Yellow Fever was as feared if not more than what is currently going around. It killed 10 percent of the remaining population in NYC when half the 50,000 citizens had fled the city. Samuel Miller was minister at the collegiate Presbyterian church at the time and records the following.
‘October 31, 1798. Never have I had more occasion to bless God for the return of my birth-day than now. I have just passed through the most awful scene of epidemic sickness and mortality that I ever witnessed. The Yellow Fever has been raging in the city for more than two months past. From the middle to the 25th of this month was the most mortal time. Though the city was deserted by, perhaps, two-thirds of its regular inhabitants, more than two thousand persons fell victims to the disease. Most of the clergy, as well as of the other inhabitants, had left the city. I remained with a brother—a beloved brother—a practitioner of medicine—a bachelor as well as myself. We were both mercifully borne through the raging epidemic without any serious attack. Our housekeeper died of it, and I attended her funeral between midnight and day. To attempt to describe the scenes of mourning and horror which this epidemic presented—I dare not. The task transcends my power of expression. I preached every Sabbath; but only a few attended public worship; and I know not that any sensible-certainly no conspicuous—good was done. The people appeared to me to emerge from this calamity as hardened, as careless, as ungodly, as they were before. I have not heard of a single instance of conversion, which can be traced to this awful dispensation of divine providence. Is it not a humiliating fact, in the history of man, that seasons of great sickness and mortality have seldom, if ever, been followed with—what might naturally be expected—a revival of religion? How is this to be accounted for? “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” I wish to speak of it, not as a decided point, but as a matter to be inquired into, whether times of great sickness and mortality have ever been attended, or followed, by great outpourings of the Holy Spirit. “But the most humiliating part of the story, so far as I am concerned, yet remains to be told. I look back with amazement at the state of my own mind during the last two months. As I observed the frequency of funerals, and the constant presence of the memorials of sickness and death, to produce a very hardening effect on the minds of others; so I found that they had too much of the same effect on my own mind. Such scenes became so familiar to me, that they passed by as common things, without any salutary influence. I mourned over this hardening effect, but still it continued. Truly, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” O Lord, soften, and enlighten, and try my heart, and lead me in the way everlasting. I think I have learned more of the hardness and desperate wickedness of the heart, within the last two months, than in any similar length of time before.’