An installment in Leonard Everett Fisher’s Colonial Americans series, The Doctors describes the lives, times, and practices of Colonial practitioners
The days of colonialism were tough; they were days when entire settlements could be wiped out from ignorance and neglect of health. Epidemics often swept through towns, ravaging the inhabitants and destroying them. The only men who stood in the way of these tragedies were the doctors.
The doctors of the sixteen and seventeen hundreds lived in a time of growing awareness in scientific and medical discoveries, but they still retained the superstitions of past ages. Bleeding is one example of this. Another, more interesting example is this;
“In many instances, the patient was given a food that resembled the part of his body that was troublesome. If he had a headache, he was given the meat of a walnut, because a walnut meat looked somewhat like a miniature brain. Or if he had a bothersome kidney, he might be given kidney beans, shaped somewhat like kidneys, to cure his trouble. These “natural” would-be cures, which rarely worked, were based on a medical idea that was at least one thousand years old.” [pg. 10]
But the doctors did not merely involve themselves with medicine. They also participated in politics. Did you know that four colonial physicians signed the Declaration of Independence? Their names were Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania; Matthew Thornton and Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire; and Lyman Hall of Georgia.
On one page, the healing practices of Indian doctors are described. This section is not extended.
Mr. Fisher comments on one page in regards to medical experimentation, “A few persons experimented with ways of preventing the fatal diseases. Certainly the old ideas were not working, and the Almighty did not seem to pay much attention to the prayers of the colonists.” [pg. 36]
Conclusion. An interesting look at the historical position and cultural significance that the medical field held during the Colonial times.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret