworthy motives, induced to serve the sick, may fall into the service of a family that are strangers to him or her, and it is discovered that it is one of those stigmatised wretches, what may we suppose will be the consequence? Is it not reasonable to think the person will be abhorred, despised, and perhaps dismissed from employment, to their great disadvantage? would not this be hard? and have we not therefore sufficient reason to seek for redress? We can with certainty assure the public that we have seen more humanity, more real sensibility from the poor coloured than from the poor whites. When many of the former, of their own accord, rendered services where extreme necessity called for it, the general part of the poor white people were so dismayed, that instead of attempting to be useful, they, in a manner, hid themselves. A remarkable instance of this.--A poor, afflicted, dying man stood at his chamber window, praying and beseeching every one that passed by to help him to a drink of water. A number of white people passed and instead of being moved by the poor man's distress, they hurried as fast as they could out of the sound of his cries, until at length a gentleman, who seemed to be a foreigner, came up. He could not pass by, but had not resolution enough to go into the house. He held eight dollars in his hand, and offered it to several as a reward for giving the poor man a drink of water; but was refused by every one, until a poor black man came up. The gentleman offered the eight dollars to him, if he would relieve the [11] poor man with a little water. "Master," replied the good-natured fellow, "I will supply the gentleman with water, but surely I will not take your money for it;" nor could he be prevailed upon to accept his bounty. He went in, supplied the poor object with water, and rendered him every service he could.

A poor black man, named Sampson, went constantly from house to house where distress was, and no assistance, without fee or reward. He was smitten with the disorder, and died. After his death his family were neglected by those he had served.

Sarah Bass, a poor black widow, gave all the assistance she could, in several families, for which she did not receive any thing; and when any thing was offered her, she left it to the option of those she served.

A black woman nursed Richard Mason and son. They died. Richard's widow, considering the risk the poor woman had run, and from observing the fears that sometimes rested on her mind, expected she would have demanded something considerable; but upon asking her what she demanded, her reply was, "fifty cents per day." Mrs. Mason intimated it was not sufficient for her attendance. She replied that it was enough for what she had done, and would take no more. Mrs. Mason's feelings were such, that she settled an annuity of six pounds a year on her for life. Her name was Mary Scott.

An elderly black woman nursed--with great diligence and attention. When recovered, he asked what he must give her for her services--she replied, "a dinner, master, on a cold winter's day." And thus she went from place to place, rendering every service in her power, without an eye to reward.

A young black woman was requested to attend one night upon a white man and his wife, who were very ill. No other person could be had. Great wages were offered her--she replied, "I will not go for money: if I [12] go for money, God will see it, and may be make me take the disorder and die; but if I go and take no money, he may spare my life." She went about 9 o'clock, and found them both on the floor. She could procure no candle or other light; but staid with them about two hours, and then left them. They both died that night. She was afterwards very ill with the fever. Her life was spared.

Csar Cranchal, a man of colour, offered his services to attend the sick, and said, "I will not take your money-- I will not sell my life for money." It is said he died with the flux.

A black lad, at the widow Gilpin's, was entrusted with his young master's keys, on his leaving the city, and transacted his business with the greatest honesty and dispatch: having unloaded a vessel for him in the time, and loaded it again.

A woman that nursed David Bacon charged with exemplary moderation, and said she would not have any more.

It may be said, in vindication of the conduct of those, who discovered ignorance or incapacity in nursing, that it is, in itself, a considerable art, derived from experience as well as the exercise of the finer feelings of humanity. This experience nine tenths of those employed, it is probable, were wholly strangers to.

We do not recollect such acts of humanity from the poor white people, in all the round we have been engaged in. We could mention many other instances of the like nature, but think it needless.

It is unpleasant for us to make these remarks, but justice to our colour demands it. Mr. Carey pays William Gray and us a compliment; he says our services and others of our colour, have been very great, &c. By naming us, he leaves those others in the hazardous state of being classed with those who are [13] called the "vilest." [Note 2] The few that were discovered to merit public censure were brought to justice, which ought to have sufficed, without being canvassed over in his "Trifle" of a pamphlet; which causes us to be more particular, and endeavour to recall the esteem of the public for our friends and the people of colour, as far as they may be found worthy; for we conceive, and experience proves it, that an ill name is easier given than taken away. We have many unprovoked enemies, who begrudge us the liberty we enjoy, and are glad to hear of any complaint against our colour, be it just or unjust; in consequence of which we are more earnestly endeavouring all in our power, to warn, rebuke, and exhort our African friends to keep a conscience void of offence towards God and man; and, at the same time, would not be backward to interfere, when stigmas or oppression appear pointed at, or attempted against them, unjustly; and we are confident we shall stand justified in the sight of the candid and judicious for such conduct.

We can assure the public that there were as many white as black people detected in pilfering, although the number of the latter, employed as nurses, was twenty times as great as the former, and that there is, in our [14] opinion, as great a proportion of white as of black inclined to such practices; and it is rather to be admired that so few instances of pilfering and robbery happened, considering the great opportunities there were for such things. We do not know of more than five black people suspected of any thing clandestine, out of the great number employed. The people were glad to get any person to assist them. A black person was preferred, because it was supposed they were not so likely to take the disorder. The most worthless were acceptable; so that it would have been no cause of wonder if twenty causes of complaint had occurred for one that hath. It has been alledged that many of the sick were neglected by the nurses [note 3]; we do not wonder at it, considering their situation: in many instances up night and day, without any one to relieve them, worn down with fatigue and want of sleep, they could not, in many cases, render that assistance which was needful. Where we visited the causes of complaint on this score were not numerous. The case of the nurses, in many instances, were deserving of commisseration: the patient raging and frightful to behold. It has frequently required two persons, to hold them from running away; others have made attempts to jump out of a window; in many chambers they were nailed down, and the door kept locked, to prevent them from running away or breaking their necks; others lay vomiting blood, and screaming enough to chill them with horror. Thus were many of the nurses circumstanced, alone, until the patient died; then called away to another scene of distress, and thus have been for a week or ten days left to do the best they could, without any sufficient rest, many of them having some of their dearest connexions sick at the time, and suffering for want, while their husband, wife, father, mother, &c. have been engaged in the service of the white people. We mention this to show the difference between this [15] and nursing in common cases. We have suffered equally with the whites; our distress hath been very great, but much unknown to the white people. Few have been the whites that paid attention to us, while the blacks were engaged in others' service. We can assure the public that we have taken four and five black people in a day to be buried. In several instances, when they have been seized with the sickness while nursing, they have been turned out of the house, wandering and destitute, until they found shelter wherever they could (as many of them would not be admitted to their former homes)--they have languished alone, and we know of one who even died in a stable. Others acted with more tenderness: when their nurses were taken sick, they had proper care taken of them at their houses. We know of two instances of this. It is even to this day a generally received opinion in this city, that our colour was not so liable to the sickness as the whites. We hope our friends will pardon us for setting this matter in its true state.

The public were informed that in the West Indies and other places where this terrible malady had been, it was observed that the blacks were not affected with it. Happy would it have been for you, and much more so for us, if this observation had been verified by our experience.

When the people of colour had the sickness and died, we were imposed upon, and told it was not with the prevailing sickness, until it became too notorious to be denied; then we were told some few died, but not many. Thus were our services extorted at the peril of our lives. Yet you accuse us of extorting a little money from you.

 The bill of mortality for the year 1793, published by Matthew Whitehead and John Ormrod, clerks, and Joseph Dolby, sexton, will convince any reasonable man that will examine it, that as many coloured people died in proportion as others. In 1792 there [16] were 67 of our colour buried, and in 1793, it amounted to 305: thus the burials among us have increased more than fourfold. Was not this in a great degree the effects of the services of the unjustly vilified coloured people?

Perhaps it may be acceptable to the reader to know how we found the sick affected by the sickness. Our opportunities of hearing and seeing them have been very great. They were taken with a chill, a head-ache, a sick stomach, with pains in their limbs and back. This was the way the sickness in general began; but all were not affected alike. Some appeared but slightly affected with some of those symptoms. What confirmed us in the opinion of a person being smitten was the colour of their eyes. In some it raged more furiously than in others. Some have languished for seven and ten days, and appeared to get better the day, or some hours before they died, while others were cut off in one, two, or three days; but their complaints were similar. Some lost their reason, and raged with all the fury madness could produce, and died in strong convulsions; others retained their reason to the last, and seemed rather to fall asleep than die. We could not help remarking that the former were of strong passions, and the latter of a mild temper. Numbers died in a kind of dejection: they concluded they must go, (so the phrase for dying was,) and therefore in a kind of fixed, determined state of mind went off.

It struck our minds with awe to have application made by those in health, to take charge of them in their sickness, and of their funeral. Such applications have been made to us. Many appeared as though they thought they must die and not live; some have lain on the floor to be measured for their coffins and graves.

A gentleman called one evening to request a good nurse might be got for him when he was sick, and to superintend his funeral, and gave particular directions [17] how he would have it conducted. It seemed a surprising circumstance; for the man appeared at the time to be in perfect health; but calling, two or three days after, to see him, found a woman dead in the house, and the man so far gone, that to administer any thing for his recovery was needless--he died that evening. We mention this as an instance of the dejection and despondence that took hold on the minds of thousands, and are of opinion that it aggravated the case of many; while others who bore up cheerfully, got up again, that probably would otherwise have died.

When the mortality came to its greatest stage, it was impossible to procure sufficient assistance; therefore many whose friends and relations had left them, died unseen and unassisted. We have found them in various situations--some lying on the floor, as bloody as if they had been dipped in it, without any appearance of their having had even a drink of water for their relief; others lying on a bed with their clothes on, as if they had come fatigued, and lain down to rest; some appeared as if they had fallen dead on the floor, from the position we found them in.

Surely our task was hard; yet through mercy we were enabled to go on.

One thing we observed in several instances: when we were called, on the first appearance of the disorder, to bleed, the person frequently, on the opening of a vein, and before the operation was near over, felt a change for the better, and expressed a relief in their chief complaints; and we made it a practice to take more blood from them than is usual in other cases. These, in a general way, recovered; those who omitted bleeding any considerable time, after being taken by the sickness, rarely expressed any change they felt in the operation. [note 4]

We feet a great satisfaction in believing that we have been useful to the sick, and thus publicly thank [18] Doctor Rush for enabling us to be so. We have bled upwards of eight hundred people, and do declare we have not received to the value of a dollar and a half therefor. We were willing to imitate the doctor's benevolence, who, sick or well, kept his house open day and night, to give what assistance he could in this time of trouble.

Several affecting instances occurred when we were engaged in burying the dead. We have been called to bury some, who, when we came, we found alone; at other places we found a parent dead, and none but little innocent babes to be seen, whose ignorance led them to think their parent was asleep; on account of their situation, and their little prattle, we have been so wounded, and our feelings so hurt, that we almost concluded to withdraw from our undertaking; but seeing others so backward, we still went on.

An affecting instance.--A woman died; we were sent for to bury her. On our going into the house, and taking the coffin in, a dear little innocent accosted us with--"mamma is asleep--don't wake her!" but when she saw us put her into the coffin, the distress of the child was so great, that it almost overcame us. When she demanded why we put her mamma in the box, we did not know how to answer her, but committed her to the care of a neighbour, and left her with heavy hearts. In other places where we have been to take the corpse of a parent, and have found a group of little ones alone, some of them in a measure capable of knowing their situation; their cries, and the innocent confusion of the little ones, seemed almost too much for human nature to bear. We have picked up little children that were wandering they knew not where, (whose parents had been cut off,) and taken them to the orphan house; for at this time the dread that prevailed over people's minds was so general, that it was a rare instance to see one neighbour visit another, and [19] even friends, when they met in the streets, were afraid of each other; much less would they admit into their houses the distressed orphan that had been where the sickness was. This extreme seemed in some instances to have the appearance of barbarity. With reluctance we call to mind the many opportunities there were in the power of individuals to be useful to their fellow men, yet through the terror of the times were omitted. A black man, riding through the street, saw a man push a woman out of the house; the woman staggered and fell on her face in the gutter, and was not able to turn herself. The black man thought she was drunk, but observing she was in danger of suffocation, alighted, and taking the woman up, found her perfectly sober, but so far gone with the disorder that she was not able to help herself. The hard hearted man that threw her down, shut the door and left her. In such a situation she might have perished in a few minutes. We heard of it, and took her to Bush-hill. Many of the white people, who ought to be patterns for us to follow after, have acted in a manner that would make humanity shudder. We remember an instance of cruelty, which, we trust, no coloured man would be guilty of: Two sisters, orderly, decent white women, were sick with the fever. One of them recovered, so as to come to the door. A neighbouring white man saw her, and in an angry tone asked her if her sister was dead or not? She answered, "no;" upon which he replied, "damn her, if she don't die before morning, I will make her die!" The poor woman, shocked at such an expression from this monster of a man, made a modest reply, upon which he snatched up a tub of water, and would have dashed it over her, if he had not been prevented by a coloured man. He then went and took a couple of fowls out of a coop, (which had been given them for nourishment) and threw them into an open alley. He had his wish--the poor woman that he would make die, [20] died that night. A white man threatened to shoot us, if we passed by his house with a corpse. We buried him three days after.

We have been pained to see the widows come to us, crying and wringing their hands, and in very great distress, on account of their husbands' death; having nobody to help them, they were obliged to come and get their husbands buried. Their neighbours were afraid to go to their help, or to condole with them. We ascribe such unfriendly conduct to the frailty of human nature.

Notwithstanding the compliment Mr. Carey hath paid us, we have found reports spread of our taking between one and two hundred beds from houses where people died. Such slanderers as these, who propagate such wilful lies, are dangerous, although unworthy; and we wish, if any person hath the least suspicion of us, they would endeavour to bring us to the punishment which such attrocious conduct must deserve; and by this means the innocent will be cleared from reproach, and the guilty known.

We shall now conclude with the following proverb, which we think applicable to those of our colour, who exposed their lives in the late afflicting dispensation:

                         God and a soldier all men do adore
                         In time of war, and not before;
                         When the war is over, and all things righted,
                         God is forgotten, and the soldier slighted. [21]

To Matthew Clarkson, Esq. Mayor of the City of

         SIR--For the personal respect we bear you, and for the satisfaction of the Mayor, we declare, that to the best of our remembrance we had the care of the following beds, and no more.

         Two belonging to James Starr we buried; upon taking them up, we found one damaged, the blankets &c. belonging to it were stolen. It was refused to be accepted of by his son Moses. It was buried again, and remains so for aught we know; the other was returned, and accepted of.

         We buried two belonging to Samuel Fisher, merchant; one of them was taken up by us, to carry a sick person on to Bush-hill, and there left; the other was buried in a grave, under a corpse.

         Two beds were buried for Thomas Willing--one six feet deep in his garden, and lime and water thrown upon it; the other was in the Potter's field, and further knowledge of it we have not.

         We burned one bed, with other furniture and cloathing, belonging to the late Mayor, Samuel Powell, on his farm on the west side of Schuylkill river. We buried one of his beds.

         For ----- Dickinson we buried a bed in a lot of Richard Allen, which we have good cause to believe was stolen.

         One bed was buried for a person in Front street, whose name is unknown to us--it was buried in the Potter's field by a person employed for the purpose. We told him he might take it up again, after it had been buried a week, and apply it to his own use, as he [22] said that he had lately been discharged from the hospital, and had none to lay on.

         Thomas Leiper's two beds were buried in the potter's field, and remained there a week, and then taken up by us, for the use of the sick that we took to Bush-hill, and left there.

         We buried one for ------ Smith, in the Potter's field, which was returned except the furniture, which we believe was stolen.

         One other we buried for ------- Davis, in Vine street; it was buried near Schuylkill, and we believe continues so.

         A bed from ------- Guests, in Second street, was buried in the Potter's field, and is there yet, for any thing we know.

         One bed we buried in the Presbyterian burial ground, the corner of Pine and Fourth streets, and we believe was taken up by the owner, Thomas Mitchell.

         -------Milligan, in Second street, had a bed buried by us in the Potter's field -- we have no further knowledge of it.

         This is a true statement of matters respecting the beds, as far as we were concerned. We never undertook the charge of more than their burial, knowing they were liable to be taken away by evil minded persons. We think it beneath the dignity of an honest man, (although injured in his reputation by wicked and envious persons) to vindicate or support his character by an oath or legal affirmation; we fear not our enemies, let them come forward with their charges, we will not flinch, and if they can fix any crime upon us, we refuse not to suffer.


You have cause to believe our lives were endangered in more cases than one, in the time of the late mortality, and that we were so discouraged, that had it not been for your persuasion, we would have relinquished [23] our disagreeable and dangerous employment -- and we hope there is no impropriety in soliciting a certificate of your approbation of our conduct, so far as it hath come to your knowledge.

With an affectionate regard and esteem,
We are your friends,



January 7th, 1794.

         Having, during the prevalence of the late malignant disorder, had almost daily opportunities of seeing the conduct of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and the people employed by them to bury the dead--I with cheerfulness give this testimony of my approbation of their proceedings, so far as the same came under my notice. Their diligence, attention, and decency of deportment, afforded me, at the time, much satisfaction.


Philadelphia, January 23, 1794.

Note 1:

Rush decided to enlist the support of the city's African American community. After Charleston's 1742 yellow fever epidemic, Dr. John Lining published his observations. What most struck Rush, as he annually noted in his medical school lecture, was Lining's observation that blacks were immune to the fever. Rush wrote to Absalom Jones, founder of the African Church, and Richard Allen, a cobbler by trade but famed as a Methodist preacher, who had organized the Free African Society to foster mutual assistance for the city's blacks. Rush explained that Lining had shown that their race was immune to the disease. He asked if that "exception... which God has granted you does not lay you under an obligation to offer your services to attend the sick." [Rush papers vol. 38, p 32]

Then in Monday's (September 2) American Daily Advertiser, writing under the pseudonym of Anthony Benezet, a Quaker emancipationist who had died in 1784, Rush quoted Dr. Lining and recalled blacks, not to their duty to God, but to their obligation to white Philadelphians. They should help those who had "first planned their emancipation from slavery, and who have since afforded them as much protection and support, as to place them, in point of civil and religious privileges, upon a footing with themselves."

Note 2:

Pages 62-63 of Carey's Account, 3d edition: "When the yellow fever prevailed in South Carolina, the negroes, according to that accurate observer, dr. Lining, were wholly free from it. 'There is something very singular in the constitution of the negroes,' says he, 'which renders them not liable to this fever; for though many of them were as much exposed as the nurses to this infection, yet I never knew one instance of this fever among them, though they are equally subject with the white people to the bilious fever.' The same idea prevailed for a considerable time in Philadelphia; but it was erroneous. They did not escape the disorder; however, there were scarcely any of them seized at first, and the number that were finally affected, was not great; and, as I am informed by an eminent doctor, 'it yielded to the power of medicine in them more easily than in whites.' The error that prevailed on this subject had a very salutary effect; for at an early period of the disorder, hardly any white nurses could be procured; and, had the negroes been equally terrified, the sufferings of the sick, great as they actually were, would have been exceedingly aggravated. At the period alluded to, the elders of the African Church met, and offered their assistance to the mayor, or procure nurses for the sick, and to assist in burying the dead. Their offers were accepted; and Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and William Gray undertood the management of these two several services. The great demand for nurses afforded an opportunity for imposition, which was eagerly seized by some of the vilest blacks. [Carey's note: the extortion here mentioned, was very far from being confined to the negroes; many of the white nurses behaved with equal rapacity] They extorted two, three, four, and even five dollars a night for such attendance, as would have been well paid by a single dollar. Some of them were even detected in plundering the houses of the sick. But it is unjust to cast a censure on the whole for this sort of conduct, as many people have done. The services of Jones, Allen, and Gray, and others of their colour, have been very great, and demand public gratitude."

Note 3

I have found letters in which the nurses are blamed for being negligent. But before noting this point should be made. There is evidence that blacks were nursing, even treating, patients before the African Society began providing nurses. On September 4, Benjamin Smith wrote to his father about the case of his cousin Caleb Hoskins who got sick on Monday morning, the 2nd, the same day "Benezet's" exhortation appeared in the newspaper. Hoskins sent his sisters away and sent for a "French doctor" who was having success treating the sick in Hoskin's neighborhood. (I suspect this was Dr. Nassy.) Smith writes that when the doctor came to Hoskin's house "he found the honest black woman who lives under Caleb's roof had been employed in applying a warm bath to his feet and giving him some herb tea to drink, having got him to bed, which had produced a copious sweat, he expressed great satisfaction and said she could not have done better.... I consider it as a great favour that he has two such persons as the black man and his wife about him, had he been taken sick in a white family not his relations, he would probably have been neglected but the black folks mostly believe they are in no danger, this woman in particular is not afraid of catching the disorder and treats her patient with as much tenderness and assiduity as if was her own child, is constantly with him and provides every thing comfortable, this is what Caleb says himself."

Note 4 bleeding

Bob Arnebeck

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