In less than 36 hours Yellow Fever takes both parents


Date Written

Aug. 1, 1819

Blakely Sharpless was 32 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Mary Offley, was 26 when it was received.

Blakely Sharpless died 32 years, 5 months,
It was written 203 years, 7 months, 30 days ago.
It was a Sunday.

No. 9 North 4th St
8 mo. 1st. 1819
First day morning

Dear Mary,

“I have several times called upon thy cousin Anne, and learned the faithfulness of her correspondence, first informing of the death of the husband of Fr. Murray so soon after her, and of thy Mother’s determination to leave town forthwith, because of the alarming case mentioned, and “by and through” the advice of her friends; again in writing by the first conveyance after she had actually left the city, thereby relieving thy mind from anxiety which would be unavoidably felt while there was a probability of thy family remaining in town. If I had not known of Anne’s attention I should have written several days ago informing as she has done.

It was pleasant to hear of your safe arrival after a pleasant ride over the hills and finely cultivated country which Pa. almost everywhere presents in this part of our state. Anne said your company was agreeable and some new acquaintance was made in the person of Miss Lowber, which rendered farting painful. This I have often felt while travelling.

I need not repeat that thy journeyings, thy pleasures and anxieties have interested me for a long time, more than in my usual friendships. I need not add that they are more than doubled recently. If anything in addition to what thy Cousin A. may have said be necessary to make thee easy about the city, & the apprehended approach of malignant disease, I will add that thy Mother, little Anne maid have locked up the house and are safely quartered at Josiah’s. Dr. Hartshorne said to me yesterday, there was not a case of the “market street” fever known at this moment; and although thy mother was very sorry thou hadst gone, and wanted Anne to request thee to return soon, I will venture counter to that to say, I think thou mayst as well finish thy visit as originally intended (I don’t mean doubling the time), but without shortening it. Thy Mother was fearful the fever my so pervade the city on thy return as to make it dangerous to pass through, and very dangerous to enter a house so long shut up as yours would be. It is not probable we shall by thy return, be so diseased as to make it dangerous to pass thro’.

The weather for some days has been very dry and fearfully hot. On the 6th day, in S. W. Conrad’s store, the mercury stood (2 o’clock) at 89. On the seventh day (yesterday) at the same hour, at 93 degrees.

The public mind seems to be unusually impressed with an apprehension that the Yellow Fever, or some malignant epidemic will visit us. The impression, I presume, is based on the uncommon phenomena of the season, its similarity to former years when & dreadful diseases have prevailed, the very violent progress of the cases we have already had, several of them dying in two or three days after the attack, and out of ten cases, but two have survived! It has been very confidently stated by Doctor Parrish, that your neighbor Murray’s case was the most malignant that he had anything to do with. He was taken ill and deceased in 3 days and nights and a family were left orphans, deprived of in the short space of about 36 hours of both parents!! Thy mother, on whom I called several times before she left town, told me she never knew curiosity to see a corpse so generally gratified as when Fra. Murray lay a corpse; her near relatives sat in the room with it until the coffin was closed, and her husband in an adjoining chamber under the influence of one of the most fell diseases with the hand of death upon him, for he made his exit in 10 hours after. His wife was very respectfully attended by a very large concourse of her friends, to her grave at 5 o’clock in the evening, and he was ‘put under the ground ’ so soon as a coffin could be made, with about 8 persons to attend him, and the usual ceremony of ‘laying out’ almost entirely dispensed with; his body hastily wrapped in a piece of linen, and put into his coffin and borne away to mingle with ‘mother earth’. The house has been cleaned, the family sent to the country, and a timely interference of the board of health appears to have caused a check to the consternation of their neighbors. But, do I not hear thee say, “Enough of such a melancholy picture!”

I think there is as an apology; I will state that I have, since thou left read M. Carey’s statement of the “fever of 93”, and I think it impossible for any one to do so without feeling serious, not to say a little melancholy, and perhaps a little of both may have prompted what I have written. It is not policy to take ‘misery on interest’ but is well perhaps to look so far into the futurity as to have the mind armed against its approach, so as not to be overthrown on its first appearance. We will recur to the fact that our city is as healthy as usual this season, and leave that subject.

Our family are pretty well recovered from the effect of the poison. Since thou left us a lad, the son of a huckster, whose station is in Market Street near 2nd called on one of our family and stated that about three weeks ago that the negro by now in “the cells” give him some money to buy 12 ½ cents worth of arsenic which was bought of a druggist near and recollected to have been sold by him when called on to know if the little boys tale were correct. It appears therefore that he harbored the intention for three weeks and kept the means of poisoning us within his reach that time. He has acknowledged that he had Arsenic in his keeping, but does not admit he put it into the flour. Thus our lives have been jeopardized by intercourse with such a son of Satan!

Mary! Thou will please recollect I have offered to take thee to Woodbury on thy return to town. I hope you will make a full visit, as the journey is considerable, and in this instance commenced under discouragements, I hope also that you will have no cause notwithstanding & discouragements, to believe the act was wrong, but that you may enjoy yourselves and appreciate properly the kindness of our very kind friends at Easton, and return without any adventurous disaster to increase the alloy, to receive a welcome from these you left behind you.

On looking over what I have written, I think thou wilt conclude I have been in a very melancholy mood, not so, but serious. My health and spirits are good.

For addressing this letter to thee I know thou wilt look for no apology nor considered it an encroachment on thy time. As I have been in the “custom” or practice of conversing with thee several times a week in form of “tete a tete” or “face to face”. I have derived pleasure from this substitute. May I expect to receive a few lines from thee, or wait until they’re [?] narrative of thy visit?

I am frequently with you in idea fancy myself listening to the eloquence of Hannah or partaking of the kindness of F. P. Churchman or enjoying a ramble up the mounts of the vicinity of classical name, by the side of my loved M___ enjoying her observations on the beauties of the scene.

Be assured of my continued regards,
Affectionately yours, B____

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