Eighteenth-century Philadelphia smelt bad. That’s one tidbit I discovered when researching my latest book, The Shenandoah Road: A Novel of the Great Awakening. And there were waves of disease: smallpox, malaria, and yellow fever.
New Englanders and Quakers had decent standards of personal hygiene, but horses pooped everywhere, and there were no toilets, only “necessaries” out back. Some trades, like tanning, could be detected from a distance.
Even the stench of bilge water and rotting fish at the docks could not cause disease, but folks took no chances, saying that “bad air” was the cause of certain fevers, or “agues.” The word “malaria” literally means “bad air.” They often closed the windows at night for this reason.
Today we know that mosquitoes serve as the vector for both malaria and yellow fever, diseases that were endemic to coastal areas, especially in the South. So perhaps shutting the windows before evening mosquitoes could enter was indeed helpful.
One name for this recurring fever was the “tertiary ague.” The remedy was something called Jesuit’s bark. Today we know that the active ingredient is quinine, still used today in the treatment of the disease.
In my story, John Russell dislikes the smell of Philadelphia. But of course, that’s natural, having settled in the Shenandoah Valley, away from crowds and tanners and filthy ships!
Abigail Williams, on the other hand, enjoys studying botany, and the medicines that can be made from plants. When Russell courts her, he gifts her with a book on the subject he discovered at Franklin’s print shop.
And yes, Franklin gets a cameo appearance in my book. Couldn’t resist!
Lynne Tagawa is married with four grown sons and three marvelous grandbabies. A biology teacher by trade, she teaches part-time, writes, and edits. She’s written a Texas history curriculum in narrative form, Sam Houston’s Republic, and two novels, A Twisted Strand and The Shenandoah Road. Lynne lives with her husband in South Texas. Sign up for her newsletter for updates and special deals:
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