Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Vaughan to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 23 June 1819

Benjamin Vaughan to Martha Jefferson Randolph

Hallowell, June 23, 1819.

Dear madam,

I presume to send you the inclosed, the writer of which seems to wish to put the religious party1 on his side.—A new attack has been made on vaccination by a certain Dr Brown in Scotland; but the sum total of it is, want of candor in argument, & the use of spurious kine pox in practice. Dr Jenner, Dr J. R Coxe, & all of us who use genuine matter, have seen nothing like2 constant crops of pustules. I know no failure in resisting the small pox, where the genuine matter has been employed; & the genuine matter is without pustules, generally speaking, unless at the puncture.

The packet of Swedish turnip seed was sent, as desired; with a letter from my eldest son Wm Oliver Vaughan.

My youngest son sailed for England on the 16th May from Charleston; having been detained so long by various circumstances, that in England they have thought him lost or at least missing.

I trust that the health3 of Mr Jefferson is re-established; and that he is able fully to resume his exercise.—The Edinburgh Review for Octr, 1806, has a Review of Dr Priestley’s memoirs, which contains an account of the peculiarity of his memory, from varied occupations, well known to others also, & particularly to myself. I wish Mr Jefferson to re-peruse it. I can assure him, that I have at one time in my life so forgotten4 quadratic equations, as to be delighted with the contrivance, when I accidentally met with an example of it. I had even forgotten the difference between arithmetical & geometrical proportionals. The most ordinary facts in architecture, in painting, in morals, &c, had alike escaped me.—It was necessary, & is still so, to get into my old trains again; & all becomes right.—But I do not therefore set myself down as defective in memory; but only as unable to have every thing present at one & the same time. Certain memories hold a given quantity at a time, & no more: and we discover this more & more, as we advance in years.

I have but just received my books from Philadelphia; and with them, Cabanis on Catarrh. It shall be returned in due season, with thanks—

We are to be separated, it seems, from Massachusetts; and I think the old State is full as anxious to get rid of us, as we are to set up for ourselves. Our people had seemed to forget that they had any governors over them, till certain persons reminded them of it; the government at Washington alone being really interesting to most of those who are careless about office.—The old bird however is well satisfied to peck us off.

Professor Cleaveland has confirmed my opinion, that the cases of discolored plaster in buildings are owing to iron in the lime mixed with the gypsum. He told me, when discoursing on the subject, that he had just received 2 or 3 hhds of lime warm from the kiln, with an evident mixture of iron in them. This becomes therefore a matter of serious examination, when public buildings are to be stuccoed, without or within. Stucco is the most commodious representative of stone that we can employ: being so cheap, so easily divisible for carriage, so easily fashioned, so thin in its coat, so susceptible of different colors & surfaces, & so easily repaired when injured. In the case of pillars, we need no joints: and in the interior of the Unitarian church at Baltimore, we find it capable of receiving a beautiful polish; while those without, bear incrustations.

I hope, my dear madam, when you recollect how averse Mr Jefferson is to receiving letters which he may think that5 he must answer, that you will forgive my putting him at ease on this subject. On the other hand, you will not suppose that I can flatter myself with any expectation of hearing from you on the subjects of vaccination, agriculture; or architecture; though I acknowledge that it would give me a sensible gratification to hear from any good authority, that Mr Jefferson had recovered his usual state of health. When I returned from Monticello, I was much mortified to hear false accounts of it; though I had the pleasure of being able to place things upon their true footing, in consequence of what I had seen.

I beg my respectful remembrances to Mr Jefferson, as also to the young ladies.

I have the honor to be, with high respect, Dear madam, Your faithful humble servt

Benjn Vaughan

RC (MHi); addressed: “Mrs Randolph, at the Honble Thomas Jefferson’s, Monticello, Va”; endorsed by TJ, in part, as a letter from “Vaughan Benj. to Mrs Randolph.”

Thomas brown, a surgeon in Musselburgh, Scotland, contended in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 15 (1819): 63–90, that the immunity from smallpox conferred by vaccination (or cowpox inoculation) was “feeble, partial, and temporary” (p. 74) and did not match the immunity resulting from the disease itself or the old method of inoculation with extracts from pustules of infected individuals. Moreover, Brown argued that cowpox inoculation had triggered the latest, much-debated pox outbreaks in vaccinated populations, chiefly in Scotland. He believed them to be cases of smallpox because, in his experience, they produced pustules that not only looked but behaved like those of smallpox in that they developed over the course of several days, dried out, and reappeared as “a second crop of pustules” (p. 82). Vaughan and many other physicians continued to defend cowpox inoculation as the only genuine and safe immunization method. They thought that the recent outbreaks were not of smallpox but rather of other infections transmitted by spurious (that is, ill-prepared or adulterated) vaccines. On this day the Hallowell Gazette printed an anonymous essay “On Vaccination,” likely penned by Vaughan and possibly the item enclosed in the above letter, strongly recommending the vaccine “which was introduced by Dr. Jenner; and not that spurious disease lately propagated by some, particularly in Scotland, which yields numerous pustules (or pocks;) and is attended with severe symptoms; without (as is pretended) giving security against the small pox beyond a limited period.”

a review of the Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the year 1795, written by himself: with a continuation, to the time of his decease, by his son, Joseph Priestley (London, 1805), included an “extraordinary account of the occasional failure of his memory,” in which Priestley recounted having occasionally forgotten his own publications and experiments, once even conducting the same research and writing a digest of his findings on two separate occasions (Edinburgh Review 9 [1806]: 146).

On this day the Hallowell Gazette reported that both houses of the Massachusetts legislature had passed a bill allowing Maine to become separated as its own state, with a popular vote on separation to take place on 26 July 1819.

1Word interlined.

2Reworked from “have no.”

3Manuscript: “healtth.”

4Manuscript: “forgothen.”

5Preceding four words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Baltimore, Md.; First Independent Church search
  • Brown, Thomas (surgeon) search
  • building materials; lime (mineral) search
  • building materials; plaster search
  • building materials; stucco search
  • Cabanis, Pierre Jean Georges; Observations sur les Affections Catarrhales search
  • Cleaveland, Parker; and gypsum search
  • Coxe, John Redman; and vaccination search
  • crops; rutabagas search
  • Edinburgh Review; and review of J. Priestley’sMemoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the year 1795, written by himself search
  • exercise, physical; and health search
  • First Independent Church (Baltimore) search
  • gypsum (plaster of paris); discoloration of search
  • health; and exercise search
  • health; catarrh search
  • health; memory loss search
  • health; smallpox vaccination search
  • iron; and discoloration of gypsum search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books and Library; loans books search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books and Library; works sent to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; fatiguing or painful to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; good health of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; memory loss search
  • Jenner, Edward search
  • lime (mineral); as building material search
  • Maine; and statehood search
  • Massachusetts; and Maine statehood search
  • Massachusetts; legislature of search
  • mathematics; algebra search
  • mathematics; geometry search
  • medicine; smallpox vaccination search
  • Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the year 1795, written by himself (J. Priestley) search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Vaughan, Benjamin search
  • Observations sur les Affections Catarrhales (P. J. G. Cabanis) search
  • Priestley, Joseph; Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the year 1795, written by himself search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); and TJ’s health search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); children of search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); letter to, from B. Vaughan search
  • rutabagas (Swedish turnips) search
  • seeds; rutabaga search
  • seeds; sent to TJ search
  • smallpox; vaccinations search
  • stucco search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and gypsum search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and Maine statehood search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and rutabagas search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and smallpox vaccination search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and TJ’s health search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; borrows book from TJ search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; family of search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; letter from, to M. J. Randolph search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; visits Monticello search
  • Vaughan, Petty; travels of search
  • Vaughan, William Oliver; and rutabagas search
  • women; letters to; M. J. Randolph from B. Vaughan search