Fever, Manayunk – 1821

While enjoying some research about the Schuylkill Navigation in Philadelphia – better known as the Manayunk Canal – I came across this wonderful map at the Library of Congress.  Manayunk is a wonderful 18-19th century mill town on the Schuylkill river.  To further illustrate this magical place, I give you a wonderful excerpt on the Millworker’s fever of 1821 in Manayunk, taken from a book titled Early History of the Falls of Schuylkill, Manayunk, Schuylkill and Lehigh Navigation Companies, Fairmount Waterworks, etc. by Charles Valerius Hagner, an early industrialist of the area, published in 1869(!)

1907 View of Manayunk, Philadelphia

1907 View of Philadelphia’s Manayunk Neighborhood; Credit LOC

“… He retreated, with his family, to Germantown, and I fled to the Leverington Hotel on the Ridge Road; not, however until the disease had taken fast hold of me; and I served a regular apprenticeship to it, off and on, for some three or four years.  At that time there was a race of men in existence, employed in the woollen manufactories, who have since become entirely extinct.  They came from England.  Their business was to shear cloth with an immense pair of shears from three to five feet long.  They were shortly after superseded by the invention of the cloth-shearing machines now in use.  They were biped animals certainly, but stupidly ignorant.  They had been accustomed from youth up to handle these cloth shears, which they did well; beyond that they did not appear to have a single idea, except drinking porter, which they did by wholesale.

Those kind of workmen were very much wanted at that time and hard to be got.  Captain Towers and the Prestons obtained five or six of them from Yorkshire, England.  They arrived here in the extreme warm weather, clothed in the thickest kind of woollen garments, woollen stockings, &c.  They were all remarkably large stout men of fine healthy color and appearance, but one month’s residence at Manayunk was quite sufficient to “use them up;” any person who had seen them at the beginning of the month and again at the end of it, would be almost ready to swear they were not the same party.  All their fine rosy color had vanished, and they became miserable, cadaverous, melancholy looking objects.

From sheer ignorance and stupidity two of them lost their lives.  One, when in the hot stage of the disease, to cool himself went into a damp cellar, stripped himself, and lay on his back on the damp ground.  There happened to be a jug of buttermilk within his reach, he drank it and was a corpse in a very short time.  Another got an idea that it required something powerfully strong to kill the disease; he procured a pint of horseradish and cider which he swallowed at one gulp.  It threw him into convulsions and he died.

With a few such exceptions as these the disease was rarely fatal; on the contrary, often the subject of mirth.  It was quite a common affair to see half a dozen at a time around Silas Levering’s stove in the bar-room of his hotel, all shaking at the same time, others looking on quizzing and laughing at them; and more than once have I seen the tables turned, and the merry ones obliged to take their turn at the stove and be laughed at.”


 

A note about the wonderful hand-painted map (see link HERE); the view is taken from southeast, the hilltop in Lower Merion (height exaggerated), part of the original Welsh Tract sold by William Penn to Quaker settlers in 1683.  Look here again for a future story on a particularly interesting site in Lower Merion called the Pencoyd Iron Works, the smokestacks seen along the river in the foreground of the painting.

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