Thursday, August 25, 2011

Correspondence of the 1830's

"I find the medicine worse than the malady." - Beaumont and Fletcher--Love's Cure

"I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes." - Holmes--Lecture, Medical Society

"His antidotes are poison, and he slays more than you rob." - Shakespeare--Timon of Athens, Act IV. Sc. 3.

I have selected some excerpts from the correspondence instead of copying complete, boring letters. These relate to the Doctors, Medicine, and Health of the writers and friends. Note: English and spelling is same as in the letter.

"The night before I got to Utica I staid to Mr. Barton's who married a cousin of mine he told me of a Celebrated botanist Doctor ----(?)----- non-apothecary who lived near him he advised us to return to his house and make a trial of his medicine I went to see the Doct told him hur complaint, he said he could help hur we returned to Mr. Bartons on Monday last.

"This Monday July 19th - Dear Friends as We had informed you above we are here in York state - waiting a blessing on some barks roots and herbs made into sirrups with adition of best brandy I began taking it Wednesday the effect has not ben just as I could have desired but the Doct thinks it favorable so far hope to start Wednesday for Unkle Phelps if my health will allow. --------------------The Doct who prepares the recipe practices almost altogether on old lingering complaints has a peculiar talent for judging and his success is wonderful in curing Consumptions Cancers Liver Complaints fever-sores Hreumatism etc. proofs and scars of which may be seen any time. He was a regular bred physician practiced a few years- - - he seldom undertakes fevers - This is a miserable little village here immediately on the Canal which is all that keeps a single inhabitant here low warm and muddy tis not very pleasant but many are glad to put up here and wait on the boat. For healing the blood or rather his medicines to cleanse the blood the medicine had reduced me a trifle but nor more than was expected I had gained considerable when I got to Utica. There I was detained 3 days have not been quite as well since -- awhole sheet would not contain all I should like to tell you about Capt Griswolds family They have buried 5 children within the last 5 years 2 most promising sons over 20 and 3 little children. She says the loss of the little ones cannot compare with the others. The sons were most affectionate pleasant genteel young men both in persons dispositions and manners perfectly resigned to their lot met death with calmness. - The 6 children that remains appear to me the nearest perfection of any I have seen before. ----------- Mrs. G's friends father mother and sisters have all died lately with consumption.

"I do not recollect but 2 places where we did not have a great many fleas and bed bugs till we got to this place except at Utica ----- I have not yet found you a treatment Sophronia but shall some time ---- The small pox is said to be about not far off. -----------when we come home if that should ever be we shall bring Recipes for Cancers and so forths. This Doc Corson is an old flashy cross eyed rather ill looking man and has been known to take to much spirits many times ---- but never when attending business - he has a miserable shiftless family but all this does not affect me. Him and his assistant have more 300--patients all old chronic disceases and all doing well"

In another letter, the same person makes some more remarks on health:

"A number are dying around with Cholera Morbus & dysentary but Doc C--has not lost one and has many under his care The preparation of his medicine requires considerable labor and the carriage of kegs bottles budgets back and side plaster is something ----3 men are imployed in this W. has sometimes assisted in............. of carying him and his medicine--and you no doubt have guess by this time that W is well pleased with this manner of doctering or we should not have staid here 5 weeks and more and he is still desirous of staying longer-- The Doctor passes here about 3 times a week so we have an opportunity of seeing and getting medicine"

Well, I hope she regained her health, but life expectancy in those days was about 40! Maybe if the people returned to that type of health care, the health care problem would take care of itself. Yeah, sure. The canal mentioned is the Erie Canal and boat transport. It traveled about five miles an hour and some people walking would get to a destination before the boat.

The next post will be a complete letter from a son to his mother. The son, Lawrence, goes to Provincetown to try his luck at fishing and life on the sea.


  1. We do sometimes forget what the life expectancy "used" to be.

  2. Charles, it takes twice as long to get anything done, so life expectancy increased.

  3. If doctors were responsible for a life expectancy of 40 years, it doesn't say much for their ability. Folks do pretty well getting to 40 without the help of a doctor.

  4. Medicine hadn't advanced much in the 1800's and no one saw a doctor until they really had to get help. The quality of the doctor depended on his education, and many of them had never seen the inside of a medical school. Some of them called themselves doctors of medicine but never went to any school. So, the ability was not there.