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July 5, 1976

Public Health in New York City In the Revolutionary Period

Author Affiliations

From the Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park.

JAMA. 1976;236(1):47-51. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03270010035008

Prior to the American Revolution, New York City was a pleasant town, still reflecting its Dutch origin in the architecture and the cleanliness of its people. By 1760, the town consisted of approximately 3,000 houses and a population of about 17,000. Homes were usually built with brick, and the streets, although irregular, were paved with "round pebles [sic]." According to visitors, the houses were well kept and neatly painted, and the streets were clean. The one criticism all agreed on was the lack of good water. The main source was the city's shallow wells from which the water was disagreeable in taste and virtually undrinkable—a fortunate circumstance since it was also contaminated—and most inhabitants bought their supply from water carriers who obtained it from the Tea Water Pump, a well located outside town. The most devastating comment on the local water was made by Peter Kalm,1 a Swedish traveler,