Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront
Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
Look left towards the city, where I-95 runs. That area was at the center of the horrendous yellow fever epidemic of 1793. This plague claimed the lives of some four thousand people, about 10 percent of the city’s population at the time. Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic of 1793 is still regarded as the worst urban disaster in US history.
Twenty thousand citizens fled to the countryside, including George Washington and other members of the federal government who were in Philadelphia. But Stephen Girard chose to stay. He contributed money to help victims of the epidemic and acted as a nurse when the plague was at its worst, risking his life for no obvious personal gain.
Dr. Benjamin Rush believed that rotting coffee at the Arch Street Wharf was the epidemic’s source. But he was wrong. The doctors did not realize that the mosquitoes swarming around the city were transmitting the disease from person to person. These mosquitoes were most plentiful along the Delaware waterfront.