Your Undertaking Promises Very Fair to be Beneficial to Mankind

in by Warren

“Boston September 21, 1773


Doctor Young yesterday introduced Doctor Randall to me as a Gentleman and Physician of Reputation, and at his Request I enetered upon a conversation concerning medical Matters in general, and more particularly upon the Manner of treating the small Pox, when communicated in the natural way or by Inoculation—

And I am fully convinced of his Ability to discharge the duty of a Physician to an inoculating Hospital with Honor to himself and safety to those who may commit themselves to his Care–  I am well pleased with his Knowledge in the Theory and with the useful Observations he has made in the Practice of Physic especially in that Design which is to be the particular Object of his Attention–  I wish Prosperity to your Undertaking which I know is designed and think promises very fair to be beneficial to Mankind—

I am Sir with great Respect

Yr Friend & Humble Servant

Joseph Warren

Mr Elbridge Gerry


Per Frans Randall”

Source: Ferdinand J. Dreer Autograph Collection, Vol 53:2, Soldiers of the Revolution V, pages 99-101. Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Commentary: Elbridge Gerry, then involved with sponsoring an inoculation facility in Marblehead, deferred to Joseph Warren to certify the knowledge of a Dr. Randall to be the hospital’s inoculator and physician in residence. Dr. Thomas Young notably recommends Dr. Randall, but defers to Joseph Warren relative to Randall’s knowledge and competence to handle the smallpox. In 1767 Dr Warren had accused Thomas Young of being an itinerant quack, but by the early 1770s they had worked together treating a seriously wounded British sailor and as fellow Patriot activists and founding members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence.

This letter, though archived in an autograph collection, contains biographic information of interest concerning the named individuals.

Dr. Thomas Young continued his radical politics. He served as a Continental Army physician and died on active duty in 1777.

Elbridge Gerry went on to a distinguished career as a politician and diplomat. He was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He declined to sign the U.S. Constitution as it did not at the time include a Bill of Rights.

As of this writing I am unaware of the subsequent career of Dr. Randall.  J.L. Bell points out that Randall’s earlier career was checkered, and included an escape from a New Jersey jail in 1766. In September 1772 he also was associated with a smallpox inoculation hospital proposed for Dartmouth, MA.

The Marblehead smallpox hospital opened in October of 1773, but controversy soon followed. By the following February, it had been burned to the ground and became the subject of riotous behavior. At one point Col. Glover set up a loaded artillery field piece in his doorway to deter rioters. The controversy was politically tinged, with Loyalists among protestors and leading Patriots the hospital’s supporters. The entire Marblehead Committee of Correspondence resigned en mass in reaction to the hospital’s burning. At the prompting of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, Marblehead Patriots resumed their roles just in time to face challenges associated with the Boston Port Bill. [A good account of the Marblehead smallpox inoculation hospital can be found in the Essex Institute Bulletin, Vol. XII, pp. 148-165. Dr. Randall’s participation is on p. 153]. A modern scholar has recently shed light on this episode and its implications for class and politics: Wehrman, Andrew:The Siege of “Castle Pox”: A Medical Revolution in Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1764–1777, New England Quarterly, September 2009, Vol. 82, No. 3, Pages 385-429.

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