Inoculation Introduced To America By A Slave

By Ken Hare

Chicago Defender Staff Writer

smallpox

Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, an African slave born in the late seventeenth century. Onesimus was a gift to the Puritan church minister Cotton Mather and one of a thousand people of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony.

Onesimus spoke to Mather about the centuries old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa. By extracting the material from an infected person and scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, you could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual making them immune. Although highly controversial at the time, Cotton Mather convinced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721 and over 240 people were inoculated.

Two percent of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox.

Onesimus’ traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War and introduced the concept of inoculation to the United States.

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