Archive for the ‘Inoculation’ Category

“I fear the Small Pox will Spread universilly … “

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.

posted January 24th, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on “I fear the Small Pox will Spread universilly … “, CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Epidemics,Inoculation,Slaves/slavery

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, deliberately tried to infect the Indian population by distributing blankets which had been used by smallpox victims.

A method of protection against the disease called inoculation had been developed in the eighteenth century. It involved deliberately inducing a mild case of smallpox in a person, thereby conferring immunity against re-infection. In spite of its success, there was concern about its safety; indeed it was banned in some states and communities. Early on, George Washington had decided against inoculating his troops, but when large numbers of soldiers came down with the disease, he changed his mind and required new recruits who had not had the disease to be inoculated.

Lucy Flucker Knox, wife of General Henry Knox. decided that she and their daughter Lucy would be inoculated. From Brookline, Massachusetts, she wrote on April 31, 1777:

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. The image is from the World Health Organization and can be found HERE.

posted January 21st, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on My face is finely ornamented, CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Health,Inoculation,Knox, Lucy Flucker,Medicine

“… what the Canker worm dont eat the Locusts destroy.”

Catharine “Kitty” Livingston was the daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, and sister to Sarah Livingston who married John Jay. The Jays’ son Peter Augustus was in her care at Liberty Hall, the Livingston home in Elizabethtown, when she wrote to his parents in November 1777, reporting that he had been successfully inoculated against smallpox. Peter was 22 months old at the time.

My Dear Sister & Brother
It is with very great pleasure I announce to you, the recovery of your little Boy from the Small Pox; please to accept of the Congratulations of the Family on the happy event. No person ever was more favor’d in that disorder, he had only one pustule, & scarce a days illness. The Dr. bid me tell you that he had behaved manfully thro the whole. … If Sally you have at any time felt a regret at having left him least he should be spoil’d, be assured there never was a better Child. I have my doubts if ever any equaled him in goodness, I have but one Complaint to lodge against him, & that is, that we cannot make him talk; it is something extraordinary in our Family; but I flatter myself he will prattle every thing before he leaves us. …

Kitty’s letter goes on to comment on the billeting of soldiers in her father’s house. Located in a hotly contested area, Liberty Hall had been occupied by American troops or Hessians depending on battle lines. Here Kitty complains about the former. The bullock guards she refers to were soldiers in charge of cattle intended to feed the army.

Yesterday I returned from Elizath. Gen. [Philemon] Dickenson is at that Post with between eight hundred & a Thousand Troops. My Fathers House for six weeks was made a Guard House, for a Bullock Guard the first instance I beleive of a Governors House being so degraded. I do not exaggerate In telling you the Guards have done ten times the mischief to the House that the Hessians did; they have left only two locks in the House taken off many pains of glass, left about a third of the paper hanging, burnt up some mahogany banisters, a Quantity of timber, strip’d the roof of all the lead, one of the men was heard to boast that he had at one heat taken 30 pd. of Lead off. The furniture that mamma left there when Sally & myself was last down is stolen except a few things of which there is only some fragments. It is as in the time of Pharoah what the Canker worm dont eat the Locusts destroy*. …
your truly Affectionate Sister

*This is a biblical reference (Joel 1:4) to a devouring army that leaves behind desolation and waste.

This excerpt is from Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston, compiled and edited by Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, and Janet M. Wedge (Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland & Company, 2005), page 52. The illustration is from As We Were: The Story of Old Elizabethtown by Theodore Thayer (Elizabeth, New Jersey: Grassman Publishing Company for The New Jersey Historical Society, 1964). A large version of the map can be found HERE, courtesy of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

posted May 3rd, 2012 by Janet, Comments Off on “… what the Canker worm dont eat the Locusts destroy.”, CATEGORIES: Children,Hessians,Inoculation,Looting,Maps,Patriots

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