Benjamin Waterhouse

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846) was a physician and scientist. Born in Newport, Rhode Island, he went to the Universities of Edinbugh and Leyden, and walked the wards in London to study medicine during the American Revolution.

Waterhouse returned to America in 1782 and joined the faculty at Harvard University. He made a big impact on vaccination and inoculations. In 1799, Waterhouse learned of Dr. Edward Jenner's use of the cowpox vaccine on smallpox, and he became one of the country's leading advocates of vaccination. Waterhouse investigated Jenner's techniques and used them on his family. He published his account in a Boston newspaper, wrote to his friend John Adams, but ultimately, wrote to Vice President Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson would help Waterhouse use the vaccine. Jefferson sent samples and instructions to Dr. Edward Gantt, chaplain of the Congress, and his family physician, Dr. William Wardlaw, in Albemarle County to inoculate people. Jefferson also sent some samples to John Vaughan to send to Dr. John Coxe in Philadelphia. In 1807, Jefferson appointed Waterhouse as chief physician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a job he held until 1809.

Waterhouse most likely visited Monticello in 1825.

Primary Source References[1]

1800 December 1. (Benjamin Waterhouse to Jefferson). "Having long regarded Mr. Jefferson as one of our most distinguished patriots & philosophers, I conceived that a work which had for it's end the good of the community,, would not be unexceptable to him.- Under that impression I have here sent him 'A prospect of Exterminating the small-pox'..."[2]

1800 December 25. (Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse). "I received last night, and read with great satisfaction your pamphlet on the subject of the kine-pox...I had before attended to your publications on the subject in the newspapers, and too much interest in the result of the experiments you were making..."[3]

1801 July 16. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I this day inclose to Dr. Wardlaw some publications on the kine pox, with a request to make himself acquainted with them...I am promised by Dr. Waterhouse of Boston successive weekly supplies till it takes."[4]


  1. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  2. PTJ, 32:264.
  3. Ibid, 32:355.
  4. Betts, Family Letters, 207-208.

Further Sources