By  Walter Barrett, Clerk

       Subject:    YELLOW  FEVER  OF  1798

      Probably there was never more suffering in this city than in the
yellow fever of 1798. From 29th July to 29th November, 2,086 died, and at
that time the city contained about 55,000 inhabitants. Its very first victim
was an old merchant, named Melancton Smith, who was taken sick in his store
in Front Street, near Coenties Slip. His death was followed by several of
his neighbors being taken ill, among them were Peter A. Schenck, the father
of Peter H. Schenck, of modern times. Almost at the same time it broke out
in Cliff street and Burling Slip, Ryder street, and Eden alley, at Golden
Hill street (since John.)
      It raged greatly in Eden alley and Ryder street, where not a family
escaped it: and it terminated fatally to one or more members except in two
houses--one of Dr. Hardie, and the other Mr. McMaster, the grocer.  All the
other families suffered fearfully.
      Ryder street ran from Gold to Fulton, forming the letter L; it is now
called Ryder's alley. When called Ryder street, Dr. James Hardie and several
of our most respectable citizens lived in it. At No. 1 Ryder street was a
large printing office. It seems almost incredible now. The east corner of
Ryder street, facing on Fulton street, No. 67, is occupied by an old New
Yorker, named Edward Evans, for an extensive clothing establishment. The
only merchant in Ryder street is a young man, who keeps an extensive
establishment for old books. I frequently patronize him. From Fulton street
Ryder runs up a turn and goes out into Gold street. In this section the
fever raged fearfully. Eden alley was on the opposite side of Gold street.
      At that time there was a prospect of a foreign war, and everybody was
engaged in making preparation. Companies were being formed, batteries were
being erected, subscriptions were being raised for the purpose of building
vessels of war to protect our commerce, when the yellow fever broke out. At
once all the war views were suspended. Speedy death was the only prospect.
Parents were deprived of their children, husbands of their wives, wives made
widows in a few hours, and from happy independence made beggars. Infants
cried for dead parents. Whole families were cut off. Half of the houses were
empty, and the frightened occupants fled to the country.
      It was at such a time as this that John B. Coles evinced qualities
that made him a benefactor to his race and to the city. He was ever where
suffering was to be relieved, and he passed from one to another getting aid
and using it to the best advantage. He collected from the following persons:
From General Horatio Gates, who was then a resident here, $50; from
Archibald Gracie, $50; from Moses Rogers, $50; from Thomas Pearsall & Co.,
$100; from Tracy,  $50;  from a man in Staten Island he got two sheep, ten
bushels of Potatoes, six bushels turnips and twenty-five pumpkins. From
Teunis Quick, Mr. Coles received $40. From  Charles L. Camman, $100. "A
man," gave Mr. C. $100, he was a man. Henry Seaman, $50. Herman Le Roy $50.
From Mr. Griffin in Newark,  480 Lbs. of beef. William Bayard, $100. Boonen
Graves gave Mr. Coles $100. Isaac Torboss gave five barrels of flour. John
McVicker gave $100. Thomas Lownder gave 100 loaves of bread. Thomas Pearsall
& Co., gave Alderman Cole $100. Hubert Van Waggenen, $50. Dominick Lynch
gave one ox, two pigs, two lambs, eighty chickens and sixteen bushels
potatoes. All the country towns sent down something. Walter Bowne gave $10,
G.G. Bosset gave twelve bottles syrup of vinegar, and two bottles of
"vinegar of four thieves." Pots of West Indies sweetmeats, lambs, fowls,
carl, cigars, loaves of bread, cart-loads of herbs and roots, potatoes,
beets, turnips, cabbages, carrots, radishes, thyme, barrels of pork, ducks,
butter, apples, hams, Indian meal, rye meal, corn, straw, catnip, seven
dozen castor oil, bag of beans, two cheeses, three pair of shoes, cords of
wood, barrels of cider, 1000 eggs, Two barrels shad, four geese, and
parsley. Such were the articles that poured in every day from different
sections of the State and New Jersey.
      Good old merchant Thomas Buchanan sent in $100 and ten barrels of
oatmeal. John Watts too, sent in oxen, sheep, and forty barrels Indian meal.
Sir John Temple gave 100. Dirck Ten Broek gave fifty fat sheep. Of course,
in a time like this, another of our  old merchants could not have been idle.
I allude to John Murray Jr., brother of Lindley Murray, the grammarian.
      The common council, when the yellow fever broke out, borrowed a small
sum of money, to be appropriated to relieving the poor and distressed. In
September, John Murray Jr. came forward with $10,000 more.
      It seems incredible to us now, the horrible accounts of yellow fever.
It was at one time a regular scourge to the city. Every few years it visited
New York and Philadelphia. In 1793 Philadelphia lost 4, 041. In 1795 New
York lost 732; in 1798, 2,086; and Philadelphia 3, 056. In 1803, New York
lost 609 out of 1,369 cases. In 1805 the yellow fever cases were about 600,
and deaths 202. In 1822 it raged here with unusual violence. The cases were
601, and deaths 230. The citizens all fled; part of down town was boarded
in. The custom house, post office, banks, insurance offices, and principal
merchants, all moved up into Greenwich village. Down town all the places of
public worship were shut up; but for this precaution the deaths would have
been as great as in 1798.

This is an excerpt from: Chapter VI
Source:  The Old Merchants of New York City
Author:  Walter Barrett, Clerk           Second series
Publisher:  Carleton, Publisher, 413 Broadway
Entered according to the Act of Congress 1863

           Researched and Transcribed by Miriam Medina
                  For the Brooklyn Information Page