Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Waterhouse, 1 December 1800

From Benjamin Waterhouse

Cambridge Massts. Decr. 1st. 1800


Having long regarded Mr. Jefferson as one of our most distinguished patriots & philosophers, I conceived that a work which had for it’s end the good of the community, would not be unexceptable to him.—Under that impression I have here sent him “A prospect of Exterminating the small-pox,” and am with the utmost consideration and respect

his very humble servt.

Benjn. Waterhouse

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Honbl. Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 24 Dec. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Benjamin Waterhouse, A Prospect of Exterminating the Small-Pox; Being the History of the Variolœ Vaccinœ, or Kine-Pox, Commonly Called the Cow-Pox (Cambridge, Mass., 1800); Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 945.

Benjamin Waterhouse (1754–1846) was professor of medicine at Harvard, the first incumbent of that position. In 1799 he learned of Edward Jenner’s use of cowpox vaccine in England to protect humans against smallpox. Waterhouse, who began to administer the new vaccine in the United States during the summer of 1800, became a great advocate of the method, with TJ as a prime facilitator. TJ had the vaccine given to members of his Virginia household, encouraged wide use of the technique, and suggested means of protecting the vaccine during shipment. In 1807 TJ appointed Waterhouse chief physician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a position that the doctor lost in 1809, as he later did his position at Harvard, in part due to feuds with rivals in the medical community. Waterhouse, whom the American Philosophical Society elected to membership in 1791, also lectured on natural history and helped to build Harvard’s collections of scientific specimens. In TJ’s papers at DLC are two printed items associated with Waterhouse, a description of the “Cabinet of Ores and other Minerals, in the University of Cambridge, in New-England,” dated 17 May 1796, and “Heads Of a Course of Lectures, Intended as an Introduction to Natural History,” without date (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Silvio A. Bedini, Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science [New York, 1990], 310–14; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 195).

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