Smallpox Quarantine in the “Pock House” on Shelter Island, December 1770, Shortened by Inoculation: “… I say how can you hesitate, one moment when your family and country both demand your assistance, to free yourself from one of the greatest scourges…”
William Nicoll, Autograph Letter Signed, December 14, 1770, 2 ¼ pages, written from Islip to Nicoll Havens with recorded observations on the various degrees of disease during a smallpox outbreak, as well as strong advocacy for the practices of inoculation and quarantine. William Nicoll (1702-177_), author of this letter, was the son of the royal patent holder of the same name, who died in 1723. This letter was written and sent just after William Nicoll’s release from quarantine in the “Pock House” where he details the severity of other cases in his family, including detailed description of their visible symptoms, some of whom were not yet released from quarantine. Remarkably, he states the reason for his light case, that his inoculation not only protected him but urges his kinsman to inoculate others: “… I was only sick enough not to be well, now after such an old fellow has run the Gauntlet of Innoculation, and besides being therewith a very bad subject with a Rheumatick Constitution and the shakes of a severe fit of sickness, with what fare even you in full health and with the vigour of youth on your side, I say how can you hesitate one moment, whom your country and family demand your assistance, to free yourself from one of the greatest scourges of human Luxury without which you cannot well owe them (?), and had I your constitution, I should rely on it to have 999 chances out of 1000, and a little more to reward, and you shall be more than welcome to prepare at my house which is full half the difficulty.” Mention is made of Sachem Neck, the name of the Nicoll family plantation on Shelter Island, and “Meshamuck” where a lot had been cleared at the time of writing. Mashomack is now the name of the 2,000 acre nature conservancy on Shelter Island, where the Nicoll family once lived. Condition good, slight paper loss where the seal was broken when the recipient opened the letter.
Full text: “Islip, Dec[em]b[e]r 14th 1770
Last Monday I emigrated from the pock house with my Children; but my Wife and Hanny are still there owing to the pock being too slow in drying up for she had not many but very large perhaps a 100 but Hanny were immovable but a very favourable sort and scar too at once on the Surface of the skin and are drying up fast so that I expect they will be out in two or three days. The Children were very sick about 24 hours and then almost as soon well Ana had not one pock that filled and the others very few. [M]any people expected a very severe tryal for me, and doubtless some desired it, but however they are disappointed, for I was never sad or sorry having but about 20 pock[s] of which maybe four or five filled without obliging one to one hours confinement or the loss of one meal, and I was only sick enough not to be well. [N]ow after such an old fellow has run the Gauntlet of Innoculation, and besides being therewith a very bad subject with a Rheumatick Constitution and the shakes of a severe case of sickness, with what fare can you in full health and with the Vigour of youth on your side, I say how can you hesitate, one moment when your family and country both demand your assistance, to free yourself from one of the greatest scourges of human Luxury without which you cannot well sewethem, and had I your Constitution I should rely upon on it to have 999, chances out of a 1000 and a little more to recover and you shall be more than welcome to prepare at my house which is full half the difficulty.Wi
I long very much to see you but I must be at New York on Monday where I should have been a week ago if Dr. Muirson had not disappointed me on my return from Shelter Island, tho[ugh] I had previously, engaged him, to be ready but it is expected my Lord will carry matters pretty high and then a Dissolution must ensue, which will leave me most agreeably to the [?] my own concerns, and now one word about Sachem Neck, and I have done which is only this that you would think whether Meshamuck, and a lit[t]le bit of Land about pains Lot can be profitably cleared this season which with all other matters relating to my Business I thankfully leave in your kind Hands and after my hearty remembrance to you all I pray you to excuse this hearty scrawl from your
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