Colonial Conundrum: Divining the Diagnosis of a Mysterious Fever

Main Article Content

Suzanne M Shultz
Arthur E Crist Jr.


Alexander Graydon (1752–1818) was appointed prothonotary of Dauphin County in 1785, a position he occupied for the next fourteen years after which he retired to a small farm near Harrisburg. He moved back to Philadelphia in 1816 and passed away at the age of sixty-six. In his Memoirs in a chapter subtitled "Yellow Fever," Graydon reports that "a malady not less fatal than that in Philadelphia was raging" in Harrisburg in 1793. The mortality of the two was comparable. The symptoms of the Harrisburg disease included affection of the stomach or nausea with violent retching, yellowness of the skin, and black vomit in some cases. Illness duration was perhaps a week, sometimes longer, and some died in two to three days. Other ambulatory victims with symptoms only of ague suddenly became quite ill and expired. Graydon himself was ill with a quartan ague in mid-September but had no other symptoms. He attributed the origin of the illness to marsh effluvia caused by "torrid sun acting upon moist soil, or upon impure and stagnant water."

Article Details