Slightly over 200 years ago, Philadelphia was devastated by recurring waves of yellow fever. The epidemic of 1793 wiped out a tenth of the population of the city and adjacent areas, and thousands more died from outbreaks of the disease throughout the next decade.
In the district of Southwark (now called Queen Village), the incidence of infection was quite high. In the epidemic of 1797, proportionally far more died in Southwark than in the city of Philadelphia itself (above South Street). People living in the cramped houses and narrow streets of our neighborhood, generally the families of sailors and laborers, did not have the means to flee the city as wealthier people could do.
A large stone embedded in the wall of Old Swedes’ Church memorializes Adelaide A. Celestis DeLormerie, who was only 16 when she died in the 1798 epidemic. The inscription notes that “she was mowed down in the flower of her age … regretted by all who knew her talents, beauty, and mildness.” Adelaide and her father had arrived in Philadelphia just a few years earlier as refugees, having fled France following the revolution. They were taken in by John McMullin, a master silversmith in Southwark, who paid for Adelaide’s monument. In heartfelt thanks for his benevolence, Adelaide’s father gave the silversmith a carpet and a painting of a hunting scene—perhaps the two most valuable possessions that he had been able to carry from France.