Unlikely Beginnings of a Friendship

in about Warren

Date: 1800s, referring to 1764

Author: John Adams

“In the Winter of 1764 the Small Pox prevailing in Boston, I went with my Brother into Town and was inocculated under the Direction of Dr. Nathaniel Perkins and Dr. Joseph Warren. This Distemper was very terrible even by Inocculation at that time. My Physicians dreaded it, and prepared me, by a milk Diet and a Course of Mercurial Preparations, till they reduced me very low before they performed the operation. They continued to feed me with Milk and Mercury through the whole Course of it, and salivated me to such a degree, that every tooth in my head became so loose that I believe I could have pulled them all with my Thumb and finger. By such means they conquered the Small Pox, which I had very lightly, but they rendered me incapable <with the Aid of another fever at Amsterdam>* of speaking or eating in my old Age, in short they brought me into the same Situation with my Friend Washington, who attributed his misfortune to cracking of Walnuts in his Youth. I should not have mentioned this, if I had not been reproached with this <personal Defect>* Defect, with so much politeness in the Aurora. Recovered of the Small Pox, I passed the summer of 1764 in Attending Court and pursuing my Studies with a little some Amusement on my little farm <to which I was frequently making Additions>* till the Fall when on the 25th of October 1784 [i.e. 1764] I was married to Miss Smith <a Daughter of the Reverend Mr. William Smith a Minister of Weymouth, Grand daughter of the Honourable John Quincy Esquire of Braintree,>* a Connection which has been the Source of all my felicity in Life. Although a Sense of Duty which forced me away from her and my Children for so many Years has produced all the Griefs of my heart and all that I esteem real Afflictions in Life. The Town of Braintree had chosen me, one of the Select Men, Overseers of the Poor and Assessors, which occasioned much Business, of which I had enough before: but I accepted the Choice and attended diligently to the functions of the Office, in which humble as it was I took a great deal of Pleasure….”

* insertions with a carat, strikethroughs and duplication of ‘Defect’ – all as in the original.

Source: John Adams autobiography, part 1, “John Adams,” through 1776, sheet 9 of 53. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Commentary: Written decades later, John Adams recalls his smallpox inoculation by Drs. Perkins and Warren. He attributes his eventual loss of teeth to the mercury calomel medication administered as part of the inoculation regimen. By comparison, Adams observes that George Washington believed he became edentulous by cracking walnuts by chomping on them in his youth.

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