Archive for the ‘Medicine’ Category

“Our Family here is in great Distress. . . “

For MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON HEWSON 1774 was a bad year. Her two little boys contracted smallpox; they recovered. But her husband of only four years died leaving Polly pregnant with a third child. Doctor William Hewson had constructed a theater in the Craven Street house where he lectured on anatomy to students. At the same time he was carrying on his own research to better understand the human body, particularly its blood and lymphatic systems. Dissecting corpses was one way to increase his knowledge. Hewson died of septicaemia contracted from this hazardous work. He was only 34.

In 1998 when conservation work had begun at 36 Craven Street to create the museum that is there today a bone pit was discovered under what had been the garden during Hewson’s two-year residency. Some 1200 pieces of human and animal bones were found from a dozen or so bodies, including some children. There were saw marks and scalpel scars on many; holes had been drilled in a skull with some sort of trepanning device. Cadavers were difficult to come by; grave robbers delivered some, and there were bodies of unclaimed persons and of those executed. The practice of procuring and selling cadavers was illegal until 1832. Rather than transport the remnants of skeletons and bury them elsewhere, risking discovery, Hewson apparently decided to bury them on site. Benjamin Franklin, scientist that he was, almost certainly knew what Hewson was doing; indeed he probably visited Hewson’s laboratory to see the work in progress.

Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah in Philadelphia:

Our Family here is in great Distress. Poor Mrs. Hewson has lost her Husband, and Mrs. Stevenson her Son-in-law. He died last Sunday Morning of a Fever which baffled the Skill of our best Physicians. He was an excellent young Man, ingenious, industrious, useful, and belov’d by all that knew him. She is left with two young Children, and a third soon expected. He was just established in a profitable growing Business, with the best Prospects of bringing up his young Family advantageously.

For more on the bone pit and for the Franklin quote see HERE and HERE.

posted April 5th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Medicine

“Lectures go on briskly”

In 1771, the year following her wedding to Dr. William Hewson, POLLY STEVENSON HEWSON had her first child, a boy they named William. Benjamin Franklin was the godfather. He was always delighted to hear news about the child: teething, weaning, walking. He had a bit of advice for Polly:

Pray let him have every thing he likes; I think it of great Consequence while the Features of the Countenance are forming. It gives them a pleasant Air, and that being once become natural, and fix’d by Habit, the Face is ever after the handsomer for it, and on that much of a Person’s good Fortune and Success in Life may depend.

In 1772 the Hewsons took over the house on Craven Street. In July Polly wrote Franklin, who was away, that her husband had made some changes.

My Mother I must tell you went off last friday week, took our little Boy with her and left Mr. Hewson the care of her House. The first thing he did was pulling down a part of it in order to turn it to his own purpose, and advantage we hope. This Demolition cannot affect you, who at present are not even a Lodger, your litterary apartment remains untouch’d, the Door is lock’d, and the Key in this House.

William Hewson was no ordinary doctor. Noted for his contributions in hematology, he was an anatomist and teacher. He had added a theater to the Craven Street house in order to give lectures to students. These were successful as Polly notes in a letter to Franklin in October: “Lectures go on briskly; a fresh Pupil to day who makes up the half hundred whose names are enter’d, besides some others who have promis’d. . . . ” It was in this month that Polly’s mother and Franklin moved to another house on Craven Street.

In 1773 Polly had a second child, another boy, who was named Thomas. The next year 1774 proved to be a sad one for Polly and those to whom she was dear.

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson with a Postscript to Dorothea Blunt, 25 November 1771,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-18-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 18, January 1 through December 31, 1771, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 252–253, 341-342.]

posted March 25th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Medicine

“throw them into a cullender to drain the water out”

Browse through The Art of Cookery by HANNAH GLASSE and you will find among many chapters: “To Dress Fish,” “Of Puddings,” “Directions to prepare proper Food for the Sick” with the subhead: “I don’t pretend to meddle here in the Physical Way; but a few Directions for the Cook, or Nurse, I presume will not be improper to make such Diet, &c as the Doctor shall order. Included in this chapter is a recipe “To make Beef or Mutton Broth for very weak People, who take but little Nourishment.”

There is even a chapter “For Captains of Ships; how to make all useful Things for a Voyage; and setting out a Table on board a Ship” which includes “To make Catchup to keep twenty Years” and “To make Mushroom Powder.”

The last chapter in the book is “A certain cure for the Bite of a Mad Dog. By Dr. Mead.”

I like this recipe “To make a Gooseberry Fool.” Slap dash. No nonsense.

Take two quarts of gooseberries, set them on the fire in about a quart of water. When they begin to simmer, and turn yellow, and begin to plump, throw them into a cullender to drain the water out: then with the back of a spoon carefully squeeze the pulp, throw the sieve into a dish, make them pretty sweet, and let them stand till they a cold. In the mean time take two quarts of new milk, and the yolks of four eggs, beat up with a little grated nutmeg, stir it softly over a slow fire, when it begins to simmer, take it off, and by degrees stir it into the gooseberries. Let it stand till it is cold, and serve it up. If you make it with cream, you need not put any eggs in; and if it is not thick enough, it is only boiling more gooseberries. But that you must do as you think proper.

Check this SITE for some of Glasse’s recipes for use today: turnip soup, artichokes, stuffed savoy cabbages, and Portugal cakes. You may want to subscribe to this blog: Jenny McGruther is a wife, mother and cooking instructor specializing in real and traditional foods. Her first book, The Nourished Kitchen features more than 160 wholesome, traditional foods recipes.

posted July 19th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Food,Glasse, Hannah,Medicine

George Washington: “one of my best Friends and Favorites”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL was a renowned hostess and the Powel home on Third Street in central Philadelphia was the gathering place for important political and social figures of Revolutionary America and the early republic. Elizabeth and her husband were close personal friends of George and Martha Washington. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, with Martha back in Mount Vernon, Washington was often in the company of the Powels. He particularly enjoyed conversing with Elizabeth who was brilliant, well educated, and outspoken in her opinions. In a letter Elizabeth wrote to Mrs. William [Ann Bolling Randolph] Fitzhugh in July 1786 she refers to George Washington as “one of my best Friends and Favorites.” Elizabeth Powel either wrote or copied verses which she sent to Washington on his birthday in 1792 beginning with the line: “No Peerage we covet, No Sceptres desire.”

In the following letter, dated 9 January 1792, Elizabeth Willing Powel informs George Washington that she is sending information about a possible treatment for his nephew George Augustine Washington who was suffering from tuberculosis. The preparation of the medicine koumiss, fermented mare’s milk, described by John Grieve was published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1788. Writing that it was “recommended as an almost universal remedy”— Elizabeth quickly anticipates Washington”s reaction—”which I know you will say proves too much and rather savours of Quackery; yet the Authorities appear so respectable and the Object of the Publication so benevolent, that I think it is entitled to considerable Confidence and Attention. . .” She then waxes philosophical, considering whether

the protracting human Life is adding to the Mass of Happiness. But what is this Life that we should be so over studious to prolong the Respiration of that Breath which may with so much Ease be all breathed out at once as by so many successive Millions of Moments? For surely there are more exquisite Pains than Pleasures in Life, and it seems to me that it would be a greater Happiness at once to be freed forever from the former than by such an irksome Composition to protract the Enjoyment of the latter. We must all die, and, I believe there is no Terror in Death but what is created by the Magic of Opinion, nor probably any greater Pain than attended our Birth. As I suppose at our Dissolution every Particle of which we are compounded returns to its proper original Element and that which is divine in us returns to that which is divine in the Universe.
I most sincerely wish you the two Extremes of Happiness—fullness of Joys in this Life and an immortal Series of Felicities in Heaven. I am dear Sir with Respect & Esteem your affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 9 January 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-09-02-0248. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 9, 23 September 1791 – 29 February 1792, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 419–420.] The photographs are from Wikimedia Commons. Use of the parlor photo was given to Wikipedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

posted August 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Friendship,Illness,Medicine,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine

“the Blody flux”

JEMIMA CONDUCT, the young woman from Pleasantdale, New Jersey, once again writes about actions of the British.

Monday May first [1775]. this day I think is a Day of mourning we have word Come that the fleet is coming into Newyork also & to Day the men of our Town is to have a general meeting to Conlud upon measures Which may Be most Proper to be taken; they have Chose men to act for them & I hope the Lord will Give them Wisdom to Conduct wisely & Prudently In all matters.

In 1776, disease ravaged the area. “July 23, Did that Distressing Disorder the Blody flux Began to rage in this Neighborhood.” Jemima cites death after death: of friends and neighbors, adults and children, civilians and soldiers. “August the 16th, Then Died Jered freeman. he was taken Sick at newyork among the Sogers & was brought home & Died Soon After.” Some soldiers were killed in action, but more died as a result of sickness.

September 1776. We hear News from our army at Montigue & Several of them we hear is Dead. sense there Departure Benjamin Canfield & Stevan Morris, David Luis Died with the Camp Disorder & william acorn we hear was killed by the injuns; Sen Jabez freeman the Son of the Late Diseast John freeman is Dead, also Sias Heady Died up there with Sickness.

The bloody flux or dysentery is characterized by bloody diarrhea. The “Camp Disorder” is likely typhus. It is heartbreaking to read Jemima’s list of the dead. It goes on and on, year after year, and is a reminder of the fragility of life at that time and the ineffectiveness of treatment. What is also impressive is the way sickness and death were borne: always regarded as God’s will, to be accepted. Gratitude was expressed for those who had been spared.

Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Orange N.J.: Jemima Condict Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930), 52, 59, 60, 61. The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society.

posted March 23rd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Condict, Jemima,Death,Illness,Medicine

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