"Experiment and Good Sense Must Direct You": the Social Relations of Health, Healing and Knowledge-Making in Eighteenth-Century Plantation America.

Claire Gherini Johns Hopkins University 2011-2012 Dissertation Research Fellow "Experiment and Good Sense Must Direct You": the Social Relations of Health, Healing and Knowledge-Making in Eighteenth-Century Plantation America. My dissertation explores the development of medical marketplaces in the plantation areas of the colonial Chesapeake, South Carolina and the British West Indies from the mid-eighteenth to early-nineteenth-century. I situate the rise of informal plantation-based medical marketplaces between the 1760s and the 1820s, in the wake of the Enlightenment, during the Amelioration movement, and before medical reform and professionalization of medicine. My dissertation first documents the various healing agents who participated in the plantation medical marketplace, the economic lives of these practitioners, and their occupational identities. It then turns to examine the ways in which patients and practitioners navigated this medical marketplace in moments of sickness and plantation medical crisis in order to uncover the creation of healing hierarchies as patients confronted a range of therapeutic options and practitioners claimed specific competencies. In examining both patient and practitioner and their vibrant interactions within the plantation medical marketplace, my dissertation makes the case for the importance of consumer intelligence gathering as a crucial facet in the creation of practical, vernacular medical knowledge, one that drew heavily from its agrarian context. This medical knowledge, I show, circulated in a hemispheric rather than transatlantic context. Ultimately, I content, patients' and practitioners' navigation of the plantation medical marketplace highlights the many different epistemologies and geographies shaping Atlantic science and uncovers the development of a previously overlooked yet vital information economy. The development of this information economy had far reaching implications. It constituted a practical counterweight to philosophical formulations of nature and the body that colonial philosophical societies and metropolitan institutions such as the Royal Society put into circulation. It also bolstered the status of empiricism and empirics within the realm of medicine. Finally, this information economy sustained colonials' confidence in their ability to corporeally contend with and perhaps master the environments of the plantation sphere that made up this subsection of the Atlantic world. Excavation and examination of the plantation medical marketplace, I contend, challenges current formulations of Atlantic Science as an exclusively transoceanic and philosophically-based enterprise. REPORT: This study relies on a wide variety of sources, many of which are not easily keyword searchable in archival online finding aids. It employs diaries, medical receipts, recipe books, correspondence between absentees and overseers, newspaper advertisements, plantation books, and physicians’ ledger books in order to uncover the plantation medical marketplace, identify the roles of various healing agents operating in that sphere, and to understand patients' experience in contending with illness. I have undertaken research for this project in several stages. During the first stage I consulted archival sources in Charleston relating to plantations in South Carolina. While picking my way through family collections of plantation papers I stumbled upon medical receipts, planters' memorandum books, overseers' itemized expense accounts, and plantation account books. These sources provided me with important information relating to the expenses associated with medical crisis among plantation slaves, overseers, and families resident on the grounds of the plantation. These records also illuminated the spectrum of healing services available, the cost of treating specific maladies such as smallpox and yaws, and the range of therapeutics put in practice on plantations. These records also identified the various healing agents employed to undertake specific types of healing and caregiving on the plantation. Perhaps most significantly, these sources provided me with a list of plantation health practitioners that I could trace, through a technique called nominal linkage, in other types of records, including receipts and account books for nearby plantations, probates, wills, diaries, and parish records. Armed with this information, I undertook the second stage of research with the support of the PACHS fellowship in archives and repositories in the Philadelphia area. My main archives were the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), the Library Company of Philadelphia, the APS, as well as the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The HSP was particularly important for my project, as it is the largest repository in the United States for records of families who maintained plantations in the British West Indies during the eighteenth century. I arrived at the HSP with a plan and priority list of what I wanted to examine. Specifically, I intended to examine the correspondence, account, memorandum, and the ledger of Alexander Johnson, a pen-keeper and physician who lived in St. Anne's Parish Jamaica during the 1780s. I also wanted to examine the Markoe family papers, which contained correspondence relating to the maintenance of their eighteenth-century plantations in St. Croix. Upon my arrival however, I realized that the card catalogue had an abundance of records for manuscripts relevant to my project, entries that I would have otherwise missed had I only relied upon HSP's online finding aids. With the assistance of archivist Daniel Rudd, I decided to use the first week of research at the HSP to pick through their card catalogue for additional manuscript sources relevant to my topic. My project is not easily key-word searchable in online catalogues and the bulk of the HSP's manuscripts are indexed within a card catalogue that was created in 1930. I therefore came up with a list of now antiquated search terms that yielded many hits and manuscript collections relating to my project. While I arrived in Philadelphia intending to use the HSP for the Caribbean portion of my project, discussions with Dan and search through the hard card catalogue directed me to the Cadwalader papers. This collection documents the acquisition and management of over 3,000 acres of plantation lands and well over one-hundred enslaved laborers in Kent County, MD by John and Elizabeth LLoyd Cadwalader in the 1770-1790s. For the next three weeks, I focused on the Cadwalader papers. Piecing through this extremely large and rather disorganized collection paid off. The Cadwalader collection has become one of the main sources for the Chesapeake portion of my project. John Cadwalader was originally a Philadelphia merchant and had inherited sizeable plantations--Hammond, Shrewsbury, and Ward's Gift (totaling over 3,000 acres) located in Kent County, MD through marriage to Elizabeth Lloyd in the 1750s. While the couple periodically visited the Hammond plantation and other land holdings in Kent County MD, John's ignorance of the business of planting and the importance of his Philadelphia-export business kept him rooted in Philadelphia. In order to profit from his Maryland plantations he relied much upon the expertise and advice from overseers, friends, and family members residing in Kent County. The Cadwalader papers are filled with correspondence between John and the various overseers he employed on his plantations. His overseers reported to him on the condition of his wheat crops, the health of the slaves, solutions undertaken to remedy illness, and the debts incurred to various plantation caregivers and healers. As significant, the Cadwalader papers also contain numerous receipts composed by plantation physicians. These papers also contain accounts, written up by overseers, of debts paid to various nurses and plantation physicians over a period of ten years. The plantation practitioners who composed these itemized medical bills employed an apothecary's shorthand for the weight and type of medicine prescribed. This shorthand makes them extremely difficult to read for the amount and type of compound remedy provided by the practitioner. Yet these receipts can be mined for other types of information relating to illness and healing on plantations. Each receipt listed the name of the practitioner and patient(s), length of visit, and sometimes, the illness/malady treated, over a period of twelve months. Using these medical receipts produced by plantation physicians and records of accounts paid produced by plantation overseers, I have created an excel database of the names of these different healing agents, payments rendered to them, type of malady to which they attended, overseer they dealt with, plantation which they visited, and the average cost of visit. When used with other types of legal information, these receipts will prove fruitful in sketching out the economic and social lives of plantation physicians. Later this year I will visit the Maryland Historical Society where I will go through records of other large-scale plantations in Kent County that are adjacent to the Cadwalader's holdings, where I hope to find the same practitioners doling out advice, medicines, and care on other plantations. I will enter their work on other plantations into my database. This method will give me a cumulative picture of the type of work and caregiving provided by the practitioners who showed up in these receipts. When combined with other types of records such as wills, graduation lists from the University of Edinburgh or the College of Medicine in Philadelphia (the first American colonial medical school which was later incorporated into the University of Pennsylvania), vital accounts, and parish records, I will begin to develop a clearer picture of the average education, main sources of income, status, social circles, material life, and perhaps areas of expertise of different types of plantation practitioners in the Chesapeake. These findings will be further compared with my findings on other practitioners operating in the Lowcountry and on pens and sugar plantations in the British West Indies. The Cadwalader papers were much richer than I had anticipated and I spent the next two weeks of my PACHS time transcribing and making spreadsheets based on their contents. In addition to the Cadwalader collection at the HSP, I also examined the Markoe Family papers. This collection contains correspondence between one of the Markoe family members who supervised and oversaw the St. Croix plantation and his father who resided in Philadelphia. This correspondence provided me with a case of slave poisoning as well as a brief discussion of the plantation doctor but yielded little more. I also undertook preliminary research on the Alexander Johnston papers, particularly his medical ledger in which he listed the patient's name, date, service, and cost of service, and payment rendered during the heyday of his practice in the 1780s in St. Anne's Parish Jamaica. In January of 2012, I will be returning to the HSP to finish work on the Alexander Johnson patient book. I will combine the Johnson patient ledger with other Jamaican legal records (such as wills, tax records, and censuses) indicating wealth and land holdings' of his patients to generate a picture of Johnson's clientele, his changing involvement with plantation medicine, and variations in the profitability of his practice. This data will be compared with my other findings on the practitioners from Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. During my PACHs fellowship, I also employed the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the College of Physicians. While at the Library Company, I examined printed amelioration texts that dealt with the improvement of agriculture and slave labor within 18th century British West Indian plantations. While much of the Library Company's collections, particularly agricultural improvement books, can be read online through the Eighteenth Century Collections Online database, the Library Company did have a copy of Herbert Kein's An Essay Upon Pen-Keeping and Plantership, which was published in 1796 in Jamaica. Kein's work is essentially an advice book for novice planters. And while much of the material pertains to agricultural matters, Kein discusses in detail the medical abilities requisite of a productive and successful overseer. He also goes on in great length about the overseers' and absentee planters' different and opposing views of the natural world. Finally, his text discusses the purposes of keeping memoranda or a diary while engaging in the work of planting. Kein argues that memorandum books and diaries are useful to both the novice and seasoned planter because planters can consult their records at later dates to gain knowledge and insight into the workings of nature. Past recordings, Kein argues, will provide planters insight into medical and agricultural conundrums. Kein's last point affirmed my suspicion that planters and overseers employed memorandum books and diaries as a way of recording information that could be reexamined at a later date for direction. Kein's book will be helpful not only in understanding the medical capacities possessed by planters and overseers. It will also help me prove my argument about the highly local and personal nature of knowledge production within plantation America. Finally I visited the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (COP). While I had initially intended to use their vast collections of printed British medical periodicals to uncover the names of various plantation practitioners writing into journals about their discoveries and cases, prior to my arrival I realized the College had letters from Alexander Garden, a botanist and plantation physician in South Carolina during the mid-eighteenth century. I made the Garden letters the focus of my visit. I consulted with the archivist about their manuscript collections and she directed me to their online finding aid. I asked her if the online finding aid contained all of their manuscript collections and she affirmed that it did indeed list everything owned by the COP. After exhausting the online finding aid as well as the extensive and poorly organized card catalogue I had yet to find the entry for Garden. I finally reapplied to the archivist with a half hour left on my last day and asked why the collection I had sought was not listed online or in the card catalogue. At that point she handed me a guide to manuscript collections of the COP and informed me that the guide contained all of the material not listed on the online finding aids. After paging through the guide I found my entry, but the library was closing and I will have to revisit in January. My PACHS fellowship was enormously helpful in assisting me in engaging in the preliminary work and card catalogue digging that is vital to my project, one which is not easily keyword searchable in online finding aids. One of the greatest strength of the PACHS fellowship was its flexibility in allowing the fellow to visit many different archives in the Philadelphia-area and to pursue my project from diverse angles. This flexibility brought up some interesting research finds. For example, one facet of my project deals with enslaved healers. Information on enslaved healers is extremely difficult to gather, as they show up infrequently in plantation probates and inventories. While going through the HSP's card catalogue however, I discovered that the Pennsylvania Abolition Society has information on the occupations and ages of several slaves that were manumitted by a Jamaican planter in the 1790s. This source could potentially provide me with information on the ethnicity and age of enslaved healers who had previously worked on that Jamaican plantation and for whom the Abolition society sought to indenture to Philadelphia-area families and professionals. It is these types of accidental discoveries that make a fellowship like the PACHs so invaluable. In addition, while I did not have time to thoroughly work through the collections I had originally prioritized, the PACHS fellowship enabled me to explore manuscript collections, in particular the Cadwalader papers, that became mainstays of my project. I will be revisiting Philadelphia archives in January to complete my original research priorities and to follow-up on some of the discoveries I made at the HSP and the College of Physicians.