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Benjamin Rush to Abigail Adams, 1 July 1799

Benjamin Rush to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia July 1st: 1799

My dear Madam

In addressing a small publication to the President, I am naturally led to congratulate You upon your recovery from your late tedious indisposition.1 May you long continue to enjoy your present health, and to add by your kindnesses, to the happiness of all Connected with you.—

Your Son Thomas calls now & then to see us, but not so Often as we wish. He is fixed in a part of the city which does not promise him immediate success in business. I wish he were situated nearer to market street. Perhaps he has made choice of his present retired Office for the Sake of qualifying himself more fully by previous study for the duties of his profession.— we hear Nothing now of his Attention to the Ladies, so that the President’s fears of his checking his studies, and prospects in life by a premature marriage are Altogether without foundation.— The President I hope has not forgotten the conversation in the presence of both our sons, to Which the above information alludes. I did not think, nor coincide with him. The sooner our sons marry, After they acquire the means of Subsistence, the better. But I will not debate this matter with our friend, at our present distance. After all that can be said on both Sides the Question, our sons will follow their inclinations.—

Our City was alarmed a few days ago with reports of several Cases of the bilious fever, for they cannot be yellow fevers, since the laws we have passed to destroy our trade, in Order to present their importation from the West Indies. At present the public mind is more composed. If the disease should revive, I shall whisper in your son’s ear the necessity of flight, for I have acquired so much of General Lee’s rascally Virtue of prudence upon this subject, that I dare not openly advise even my friends to leave the city.2 A horseshoe upon the sill of a farmer’s door to keep away witches, does not strike my mind as a more degrading proof of the Weakness of the human Understanding, than the present Quarantine laws of the state of Pennsylvania to prevent the importation of the yellow fever, and the cruel treatment they give the men who advise the prevention of it from domestic sources.3

My dear Mrs Rush joins me in most affectionate regards to you & the President. Most of our family are in the Country. Our Eldest son has received his Leiutenant’s Commission in the Navy with great gratitude, and I hope will not dishonour it. He was well on the 25th of may cruising off St Christophers.—4 We do not expect to see him before October.—

From my Dr madam / Your sincere friend

Benjn: Rush.

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Dr Rush to Mrs Adams / July 1st 1799.”

1No letter to JA from Rush has been found, but Rush almost certainly sent him his latest work, Three Lectures upon Animal Life, Delivered in the University of Pennsylvania, Phila., 1799, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–1959; 14 vols.; rev. edn., www.readex.com. description ends No. 36255.

2Rush was referring to Gen. Charles Lee’s retreat at the Battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, for which see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 7:164.

3Pennsylvania’s quarantine policy was set out in the 22 April 1794 “Act for establishing an Health-office” and in supplemental acts passed in 1795, 1796, 1798, and 1799. The legislation established a health office on State Island and two hospitals, prohibited “all intercourse with infected places within the United States,” and quarantined both U.S. and foreign vessels for ten to thirty days. Ships’ captains were required to answer questions about their vessels, cargoes, and crews. On 25 Feb. Congress passed “An Act respecting Quarantines and Health Laws,” upholding state laws and mandating the use of brick warehouses for quarantined materials (A Compilation of the Health-Laws of the State of Pennsylvania, Phila., 1798, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–1959; 14 vols.; rev. edn., www.readex.com. description ends No. 34324; Health-Office, Phila., 1795, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–1959; 14 vols.; rev. edn., www.readex.com. description ends No. 29304; Simon Finger, The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia, Ithaca, N.Y., 2012, p. 128, 131–132, 136–138, 147; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, 1789– , Boston and Washington, D.C., 1845–. description ends , 1:619–620; Oliver Wolcott Jr. to JA, 29 June, Adams Papers; JA to Wolcott, 5 July, CtHi:Wolcott Papers).

4John Rush (1777–1837) enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May 1798 and was serving as a surgeon aboard the sloop of war Ganges, which had departed St. Christopher’s (now St. Kitts) on 20 May 1799 in pursuit of French privateers (Eric T. Carlson and Jeffrey L. Wollock, “Benjamin Rush and His Insane Son,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 51:1318, 1321, 1328 [Dec. 1975]; New York Spectator, 19 June).

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