Monday, May 16, 2011

Thomas Fisher

As the 1798 yellow fever epidemic spread in Philadelphia, the risks of remaining in business increasingly became apparent. A clerk in Captain Yard's store died on August 15th. A ship broker died on the 20th. By the end of the month the porter at the Bank of the United States was dead; the teller of the Bank of Pennsylvania was sick, the second teller dead. Two clerks at the Bank of the United States were missing.

The flight from the city in early August had been panic. Now most families had poignant stories to tell, too often about the deaths of promising young men and innocent boys. During previous epidemics Quakers had noted that members of their society seemed to be the last afflicted. This year they received an early lesson that one could not flee too soon. Miers Fisher removed his family on the 8th, but stayed himself until the 13th arranging the affairs of his store. His eldest son Thomas, 22 years old, also stayed preparing for a trip north. The young man had survived Baltimore's yellow fever scares, and showed his disdain for the current alarm by not being ready to leave when his father called with a carriage. After waiting two hours, the father drove off after Thomas promised to go out to an uncle's house that night. He reached his uncle's but was ill with a bad headache.

In '93 Miers had been cured by gentle French methods, and until a doctor could be found he treated his son in that manner while clinging to the hope that Thomas was having one of his usual headaches. Then Thomas had a fever. A local doctor recommended cold air and bleeding. Sixteen ounces were taken immediately and then again the next day. Thomas said he felt better but not relieved. Dr. Proudfit from the city came out and thought his case serious. He ordered blisters, and mercury internally with opium and externally to "procure a salivation."

Miers, who had been with Thomas constantly for three days, found a black nurse so he
could get some rest. The doctors came again at 6 a.m. on the 18th. The local doctor thought Thomas looked better, but not Proudfit. He ordered blisters of mercury, mercury rubs as much as the patient could take and mercury pills, at least one every two hours. Shortly after the doctors left, the father saw a spot on the bed which he suspected was black vomit. His son vomited up the next pill, throwing some of it upon his father. The father began preparing for his son's death. The doctors came again in the evening and thought there was no hope. Thomas died at five the next morning.

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