27. In a Dumb Twist, America’s First Anti-Vaxxers Forced the Vaccinated to Quarantine
Of those variolated by Zabdiel Boylston, 2% died. That was far better than the 15% death rate of Bostonians who had naturally contracted the disease. Nonetheless, Boston’s City Council condemned inoculation, and Dr. Boylston was assaulted on the streets and forced to go into hiding. Cotton Mather had a crude bomb thrown into his house. Fortunately, it was so crude and constructed in what turned out to be such an ineptly dumb fashion, that it failed to explode. Tied to it was a note that read: “Cotton Mather, I was once of your meeting, but the cursed lye you told of – you know who, made me leave you, you dog, and damn you, I will inoculate you with this, with a pox on you!”
Much of the opposition was driven by religion. For example, a prominent Boston clergyman declared that inoculation was sinful because it was “not in the Rules of Natural Physick“. In what comes across as a bizarre twist to modern sensibilities, angry and violent Bostonian anti-vaxxer mobs even forced the inoculated into quarantine on Spectacle Island, four miles offshore in Boston Harbor. The New England Courant pumped out a steady stream of satirical anti-vaxxer articles. Its editor was Benjamin Franklin. The future polymath, scientist, and Founding Father was sixteen-years-old at the time, and like many teenagers, he did not miss the opportunity to troll.