Friday, August 28, 2009

Yellow Fever Comes to Graeme Park

On Sunday, August 23, 103 visitors enjoyed a day at Graeme Park learning about the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and its effects on the people associated with this Horsham historical site. Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, who owned Graeme Park from 1772, when she inherited it from her father, until 1791, when she sold it to her nephew, was still in residence at Grame Park when the fever struck. While she had sold the property to her nephew-in-law, Dr. William Smith, and his second wife in 1791, the Smiths continued to live in the city and allowed Elizabeth to remain at Graeme Park. When the fever necessitated the Smiths leave the city and seek refuge at their country estate, Elizabeth, not wanting to live as a guest in her ancestral home, prepared to move to a boarding house in Hatboro run by the widow Mrs. Todd.

Elizabeth packs up her belongings in preparation for her move out
of Graeme Park, precipitated by the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.

Country homes like Graeme Park where especially important during outbreaks of disease and fever in the city because they provided those with the means a more healthy environment. In fact, during especially severe outbreaks, such as that in 1793, armed guards were often stationed along the roads and would not let travelers through unless they could prove they had a place to go because the small towns and inns did not want sick travelers out wandering the roads and spreading the disease.

One of Elizabeth's oldest and dearest friends, Dr. Benjamin Rush, used drastic and controversial bleeding and purging techniques in an attempt to cure the fever. Rush began noticing the symptoms of the fever, which included nasuea, black vomit, fever, skin eruptions, incontinence,  jaundice, and death, in early August of 1793. His methods included letting huge amounts of blood from the body in an attempt to rid it of the disease, as well as administering calomel (mercury) and jalap (poisonous root of a plant) as a purgative. His methods were criticized by many other physicians of the time, but after he "cured" himself of the fever with his methods, Philadelphians were lining up to take his cure.

Some of "Dr. Rush's" medicines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

The yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793, killing an estimated 10% of the city’s population, made country retreats like Graeme Park important havens. It was this epidemic that prompted Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s nephew-in-law, William Smith and his second wife, to take up residence at Graeme Park, which they had purchased from Elizabeth in 1791. Not wanting to live as a guest in her ancestral home, their move resulted in Elizabeth leaving her home for a boarding house in Hatboro, and finally to the home of Seneca Lukens, a local clockmaker, where she spent the last years of her life.

A special Living History Theater program, August 23 at Graeme Park in Horsham, will focus on the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and its impact on the residents of Graeme Park and their friends. Costumed actors will present vignettes related to yellow fever in tours throughout the day between 12:00 noon – 3:00 p.m. Admission is $8/regular (12-64); $7/seniors (65+); $4/kids (3-11).

This program is sponsored by the Friends of Graeme Park with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Call 215-343-0965 for details. Directions are available on our website at

Read an article about our event in the Trend newspaper -
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