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Historical Document
Rush's letter to Julia Rush

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On August 22, 1793, Benjamin Rush wrote a letter to his wife Julia in which he described an unusual banquet that had taken place earlier that day.

Philadelphia's black leaders held an elaborate dinner in celebration of "the raising of the roof of the African Church," for which Rush had helped to raise construction funds, "[A]bout an hundred carpenters" and other white guests were seated and served by the "the black people (men and women)," who were then in turn served by "[s]ix of the most respectable of the white company." Rush, John Nicholson, who had provided the loan that made construction possible, "and two others requested to set down with them."

As was his custom, Rush "sent...a large wheelbarrow full of melons" to the prisoners at the nearby city jail, who had "overheard or witnessed the raising of the roof of the church," in order that they "might sympathize a little in the joy of the day." Contrary to the common perception that free blacks gravitated toward crime, only a handful of the jail's inmates were black.

By the time the African Church celebration took place, the yellow fever epidemic had already begun to ravage the city, despite Rush's optimistic observation that "the malignant fever is stationary."

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Related Entries:
Benjamin Rush
Richard Allen
Goal, [Jail] in Walnut Street Philadelphia
The Yellow Fever epidemic

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