The First Yellow Fever Pandemic: Slavery and Its Consequences

Today’s guest post is by Billy G. Smith, Distinguished Professor in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Montana State University. He earned his PhD at University of California Los Angeles. His research interests include disease; race, class and slavery; early America, and mapping early America.

Bird flu, SARS, Marburg, Ebola, HIV, West Nile Fever.  One of these diseases, or another, that spread from animals and mosquitoes to humans may soon kill most people on the planet.  More likely, the great majority of us will survive such a world-wide pandemic, and even now we have a heightened awareness that another one may be on the horizon.  This blog focuses on these issues in the past, outlining a virtually unknown voyage of death and disease that transformed the communities and nations bordering the Atlantic Ocean (what historians now refer to as the Atlantic World).  It traces the journey of a sailing ship that inadvertently instigated an epidemiological tragedy, thereby transforming North America, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean islands.  This ship helped to create the first yellow fever pandemic.

1-Hankey

The Hankey. From “Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World.”

In 1792, the Hankey and two other ships carried nearly three hundred idealistic antislavery British radicals to Bolama, an island off the coast of West Africa, where they hoped to establish a colony designed to undermine the Atlantic slave trade by hiring rather than enslaving Africans.  Poor planning and tropical diseases, especially a particularly virulent strain of yellow fever likely contracted from the island’s numerous monkeys (through a mosquito vector), decimated the colonists and turned the enterprise into a tragic farce.

1-Bulama

 From “Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World.”

In early 1793, after most colonists had died and survivors had met resistance from the indigenous Bijagos for invading their lands, the Hankey attempted to return to Britain.  Disease-ridden, lacking healthy sailors, and fearing interception by hostile French ships, the colonists caught the trade winds to Grenada.  They and the mosquitoes in the water barrels spread yellow fever in that port and, very soon, throughout the West Indies.  This was only a few months before the British arrived to quell the slave rebellion in St. Domingue (now Haiti).  The British and subsequently the French military had their troops decimated by the disease—one reason why the slave revolution succeeded.  The crushing defeat in the Caribbean helped convince Napoleon to sell the vast Louisiana territory to the United States.  He turned eastward to expand his empire, altering the future of Europe and the Americas.

A few months after the Hankey arrived in the West Indies, commercial and refugee ships carried passengers and mosquitoes infected with yellow fever to Philadelphia, the nation’s capital during the 1790s.  The resulting epidemic killed five thousand people and forced tens of thousands of residents, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other prominent federal government leaders, to flee for their lives.  The state, city, and federal government all collapsed, leaving it to individual citizens to save the nation’s capital.  Meanwhile, doctors fiercely debated whether “Bulama fever” (as many called it) was a “new” disease or a more virulent strain of yellow fever common in the West Indies.  Physicians like the noted Benjamin Rush fiercely debated the causes of and treatment for the disease.  They mostly bled and purged their patients, at times causing more harm than good because of the rudimentary state of medicine.

Among those who stepped forward to aid people and save the city were members of the newly emerging community of free African Americans. Led by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and Anne Saville, black Philadelphians volunteered to nurse the sick and bury the dead—both dangerous undertakings at the time.  Many African Americans and physicians, exposed to yellow-fever infected mosquitoes, made the ultimate sacrifice as both groups died in disproportionately high numbers.  When a newspaper editor subsequently maligned black people for their efforts, Jones and Allen wrote a vigorous response—among the first publications by African Americans in the new nation.

A Refutation_internetarchive

For one of the first times in American history, blacks responded in print; Revd.s Allen and Jones published a pamphlet answering the charges; Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

During the ensuing decade, yellow fever went global, afflicting every port city in the new nation on an annual basis.  Epidemics also occurred in metropolitan areas throughout the Atlantic World, including North and South America, the Caribbean, southern Europe, and Africa.  Among other consequences, this disaster encouraged Americans to fear cities as hubs of death.  The future of the United States, as Thomas Jefferson argued, would be rural areas populated by yeomen farmers rather than the people in teeming metropolises.  The epidemics also helped solidify the decision of leaders of the new nation to move its capital to Washington D.C. and away from the high mortality associated with Philadelphia.

After the Hankey finally limped home to Britain, its crew was taken into service in the Royal Navy; few of them survived long.  More importantly, the image of Africa as the “white man’s graveyard” became even more established in Britain and France, thereby providing a partially protective barrier for Africa from European invasion until the advent of tropical medicine.  The “Bulama fever” plagued the Atlantic World for the next half century, appearing in epidemic form from Spain to Africa to North and South America.  The origins and treatment of the disease drew intense debates as medical treatment became highly politicized, and the incorrect idea that Africans enjoyed immunity to yellow fever became an important part of the scientific justification of racism in the early nineteenth century.

Join Billy Smith along with epidemiologist Michael Levy on October 24 for Sickness and the City for a conversation that uses both science and history to understand the intersection of urban development and the spread of contagions.

References
Billy G. Smith. Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

Dr. David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Early Republic

Today’s guest post is written by Victoria Johnson, author of  American Eden (Liveright, 2018). On October 9, Dr. Johnson will give a talk at the Academy on David Hosack (1769–1835), the visionary doctor who served as the attending physician at the Hamilton-Burr duel in 1804. Hosack founded or co-founded many medical institutions in New York City, among them nation’s first public botanical garden. The following is adapted from American Eden, which is on the longlist of ten works nominated for the National Book Award in Nonfiction for 2018.

David Hosack’s twin passions were medicine and nature. As a young medical student he risked his life to defend the controversial practice of corpse dissection because he knew it was the best chance doctors had to understand the diseases that killed Americans in droves every year. He studied with the great Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush and went on to become a celebrated medical professor in his own right. He drew crowds of students who hung on his every word and even wrote down his jokes in their notebooks. He performed surgeries never before documented on American soil and advocated smallpox vaccination at a time when many people were terrified of the idea. He pioneered the use of the stethoscope in the United States shortly after its invention in France in 1816. He published one innovative medical study after another—on breast cancer, anthrax, tetanus, obstetrics, the care of surgical wounds, and dozens of other subjects. In the early twentieth century, a medical journal paid tribute to Hosack’s many contributions by noting that “there is perhaps no one person in the nineteenth century to whom New York medicine is more deeply or widely indebted than to this learned, faithful, generous, liberal man.”[i]

Andrew Marshal anatomy course

David Hosack’s admission card to Andrew Marshal’s anatomy course in London, 1793/94. Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Columbia University Health Sciences Library.

Yet although Hosack found surgery vital and exciting, he was certain that saving lives also depended on knowing the natural world outside the human body. As a young man, he studied medicine and botany in Great Britain, and he returned to the United States convinced that it was at their intersection that Americans would find the most promising new treatments for the diseases that regularly swept the country. Hosack talked and wrote constantly about the natural riches that blanketed the North American continent. The health of the young nation, he argued, would depend on the health of its citizens, and thus on the skill of its doctors in using plants to prevent and treat illness.

In 1801, Hosack bought twenty acres of Manhattan farmland and founded the first public botanical garden in the young nation. He collected thousands of specimens and used them to teach his Columbia students and to supervise some of the nation’s earliest pharmaceutical research.

painting of David Hosack

David Hosack with his botanical garden in the distance. Engraving by Charles Heath, 1816, after oil paintings by Thomas Sully and John Trumbull, Collections of the National Library of Medicine.

Because of his garden, Hosack became one of the most famous Americans of his time. His medical research there cemented his reputation as the most innovative doctor in New York. When Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr needed an attending physician for their 1804 duel, they both chose David Hosack. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander von Humboldt, and Sir Joseph Banks sent Hosack plants and seeds for his garden and lavished praise on him. In 1816, he was elected to the Royal Society of London, an extraordinary honor for an American.

Today, though, few people know Hosack’s name, and his botanical garden grows skyscrapers year-round. It’s now Rockefeller Center.

Learn more about this luminary individual; join us for Losing Hamilton, Saving New York: Dr. David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Early Republic at the Academy on Tuesday October 9th at 6pm.

References:
[i] Dr. David Hosack and His Botanical Garden,” Medical News 85, no. 11 (1904): 517-19 [no author], p. 517.

 

The Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men and the “Gospel of Rehabilitation”

Today we have a guest post written by Ms. Julie M. Powell, 2018 recipient of the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health. Ms. Powell is a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University, her dissertation topic explores the growth of wartime rehabilitation initiatives for disabled soldiers and the rhetoric that accompanied and facilitated this expansion. 

In May 1917, one month after the United States joined the First World War, the American Red Cross created the Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men to “build up re-educational facilities which might be of value to the crippled soldiers and sailors of the American forces.”[1] To this end, Director Douglas McMurtrie (1888–1944) collected approximately 3,500 separate books, pamphlets, reports, and articles from the European continent, North America, and the United Kingdom and its Dominions. He and his research staff pored over the documents, authoring reports, news articles, and lectures that were subsequently fed back into circulation both in the United States and abroad. A look at the collection and the work of the Institute provides a window into the development of rehabilitative care in the early twentieth century, demonstrating that transnational medical networks operated and expanded throughout the war and that the transmission of information and ideology often went hand in hand.

RedCross building_watermarked

The Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men, 1918.

The proliferation of literature on rehabilitation (including surgical amputation, orthopaedics, prosthetic design, physical therapy, and vocational re-education) can be attributed both to a sense of urgency—20 million men were wounded in the war—and to the relative newness of the field. The first orthopaedic institute was created in Munich in 1832 and the next in Copenhagen in 1872 but these, and others that followed, focused exclusively on care for disabled children. The first significant moves toward the retraining of adults were taken up in the two decades before the war. In 1897, in Saint Petersburg, disabled men began to be trained in the manufacture of orthopaedic devices and in 1908, with the founding of a school in Charleroi, Belgium, the industrially maimed were taught bookbinding, shoe repair, basket making, and more. The first retraining school for invalided soldiers was created in December 1914 in Lyon, France, four months after the outbreak of hostilities. The school provided the inspiration for over 100 similar schools throughout France. The period 1915–1917 saw a proliferation of orthopaedic and re-education institutions throughout Europe and the western world. It was on these models that the Red Cross Institute was founded.

The first institution of its kind in the United States, the Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men resided at 311 Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) in New York. Disabled men, either funded by the U.S. Army or attending through no-interest loans, trained in four trades: welding, mechanical drafting, printing, and the manufacture of artificial limbs. McMurtrie and his staff hosted meetings of disabled men—punctuated by cake and ice cream—wherein testimonials from the recently rehabilitated served as recruitment tools for the Institute.

But the broadest impact of the Institute came from its crusade to spread what McMurtrie referred to as the “gospel of rehabilitation”—an insistence on returning the disabled man to independence and self-sufficiency that he might eschew charity and compete fairly in the labor marketplace. Such notions were deeply rooted in classical liberalism, a foil to large-scale social welfare programs that would only emerge in the wake of the Second World War. In The Disabled Soldier, McMurtrie wrote plainly:

When the crippled soldier returns from the front, the government will provide for him, in addition to medical care, special training for self-support. But whether this will really put him back on his feet depends on what the public does to help or hinder, on whether the community morally backs up the national program to put the disabled soldier beyond the need of charity… In light of results already obtained abroad in the training of disabled soldiers, the complete elimination of the dependent cripple has become a constructive and inspiring possibility. Idleness is the great calamity. Your service to the crippled man, therefore, is to find for him a good busy job, and encourage him to tackle it. Demand of the cripple that he get back in the work of the world, and you will find him only too ready to do so.[2]

no longer handicapped_watermarked

A reproduction (right) of part of McMurtrie’s poster exhibit for the Institute featuring the liberal “gospel of rehabilitation”: self-sufficiency, competition, and independence from charity.

McMurtrie’s gospel sounded the same notes as the works of U.S. Allies across the pond, whose material he’d spent years collecting. In 1918, famed novelist, advocate of the war wounded, and editor for the rehabilitation journal Reveille, John Galsworthy warned against the perils of charity, of “drown[ing] the disabled in tea and lip gratitude” and thereby “unsteel[ing] his soul.” Rather, he wrote:

We shall so re-create and fortify…[the disabled soldier] that he shall leave hospital ready for a new career. Then we shall teach him how to tread the road of it, so that he fits again into the national life, becomes once more a workman with pride in his work, a stake in the country, and the consciousness that, handicapped though he be, he runs the race level with his fellows, and is by that so much the better man than they.[3]

Such rhetoric was of a piece with appeals from British Minister of Pensions, John Hodge, for the restoration of men to “industrial independence,” that they might “hold their own in the industrial race.”[4]

When McMurtrie invited the world’s newly-minted experts in rehabilitation to New York in 1919, they shared—as they had through pamphlets, pictures, and films—not just information but ideology. Discussions on war surgery and the organization of rehabilitation schemes unfolded side-by-side with talks on public education and encouragement of the disabled to train.

Such propaganda efforts were critical. According to McMurtrie: “The self-respect of self-support or the ignominy of dependence—which shall the future hold for our disabled soldiers?” The credit or blame, he held, would rest with a public that either demanded self-sufficiency or patronized its men with charity.

References:
[1] Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Organization, Work and Method of the Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men (New York: The Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men, 1918).
[2] Douglas McMurtrie, The Disabled Soldier (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919), 37.
[3] John Galsworthy, “Foreword,” The Inter-allied Conference on the After-Care of Disabled Men: Reports Presented to the Conference (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1918): 13–17. Reprinted in his book of essays Another Sheaf (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919).
[4] John Hodge, “The Training of Disabled Men: How We Are Restoring Them to Industrial Independence,” Windsor Magazine no. 281 (1918): 569–571.
[5] McMurtrie, The Disabled Soldier, 75.

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Met by Accident: A Beaten Book

Today’s guest post is written by Julia Miller, a book conservator who studies, writes, lectures, and instructs about historical binding structures. In collaboration with the Guild of Bookworkers New York Chapter, Ms. Miller will speak at The New York Academy of Medicine on June 27th at 6pm, “Meeting by Accident,” about types of bookbinding and delve into the what, why, and how questions concerning historical bindings. 

When I wrote my second book Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings, I drew on interesting bookbindings encountered in recent years. I wish my book had been published a bit later than it was, just so I could include the book I describe to you here.

Fig. 1

Spine, upper cover, and lower text edge of the Guthrie book. All photographs courtesy of Randel Stegmeyer.

Not long after Meeting by Accident was published, I found a book that immediately intrigued me because it carried an interesting, and to me, unusual direction to the binder: “The Binder is desired to beat the Book before he places the Maps.” It appears on page 10 following the Preface in William Guthrie’s A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World. (The Thirteenth Edition, Corrected. London, Printed for Charles Dilly, in the Poultry; and G.G.J. and J. Robinson, in Pater-noster Row. 1792.)[1]. Beating book sections to flatten them prior to sewing was a common binding practice at one time but fell out of use and out of our collective memory; the mention of this old practice in the binders’ direction reminds us. The flatness of the text leaves (and the near-absence of “bite” to the printed text) indicates the binder of this volume followed the direction to beat the book.

Fig. 4

Detail director to binder in William Guthrie’s A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar; and Present State of the Several Kingdoms of the World.

 

The book measures 22 H x 13.8 W x 8 T in centimeters. It is worn, with losses to the brown sheepskin cover, and much repaired. The detached boards were oversewn to reattach them to the text block, and the spine rebacked with a strip of tawed skin. There is evidence of sewing in two- or three-on style [for a primer on three-on sewing click here] and later oversewing to secure loosened sections. The text block shows heavy use and damage: finger dirt, stains, and damaged edges.

Why is this book of reference interesting to the history of hand bookbinding? In 2013, conservator and bookbinder Jeffrey S. Peachey published his ground-breaking examination of beating books, “Beating, Rolling, and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” in Volume I of Suave Mechanicals – Essays on the History of Bookbinding.[2] His essay is an exercise in detection and is fascinating to read. Jeff discusses the history, tools, and methods of flattening book leaves, noting that it is sometimes impossible to tell if sections of a given book were beaten in the traditional way, or if sections were rolled or pressed instead. Guthrie’s book, at least the thirteenth edition, carries the type of evidence we need, in the wording of the direction to the binder, to establish that this is probably a beaten book. Peachey mentioned in a recent email that he has seen similar directions in other 17th and 18th century books.

Fig. 5

Fore edge of Guthrie book.

A comparison study of other copies from this thirteenth edition of Guthrie, and earlier/later editions, looking for the same binders’ direction and evidence of beating, plus searching out other imprints carrying similar directions to the binder, would be a valuable and interesting research project; and I hope one of you reading this post will undertake it!

References
[1] The Academy Library has the 1794 edition.
[2] Ed. Julia Miller. 317-382. Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2013.