Onesimus: Smallpox Inoculation


Thanks to the pioneering work of Onesimus, many lives were saved from the smallpox epidemic.

Onesimus (fl. 1706 – 1717), slave and medical pioneer, was born in the late seventeenth century, probably in West Africa, although the precise date and place of his birth are unknown. He first appears in the historical record in the diary of Cotton Mather, a prominent New England theologian and minister of Boston’s Old North Church. Reverend Mather notes in a diary entry for 13 December 1706 that members of his congregation purchased for him “a very likely Slave; a young Man who is a Negro of a promising aspect of temper” (Mather, vol. 1, 579). Mather named him Onesimus, after a biblical slave who escaped from his master, an early Christian named Philemon.

The idea behind this radical new treatment came from Africa, specifically from a slave named Onesimus, who shared his knowledge with Cotton Mather, the town’s leading minister and his legal owner. Boston still suffered dreadfully, but thanks to Onesimus and Mather, the terror linked to smallpox began to recede after Africans rolled up their sleeves—literally—to show Boston how inoculation worked.

African Meeting House


The Black Heritage Trail is a walking tour that explores the history of Boston’s 19th century African American community.

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The Revolutionary War: Black Leaders

By 1770 one-fifth of the population of the thirteen colonies was of African ancestry, and almost 95 percent of the African descendants were slaves. Beginning with the Boston Massacre in 1770 and lasting for the duration of the war, African Americans played a major role in the American struggle for independence. As such a large percentage of the American population, both slaves and free blacks were militarily vital to the American and British causes. In addition to the brave individuals mentioned in this month’s Photo Essay, black soldiers and sailors such as Austin Dabney, Joseph Ranger, Caesar Tarrant, and Oliver Cromwell proved themselves to be true patriots through their sacrifices in defense of their American homeland.

The Revolutionary War would have failed, if it wasn’t for our ancestors. There is such an abundance of rich history, that is would be impossible for me to go over within one post.

James Armistead

James Armistead was born into slavery in Virginia around 1748. Armistead enlisted in the Revolutionary War under General Lafayette. Working as a spy, Armistead gained the trust of General Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold, providing information that allowed American forces to prevail at the Battle of Yorktown. Armistead died in 1830, having successfully petitioned for his freedom in 1787.

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks was an American slave, merchant seaman and dockworker of Wampanoag and African descent. Many people think he was the first person shot dead, by British redcoats during the Boston Massacre, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Peter Salem

Peter Salem was a free negro, who served as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War.

James Forten

James Forten was born on September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia, PA. A free African-American, he joined the Continental navy at age 15. After service, Forten apprenticed as a sail-maker and eventually became a wealthy businessman and a leader of the black community in pre-Civil War Philadelphia. He devoted much of his time and money to the abolitionist cause and he refused to supply rigging to slave-trade vessels. Forten died in 1842.…

You can research and find thousands more, in addition to factual history of free Black men being in the Americas, before slavery. During the 14th century free people of African descent was here and helping the colonies. There were  many who  fought against the colonies as well, trying to defend the rights of Native American tribes. Interesting dynamic there.

The second president of Mexico was Vicente Guerrero (Afro-Mexican), who helped defend Mexico against the Spaniards. He united the nation and abolished slavery, before we did.


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