Cotton Mather and Inoculation

Cotton Mather  in many ways represents some of the worst traits of the Puritans who ruled Massachusetts in the Seventeenth Century: fanatical, severe, dogmatic, usually blind to any side of an issue other than his own.   Completely unrepentant of his role in the Salem Witch Trials, Mather generally cuts a poor figure in early American history.  However, not always.  Narrow in most of his views, Mather possessed a good mind and a questioning spirit when dealing with issues outside of his religious beliefs.

In 1706 Onesimus, a slave, explained to Mather how he had been inoculated against small pox as a boy in Africa.  When a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721, Mather encouraged Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to try the procedure.  Boylston performed inoculations of cowpox on his own son and two slaves.  They all recovered in a week.  James Franklin, Ben Franklin’s older brother, in the New England Courant, published article after article denouncing inoculation and so inflamed public opinion that the selectmen of Boston banned the procedure.  (James Franklin was a chronic bomb thrower who loved nothing better than to whip up turmoil and thus to sell more issues of his paper.  He and Ben did not get along.)  Boylston’s life was in danger, and a hand grenade was thrown into Mather’s house for his championing inoculation and sheltering a clergyman who had undergone inoculation.  Stubborn as always, Mather remained an ardent supporter of inoculation.  Boylston fled to England, published his findings, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1726.  Mather died in 1728, as unrepentant about championing inoculation as he was in regard to the Salem Witch Trials.

Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Cotton Mather and Inoculation  
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