"Smallpox was killing Americans and one brave doctor did all he could to stop it."
Reviewed by Shellie Surles
Posted May 12, 2016
In 1721 there was a massive outbreak of smallpox in Boston.
Cotton Mather, the man of the Salem Witch trials fame,
realized his slave had been in Africa and therefore
never got sick. After talking with him and several other
slaves who had undergone the procedure, Mather wrote a
letter and paper to the local doctors explaining what he had
discovered. Only one doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, was brave
enough to look into the issue and began inoculating people,
starting with his own small son. Zabdiel Boylston, was
attacked and insulted, but he kept inoculating people.
The battle both those for and against inoculation raged in
the local papers, including the New England Courant, which
and published by James Franklin, who was assisted by his
brother and apprentice Benjamin Franklin. Battles also raged
in the town again the British Governor. Using the paper as a
sounding board both James and Ben spoke out against the
power of the crown and inoculation.
History has shown the wisdom of what Zabdiel Boylston did
and he is now considered the father of inoculation and his
work even when attacked and insulted has saved millions of
lives and helped to eradicate smallpox.
The battles a young Ben Franklin fought with his
brother for freedoms from the British, including freedom of
the press, lead to his involvement as one of our founding
THE FEVER OF 1721 is a well written and researched book that
gives a fascinating look into the history of our country as
it was on the verge of demanding freedom from the tyrannical
British rule. I was enthralled when reading about the
relationship of the Franklin brothers, and how Ben, usually
regarded as a genius, taught himself everything he knew.
Also the doctor, Zabdiel Boylston, who went against those
who thought what he was doing was against God was an
impressive man. He mastered a
process that had been used in different forms by other
societies for many years and brought it to the supposedly
It's known that George Washington later demanded all
recruits be inoculated against smallpox and saved our
military from losing due to illness and death. Also the
founding fathers were all inoculated before they went for
the Congressional Congress, if they hadn't been we might not
be the nation we are today, as the area was in the middle of
a smallpox epidemic.
I can't say enough about how well Stephen Coss put together
history of events that shaped our nation into what it is
today and included the players who never knew the impact of
actions. We owe what we are today to those few who dared to
do what they felt was right and just.
THE FEVER OF 1721 is worth reading for anyone who loves
history and even if you don't, you should know what people
did and how it helped create what we are today. Stephen Coss,
thank you for showing us how a butterfly named Zabdiel
Boylston, flapping his wings in 1721 Boston gave us the
U.S. Constitution we have today.
More than fifty years before the American Revolution, Boston
was in revolt against the tyrannies of the Crown, Puritan
Authority, and Superstition. This is the story of a fateful
year that prefigured the events of 1776.
In The Fever of 1721, Stephen Coss brings to life an
amazing cast of characters in a year that changed the course
of medical history, American journalism, and colonial
revolution, including Cotton Mather, the great Puritan
preacher, son of the president of Harvard College; Zabdiel
Boylston, a doctor whose name is on one of Boston’s grand
avenues; James and his younger brother Benjamin Franklin;
and Elisha Cooke and his protégé Samuel Adams.
During the worst smallpox epidemic in Boston history Mather
convinced Doctor Boylston to try a procedure that he
believed would prevent death—by making an incision in the
arm of a healthy person and implanting it with smallpox.
“Inoculation” led to vaccination, one of the most profound
medical discoveries in history. Public outrage forced
Boylston into hiding, and Mather’s house was firebombed.
A political fever also raged. Elisha Cooke was challenging
the Crown for control of the colony and finally forced Royal
Governor Samuel Shute to flee Massachusetts. Samuel Adams
and the Patriots would build on this to resist the British
in the run-up to the American Revolution. And a bold young
printer James Franklin (who was on the wrong side of the
controversy on inoculation), launched America’s first
independent newspaper and landed in jail. His teenage
brother and apprentice, Benjamin Franklin, however, learned
his trade in James’s shop and became a father of the
One by one, the atmosphere in Boston in 1721 simmered and
ultimately boiled over, leading to the full drama of the
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