Diseases in the Revolution
the Invisible Killer
Seventeen thousand Americans died during the Revolutionary War due to disease alone. Disease was the greatest danger to everyone in the colonies, from Natives to regular colonists to generals in the army. It didn’t help that wound infections happened often and because there were no antisepsis, infections usually meant or the loss of a limb or more. Antisepsis is something that kills microorganisms that cause disease, and without them, infections were more common. But, back then they didn’t know about bacteria or how to properly prevent infections from spreading so even if getting a limb amputated risked death, there wasn’t much of a choice. Physicians were short in supply and in the colonies and they usually weren’t very well trained. Plus not all of them had actually practiced on a living person before. Diseases were believed to be punishments from God and caused by an imbalance of humors. (Cavendish Square) Humors were believed to be a link between the mental and physical parts of a person, and too put the humors back in balance, physicians usually used things like bloodletting or toxic substances. Bloodletting was when someone would open an artery in the patient’s arm and have them bleed into a cup until it contained a certain amount of blood. Toxic substances made a person get sick so that their body would get rid of the imbalance in their bodies. (Tannenbaum 175)Bloodletting and using toxic substances usually didn’t help the patient and made the patient’s bodies weaker. Epidemics occurred often and it didn’t help that sanitation and hygiene were considered poor, even back then. During the Revolutionary War, 90% of the Continental Army and 84% of the British army was lost to disease. (Tannenbaum 176) Diseases such as yellow fever, smallpox, and malaria had greatly impacted young, growing America throughout its history.
Quinine was an effective drug against malaria.
The yellow fever epidemic was in colonial Philadelphia.
Mosquitoes from the Anopheles genus transmit malaria.
- The Free African Society was the only group to help out during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia during 1793
- Dr. Benjamin Rush was one of the most trusted physicians during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793
- Virginia landholders were required to give slaves and indentured light work for one year after they arrived so their bodies would be stronger against malaria
- Smallpox brought the Aztec empire to its knees and made it easy for the Spanish to conquer them