Thomas Jefferson Papers

William H. Hening’s Prospectus for a Vaccine Dispensary, 24 July 1822

William H. Hening’s Prospectus for a Vaccine Dispensary





to establish by subscription,


for the benefit of the people of virginia.

The necessity of preserving a constant supply of the pure Vaccine infection, is deemed of such high importance, that in almost every part of Europe, Vaccine institutions have been created and protected by almost every government. In our own country, laws creating similar institutions have been enacted; viz. the act of Congress entitled “An act, to encourage Vaccination,” and the act of the Legislature of this state, creating the “office of Vaccine agent.” It is deemed scarcely necessary to advert to the causes which led to the repeal of these very salutary laws: they must be known to all who have taken any interest in the subject. It is sufficient to say, that it was not produced from a loss of confidence in the prophylactic powers of Vaccination, but principally from a belief, that, if repealed, that kind of monopoly which their existence was believed to create, would be destroyed; and consequently it would be left to the exertions of individuals, and the object desired would be with more certainty attained. Whether these expectations are to be realized or not, remains to be seen. To the man of research, whether of the medical profession or not, it is scarcely necessary to say any thing relating to the present received opinions of the efficacy of Vaccination, in exterminating the Small Pox. It still continues with rapid strides to extend its blessings to the world, prostrating in its course every obstacle which ignorance, prejudice or superstition itself, had reared against it. In one of the reports of a foreign Vaccine establishment, it is said, that of 2,671,662 persons properly Vaccinated,1 and subsequently exposed to the contagion of Small Pox, only Seven took that disease. All the annual reports of Great Britain, unite in saying, that Small Pox does not occur after Vaccination, in a greater proportion than Small Pox again occurs in the same person after having once received it, either by innoculation, or in the natural way. And even admitting that Small Pox would in every instance follow Vaccination, still it would remain of the utmost consequence to continue its use, in as much, as the malignancy of Small Pox would be destroyed, and the disease in every instance rendered mild, and unattended with danger.

I have been lately very warmly solicited by gentlemen of standing in different parts of this state, to establish by subscription, a Vaccine institution. The attempt is now made, fondly believing, that I shall meet with that degree of encouragement which the importance of an institution of the kind demands. If that support is afforded, the people of this state will have it in their power to derive every benefit from this important discovery, on terms which all must say are reasonable; and that from an establishment of their own creation, and conducted by one of their own citizens. From the nature of things, Vaccination must be almost exclusively confined to the medical profession. It is to gentlemen of that profession, therefore, that I more particularly address myself; and it is from them, that I expect to derive the most effectual aid; all other persons, both in this and the adjoining states, who feel an interest in the formation of such an establishment, are invited to subscribe.

The practicability of supplying every applicant, with the genuine Vaccine infection, from an institution located in this city, was most clearly evinced while I held the appointment of Vaccine agent for this state. The Vaccine Virus was distributed to 62 counties, and in many instances to 6 or more individuals in the same county. Since the repeal of the law creating that office, I have kept up a constant supply of pure Vaccine Virus, and have most freely supplied all who have applied for it, both in this and other states, without any compensation.

I propose to furnish it hereafter on the following conditions:

1. Five dollars paid in advance, will entitle every subscriber to be supplied with the genuine Vaccine matter as often as is desired for five years.

2. Ten dollars paid in advance, for life.

I am disposed to appoint an agent in every county; any gentleman who will take upon himself the trouble of obtaining not less than five subscribers, and sending me their names and place of residence with the amount subscribed, shall be entitled to the benefits of the institution without any charge.

☞Editors of newspapers in this and adjoining states, by giving this a few insertions in their respective papers, will be entitled to the benefits of the proposed establishment without any charge.


Broadside (DLC); with one correction in Hening’s hand; addressed by Hening: “Thomas Jefferson, Esqr Monticello Albemarle”; franked; postmarked Richmond, 12 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Aug. 1822 and so recorded (with additional notation: “postmark Richmd”) in SJL. Printed in Richmond Enquirer, 26 July 1822, and elsewhere.

William Henry Hening (ca. 1791–1848), physician and eldest son of TJ’s correspondent William W. Hening, was born in Albemarle County and as a child there received smallpox vaccination thanks to TJ. He earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1814 with a thesis on “Arsenic.” Hening was a surgeon’s mate in the 4th Rifle Regiment of the United States Army, 1814–16. After his resignation he spent the summer of 1816 as a surgeon on an army expedition to Wisconsin, and later that year he moved to Richmond and established a medical practice. From 1818 to 1821 Hening held the office of vaccine agent for Virginia. In the autumn of 1825 he moved permanently to nearby Powhatan County, where he continued as a physician, vigorously supported the Whig party, and cultivated a farm, garden, and fruit orchard. Hening owned three slaves in 1830 and eight a decade later (Lennoe S. Drew, The Shropshires and Allied Families [1948], 177–8; Hening to TJ, 27 Sept. 1824; University of Pennsylvania Medical Graduates description begins Catalogue of the Medical Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, 1836 description ends , 32; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, repr. 1994, 2 vols. description ends , 1:523; Richmond Enquirer, 5 Oct. 1816, 30 May 1848; Hening to James E. Heath, 13 Jan. 1818 [Vi: RG 3, Governor’s Office, Executive Papers]; The Richmond Directory, Register and Almanac, for the Year 1819 [Richmond, 1819], 50; Alexandria Herald, 3 Mar. 1820; Marion Harland’s Autobiography: The Story of a Long Life [1910], 135–6; DNA: RG 29, CS, Powhatan Co., 1830, 1840).

The act of congress, “An Act to encourage Vaccination,” became law on 27 Feb. 1813 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 2:806–7). The Virginia office of vaccine agent was created under a 4 Feb. 1814 “Act for the free distribution of genuine Vaccine Matter for the use of the Citizens of this Commonwealth” and abolished legislatively on 6 Mar. 1821 (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1813–14 sess.], 43–4; [1820–21 sess.], 11). The French vaccine establishment had reported nearly a decade earlier that only 7 out of the 2,671,662 individuals “properly vaccinated” in that country had contracted smallpox (European Magazine, and London Review 63 [1813]: 510).

1Remainder of sentence reworked by Hening from “only seven subsequently exposed to the contagion of Small Pox, took that disease.”

Index Entries

  • An Act to encourage Vaccination (1813) search
  • France; and smallpox vaccination search
  • Great Britain; and smallpox vaccination search
  • health; smallpox vaccination search
  • Hening, William Henry; identified search
  • Hening, William Henry; Prospectus for a Vaccine Dispensary search
  • medicine; smallpox vaccination search
  • smallpox; vaccinations search
  • subscriptions, nonpublication; for proposed Va. vaccine dispensary search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; vaccine agent for search