Despite his skepticism of many medical treatments, Jefferson was an early advocate of smallpox inoculation. Smallpox epidemics caused many deaths in the American colonies. However, in 1766 at age twenty-three, Jefferson made a special visit to Philadelphia in order to be inoculated for smallpox. In later years, he would have his daughters, grandchildren, and slaves inoculated as well.
In later years, Jefferson penned a note to Dr. Edward Jenner, who developed the small pox vaccine.
Letter from Jefferson To Dr. Edward Jenner,Monticello, May 14, 1806
SIR, — I have received a copy of the evidence at large respecting the discovery of the vaccine inoculation which you have been pleased to send me, and for which I return you my thanks. Having been among the early converts, in this part of the globe, to its efficiency, I took an early part in recommending it to my countrymen. I avail myself of this occasion of rendering you a portion of the tribute of gratitude due to you from the whole human family. Medicine has never before produced any single improvement of such utility. Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood was a beautiful addition to our knowledge of the animal economy, but on a review of the practice of medicine before and since that epoch, I do not see any great amelioration which has been derived from that discovery. You have erased from the calendar of human afflictions one of its greatest. Yours is the comfortable reflection that mankind can never forget that you have lived. Future nations will know by history only that the loathsome small-pox has existed and by you has been extirpated.
Accept my fervent wishes for your health and happiness and assurances of the greatest respect and consideration.
Tomorrow: Jefferson on Guns Rita Bay