Smallpox, Colonial North America, Diseases, Inoculation


Samllpx was one of the most feared diseases in colonial North America during the eighteenth century. This fear was caused by "the suddenness and unpredictability of its attack, the grotesque torture of its victims, the brutality of its lethal or disfiguring outcome, and the terror that it inspired, which [made] Smallpox unique among human diseases." People who contracted the disease had a thirty to fifty percent chance of survival, and if they survived the painful illness, many victims lost their eyelashes, had permanent facial scaring and pitting, or even sometimes went blind. This made smallpox survivors the subjects of social ostracism. It was often so severe it led them to commit suicide. With such horrors attached to the contraction of smallpox, colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had a strong fear of the illness. As great as their fear of smallpox was, ironically and tragically, the colonists feared inoculation more. Inoculation was the only preventive measure available to colonists during this time, but their deep-seated misgivings about the procedure prevented its use. This allowed smallpox to wreak havoc in the colonies for years, costing colonists many loved ones and nearly costing them the American Revolution.