John Adams was inoculated during a Boston outbreak of smallpox right before his marriage to Abigail:At the time of the epidemic, John Adams was a young attorney living in Braintree, about 14 miles south of Boston. He traveled up from Braintree and crossed over to Castle William to take advantage of the variolation treatment. During his two-week stay on the island, he wrote letters to Miss Abigail Smith (soon to be Mrs. Abigail Adams). As an old man, he recollected the episode in his autobiography.
When we think of this, we think of a shot, but this was much more complex and more risky:
The usual process of variolation involved making a cut in the arm of a healthy person and then applying to it scabs collected from the sores of a person with smallpox, according to The Invisible Fire: The Story of Mankind’s Triumph over the Ancient Scourge of Smallpox, by Joel N. Shurkin. Adams’ description suggests a variation of this. He wrote on April 13: “They [the doctors] took their Launcetts and with their Points divided the skin for about a Quarter of an Inch and just suffering the Blood to appear, buried a Thread about (half) a Quarter of an Inch long in the Channell. A little Lint was then laid over the scratch and a Piece of a Ragg pressed on, and then a Bandage bound over all—my Coat and waistcoat put on, and I was bid to go where I get and do what I pleased.”