1721 Boston smallpox outbreak

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A South-East View of the City of Boston in North America

== 1721 Boston Smallpox Outbreak ==

The 1721 Boston smallpox outbreak was a significant event in the history of Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the most notable instances of smallpox in colonial America. The outbreak had profound effects on the population, medical practices, and public health policies of the time.

Background[edit | edit source]

Smallpox was a highly contagious and deadly disease caused by the Variola virus. It was characterized by fever, malaise, and a distinctive progressive skin rash. Smallpox had been a persistent threat in Europe and the Americas since its introduction by European colonizers.

The Outbreak[edit | edit source]

The 1721 outbreak in Boston began when a ship from the West Indies arrived in the city, carrying infected individuals. The disease spread rapidly due to the dense population and lack of effective quarantine measures. By the end of the outbreak, it is estimated that over half of Boston's population had contracted smallpox, and approximately 14% of those infected died.

Inoculation Controversy[edit | edit source]

One of the most significant aspects of the 1721 outbreak was the introduction of inoculation (also known as variolation) in the American colonies. Cotton Mather, a prominent Puritan minister, learned about the practice from his African slave, Onesimus, who had been inoculated in Africa. Mather advocated for the use of inoculation to combat the outbreak.

Zabdiel Boylston, a local physician, was the first to perform inoculations in Boston, despite strong opposition from many in the medical community and the general public. The practice involved deliberately infecting a person with a mild case of smallpox to confer immunity. The controversy surrounding inoculation highlighted the tension between traditional medical practices and emerging scientific approaches.

Impact[edit | edit source]

The 1721 smallpox outbreak had several lasting impacts on Boston and the broader American colonies:

  • **Public Health Policies**: The outbreak underscored the need for better public health measures, including quarantine and vaccination.
  • **Medical Advancements**: The success of inoculation during the outbreak paved the way for the development of vaccination by Edward Jenner in the late 18th century.
  • **Social and Religious Tensions**: The debate over inoculation reflected broader social and religious tensions in colonial society, particularly between traditionalists and proponents of scientific progress.

Related Pages[edit | edit source]


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