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Modern Voices
Julie Winch on Jones' and Allen's response to Carey
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Q: Why did Jones and Allen choose to respond to Matthew Carey's charges of profiteering?
Julie Winch

A: They could very easily not have responded, because after all, they're praised in Matthew Carey's account of the yellow fever epidemic. But they clearly felt a need to vindicate their community; that a charge against one member of the community was a charge against the community as a whole. And they are making the point that occasionally maybe people did ask for high wages, but generally, the black nurses were responding as white families desperate to get nurses offered them money. They could also point to many cases where black Philadelphians refused money, or would take only what had been agreed upon, because they felt that that was fair; and in a way, that maybe by not price gouging, they were winning divine favor; that God would maybe strike them down with the disease if they did victimize people.

Jones and Allen could point to many episodes where white people had been employed as nurses and pilfered, stolen from the people that they were there to nurse. They could point to many episodes of inhumanity on the part of whites in the city. And again and again, they could highlight cases of black nurses who had really done more than they had been hired to do, who had served faithfully. And they could point to whites who recognized that.

For instance, one nurse who had nursed this family, the wife in the family had recovered. The husband and the son had died. And the white woman was so grateful that she insisted on settling an annuity upon this woman, because she could have fled her post and yet she had not. She had chosen to stay.

And of course, there were the employment possibilities for after the epidemic. Supposing one was known to have been a nurse during the epidemic, and the word spread in the white community that all the black nurses had profiteered, or had stolen. And there you were, trying to present yourself, as many in the black community had to, as a domestic worker. Maybe you'd be refused employment because people would assume that you were a thief or in some way dishonest.

So I think that Jones and Allen were really trying to assert their roles as defenders of their community. And after all, they knew that Matthew Carey was a very powerful writer. He was a publisher. His account of the yellow fever epidemic, if it wasn't contradicted, would be what people were reading, not just in Philadelphia but in other cities in America.
Julie Winch
Professor of History
University of Massachusetts, Boston

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