Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Oliver Wadsworth: teenager

The Drinkers stayed in the city longer than most of their class. Elizabeth chronicled the visits of men who agreed with her husband that there was no need for panic. Elizabeth noted that the death toll in the newspaper was low. Still she wanted to leave. Then Oliver Wadsworth, a teenager staying with the Drinker's daughter who lived a few doors up Front Street, had a chill after dinner on the 17th of August. All the other children in the household were sent to their grandmother Drinker.

Dr. Parke examined the boy that night and thought he had "every symptom of yellow fever." He had had a bilious fever the previous summer, so there was some hope that swimming too long in the hot sun had rekindle that old complaint. He was better in the morning. The black man who changed the boy's linens and sheets after a sweat didn't think he had yellow fever. Parke examined him after dinner on the 18th and advised that he be sent to the hospital. He hoped the boy had the disorder "lightly."

"Poor little Oliver is gone," a distraught Elizabeth Drinker wrote in her diary, "he appear'd willing to go - he was taken in a coachee, a man sat by his side against whom he lean'd, and a person was sent with them to see that they did not call for any other." The doctor advised the family Oliver had been staying with to leave the city. And Parke's report of the fever's spread finally moved Henry Drinker to make preparations to leave.

Two days later, a letter came from Dr. Cooper at the hospital. Oliver had died of "an inveterate yellow fever" after "all possible attention and care." Cooper assured the family that the fever was not contagious, "no one person takes it from another, but that it is in the air, and spreads very fast." The Drinkers sent their plate to the bank vaults, had their servants strip their trees of fruit, gave all but the grapes to the poor families who alone remained in their neighborhood, and left the city.

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