Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Perkins, 3 August 1752

From John Perkins

ALS: American Philosophical Society7

Boston Augt. 3d. 1752


This comes to you on account of Dr. Douglass.8 He desired me to write to you for what you know of the Number that died of the Inoculation in Philadelphia telling me he design’d to write something on the Small-pox shortly. We shall both be oblig’d to you for a word on this Affair.

The chief Particulars of our Visitation you have in the public prints.9 But the less degree of Mortality than usual in the common way of Infection seems chiefly owing to the purging Method design’d to prevent the secondary Fever A Method first begun and carry’d on in this Town And with Success beyond Expectation. We lost one in 111/6 but had we been experienced in this way at the first coming of the Distemper probably the proportion had been but one in 13 or 14. In the Year 1730 we lost 1 in 9 which is more favourable than ever before with us. The Distemper pretty much the same then as now but some Circumstances not so kind this Time.

If there be any particulars which you want please to Signifie what, and I shall send them.

The Number of our Inhabitants decreases.1 On a Strict Inquirie the Overseers of the Poor find but 14,190 Whites and 1,544 Blacks including those Absent on account of the Small pox many of whome ’tis probable will never return.

I pass this Oportunity without any particulars of my old Theme: I believe I have sufficiently tired you and indeed am almost aground for want of Matter.2 One Thing however I must mention which is that perhaps my last Letters contain’d something that seem’d to militate with your Doctrine of the Origins &c. But my design was only to relate the Phenomena as they appear’d to me. I have receiv’d so much Light and pleasure from your Writings as to prejudice me in Favour of every Thing from your Hand and leave me only Liberty to Observe and a power of dissenting when some great probability might oblige me: And if at any Time that be the Case you will certainly hear of it. I am Sir Your much obliged Humble Servant

John Perkins

Addressed: For  Mr. Franklin Post-Master  In Philadelphia

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Letter XVI in Exper. and Obser., 1769 and 1774 editions.

8William Douglass (c. 1691–1752), Scottish-born physician of Boston, strongly opposed inoculation for smallpox in 1721, but changed his mind and endorsed it, 1751, as “a very considerable and most beneficial improvement.” DAB.

9The 1752 epidemic was especially severe. Rev. Thomas Prince reported that of a total population of 15,684, smallpox seized 5545 and 569 died; the number inoculated was 2124. John Duffy, Epidemics in Colonial America (Baton Rouge, La., 1953), pp. 57–61. These figures are close to those given by William Douglass, who reported that of 2109 inoculated, not more than 34 died. A Summary Historical and Political, of the … British Settlements in North-America (London, 1760), II, 414.

1Footnote in Exper. and Obser., 1769 edition: “Boston is an old town, and was formerly the seat of all the trade of the country, that was carried on by sea. New towns, and ports, have, of late, divided the trade with it, and diminished its inhabitants, though the inhabitants of the country, in general, have greatly increased.”

2This sentence omitted from printed editions.

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