Monday, May 4, 2015

Vaccine Pandemic: Part 1: The Inoculation Controversy of the 1700s

The famous Great Awakening preacher Jonathan
Edwards was one of many victims of the inoculation
plague. After being inoculated per his doctor's advice,
he died, leaving behind his wife and children.

by Steve C. Halbrook

posts in this series:
part 1: The Inoculation Controversy of the 1700s
part 2: Opposition to Vaccines by Doctors and Others in History
part 3: The Inquisition Against Opponents of Bad Medical Practices

Series Intro
Vaccines have become one of the most polarizing issues of the day. There is an aggressive push by lawmakers to force everyone to become vaccinated, as well as intense hostility by many vaccine supporters towards those who question the efficacy and safety of vaccines. 

Where's all the opposition to vaccines coming from? Are opponents of them crazed fanatics, looking for a conspiracy, or are their concerns legitimate? Having given this topic much reflection and research, we are of the view that they indeed have a case against vaccines, and that vaccines—far from being safe and effective—are a dangerous plague and one of the greatest deceptions in our day. 

This series is a case against vaccines from both an historical and biblical perspective. Our hope is that it will equip Christians to better understand how dangerous vaccines really are, and to approach the situation from a biblical worldview. 

The Vaccine Forerunner Comes to America: The Inoculation Controversy of the 1700s
Inoculation is rooted in pagan superstition.
It goes back to the sixth century, and was
used as a means to worship the so-called
goddess of smallpox.
The notion of putting a healthy person at risk in order to protect him from a potential disease is nothing new. Prior to vaccines, there was smallpox inoculation, or variolation. 

James Martin Peebles, M.D., M.A., P.H.D., notes that
Smallpox inoculation was derived, not from scientific experimentation, but from a superstition practiced by the common people in India since the sixth century.[1] 
William H. York, in Health and Wellness in Antiquity Through the Middle Ages, elaborates:
Hindu mythology suggests that smallpox was likely present in India at roughly the same time as in Egypt. Religious texts make numerous allusions to the worship of Shitala, the goddess of smallpox, who was supposed to possess the body of individuals, thereby causing the disease. The Atharvaveda also describes a series of services and prayers that Brahmin priests would offer for the worship of Shitala, which included a ritual of inoculation in which people would breathe in dried scabs from smallpox lesions to induce a mild case of the disease. These unsystematic rituals likely led to the death of many and were probably not effective enough to have thwarted large-scale outbreaks of the disease, but they offer the earliest account of inoculation measures in the world.[2] 
Much later, in 1721, a modified practice of inoculation would be introduced to England and America. Intended as a means to protect someone from naturally catching smallpox, the procedure introduced pus from an infected person under the skin of a non-infected person. Theoretically, the recipient would get sick with a mild form of the disease but build an immunity to the more dangerous form.

The practice of inoculation in America was originally proposedwe think sincerelyby the Puritan Cotton Mather. A huge controversy erupted:
The chief proponents of inoculation, Cotton Mather and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, were supported by a very small coterie of ministers and doctors. The opponents on medical grounds, led by Dr. William Douglass, the only trained medical doctor in town, included most of the other physicians, the town selectmen, and editor James Franklin of the New England Courant, a paper founded in the midst of the controversy to give opponents a forum.[3]
Battle lines were drawn; the matter became a topic in sermons, and a
paper war ensued as each side published pamphlets and newspaper articles to argue its position and refute its opponents. At times the debate became personal and biting, each side accusing the other of bias and falsification.[4]  
Those on the opposing side recognized inoculation as a dangerousand thereby morally unlawfulmeans to prevent smallpox. Some "argued that inoculation was a heathen remedy that should not be used by good Christians."[5]

One pastor who was very outspoken against inoculation was the Reverend John Williams. Williams called inoculation 
a Delusion of the Devil; and that there was never the like Delusion in New-England, since the Time of the Witchcraft at Salem, when so many innocent Persons lost their Lives ... [6]
The reason was because inoculation endangered the lives of its recipients; thus, Williams said it was a violation of God's law:
They are guilty of the Breach of the Moral and the Evangelical Law of God; for they have not done by their Neighbour as they would that their Neighbour should do to them, and that in a Case of great Moment; not only to the hazard of Life, but the Loss of many a Life; how many God knows. Math. 7.12. Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that Men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets
If we are commanded to love our Neighbour as our selves, then they that voluntarily bring in the Small Pox into their House, and not only endanger their Neighbours Health and Life, but eventually take both away, do transgress the Law and the Prophets, Matt, 22, 35, 36, 27 [37?], 38, 39, 40. And, Oh! What a Fountain of Blood are the Promoters guilty of! God grant them repentance unto life. May it not be said of you, You lay aside the Commandments [of] God, and ye have learned the Traditions of Men. Mark. 7. 9. And he said unto them, Fulwell ye reject the Commandment of God, that ye may keep your own Tradition.[7] 
The introduction of inoculation in Boston
stirred a huge controversy, and became
a topic in sermons, pamphlets, and
newspaper articles.
Another outspoken critic of inoculation was a physician named William Douglass. Dr. Douglass describes the affects of inoculation in this way:
By Affidavit and Declarations lately published, we find that the Inconveniencies or Diseases proceeding from the Inoculation are of three Sorts. The First are the high Fevers and other dangerous Symptons immediately attending the Inoculation. . . The other two Risks are what our inoculated Objects have still to apprehend, viz. Impostumations and Ulcers in the Vicera or Bowels, Groin, and other glandulous Parts, Loss of the Use of their Limbs, Swellings &c., occasioning Death or miserable Remnant of Life, much analogous to that of Venereal Infection which . . . in process of time [results in] sordid Ulcers, Caries or rottenness of the Bones, destroys or renders the Patient miserable for Life.[8] 
According to Douglass, inoculation could cause abortion. He writes the following in condemnation of some inoculators he holds responsible for it:
Their Daring Practice on Women with Child who miscarry'd while under Inoculation, they do not mention, as if procuring Abortion were a very innocent Practice, I forbear the Names of some who are instances of this Wickedness.[9]
In a letter to the New-England Courant, a one Frank Scammony raises the matter of moral responsibility for deaths resulting from inoculation, and argues from Scripture against it:
If Infection is communicated to another by means of Self-Infection, and this Contagion spreads itself among others, and any of these thus infected perish, at whose hands shall their Blood be required? Since it was probable they might have escaped the Natural Pock when they fell by means of the Inoculated Pock, and thereby come to an untimely End. . . 
In short, I affirm it unlawful for a Person in Health upon any Account [for any reason] to receive a less Infection to avoid a greater, because Our blessed Saviour, the Great, the Skillful Physician says, He that is whole needs not a Physician, but he that is Sick. He allows of Application to Physicians in Cases of Illness, but Health has no need of Recourse to them.[10] 
On July 22, 1721, Boston physicians and surgeons testified to the dangers of smallpox inoculations:
The physicians and surgeons of Boston (New England) being summoned, by authority, to meet before the justices of the peace, &c. in the townhouse, came to the following resolutions concerning the inoculating of the Small Pox.  
It appears, by numerous instances, that it has proved the death of many persons soon after the operation; and brought distempers upon many others, which have, in the end, proved deadly to them.
That the natural tendency of infusing such malignant filth in the ... blood, is to corrupt and putrify it; and, if there be not a sufficient discharge of that malignity, by the place of incision, or elsewhere, it lays a foundation for many dangerous diseases.
That the operation tends to spread and continue the infection, in a place, longer than it might otherwise be.
That the continuing the operation among us is likely to prove of most-dangerous consequence.[11]
Despite its danger, inoculation would spread like gangrene throughout America. 

One of the most popular victims of smallpox inoculation was the Great Awakening Preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). On good faith, he was inoculated per his physician's advice.[12] Sadly, it resulted in his death; but the tragedy affected his whole family. His wife was left a widow and his children orphans. 
Unexpectedly, the cure became the killer, and he died from the inoculation on March 22 at the age of fifty-four, leaving Sarah to raise their large family alone. It was the last and worst of a series of heavy calamities that had befallen Sarah. ... Sarah would never recover from her loss.[13]
Rev. John Williams called the dangerous
practice of inoculation "a Delusion of the
Devil; and that there was never the like
Delusion in New-England, since the Time
of the Witchcraft at Salem, when so many
innocent Persons lost their Lives."
Thus, inoculation could dangerously backfire. As Duncan Neuhauser and Dr. Lee Slavin note, the person inoculated could not only die from smallpox, but also spread the disease to close contacts.[14] "Opponents were quite correct in seeing a danger to public healthone careless inoculation patient could trigger a major epidemic."[15]
[I]noculation perpetuated smallpox as an endemic disease that occasionally broke out in epidemic form, when inoculated patients mingled too soon with their neighbors, especially in towns that had lax controls. One physician, writing in the nineteenth century, remarked that inoculation "spread smallpox just as the natural disease did" and "often with great virulence." ... An 1866 American Medical Association report explicitly linked the decrease of smallpox epidemics in the nineteenth century to the abandonment of inoculation ... In 1871, British smallpox expert J. F. Marson testified before Parliament that "the discontinuance of inoculation, rather than the practice of vaccination, was the cause of the lesser prevalence of smallpox" from 1800-30.[16]
In the 1800s, Arthur Wallaston Hutton, M. A., said that when the medical community wanted to replace inoculation with vaccines, they essentially "confessed" to the failures of the former:
In the early years of the present century, when medical men, with almost complete unanimity, were seeking to replace the variolous inoculation by the vaccine inoculation, they confessed, or rather urged, that the earlier practice had destroyed more lives than it had saved.[17]
Writing in the 1800s, Professor Robert E. Gunn, M.D., Dean of the United States Medical College in New York, summarizes the rise and fall of inoculationfrom the initial zeal for it and its cultural acceptance, to its eventual discrediting and criminalization:
Its advocates claimed that the ravages of small-pox were thus greatly diminished, and the profession and public, alike, worked zealously to promulgate the practice. After vaccination was introduced, it was ascertained that inoculation added greatly to the number of small-pox cases, and that the mortality was not diminished, but rather increased. Stringent laws were then passed, in different countries, making the practice of inoculation a crime.[18]
Despite this, some still propagate the myth that smallpox inoculation was a benefit to society; maybe because it is "the forerunner and parent of vaccination,"[19] which is currently entrenched in our thinking as "safe and effective." 

Perhaps we can say that through the acceptance of the practice of inoculationwhich was conceived in pagan superstition and perpetuated by ignorancethe notion of injecting others with harmful substances for the sake of the greater good became entrenched in American cultureand perhaps, too, it was when Americans gradually become hardened and desensitized to such practicespaving the way for the cultural acceptance of a much greater plaguevaccines.


[1] James Martin Peebles, Vaccination a Curse and a Menace to Personal Liberty: With Statistics Showing Its Dangers and Criminality (Los Angeles, CA: Peebles Publishing Company, 1913), 14. Peebles points to another superstitious inoculation practice closer to his own day: 
Mr. Porter, who was English ambassador at Constantinople in 1755, informs us, (Gentleman's Magazine, for October of that year): "It is the tradition and opinion of the inhabitants of the country that a certain angel presides over this disease. That it is to bespeak his favor and evince their confidence that the Georgians take a small portion of variolous matter, and, by means of scarification, introduce it between the thumb and the forefinger of a sound person. The operation is supposed to never miss its effect. To secure beyond all uncertainty the good will of the angel, they hang up scarlet cloths about the bed, that being the favorite colour of the Celestial inhabitants they wish to propitiate." Ibid., 14, 15.
[2] William H. York, Health and Wellness in Antiquity Through the Middle Ages (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012), 105, 106.
[3] Patricia Cline Cohen, A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America (New York, NY: Routledge, 1999), 96.
[4] National Humanities Center, The Paper War over Smallpox Vaccination in Boston, 1721, Selections., 1. Retrieved February 28, 2015 from
[5] Rebecca Jo Tannenbaum, Health and Wellness in Colonial America (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012), 95.
[6] John Williams, An answer to a late pamphlet, intitled, A letter to a friend in the country, attempting a solution of the scruples and objections of a consciencious or religious nature, commonly made against the new way of receiving the small pox (Boston, MA: J. Franklin, 1722).
[7] John Williams, Several arguments proving, that inoculating the small pox is not contained in the law of physick, either natural or divine, and therefore unlawful: together with a reply to two short pieces, one by the Rev. Dr. Increase Mather, and another by an anonymous author, entitled, Sentiments on the small pox inoculated ; and also, a short answer to a late letter in the New England Courant. (Boston, MA: J. Franklin, 1721), 3, 4. 
[8] Dr. William Douglass, The New-England Courant, August 14-21, 1721. Cited in National Humanities Center, The Paper War over Smallpox Vaccination in Boston, 1721, 3.
[9] William Douglass, Inoculation of the Small Pox as Practised in Boston, Consider'd in a Letter to A-S-- M.D. & F.R.S. in London (Boston, MA: J. Franklin, 1722), 12.
[10] Frank Scammony, The New-England Courant, August 21-28, 1721. Cited in National Humanities Center, The Paper War over Smallpox Vaccination in Boston, 1721, 4. 
[11] "First Introduction of the Various Inoculation.," in Sylvanus Urba, The Gentleman's Magazine: and Historical Chronicle., Volume 73, Part 1 (London: Nichols and Son, 1803), 520. 
[12] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards: With Valuable Additions and a Copious General Index, and a Complete Index of Scripture Texts, Volume 1 (NY: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1879), 51.
[13] Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001). (Google preview version: no page number given). Retrieved March 16, 2015, from
[14] Duncan Neuhauser, and Lee Slavin, "The Self-Evidence of Benjamin Franklin," in Mark A. Best, Duncan Neuhauser, and Lee Slavin, Benjamin Franklin: Verification and Validation of the Scientific Process in Healthcare As Demonstrated by the Report of the Royal Commission on Animal Magnetism & Mesmerism (Trafford Publishing, 2003), 76.
[15] Tannenbaum, Health and Wellness in Colonial America, 96.
[16] Karen Walloch, "A Hot Bed of the Anti-vaccine Heresey": Opposition to Compulsory Vaccination in Boston and Cambridge, 1890-1905 (Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, 2008), 25, 26.
[17] Cited in Peebles, Vaccination a Curse and a Menace to Personal Liberty, 18.
[18] Robert E. Gunn, Vaccination: Its Fallacies and Evils (New York: Nickles Publishing Company, 1882), 5. In the 1800s, Dr. Peebles wrote:
After the fruitless trial of nearly a century, it was discovered that in occulation was sowing the seeds of a long train of diseases, in their most fatal form, communicating infectious complaints from one person to another—cancer, scrofula, consumption, and other more loathsome diseases were spreading to an alarming extent. It was seen and confessed by hundreds of physicians that the net result of this practice was a multiplication of ailments and an enormous increase in the total mortality. Dr. Winterburn, of Philadelphia, writes,—"The Value of Vaccination," page 18:—
"From the most trustworthy sources, however, it is evident that just as now we have epidemics of measles, and other of the zymoses, varying greatly in intensity and fatality, so in the pre-inoculation period there were epidemics of small-pox of great fatality and others of very moderate intensity. But after the introduction of inoculation, the ravages of small-pox increased, not only directly as the result of inoculation, but each new case became, as it were, a centre of disease, from it spreading in every direction, often with great virulence. It spread small-pox just as the natural disease did. It could be propagated anywhere by sending in a letter a bit of cotton thread dipped in the variolous lymph. In this way, not only the number of cases, but, also, the general mortality was very greatly increased. But so hard is it to alter the ideas of a people after they have crystallized into habit, that although it was evident that epidemics of small-pox often started from an inoculated case; and although the most strenuous efforts were made to supersede it by vaccination, inoculation continued to flourish for nearly a century and a half. It was found necessary in 1840 to make inoculation in England, a penal offense, in order to put an end to its use. Even that has not prevented its secret practice by the lower orders, where ideas die hardest, and the rite is even now probably more than occasionally performed." Peebles, Vaccination a Curse and a Menace to Personal Liberty, 16, 17.
[19] Peebles, Vaccination a Curse and a Menace to Personal Liberty, 14.


MrsHepp said...

Most excellent. Thank you for your research. This is a needed topic, and one that is virtually never addressed by America's pulpits. Unless you believe in the "myth of neutrality," every choice you make for yourself and your family is either pleasing to the Lord or displeasing. After years of intense research, we wholeheartedly believe that vaccination of any kind is displeasing to the Lord and a violation of the 6th commandment (among other laws). Eagerly anticipating the rest of this series! Keep up the good work, brother.

CoramDeo said...

Stephen, This is excellent... Well done.. I am glad to see someone cover the theological and historical issues related to vaccines, etc.. Can't wait for Part 2. -Michael Daniels

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Thanks, Mrs. Hepp, for the encouraging words. I wholeheartedly agree that vaccines violate the 6th commandment - we cannot do evil that good may come. It seems many Christians have embraced pragmatism in this matter. I plan to touch on that more later.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Hi Michael,
Thanks for the kind words -- good to hear from you again!

Eric B said...

Thank you so much for covering this... I look forward to the rest of your articles on vaccines. I have read on the dangers of vaccines recently due to our young child's pediatrician visits. The more I research it, the more skeptical I have become that this practice is in line with God's Law.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Eric B.,
Thanks - and I know what you mean; the more I research for this series, the worse I find vaccines to be.