Fever 1793 Characters You Should Know

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fever 1793" by Laurie Halse Anderson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who are the Fever 1793 characters? What role did they play in the book?

Fever 1793 is a historical fiction book about the American yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. It is a bildungsroman that follows a young girl named Mattie and her grandpa as they try to escape the city.

Keep reading for a list of Fever 1793 characters with descriptions.

11 Essential Fever 1793 Characters

Fever 1793 details the yellow fever plague in Philadelphia a decade after the Revolutionary War through the eyes of young Matilda Cook. With great respect for historical accuracy and a keen voice, Laurie Halse Anderson describes the fear and decay that destroyed the nation’s capital and killed thousands of people in three months. Anderson’s keen attention to human emotions and connections lifts this coming-of-age story from the depths of darkness to the light of courage and survival. 

Below are the Fever 1793 characters.

Matilda (Mattie) Cook

Fourteen-year-old Matilda Cook and her mother, Lucille, shared a cramped bedroom in an apartment above their coffeehouse in Philadelphia. There were only two beds, a wash station, and a large wooden trunk. Across the hall lived Grandpa William, Matilda’s paternal grandfather.

Grandpa

Grandpa was once Captain William Farnsworth Cook, an army officer in the Pennsylvania Fifth Regiment who’d served under General Washington. He was well-liked and had the best stories and gossip.

Lucille Cook (Mattie’s Mother)

Matilda’s mother was the daughter of wealthy parents. She’d been a good child. She never complained, always did what she was told, and never spoke unless spoken to—the way she believed children should be. Despite her status, she was well-versed in working-class trades, like quilting, sewing, and spinning wool. Matilda was the antithesis of those qualities.

Eliza

Matilda loved Eliza for more than her cooking abilities. Eliza was kind and often slipped a sugar cube in the bottom of her bowl of oatmeal. Eliza was born into slavery in Virginia. When she married, her husband used his savings to buy her freedom. Eliza had been saving up to buy his, but he was killed by a wild horse. Eliza stopped speaking and went into deep mourning, something Lucille knew well. The two women became connected through their sorrow. After a few years, Eliza’s light finally turned back on inside, but Lucille’s never did. 

Nathaniel Benson

Nathaniel and Matilda had known each other since they were babies. He worked as an apprentice for the famous painter Charles Peale. He also thought going to Paris sounded like a great idea. He often walked by the coffeehouse, and Matilda often walked by the Peale’s house. But they rarely spoke to each other. Lucille didn’t approve of Nathaniel. She thought he was a deadbeat or worse. 

Polly Logan

Their serving girl, Polly, was late, which meant Matilda had to help her mother open the coffeehouse. Matilda was annoyed. She assumed Polly was late because she was flirting with Matthew, the blacksmith’s son. This wasn’t unusual behavior, but Polly’s tardiness always sent Lucille into a tirade. She’d been screaming for Matilda to wake up for almost an hour. As it turned out, Polly was one of the first victims of yellow fever.

Nell

Matilda finds a little girl whose mother has died. She takes the girl, Nell, hoping to find a neighbor who will care for her. What she finds instead is Eliza walking along the wharf, alive and well. Eliza and Matilda agree to raise the orphan girl themselves alongside Eliza’s twin nephews.

Joseph

Eliza lived in an apartment with her brother, Joseph, and his two twin boys. Joseph was recovering from the fever, but his wife had not been so lucky. She’d died a few days before.

Bridget Flagg

The woman who took care of Matilda at Bush Hill when she got sick. Bridget thought Grandpa was charming and brave.

Pernilla Ogilvie

Pernilla Ogilvie is the matriarch of a prominent family. The Ogilvies had five sons, and Lucille had her eye on the youngest, Edward, as Matilda’s future husband. 

Colette and Jeannine Ogilvie

Pernilla Ogilvie’s daughters. Colette, the oldest, was pale and had dark circles under her eyes. Jeannine, on the other hand, was a vision of health and mischief. Later, Colette elopes with her French tutor and damages her family’s status.

Fever 1793 Characters You Should Know

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Laurie Halse Anderson's "Fever 1793" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Fever 1793 summary:

  • What the yellow fever epidemic in 1793 in Philadelphia looked like
  • How this epidemic exposed the vulnerability of everyone, including the wealthy
  • How an epidemic can impact a young person

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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