Provided by Kieran O’Keefe:
The spread of infectious disease was always a concern in early Newburgh. This letter was written by James Clinton to his brother George Clinton in 1778. George was then the governor of New York and later became Vice President under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
A man named Birdsall fell sick with smallpox in Newburgh, causing many in the community to panic. A few began to inoculate their families. Inoculation involved intentionally infecting a healthy person with a mild form of smallpox, which was unlikely to kill them and would give them immunity to the disease the remainder of their life. But as you can see in this letter, inoculation was controversial, with many believing it was reckless and dangerous to purposely infect people with such a deadly disease.
“Feb’y 26th 1778
D’r Brother, I think it proper to Inform you that one Birdsall who was taken prisoner and brought to Poughkeepsie goal, but had Liberty to Come to New Burgh to his Brothers, some way other has got the small pox upon which Isaac Bellknaps and two other families Innoculated in that Neighbourhood, near the Dock, a Little to the South’d of the Continental ferry; as soon as I heard of it I Endeavored to prevent it, but I Understand their Committee has Consented to it though they have Promised to not suffer any more to be Innoculated in Newburgh town or near it where’ the troops might be Exposed, but I am Informed they have not Complyed with that promise. Doct’r Igby is the person who Innoculates and I am Just Informed that Mr. Ellison’s family Is going to Innoculate which would Occasion all the Inhabitants in New Windsor to Do the same, though I am Determined to prevent it till your pleasure is known; if I Should be Oblidged to Confine the Doct’r I need not tell you the Damage it will to the Publick both on the acc’t of the ferry and the work that is going on at New Windsor. I wait Impatiently to have your Oppinion or orders about the afair. I am Yours James Clinton.”
Public Papers of George Clinton, volume II, page 808.