Matilda Cook is the protagonist of the story. She is a 14-year-old girl who lives with her mother and grandfather in Philadelphia. The novel tells the story of Matilda’s transformation from a carefree child to a responsible, strong-willed, and kind-hearted young woman.
Lucille Cook (Mother)
Lucille Cook is Matilda’s mother. She is a widow who runs a coffeehouse and cares for her daughter with the help of her father-in-law. Lucille grew up in a privileged and wealthy family, but shewas disowned after she married a man from a more middle-class background.
Captain William Cook (Grandfather)
Captain Cook is Matilda's paternal grandfather and Lucille's father-in-law. He served in the American Revolutionary War and now helps Lucille to run the coffee house. The Captain draws heavily on his memories of heroism and service, and he applies these lessons during the epidemic.
Polly Logan is a serving girl at the Cooks’ coffeehouse and one of the first victims of yellow fever. Her death upsets Matilda, for the girls used to be good friends in the past.
Nathaniel Benson is a boy whom Matilda fancies. He is a young painter's apprentice and a nice lad who seems to be both kind and funny. Lucille doesn’t approve of him because Nathaniel doesn’t earn enough money to be considered good marriage material.
Eliza is a free Black woman who works as a cook and a helper at the Cooks’ coffeehouse. She is very close with both Lucille and Mattie. Lucille is a widow who lives with her brother and his family. Once the epidemic breaks out, Eliza spends a lot of energy helping the poor and those who are suffering.
Pernilla Ogilvie is a wealthy woman with many sons and daughters. At the start of the novel, Lucille hopes that Mattie will marry one of Pernilla's sons. Pernilla is snobby and self-absorbed.
Mrs. Flagg is a nurse at the Bush Hill. She helps to take care of Mattie, and she has a flirtatious relationship with Grandfather.
Nell is a little girl found by Matilda. Nell’s mother dies of yellow fever and there is no one to take care of her. Matilda takes her in and eventually ends up adopting and raising her.
Joseph is Eliza’s brother. He has lost his wife and tries to take care of his two young sons with the help of his sister.
Mother Smith is an elderly Black woman who lives with Eliza and Joseph. She helps to take care of Joseph's two young boys.
Mr. and Mrs. Eppler
Farmers who sell chickens and eggs at the main market in central Philadelphia
Colette and Jeanine Ogilvie
Two sisters who are the daughters of Pernilla Ogilvie and sisters to Edward Ogilvie. They are wealthy, spoiled, and self-absorbed, and they are rude to Mattie because they do not think she is good enough to marry their brother. Both sisters are eventually revealed to be hypocrites because they are secretly both in love with a lower-class man who works as their French tutor.
Edward is a young man from a wealthy Philadelphia family who has shown romantic interest in Mattie. At the start of the novel, Lucille hopes that Edward and Mattie will get married and run the coffeehouse together.
Although not formally trained as a physician, Mr. Rowley has some medical knowledge and tries to help treat and diagnose people who have fallen ill. He is the first person who treats Lucille after she gets sick, but he misdiagnoses her.
A doctor who eventually comes to see Lucille and diagnoses her with yellow fever.
Mr. and Mrs. Ludington
Friends of the Cook family who have a farm in the countryside outside of Philadelphia. They invite the Cook family to stay with them during the epidemic, and they end up caring for Lucille during her illness.
A painter; Nathaniel works as his apprentice and lives in his house.
A woman who runs the Orphan Home in Philadelphia and cares for children who have no one else to take them in. Mrs. Bowles is a kindly woman, but she has limited resources and takes a resigned attitude towards how much she can do to help.
Robert and William
Two young boys who are the sons of Joseph and the nephews of Eliza. When they fall sick along with Nell, Mattie helps to care for them.
A housecat who is Mattie's beloved pet.
Fever 1793 Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fever 1793 is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.