Onesimus: Smallpox Savior

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Onesimus (real name unknown) was an African-born man who was integral in mitigating the impact of a smallpox outbreak in Boston in 1721. Enslaved and given to Puritan minister Cotton Mather in 1706, he used his knowledge of African medicine to introduce Mather to the principle and procedure of inoculation. Mather then used this knowledge to advocate for inoculation in the population, a practice that eventually spread to other colonies. Onesimus’ knowledge helped to save countless lives, and in a 2016 Boston Magazine survey, he was declared one of the “Best Bostonians of All Time”. We are forever grateful to Onesimus, whose real name we do not know, for his exceptional contribution to the field of medicine.

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