The First American Pandemic (Over 200 Years Ago) 

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Duration 01:06:02

Lynn University

Robert Watson is an award-winning author, professor, historian, and analyst for numerous media outlets. He has published over forty books on history and politics, five works of fiction, and hundreds of scholarly journal articles, book chapters, and reference essays. He also serves as the series editor for the scholarly book anthology on the American presidency published by the State University of New York and as the editor of The American Presidents and American First Ladies. He serves as Distinguished Professor of American History, Avron Fogelman Eminent Research Professor, and Director of Project Civitas at Lynn University and as Senior Fellow at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship.



The devastating Covid pandemic was not the first major outbreak to hit America. Nor was the Spanish influenza scourge of 1918. That dubious distinction would be the yellow fever crisis of 1793: a pandemic that struck the interim capital city of Philadelphia. The state of medicine at the time was such that the medical community did not know the origins of the outbreak and there was no known cure. The ensuing terror necessitated the evacuation of the city and federal government, killed perhaps 10-20 percent of the city’s population, and, with eerie parallels to the debates surrounding Covid, prompted a public rift regarding the wearing of masks, social distancing, and personal freedoms–and even claims that the disease decimating the capital city was fake. This lecture takes a deep dive into the outbreak, the consequences of having no functioning federal government, and lessons from this first American crisis.




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David Pine

Yellow Fever

Very well presented. Wish I had him when I did college.

1 year ago
Joel Ticknor

Yellow Fever Epidemic-Great presentation!

Great presentation by Professor Watson!

1 year ago
Juanita Sevilla

The First American Pandemic (over 200 years ago)

Excellent! Robert Watson always presents such thorough and well-spoken information for One Day University. This was no exception despite the fact that it is a rather somber topic. It is also strikingly similar to the current reactions of people in this country to Covid 19. Hard to decide if that is just tragic that humans continue to be so obtuse in handling public health issues or somewhat comforting to know we are not any different than people were 200 years ago. It is amazing and sad that we do not seem to learn. Thank you Dr. Watson for all the work you do and for how well you share it. Always interesting regardless of your topic.

1 year ago
Marc Tanenbaum

America’s First Pandemic

Professor Watson delivers an absolutely outstanding talk on the scourge of Yellow Fever originating in the Caribbean and moving the the east coast of the USA. His mastery of the information is quite evident and his delivery is clear, lucid and succinct. I’ve made an entry in my Google calendar to look for this forthcoming book on the subject. He picked a great topic to research from home during COVID-19. His presentation is dramatic and the illnesses consequences for Philadelphia, the Nation’s Capital at the time is captivating. This would make a great movie.

1 year ago
Jan Potts

America’s First Pandemic

That the yellow fever epidemic emphasized the differences between the Federalists and other guys (Go, Federalists!) made this lecture absolutely fascinating.
Robert Watson is a well-organized, knowledgable and VERY engaging lecturer. More, please!

1 year ago
sandra Tribotti

The First American Pandemic

Excellent presentation! Fascinating medically, historically and politically. I am so glad that Professor Watson chose this subject. As mentioned in another review, it is both reassuring and disheartening to learn that the response to a similar pandemic was exactly like the response to Covid 19 and that the divisive politics over health questions didn’t start with the current population. Thank you Professor Watson.

1 year ago
barbara ann.fields

Excellent Information

We continue to not learn from our mistakes as a nation. This talk sheds light on where we are now with covid. Will we ever see ourselves in the reflective mirror of history?


1 year ago
Michael Mounteney


Of limited interest to anyone not North American.

5 months ago
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