Zabdiel Boylston

Zabdiel Boylston

Boylston, Zabdiel, 1679-1766, American physician, b. Brookline, Mass. He was privately educated in medicine and settled in Boston. In an epidemic of smallpox in 1721 he was persuaded by Cotton Mather to inoculate, thus introducing the practice to the United States. Beginning with his son and two slaves, he inoculated over 240 persons, all but six of whom survived. Public sentiment, however, was against the experiment, and the lives of both Boylston and Mather were threatened. In 1724, Boylston visited England, and his Historical Account of the Small-Pox Inoculated in New England was published there in 1726.
Zabdiel Boylston (born 1676 or 1679 in Brookline, Massachusetts; died 1766) was a medical doctor. He apprenticed with his father, an English surgeon named Thomas Boylston. He also studied under the Boston physician Dr. Cutter, never attending a formal medical school (the first medical school in North America was not founded until 1765).

Boylston is known for holding several "firsts" for an American-born physician: He performed the first surgical operation by an American physician, the first removal of gall bladder stones in 1710, and was the first to remove a breast tumor in 1718.

He was a great uncle of President John Adams.


During a smallpox outbreak in 1721 in Boston, he inoculated about 180 people by applying pus from a smallpox sore to a small wound on the subjects, a method said to have been previously used in Africa. Initially, he used the method on two slaves and his own son. This was the first introduction of inoculations to the United States. An African slave named Onesimus taught the idea to Cotton Mather, the influential New England Puritan minister.

His method was initially met by hostility and outright violence from some religious groups and most other physicians, and he was arrested for a short period of time for it (he was later released with the promise not to inoculate without government permission). In 1724, Boylston traveled to London, where he published his results as Historical Account of the Small-Pox Inoculated in New England, and became a fellow of the Royal Society two years later. Afterward, he returned to Boston.


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