Robert Watson
Book: America's First Plague

America's First Plague

The Deadly 1793 Epidemic that Crippled a Young Nation

Robert P. Watson
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN 13: 9781538164884
ISBN 10:

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America's First Plague offers the definitive telling of this long-forgotten crisis, capturing the wave of fear that swept across the fledgling republic, and the numerous unintended but far-reaching consequences it would have on the development of the United States and the Atlantic slave trade. It is an intriguing tale of fear and human nature... and the struggle to govern in the face of a crisis.

Praise for America's First Plague

"In this thoroughly researched account of a long-forgotten tragedy, Watson provides a compelling look at our nation's first public health crisis, one defined by bitter disagreements within the medical community, finger-pointing by politicians, and panic among the public, but also by as many acts of bravery and service during the outbreak. Sadly, history often repeats itself and, although we are vastly better informed and prepared today, the lessons from 1793 apply then as they do now. This book is a page-turner that will inform historians, health officials, and the public."

- Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst, professor at George Washington University Medical School, and author of Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health

"Dr. Robert Watson is a remarkable author who guides us through one of the first crises of the new fledgling republic, the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic, in which the federal government almost ceased to function as it vacated the seat of government. Despite the incredibly detailed primary sourcing, or perhaps because of it, Watson brings us to Philadelphia and makes us feel that we are actually a part of these amazing events as they are unfolding. As a surgeon, I appreciated his description of the incredibly detailed origins of the virus..., the magnitude and description of the tragedy, the "physician wars," and the resolution. We are there. And on top of all of this, his exposition of the politicization of the epidemic pitting Hamilton against Jefferson is jarring in its similarity to our Covid-19 experience over 200 years later. This is an amazingly accessible treatment of a fascinating, multifaceted event during the origin of our republic, whose multiple rippling ramifications echo through to the present day."

- Dr. Stuart Farber, surgeon and adjunct professor, Nova Southeastern University medical school

"Here is another book, of his many, where Professor Watson brings his usual comprehensive description of important events from many years ago. his description of the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 brings the recent Covid-19 pandemic into focus, including the politicization of the disease. I found this book riveting since many of the events happened after the founding of our country in my hometown of Philadelphia."

- Frederic Blum, former president, Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia

"Robert Watson has written a timely and fascinating account of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic, the young nation's first pandemic. Watson adroitly weaves together the historical narrative of the spread of the disease and the challenges it presented for the luminaries of the Revolutionary War and the nation's founding. The book is well-researched, yet easily approachable. The modern reader will recognize the uncertainty and panic of the period in this tale of a relatively unknown disease and the inability of public health officials and political leaders to effectively deal with it. The work also explores the complex social history of the era and how the divisions in society affected efforts to confront the disease."

- Tom Lansford, Professor of Political Science & former Provost, University of Southern Mississippi

"Watson recreates this terrifying era with the skill of a novelist, and readers will be enthralled."

Booklist Review

"When a mosquito-borne epidemic struck 1790s Philadelphia, the nation's temporary capital tottered under the impact... Watson has succeeded in recovering a dramatic episode from near-oblivion."

Wall Street Journal