If you're related to President John Adams, you already know his mother was Susannah Boylston, daughter of Peter Boylston and Ann White. These anecdotes are about Susannah's other interesting relatives.
Among them are the doctor who introduced inoculation to America, several Loyalists, a governor, a sympathetic British physician during the Revolution, a future president/grandson, and a romantic, politically mixed marriage.
Did you get a smallpox vaccine when you were a youngster? Maybe you've heard of Edward Jennings. Jennings, in England, noticed that the local milkmaids who suffered the mild disease cowpox never got smallpox, and developed the idea of inoculation.
A version of this, called variolation, which involved spreading the matter from smallpox wounds onto skin that had been scratched a few times, had been in use in other parts of the world for many years before Jenner's method, but this was an uncertain practice. Although the mortality rate from smallpox diminished significantly compared to persons who had not been treated, there was still some risk. The procedure eventually gained wide acceptance in Europe.
|Word of this technique reached Rev. Cotton Mather. In 1721, Boston was in the middle of a smallpox epidemic, and Rev. Mather searched the city for a doctor who would try the procedure. Dr. Zabdiel Boylston was persuaded. This Doctor is Susannah Boylston's uncle.|
The people of New England were very much against this type of medicine; so much so that the doctor was in personal danger. It was popular opinion that if anyone inoculated by the Doctor should die, then the physician should be treated as a murderer. He and his family were often subjected to verbal and physical assaults when out in public. To show his confidence in the procedure, Dr. Boylston inoculated first his own children and servants. Even Rev. Mather suffered at the hands of the public. A projectile was thrown through one of his windows, and someone stated that the reverend preferred the "machination of men" to "the all-wise providence of God."
The stigma attached to inoculation stayed a long time. When John Adams, the president, had himself inoculated just before his marriage to Abigail Smith, she wrote to him, making several references to the risk he was exposed to by letting poison pass through his veins. (Later, Abigail and all the Adams children also took the inoculation.)
Dr. Zabdiel Boylston married Jerusha Minot. They had three sons and many daughters. Son John went to England and died there, having lived in London and Bath. This "John of London" who is Susannah Boylston's first cousin, was also a doctor, who was compassionate and a great help to American soldier-prisoners during the Revolution.
He was so well-off when he died that he was able to bequeath a sum of money to assist orphans back in Boston, seeing to their care and education until they reached the age of fourteen. [Boylston Family--Page 2]
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