A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Keeping Smallpox Out of R.I., 1729.

The well-documented smallpox epidemic in Boston in 1721, with its ensuing inoculation controversy, was by no means the end of the threat to Rhode Islanders. In 1729 they were still on high alert when Governor Joseph Jencks (1656-1740) in Newport sent this letter to Captain Richard Waterman, Esquire (d. 1744), in Providence ordering the measures to be taken to avoid an outbreak in the Rhode Island Colony.

Peck Collection MSS 9005, Vol. 1, p. 30

Peck Collection, MSS 9005, Vol. 1, p. 30, verso

Peck Collection, MSS 9005, Vol. 1, p. 30, verso

Worthy Sir.

These comes to inform you that it being commonly reported here at Newport that the Small Pox increases to that degree in Boston that the Authority there had Left off Removing any, where upon I issued forth a warrant to call the General Council on this Island, & the Town Council of Newport together, in order to consider Some proper Expedient to prevent its coming into this Government if the good pleasure of the most high be Such. And being met, it was Judged most proper that Act of Assembly made in the year 1721, on the Like occasion, Should forth with be put in Execution thro out this Colony, & accordingly it was so Determined, & it was further ordered that the said act should Imediately be printed & copys Sent to the Several Towns within this Colony & to all the taverns along the Roade quite to Boston, that So people might be fully apprised there of. We have ordered meet persons here to gard all the Ferrys belonging to this Island between the two governments with a Strict charge to observe the said act – I there fore thought it my duty to advise that the Assistants & Justices of Providence meet together in order to put said act (which you have by you) in Execution & pray that the good Lord may grant a blessing upon your Endeavours – I am Sir Your friend and Servant J. Jencks. Newport, January the 1st 1729/30.

There is no known copy of the printed act [Alden 12] but a bill under the year 1729 in the Rhode Island State Archives lists an item “To Franklin James for printing of small pox acts. £ 5.0.0”. James Franklin, older brother of Benjamin, had set up Rhode Island’s first printing office in Newport in 1727. His new presence there gave Governor Jencks the power of the press in his own backyard. Previously Rhode Island Colony acts had to be printed in Massachusetts.

~Phoebe Bean, Librarian


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