Scope and Contents
This collection is comprised of the single handwritten letterbook of Benjamin Smith. The volume contains personal correspondence, primarily addressed to Smith’s father, Daniel, in Burlington, New Jersey, between August 25 and October 17, 1793, and believed to have been copied by a family member in Burlington, New Jersey. Topics covered in Smith’s correspondence relate primarily to the ongoing yellow fever epidemic of 1793, with particular focus on the health of Smith’s family members. Also included within the collection are copies of letters from Smith’s brother, Joshua Smith, addressed to their father, relating the events of the summer and the eventual death of Benjamin from yellow fever on October 18, 1793.
Benjamin Smith (1762-1793) was born in 1762, to Daniel Smith. He was a practicing Quaker, and lived in Philadelphia, along with his brother Joshua R. Smith, where he worked as a merchant. Smith married Deborah (Debby) Morris, the daughter of Margaret Hill Morris and William Morris, in 1789. The couple had two children, Margaret Morris Smith and Daniel Smith. The Smith family resided in Philadelphia in a house on Front Street until the outbreak of yellow fever during the summer of 1793. During that August, according to several letters written by Smith to his father Daniel in Burlington, New Jersey, both Debby and his son Daniel, then two years old, came down with a fever. With medical intervention supplied in part by Smith’s mother-in-law, Margaret Morris, both Debby and the child made a full recovery. Although the family planned to evacuate the city soon after the recovery of Debby, they remained on Front Street at the advice of Dr. Benjamin Rush. By this time, Smith’s business was effectively stagnant, owing largely to the ensuing panic around the docks about the fever. During October, 1793, both Smith and his two servants Sally and William became ill with yellow fever. Although treated for the fever through bleeding, Smith died on October 18, 1793, at the age of 31 “without a sigh or a groan-- and perfectly sensible” according to Margaret Morris, leaving Debby and her mother-in-law to head the family and ensure the recovery of the 15 people left in the Front Street house.