Inoculation against Smallpox
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Smallpox bill 1726
A notice explaining about smallpox innoculation
in North America (1726)

November 2016 - In the 1500s AD, when people from Europe first began to go to Central America and South America, they brought a man from Africa (as a slave) who had smallpox with them, and some of the people who lived in the Americas caught it. None of these people were immune, and within a few years about 60-90 percent of the people died (that's six to nine out of every ten people!). Soon people in North America caught smallpox too, and most of them also died. Most of the people in North and South America died of either smallpox or measles - that's why the Europeans were able to conquer them.

Girl with smallpox
Child with smallpox (Bangladesh 1973)

Finally in the 1700s people in Europe and in North America began to hear about the Indian innoculation process, and they started to use it. The French philosopher Voltaire helped to convince people to do it. In Boston, an African man named Onesimus who worked for Cotton Mather as a slave told people that he had been innoculated in Africa, before he left, and explained how to do it. Even so, the king of France, Louis XV, died of smallpox in 1774. Gradually in the late 1700s and 1800s doctors developed methods of vaccinating using shots instead of innoculating by blowing scabs up your nose.

More and more people were vaccinated, all over the world. In Iran, for example, most people were vaccinated about 1850. Very slowly, whole countries, then whole continents started to be free of smallpox again. The last case of smallpox in the world was in 1977, in Somalia (East Africa).

Learn by doing: get yourself vaccinated against diseases
More about smallpox
More about viruses
More about vaccination
Indian invention of innoculation

Bibliography and further reading about smallpox:

Bubonic plague (with pictures)
Measles home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 28 April, 2017