J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

“Very much pleas’d with thoughts of having the Small pox”

Last week while I was at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I continued perusing of the third volume of The Papers of Robert Treat Paine, which the society published in 2005. Here’s a bit from a letter that Sally Paine sent to her husband from Taunton on 18 Aug 1776, while he was away at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia:

You desire’d me to write what my destines ware about the Small pox. Our Justices are to meet this week to determine Where the Hospital Shall be

if it Should be in a pleasant place & the docter think proper for me to have it I Shall go & three of the Children. I Should not think of having it ware it not for the Children but I Chuse to be with them. . . .

Bobe [i.e., Bobby] & Sally Send duty & are very much pleas’d with thoughts of having the Small pox & Tommy promises to be very good if he may goe.
I had to read that over two or three times to be sure. The Paines were discussing smallpox inoculation, of course, but at the time the treatment really did involve deliberately contracting the disease and hoping it was a mild case, not causing permanent disfigurement or death. But I guess the kids thought that would be exciting. Bobby Paine was born in 1770, Sally in 1772, and Tommy in 1773. All lived to adulthood.

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