Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

“The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON (1748-1840) was the oldest daughter of William Livingston and Susannah French. (The couple had thirteen children.) Her father was the governor of New Jersey, a member of the Continental Congresses, and a brigadier general in the New Jersey militia. Susan, her younger sisters, Sarah and Catharine (Kitty), known as “the three graces,” were very popular. Sarah became the wife of John Jay in 1774. The Livingstons often had the care of Peter Augustus, the couple’s son, during the war. Susan wrote her sister Sarah on November 1, 1777 in care of John Jay who was in Kent, Connecticut at the time, reporting that the boy was to be inoculated.

Dearly beloved Sarah
I am in expectation of the arrival of the Post every moment, he usually comes in on Friday Evening, and returns next Morning as he goes no further than Morris Town. . . . I do not know where to direct to you. . . .
The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow next week. He is now a fit subject for it, his blood is well purified, he has pretended to inoculate him often, so he will not be afraid of it. You know old Woodruff, that carts for us, his Son that lived next door to Dr. Darby, died a few days ago of the Small pox the natural way, and now his Widow and Child have it, the old Man has never had it, he stayed in the same House with his Son till a day or two before he expired, they are not entitled to much pity, for they say the Avarice of the old Man prevented their being inoculated. The Child will perish with it, it is thought. . . .
I think this scrawl as it is . . . entitles me to a few Lines from your fair hand. This I submit to you and whether you write or not, I am yours most Affectionately.

Source: John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary, 1745-1780, edited by Richard. B. Morris (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 445-47.

posted April 15th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Livingston, Governor William,Livingston, Susan,New Jersey,Smallpox

“My face is finely ornamented”

Childhood diseases like mumps, measles, and whooping cough were serious but commonplace during the eighteenth century. Epidemics, occurring seemingly at random, were much more alarming. One of the most feared diseases was smallpox because of its relatively high mortality rate and the severe scarring that marked survivors. This acute contagious disease was especially devastating in America because its inhabitants were less likely to be immune to it than Europeans who had been exposed to it. Even with the isolation of individuals and the quarantine of ships, smallpox flared up every few years, especially in urban areas. Native Americans were particularly vulnerable. It has been claimed that the British, aware of the contagious nature of the disease, weaponized it by deliberately distributing blankets that had been used by smallpox victims to the Indian population.

The term used to describe protection against smallpox in early eighteenth century America was variolation. This involved the use of the smallpox virus and was known in fifteenth century China and later in India. In the Middle East and Africa two methods were in use. In one called “buying the smallpox,” the mother of an unprotected child would visit the house of a child who had the disease, tie a cotton cloth around the infected child’s arm and haggle over the cost of each pistule. After agreeing on a price the mother would tie the infected cloth around her own child’s arm. A second method involved taking some fluid from a smallpox pistule, called “hitting the smallpox,” and introducing it into a cut in a patient’s arm thereby inducing, hopefully, a mild case of the disease. The term vaccination refers to the development of a method of prevention in the late 1700s, particularly by Edward Jenner, involving a vaccine derived from cowpox. A safer alternative, it replaced variolation.

Lucy Flucker Knox, wife of General Henry Knox. decided that she and their daughter Lucy would be inoculated using the technique of variolation. From Brookline, Massachusetts, she wrote on April 31, 1777 to her husband:

Join with me my love in humble gratitude to him who hath preserved your Lucy and her sweet baby; and thus far carried them thro the small pox—no persons was ever more highly favored than I have been since it came out—but before for three days I suffered exceedingly—I have more than two hundred of them twenty in my face which is four times as many as you bid me have but believe some of them will leave a mark—Lucy has but one—and has not had an ill hour with it—both hers and mine have turned and are drying away. …

I have no glass but from the feel of my face I am almost glad you do not see it. I don’t believe I should yet get one kiss and yet the Dr. tells me it is very becoming.

Eliza Yonge Wilkinson of Mount Royal, Yonge’s Island, South Carolina, was thankful that she was not too badly scarred by smallpox. She wrote on May 19, 1781:

I have just got the better of the small-pox, thanks be to God for the same. My face is finely ornamented, and my nose honored with thirteen spots. I must add, that I am pleased they will not pit, for as much as I revere the number*, I would not choose to have so conspicuous a mark. I intend, in a few days, to introduce my spotted face in Charlestown.
* Wilkinson is, of course, referring to the thirteen states.

Smallpox has been eradicated through the process of compulsory vaccination. The last case of the disease occurred in the world in 1978. The United States stopped vaccinating the general population in 1972, but continued to vaccinate military personnel until it was officially stopped in 1990.

The letters appear on page 177 of In the Words of Women. Refer to this ARTICLE for the history of variolation and vaccination.The image of Lucy flicker Knox is from the Montpelier, the General Henry Knox Museum.

posted April 13th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Inoculation,Knox, General Henry,Knox, Lucy Flucker,Smallpox,Vaccination,Variolation,Wilkinson, Eliza

“fix an innoculating hospital in their metropolis”

Continuing with posts about epidemics in America during the colonial and early national periods in the age of the coronavirus.

Some parents today do not want their children to receive certain vaccinations fearing they may cause conditions like autism. In eighteenth-century America there was controversy over smallpox inoculations. It’s true that there were at times debilitating effects. ABIGAIL ADAMS explained the lapse in correspondence with her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN in 1777: “My eyes ever since the smallpox have been great sufferers. Writing puts them to great pain.” Warren replied that she too had problems: “weakness … feebleness of my limbs, and pains … sufficient to damp the vigor of thought and check … literary employments.”

Attitudes toward inoculation were mixed: some religious leaders considered it “a distrust of God’s overruling care;” some communities supported it, others passed laws against it. MARY BARTLETT reported to her husband (a doctor who was in Philadelphia having just signed the Declaration of Independence) that hospitals were being set up in New Hampshire to inoculate people.

Kingstown July 13th 1776P. S. I fear the Small Pox will Spread universilly as boston is Shut up with it & People flocking in for innoculation; the Select men of portsmouth have Petitiond to the Committy of Safty now Setting in Exeter; for leave to fix an innoculating hospital in their metropolis for the Small Pox and liberty is accordingly granted and the inhabitance of Exeter intend to Petition for the Same libirty.

MARY SILLIMAN described to her parents how her husband dealt with people intent upon preventing inoculation.

[Fairfield, Connecticut] April 11, 1777You know Mr. [Gold Selleck] Silliman is state attorney … he has frequently pressing desires sent him from the neighbouring Towns that he should do something about stoping Inoculation. Then he has to send Guards to collect the infected to one place and order to let none come in or go out with out liberty. But at Stratford they have been so unruly and dispers’d the Guard, he has been oblig’d at the desire of about 80 respectable inhabitants to issue out positive orders to desist and as the civil law could have no affect they should be punnish’d by Martial. This has had its desired effect. None that we know of has transgress’d since.

As the War shifted to the South, British promises of freedom attracted thousands of runaway slaves, both male and female, who performed many useful services. This population, however, soon became a liability to the British because of their susceptibility to smallpox. Thousands contracted the disease and were cruelly quarantined and left to die. Thomas Jefferson believed that of the 30,000 Virginia slaves that had joined the British “about 27,000 died of the small pox and camp fever.”

For comments and letters by women, see In the Words of Women, pages 177 and 179. The religious objection to inoculation and Jefferson’s estimate can be found on pages 36 and 133 respectively in Pox Americana, the Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth A Fenn (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), an excellent book on the subject.

“busily employd in communicating the Infection”

Another view of the smallpox epidemic in 1776. Having returned to Cambridge from Concord, HANNAH WINTHROP wrote to her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN in July after the British had evacuated Boston in March.

Last Saturday afternoon we went into Boston the first time since our removal from Concord . . . .

The reigning Subject is the Small Pox. Boston has given up its Fears of an invasion & is busily employd in
communicating the Infection. Straw beds & cribs are daily carted into the Town. That ever prevailing Passion of following the Fashion is as Predominant at this time as ever. Men Women & children eagerly Crouding to innoculate is I think as modish, as running away from the Troops of a barbarous George was the last Year. . . .

The British forces, threatened by cannon mounted on Dorchester Heights, left Boston in March 1776 for Nova Scotia. Many Loyalists departed as well; some blacks and Native Americans joined them. Those inhabitants who remained faced the scourge of smallpox. The disease had once again become widespread in 1775. George Washington, concerned for his troops, had advised them not to associate with Bostonians leaving the city during the siege. When the British evacuated they left behind their soldiers infected with the disease, which further fueled the outbreak. Washington sent an occupying force of 1,000 troops who had already had smallpox and were therefore immune. Many fearful residents sought to be inoculated, a precaution strongly recommended by Benjamin Franklin, in spite of possibly serious complications. Hannah Winthrop, rather scornfully, termed this surge of interest “modish.” In 1777, Washington ordered that new recruits who had not had smallpox be inoculated. It was one of the most important decisions he made as commander of the Continental Army.

The correspondence between Hannah Winthrop and Mercy Otis Warren is at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The letter in this post can be read in its entirety HERE. The title page of Zabdiel Boylston’s An Historical Account of the Small-pox Inoculated in New England is from Wikimedia Commons.

“there had died 10 of a day”

Given the times we are living in—a pandemic suffocating the entire world—with those of us who can, confined to our homes, it seems useful to recall the scourges that regularly attacked the population of the American colonies, including the Native Americans, as well as the citizens of the new nation. Here, at random, are excerpts from previous posts on the subject.

The marriage of SARAH LOGAN to Thomas Fisher in 1772 united two of the most important and wealthy families in Philadelphia. Sarah, a Quaker, kept a diary that contains her observations on the Revolution and is an important source of information about life in Philadelphia under the control of Pennsylvania officials anticipating a British attack and later during the British occupation.

December 19, 1776— Morning at home at work ….met with John Foulke, who told us that the disorder among the poor sick soldiers was better, that not above 3 or 4 died of a day, but that there had died 10 of a day, & that the smallpox was broken out among them, which he expected would make a great destruction, as not above one in 50 of the Maryland soldiers had had it, many of them not having a bed to lie on or a blanket to cover them ….

December 29, 1776— …. Dr. Bond called here after Meeting & gave us a very melancholy account of the sick soldiers, & says they have the true camp fever which is near akin to the plague. He says 15 or 20 frequently die of a day, that they bury 8 or 10 in a grave, & not above a foot underground. He thinks the disorder will spread & that the inhabitants are in great danger….

December 30, 1776—This morning my Tommy [Sarah’s husband] conversed with the man who has the care of burying the sick soldiers. He says it is not true that the graves are so shallow, but that they die so fast that he cannot dig graves for them all, & so digs a large hole 15 feet square & 10 feet deep for them all, & so buries them two tier, & that the highest coffin is about five feet underground….

Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Sarah Logan Fisher. “”A Diary of Trifling Occurrences”: Philadelphia, 1776-1778.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 82, no. 4 (1958): 414-21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20089127.

posted April 5th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fisher, Sarah Logan,Philadelphia,Smallpox

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