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colonial medicine by thesign

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									                Health and Medicine in Colonial America

      During the time of the HMS Sultana, just prior to the American
Revolution, health and medicine were quite different than what we expect
today. The medical community was unaware of the bacteria and viruses
responsible for most disease. Furthermore, the connection between
unsanitary conditions and disease was poorly understood. The following
excerpts give examples of the conditions, diseases and treatments Colonial
Americans faced.

       “A colonial teenager faced a struggle for existence. The average life
expectancy was under twenty-five years. Diseases such as smallpox,
malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza, rickets, and fevers caused many
deaths in children and adults. Wells for drinking water were often
contaminated by nearby privies and unpenned animals, causing many

       Colonial homes had no bathroom, septic system, or running water.
Chamber pots, hidden under beds and inside chests, performed the function
of today’s toilets. Slaves would dump the contents of the pots daily. Outdoor
toilets of wood or brick, called privies, sometimes had four or more holes for
larger families. The waste pits below the privies were normally “cleaned” by
chickens; sometimes slaves would have to shovel out the pits. People in this
period were accustomed to living with smells that we would consider
extremely unpleasant.

       Today most people bathe or shower daily, a practice that adults and
children of the colonial period would have considered odd. They did not
believe in bathing everyday, or even every week. They felt that bathing
washed away the layer of dirt that was their protection against germs and
disease. Most baths consisted of washing with a cloth dipped into a basin of
water. When washing in warm water was desired, water had to be heated in
the fireplace. No chemical deodorants or anti-perspirants masked body
odors; however, since nearly everyone shared the same standard of
cleanliness, odors were not as offensive.

      The term doctor was first used in the colonies in 1769. By the time of
the Revolution only a small percentage of doctors had attended a medical
school; most were either trained by another physician or self-trained.
Physicians usually limited their treatments to rich patients who were
chronically ill. Lack of knowledge of causes and cures of most diseases,
effective medicines and painkillers, and instruments such as the thermometer
and stethoscope handicapped colonial doctors in their practice of medicine. “
       Excerpted from

      “ A colonial household cold not function properly without an herb
garden. Housewives were well informed about herbs and their uses and were
prepared for any emergency whether it was deodorizing a home for guests or
ministering aid to someone ill or injured. Household gardens were close at
hand and contained a wide variety of plants for both food and medicine.
Many of the herbs used by eighteenth-century families were native to
Europe and were brought to the American colonies because of their
medicinal value. The colonial housewife would sometimes supplement what
was in her garden with plants such as nutmeg, which was imported and
could be purchased at a local store. Many were also fascinated with Indian
remedies made from native herbs, minerals and animal products.”
      Excerpted from

       Medical practices in the 18th century were primitive compared to
today’s standards. In Sultana’s era, doctors did not know about germs or the
causes of infection. Many surgeons had poor training and limited knowledge
of the human body. As a result, many sailors died from wounds that today
would be easily treated and cured.
       One of the biggest problems on naval ships was infection. If a sailor
received a wound on his arm or leg that became badly infected, Sultana’s
surgeon had no choice but to cut off, or amputate, the man’s limb in order to
save his life. This painful operation was completed without use of
painkillers. Since the surgeon’s tools were not properly cleaned, sailors often
died when new infections took hold after the operation was over. This was a
slow and painful way to die!
       Another problem aboard Royal Navy ships was disease. Because
sailors lived very close to one another, diseases such as smallpox and yellow
fever spread quickly and could wipe out entire crews. Without antibiotics,
doctors had no way to prevent this from happening. One way to “treat”
illnesses was bleeding the patient. This was done by poking a small hole in
the skin and draining the sailor’s blood into a bowl. Another way that
doctors bled patients was by using leaches! Doctors believed by getting rid
of the “bad blood” in the body they could rid the person of their sickness.
Unfortunately, this almost always did more harm than good.
       Excerpted from Sea of Change: Sultana, the Tea Taxes, and the
Dawn of the American Revolution
Below are diseases listed by their 18th century common names:

             Ague                            Swamp sickness
             Summer complaint                Rickets
             Spotted Fever                   Lockjaw
             Ship Fever                      Milk Fever
             Putrid Fever                    Mormal
             King’s Fever                    Grocer’s Itch
             Dock Fever                      Dengue
             Chillblain                      Chin cough
             Black Vomit                     Black Plague

Use the following resources to identify 21st century names of the above
diseases and 18th century versus 21st century cures for the above diseases.
Place the information on the chart provided.


Every Man His Own Doctor: or, The Poor Planter’s Physician
By John Tenet

Medicine and the American Revolution: How Diseases and Their
Treatments Affected the Colonial Army
By Oscar Reiss

Medicine in the American Colonies: An historical sketch of the state of
medicine in the American Colonies, from their first settlement to the
period of the Revolution
By John B Beck

Colonial Diseases:

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