Inoculation was introduced to America by an African slave.
Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late seventeenth century before eventually becoming a slave in Boston - “gifted” to the Puritan church minister Cotton Mather from his congregation in 1706.
Onesimus told 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, smallpox could be deliberately introduced to the healthy individual making them immune. Considered extremely dangerous 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.
The African practice Onesimus introduced was also used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War thereby introducing the concept of inoculation to the United States.
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