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Funding provided by:
Beyond the 13: The American Revolutionary Era Outside the Emerging United States

Slavery and Smallpox Inoculation

In partnership with:
With support from: Lowell Institute
Date and time
Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The African Atlantic history of smallpox inoculation is a rich, yet oft-overlooked story. This lecture contextualizes the more familiar history of Onesimus and Cotton Mather in early eighteenth-century Boston within the broader history of Africans performing smallpox inoculations in West Africa, Jamaica, and Saint Domingue (Haiti) in the Revolutionary Era of the late eighteenth century.

Elise A. Mitchell is a historian of the early modern Black Atlantic and currently a Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the History Department at Princeton University. Broadly, her work examines the social and cultural histories of slavery, the body, medicine and healing, disease, race, and gender in the early modern Atlantic World. She is currently working on a book about enslaved Africans who contended with smallpox epidemics, municipal health regulations, and compulsory medical treatments during and after their transatlantic journeys to the Caribbean region. The book transcends and troubles imperial boundaries to examine the interconnected histories of enslaved African’s social lives, disease, and medicine in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and British territories between roughly 1500 and 1800. Mitchell is also developing a digital history project based on her research database of over 300 smallpox outbreaks. Mitchell’s publications include a chapter in the edited volume Medicine and Healing in the Age of Slavery and forthcoming articles in The William and Mary Quarterly and The Journal of the Early Republic. Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic: Ideas and Black Perspectives. She has also co-authored publications about the history of race and medicine. Mitchell completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and earned her Ph.D. at New York University. She has received fellowships from Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Huntington Library, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.