Medicine of colonial America

With the exception of Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s invention of the microscope in 1674 and variolation nearly a century later, understanding that the presence of disease was somehow related to sanitation and that quarantine could occasionally manage outbreaks was the upper limit of early colonial medical knowledge. The prevailing medical theory was that disease was the result of some imbalance in one’s “humors” or fluids. Cures consisted of various methods of manipulating the levels of one’s humors. Bleeding and “puking and purging” complemented an exhaustive list of recipes with ingredients that included salt pork, spider eggs, gunpowder, brimstone, hot ashes, cat’s blood, dried toad, virgin’s hair, and tobacco, to name only a few. Some of these recipes were meant to be taken internally; others were used externally in the form of poultices, meant to draw out disease through the flesh. Early colonists’ chances of survival were often better if they did not seek relief from the medical doctors of the day. The lack of certain knowledge in colonial medicine frequently rendered doctors impotent for much beyond simple comfort of the sick. In the absence of effective male medical professionals, much of colonial health care was practiced by women. In seventeenth-century New England, 24 percent of medical practitioners were women. Women served as surgeons, physicians, nurses, and midwives until their practices fell under the suspicion of the town fathers. Considering the materials used in established medical practice, which often had harsher effects on the body, it is ironic that so many of these women ended up being accused of witchcraft. We know about some of the remedies they used, because those convicted of witchcraft were forced to surrender their property to the town. No discussion of colonial disease would be complete without addressing the popular suspicion in recent years that smallpox was used as a way to exterminate the native population. According to some historians, an early example of unintentional biological warfare was when the disease was passed along with gifts from the English. Frustrated by Native American requests for provisions in exchange for their cooperation, a practice sustained by the French, the English believed the way to manage the indigenous population was by dominance through punishment or even extinction. In a series of letters written during the summer of 1763 between General Jeffery Amherst and his officers, as well as correspondence between Amherst and Colonel Henry Bouquet, this idea is discussed specifically to “put a most Effectual Stop to their very Being.” While the specific causes of disease were unknown, it could not escape anybody’s attention that the native peoples died in large numbers from diseases that Europeans died of in far fewer numbers. There is no doubt that life during the colonial era of this country was riddled with difficulty. Limited technology, a lack of information, and a firm, albeit naive, belief in the divine providence of a just cause conspired to complicate the matter of settlement for everyone involved. We can, however, thank those early Americans for innovations in sanitation and public health, including sewer works and inoculation, which might never have come into being if not for their sacrifices. See also: Death and Dying; Malaria; Smallpox; Syphilis. Bibliography Castillo, Susan, and Ivy Schweitzer, eds. The Literatures of Colonial America: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001. “Colonial Diseases and Cures.” homepages.rootsweb.com/~sam/disease.html. Finger, Simon. The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Philadelphia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012. Hawke, David Freeman. Everyday Life in Early America. New York: Harper and Row, 1989. A History of Public Health in South Carolina. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. 2001. Morris, Richard B. Encyclopedia of American History. New York: Harper, 1953. Quinn, Arthur. A New World: An Epic of Colonial America from the Founding of Jamestown to the Fall of Quebec. Boston: Faber & Faber, 1994. Taylor, Alan. American Colonies. New York: Viking, 2001. Ward, Harry M. Colonial America 1607-1763. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991. That Quacking Sound in Colonial America : The Colonial … Mapq8An Illustrated History of Alternative Medicine in Early America … Mapq8Colonial Apothecary Medicine colonial medicine Farmacologia … Mapq8

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