Archive for the ‘Epidemics’ 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.

“the Dear Wife of my Bosom”

DOLLEY PAYNE TODD MADISON, who is best known as the wife of President James Madison, was born Dorothy (or Dorothea) Payne in North Carolina to Quaker parents in 1768, the fourth of eight children. See an earlier post here. Her father was a planter who, when he emancipated his slaves, moved his family, first to Virginia, and then, in 1783, to Philadelphia where he established a laundry starch-making business. When the venture failed, and following her husband’s death in 1792, Mrs. Payne for a time took in boarders, among whom was Aaron Burr. When Dolley was 21 (1790) she married John Todd, a lawyer and a Quaker; they, along with Dolley’s youngest sister Anna, lived in this brick house in Philadelphia. In 1793 when the city was struck by a yellow fever epidemic, John sent Dolley and their two small children to the country while he remained in the city. Sadly, he died as did their three-month-old son William Temple. By the terms of her husband’s will Dolley inherited their house and the property enumerated below. Todd’s will read:

I give and devise all my estate, real and personal, to the Dear Wife of my Bosom, and first and only Woman upon whom my all and only affections were placed, Dolly Payne Todd, her heirs and assigns forever, trusting that as she proved an amiable and affectionate wife to her John she may prove an affectionate mother to my little Payne, and the sweet Babe with which she is now enceinte. My last prayer is may she educate him in the ways of Honesty, tho’ he may be obliged to beg his Bread, remembering that will be better to him than a name and riches.—I appoint my dear wife executrix of this my will.
John Todd, Jr.

An inventory of the “very small estate” iincluded:

    One large Side Board
    One Settee
    Eleven Mahogany & Pine tables
    Three Looking Glasses
    Thirty-six Mahogany and Windsor chairs
    One Case of knives & forks
    And-Irons, Shovel & Tongs
    Window curtains & Window blinds
    Carpets & Floor Cloaths
    Bed, Bedstead & Bed Cloath
    Sundry Setts of China &c.
    Articles of Glass Ware & Waiters etc.
    Glass lamp, pr Scones & six pictures
    Sundry Articles of Plate & Plated ware—also Sett of Castors
    Sundry Kitchen furniture
    Desk & Book case
    An open stove
    Two Watches
    One fowling piece
    One Horse & Chair
    Library

The total value was estimated as ƒ434 5 shillings. With the addition of the house, Dolley was fairly comfortably provided for.

Source credited HERE. The inventory is taken from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dorothy Payne, Quakeress, by Ella Kent Barnard, which can be found online HERE, pages 73-75. The image of the Todd house is at Independence Historical Park, National Park Service. The painting of Dolley Madison by Vanderlyn is at Greensboro Historical Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read the TRANSCRIPT of the Public Television production The American Experience devoted to Dolley Madison.

posted September 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Madison, Dolley,Philadelphia,Quakers,Todd, John

“We yesterday gave eleven pence for two cucumbers”

REBECCA STODDERT wrote again to her niece Eliza on June 7, 1799 about the threat of a yellow fever epidemic and the difficulty of obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables in Philadelphia.

I imagine by the time you receive this you will have heard very exaggerated accounts of the yellow fever, which certainly exists at this time in Philadelphia, but is not so bad, as yet, to give me the least uneasiness. Mr. Stoddert’s office [her husband Benjamin is John Adams’s secretary of the navy] is very near the house we live in, which is at a considerable distance from the part of the city where the fever prevails. The children are taken from school; indeed I believe the schools are very generally broke up till autumn. As soon as it is improper to remain here we will go to Trenton, where Mr. Stoddert has engaged a house, so I think we are safe from this dreadful, melancholy calamity. . . .

I very often put myself in mind of the Prodigal Son, and think how glad I should be of the fruit that is left at our table when the family are done with it. I have had strawberries twice, only, and I think paid half a crown a quart, with the stems on. Raspberries were a quarter of a dollar a quart, and so bad that they made me very sick. As for cherries, I have eaten them once green. It is unlucky that I should want fruit this summer,—for the first time in my life, I believe. However, next summer will make amends for all my wants. We yesterday gave eleven pence for two cucumbers, and till within a few days that has been the price of one only. Cherries are sold by the pound; so are potatoes when they first come. When we bought first, the price was a five-penny bit. What it was when they were first brought to market I cannot say, but probably higher than that. In short, living here is dear beyond anything I could have supposed, and we buy everything we make use of except water. . . .

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, page 812-13. The view of Philadelphia in 1799 showing Christ Church, at which Mrs. Stoddert attended a service mentioned in an earlier post, is a photograph of a color engraving made by William Russell Birch (1755-1834).

posted May 5th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Epidemics,Food,Philadelphia,Stoddert, Benjamin,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes

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