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"Pox Americana: The Epidemic that Tore Through Washington’s" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2021 10:10 p.m. PST


"In September 1775, less than five months after the opening battles of the American Revolutionary War, the newly formed Continental Army invaded the British Province of Quebec, in modern-day Canada, with three objectives: to persuade French-speaking Canadiens to join the revolutionary cause, to take control of strategically important sea routes, and to drive the British out of Canada. Toward the end of the year two separate military expeditions, led by Colonel Benedict Arnold and Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, two officers in the Continental Army, approached Quebec City from the east and the south, joined forces, and set up camp outside the city. There, more than a thousand exhausted and weakened soldiers, packed into close quarters, lived in squalid conditions—a veritable Petri dish for smallpox infections.

By December 31, when Montgomery launched the attack that became the Battle of Quebec, the soldiers under his command were already fighting on borrowed time. The British troops they faced, on the other hand, were protected from smallpox by herd immunity. Montgomery died in the attack, as did 30 of his men; more than 400 others were taken prisoner by the British.

The smallpox outbreak in the American army was documented by Caleb Haskell, a member of the fife and drum corps from Newburyport, Massachusetts, who contracted the disease. Haskell survived, and in 1881 his wartime journal was published as Caleb Haskell's Diary: A Revolutionary War Soldier's Record before Boston and with Arnold's Quebec Expedition, from which the following excerpt is drawn…"
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Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP08 Oct 2021 10:36 p.m. PST

TMP link

One day ago.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP09 Oct 2021 6:41 a.m. PST

The Trenton Barracks Museum discussed the innoculation process Washington instituted during a tour. Crude predecessor to current vaccinations, no needles used. Kind of gross but it worked.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP09 Oct 2021 7:37 a.m. PST

And because of that epidemic, the incoming Continental soldiers were almost always inoculated against small pox.

See: link


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Oct 2021 8:06 a.m. PST

"…General George Washington ordered all American soldiers who had never been sickened with smallpox to be inoculated as protection against the virus—the first mass government-financed immunization campaign in American history."

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Oct 2021 3:09 p.m. PST



Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Oct 2021 4:21 a.m. PST

Washington undoubtedly believed that mandating vaccinations would work.

That example should be followed. It worked for polio, measles, and other diseases as well. I remember being marched to the school gym to get my polio sugar cube. Nobody complained.

Napoleon also had the French army inoculated against smallpox.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2021 3:27 p.m. PST

Thanks Kevin….


Les Haskell15 Oct 2021 6:25 a.m. PST

Caleb Haskell is my 4th great-grandfather. Not really having any interest in genealogy, I only discovered my family history accidentally during an Internet search and reading that my 8th great-grandfather's house in Gloucester, Massachusetts was still standing. It IS still standing and is a bed and breakfast where you can experience a little bit of first period colonial America – The William Haskell House. Three Haskell brothers and a sister (with their mother and step-father) landed at Salem in 1635, and settled in the part of that town that is now named Beverly. William would have been around 19 or 20 in 1637, so it is quite possible that he was at the First Muster. He eventually reached Captain rank in the militia, and it seems he kept the title through the end of his life. Salem was a large and growing town. The part infamous for the Witch Trials was originally called Salem Village, but is now known as Danvers. My branch of the family (William) started moving north and east up the coast. A few generations in Gloucester and about six generations in Newbury/Newburyport. Eventually my great-grandfather George Whitefield Haskell Jr. moved to South Paris, Maine. Lots of fishermen and deacons (13 Haskells are on Gloucester's list of people lost at sea). The South Carolina branch of the Haskells was started after the Revolution when Colonel Elnathan Haskell moved down there (I have Confederate cousins – 9th cousins, 4x removed, and the first Governor of the State of Oklahoma is also a cousin).

Of course, I was thrilled when a friend told me that Caleb was featured in the Military History Quarterly article, and I went out and bought it right away. The article is mostly just excerpts from his diary and I've read through the diary a few times. I occasionally post sections on Facebook on corresponding dates. Being a history and military history nerd makes making the connection to events even more interesting. Caleb's diary has been quoted and cited in a number of books. He's quoted and cited in the book Pox Americana for his Dec. 6, 1775 entry, and Rick Atkinson used the same entry in The British are Coming, but he only called him "a soldier" and didn't cite him. I've done lots of research on Caleb and I have a pretty good idea where he was every day for the year covered in the diary (and before that on April 19). I've compared it to Captain Dearborn's and Sergeant Paul Lunt's. He is probably the one ancestor that got me the most interested in finding out more about my family history.

Oh! Speaking of smallpox, I was looking at a family database one day, and I saw that Caleb's son (who is also named Caleb, as was his father) married a woman from Canada. The problem with family databases is that quite frequently the maternal lines get neglected, and that line wasn't covered beyond her. I did a search on her name, and I was happy to find some more history to geek out over. Her name was Fanny Matilda Betts. She was from New Brunswick and her father was Dr. Azor Betts. So I have another 4th great-grandfather known for his connection to smallpox. He was originally from Connecticut, but he married Glorianna Purdy from White Plains, New York (I think) and I'm pretty sure he had a medical practice in or near New York City. He was opposed to the rebellion, and shortly after Congress passed the Tory Act in January, 1776 (six months to the day before throwing off the shackles of tyranny, they effectively made disagreeing with the government a punishable offense), the local Committee of Safety ransacked and shut up his business (and probably confiscated any guns he may have owned). He was overheard complaining about it and was then turned in for "cursing congresses and committees" (he called them "a bunch of damned rascals"). The Committee threw him in prison for two months (thanks to archivist Peter Force for preserving a record of the trial). After he was released the Continental Army had relocated to New York and four officers sought him out to get inoculated for smallpox. Unfortunately for Dr. Betts, Congress had just forbidden inoculation for anyone in the army, and he was thrown in jail again. This event prompted General Washington to write General Orders, 26 May 1776, reminding the army of the ban and threatening to cashier and post in the newspaper the names of anyone inoculated, publically labelling them "traitors to their country". When the British arrived in New York, General Howe appointed Dr. Betts as Surgeon in the Queen's Rangers (the doctor may have helped recruit for the King's Rangers before that – I've struggled to figure out when he did what). It seems that after being trapped in Boston with a smallpox outbreak General Howe wasn't as cautious about inoculation and got a year head start on Washington. At some point Colonel James DeLancey requested that Dr. Betts come over to DeLancey's Refugees and the doctor spent the last eighteen months of the war in the Bronx at the Morrisiana Garrison. In 1783 Dr. Betts and his family left with the Spring Fleet for Canada, settling in the Kingston area of New Brunswick.

I wish I knew the story of how Caleb (III) and Fanny Matilda met, because they got married in Canada in March 1815, barely weeks after the War of 1812 ended. After a few years they moved to Caleb's hometown of Newburyport. They named my great great grandfather after George Whitefield, the Anglican evangelist (and friend of Jonathan Parsons) who is buried in the basement under the pulpit of Old South Church in Newburyport.

Les Haskell15 Oct 2021 9:24 a.m. PST

General Orders, 26 May 1776

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2021 3:36 p.m. PST

Thanks also…


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