Smallpox

Jeannette Holland Austin
3 min readApr 11, 2022

Smallpox was a dreaded disease back in the day.

The epidemics started in Boston in 1721, killing more than 850 persons during the winter of 1722. The repeated outbreaks of 1721, 1752, 1764, and 1775 were particularly severe. Death rates were high. During the siege of Boston by General George Washington, the disease broke out among both Continental and British camps. Many escaped slaves who fled from the British lines in the South likewise contracted smallpox and died.

Even among survivors, the suffering was enormous. Some of the clinical features of the affliction are described in a quote reported by Forman: “The head is swollen to a monstrous size, the eyes are entirely closed, the lips swollen and of a livid color, the face and surface of the whole body are covered with maturated pustules, from which issue purulent matter; the miserable being has the appearance of a putrid mass, and scarcely the semblance of a human form remains.”

In April of 1771, when the ship HMS Seahorse dropped anchor in the Boston harbor, many of its passengers had the disease. Smallpox was common in England, and it was not unusual for passengers to carry the horrific disease to the landed population. By the winter of 1772, smallpox had infected half of the population of Boston.

Also, during the Revolutionary War, smallpox infected the armies. Most of the British soldiers had already been exposed and were immune, but the disease was less common in America. Thus, during the winter at Valley Forge in 1776, General George Washington decided to begin inoculating soldiers against smallpox, a disease that he had experienced as a teenager in 1751 while visiting the island of Barbados. For a while, the disease seemed to fade away.

But the infected returning soldiers and deserters from the Canadian campaign carried smallpox home with them, sparking outbreaks that lasted well into 1777 in tidewater Virginia, and Maryland.

The Battle of the Rice Boats. Savannah, Georgia, March 2–3, 1776

The Battle of the Rice Boats, also called the Battle of Yamacraw Bluff, was a naval battle of the Revolutionary War that took place in and around the Savannah River, on the site of the former village of the Creek Indians (downtown Savannah on the bluff).

It all started in December of 1775; when the British Army in Boston, in great need of provisions, sent the Royal Navy fleet to Georgia to purchase rice and…

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