Facing Harvard

A Gallery of Copleys
Harvard University Portrait Collection (H6); photograph by Harvard Art Museums Imaging Department/(C)President and Fellows of Harvard CollegeHarvard University Portrait Collection (H6); photograph by Harvard Art Museums Imaging Department/(C)President and Fellows of Harvard College
Harvard Magazine
October 26, 2016
By Jane Kamensky

Blame the smallpox. The outbreak began in the depths of a worse than usual Boston winter, after a worse than usual year, during which the town had buried more souls than it baptized. On January 2, 1764, in tiny type on its last page, alongside advertisements hawking cloth and sugar and rum and tea and indigo and slaves, the Boston Gazette announced the first death from the familiar scourge. "No other Person in Town has that Distemper," the printers assured readers.

They were wrong, of course. Within weeks, an epidemic took wing. By January 24, Boston was "utterly unsafe," wrote the painter John Singleton Copley, urging a step-brother to stay clear of the "distresst Town, till its surcumstances are less mallancolly than they are at present." The province's legislature, known as the General Court, decamped to the sleepy village of Cambridge. To ensure their safety, and to allow the seamless workings of good governance, the lawmakers would live and work at Harvard College, which had emptied of students for the winter break.

Read the complete Harvard Magzine article. 

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