Onesimus told Mather that he had been inoculated against smallpox in Africa and explained the process. Pus from an infected patient was rubbed into a cut on a healthy person’s arm. This deliberate infection, now known as variolation, resulted in immunity. Mather researched the therapy and discovered that it had also been used in Turkey and China. With the zeal of an evangelical Christian, he tried to get the medical establishment to test the cure.
In 1706, the congregation of a Puritan church in Boston bought an African as a present for their pastor, Cotton Mather. You might think that an upstanding man of the cloth would have rejected that inhumane gift. He did not. Christian piety is totally compatible with exploitation of presumably inferior creatures. Mather promptly branded the African with a Biblical name, Onesimus. Perhaps, he was benevolently predicting Onesimus’ destiny. The biblical character ran away from slavery. The real-life Onesimus eventually bought himself out of slavery. True-true redemption!
The city of Boston had suffered from waves of smallpox infection in 1677, 1689-90 and 1702. Ships were quarantined and afflicted citizens were isolated in ‘pesthouses’ or held under guard. Perhaps we should have used these primitive methods on all of those potential spreaders of COVID-19 from abroad who irresponsibly violated quarantine orders. Cell-phone tracking was clearly inadequate. The honour system simply does not…
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