George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 9 September 1793

From Elizabeth Willing Powel

Monday [Sept.]1 9th 1793

My dear Friend & very dear Madam

Your affectionate & friendly Attention to me, at this awfull Moment,2 filled my Heart with so much Sensibility as rendered me incapable of expressing my Feelings on the Subject of our Conversation, and when my amiable Friend, the President, renewed his Invitation to me to accompany you to Virginia, I could only say that I would let you know, this Evening, the Result of a Conference I meant to have with Mr Powel. After a long Conversation with him, I collected that he saw no Propriety in the Citizens flying from the only Spot where Physicians conversant in the Disorder that now prevails could be consulted;3 nor does he appear to be impressed with the degree of Apprehension that generally pervades the Minds of our Friends—however, he wished me to follow my own Inclination and the Dictates of my own Judgement in a Matter that may eventually affect my Life and his Happiness—this has thrown me into a Dilemma the most painful. The Conflict between Duty and Inclination is a severe Trial of my Feelings; but as I believe it is always best to adhere to the line of Duty, I beg to decline the Pleasure I proposed to myself in accompanying you to Virginia at this Time. The Possibility of his being ill during my Absence, & thereby deprived of the Consolation and Aid, he might derive from my Attention to him woud be to me a lasting Source of Affliction;4 and, God knows, I need not voluntarily add to the List of Sorrows. My Life has been sufficiently embittered to make me now very little anxious about protracting or preserving it. Death has robbed me of many Friends, and Time has abated the Ardor of others, so that Life in my latter Years has been little more than a Sieve to let thro some Joy or some Blessing. Mr Powel, who is highly sensible of your Friendship to me, desires to unite in every good Wish for you & yours. That God may preserve and bless you both, and that you may safely return in a short Time, is the unfeigned Prayer of your sincere affectionate

Eliza. Powel

Mr Powel would have done himself the Pleasure of waiting upon you before your Departure, had he not apprehended that a Visit in the Moment of Preparation for a Journey would have been illtimed.

ALS, DLC:GW. The internal address reads “The President and Mrs. Washington.”

1Powel wrote “August,” but GW’s docket reads “Mrs. Eliza. Powell 9th Sep: 1793.” In 1793, 9 Aug. fell on a Friday and 9 Sept. on a Monday. Powel correctly wrote “September 9th 1793” on GW’s undated reply. The Washingtons left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon on 10 Sept. and arrived there on 14 September.

2The “awful moment” is a reference to the yellow fever epidemic that began in Philadelphia in July 1793 and killed an estimated 10 percent of the city’s population before the epidemic ended in November. For a contemporary description, which includes necrology lists, see Carey, Short Account of the Malignant Fever description begins Mathew Carey. A Short Account of the Malignant Fever, Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia: With a Statement of the Proceedings that took place on the Subject, in Different Parts of the United States . . .. 1794. Reprint. New York, 1970. description ends .

3Dr. Benjamin Rush identified the disease on 19 August. On the subsequent medical and political debates over the treatment and causes of yellow fever, see Pernick, “Politics, Parties, and Pestilence.” description begins Martin S. Pernick. “Politics, Parties, and Pestilence: Epidemic Yellow Fever in Philadelphia and the Rise of the First Party System.” In J. Worth Estes and Billy G. Smith, eds. A Melancholy Scene of Devastation: The Public Response to the 1793 Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic. Canton, Mass., 1997, pages 119-46. description ends For a contemporary account of conflicting medical practices, see Timothy Pickering to GW, 21 October.

4Samuel Powel died from yellow fever on 29 September.

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