Press Release

NASA Talk Examines Science, Religion in Colonial America

By SpaceRef Editor
April 1, 2011
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HAMPTON, Va. – The smallpox epidemic of 1721 held fear and promise for Boston’s physicians and theologians. Was inoculation a health risk, a gift from God or an interruption in the divine plan?

On Tuesday, April 5, at NASA’s Langley Research Center here, historian Tony Williams will present “The Pox and the Covenant: The Curious History of Science and Religion in Colonial America,” at 2 p.m. in the Reid Conference Center. Williams will lecture on the Boston smallpox epidemic that led to the first American inoculations and a public debate over science and religion.

Williams will be available to answer questions from the media during a news briefing at 1:15 p.m. that day. Media who wish to do so should contact Chris Rink at 864-6786, or by e-mail at, by noon on the day of the talk for credentials and entry to the center.

That same evening at 7:30, Williams will present a similar talk for the general public at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton. The presentation is free and no reservations are required.

In 18th century Europe and the United States, it wasn’t a question of “if” but “when” an epidemic of smallpox would strike. Most of the native population of North America is believed to have died from the disease. Between April and December 1721, 5,889 Bostonians had smallpox, and 844 died of it — the cause of more than three-quarters of all the deaths in Boston that year.

Williams will explore the uneasy reception given to inoculation by the scientific community and the unlikely manner in which this medical discovery was made. He will also examine how inoculation went from folk medicine in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe to the West during the scientific revolution and Age of Enlightenment.

Williams, a Williamsburg, Va., resident, taught history for 10 years in Ohio and Virginia and was named a Fellow at Colonial Williamsburg Rockefeller Library. He has lectured widely about his books including C-SPAN’s Book TV, Colonial Williamsburg and the Virginia Festival of the Book. He is the author of four books about colonial and Revolutionary America including “Hurricane of Independence,” and “The Jamestown Experiment.” Williams has undergraduate and graduate history degrees from Syracuse University and Ohio State University. He is currently teaching history at Peninsula Catholic High School in Newport News.

For more information about NASA Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.