George Washington Has the Continental Army Inoculated

Most of the portraits of George Washington don’t catch this, but his face was pock marked as a result of a bout with small pox during a trip to the West Indies in 1751.  When he became Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution he knew that disease would claim far more of this troops than the musket balls of the British.  A strong believer in inoculation, Washington order that his force be inoculated and that all new recruits be inoculated before they joined the army.  On February 5, 1777 Washington informed Congress that he was embarking on the first mass inoculation in military history:

“The smallpox has made such Head- way in every quarter that I find it impossible to keep it from spreading throughout the Army, in the natural way. I have therefore, determined not only to inoculate all the troops now here, that have not had it, but shall order Doctor Shippen to inoculate the Recruits as fast as they come into Philadelphia.”

Go here to read a good article on the role that small pox played in the American Revolution and Washington’s efforts to combat the scourge.

Published in: on March 30, 2020 at 3:49 am  Comments Off on George Washington Has the Continental Army Inoculated  
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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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