To the College of Physicians1
[Philadelphia, September 11, 1793]
Motives of humanity and friendship to the Citizens of Philadelphia, induce me to address to you this letter, in the hope that it may be in some degree instrumental in diminishing the present prevailing calamity. It is natural to be afflicted not only at the mortality which is said to obtain, but at the consequences of that undue panic which is fast depopulating the city, and suspending business both public and private.
I have myself been attacked with the reigning putrid fever, and with violence—but I trust that I am now compleatly out of danger. This I am to attribute, under God, to the skill and care of my friend Doctor Stevens, a gentleman lately from the island of St. Croix, one to whose talents I can attest, from an intimate acquaintance begun in early youth, whose medical opportunities have been of the best, and who has had the advantage of much experience both in Europe (having been in Edinburgh some years since, when the same fever raged there) and in the West-Indies, where it is frequent. His mode of treating the disorder varies essentially from that which has been generally practised2—And I am persuaded, where pursued, reduces it to one of little more than ordinary hazard.
I know him so well, that I entertain no doubt, that he will freely impart his ideas to you, collectively or individually, and being in my own person a witness to the efficacy of his plan, I venture to believe, that if adopted, and if the courage of the Citizens can be roused, many lives will be saved, and much ill prevented. I may add, that as far as can be yet pronounced, its efficacy has been alike proved on Mrs. Hamilton, who is now in the disorder, contracted from me, with every favourable appearance.
In giving you this information, Gentlemen, I have done what I thought discharging a duty. I only add, that if any conference with Doctor Stevens, is desired, that he is going to-morrow to New-York, from which journey he has been detained several days, on my account.
I am, Gentlemen, with respect, your obedient servant,
He lodges at Mrs. William’s, corner of Spruce and Third-Streets.
College of Physicians
The Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, September 11, 1793.
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, one of the most prominent of American medical societies, had been established in 1787 for the dissemination of medical and scientific knowledge. One of the particular interests of the society was the collection of information on the causes and treatment of diseases which had reached epidemic proportions in the United States.
2. For a description of the method of treating yellow fever used by Edward Stevens, see William Currie, A Treatise on the Synochus Icteroides, or Yellow Fever; As It Lately Appeared in the City of Philadelphia. Exhibiting a Concise View of Its Rise, Progress and Symptoms, Together with the Method of Treatment Found Most Successful … (Philadelphia: Printed by Thomas Dobson, No. 41, South Second-Street, 1794), 54–57.
The College of Physicians apparently approached Stevens, for on September 16 he published a letter addressed to Dr. John Redman, president of the society, giving an account of his treatment in “compliance with the request of the learned body over whom you preside” (The Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, September 16, 1793). H’s letter in support of Stevens evidently influenced a number of yellow fever victims to prefer Stevens’s methods to those of Benjamin Rush. In a letter to Elias Boudinot of September 25 Rush observed that “Colonel Hamilton’s letter has cost our city several hundred inhabitants” (Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (Princeton, 1951. description ends , II, 681). Although Rush’s theories on the treatment of the disease and advertisements for his remedies were published in The Federal Gazette, editorial favor was given to Stevens’s treatment. A notice of September 13 informing the public of H’s recovery concluded: “This is a strong confirmation of the goodness of the plan, pursued by Doctor Stevens, and ought to recommend it to the serious consideration of our Medical Gentlemen. In such a case, the pride of theory, ought to give way to fact and experience.” Rush himself felt that H’s views were influenced by politics rather than by conviction. “I think it probable,” he stated, “that if the new remedies had been introduced by any other person than a decided Democrat and a friend of Madison and Jefferson, they would have met with less opposition from Colonel Hamilton” (Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (Princeton, 1951. description ends , II, 701). By October 2, however, Rush believed that his own system of treatment had triumphed. “Colonel Hamilton’s remedies,” he wrote to Boudinot, “are now as unpopular in our city as his funding system is in Virginia or North Carolina” (Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush (Princeton, 1951. description ends , II, 692).