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Article

M. Cookie E. Newsom

dentist, was born a slave in the Panthersville District of Dekalb County, Georgia. His mother (name unknown) was a slave, and his father, J. D. Badger was a white dentist and also his master Roderick had several brothers including Robert and Ralph all of whom had the same white father but different mothers In many ways his life story can be seen as an example of the complex relationships between the races in the antebellum and postbellum South where the black and white societies were supposed to be separate but where mixed race children were common growing ever more numerous in the decade leading up to the Civil War As the son of his owner Badger enjoyed the privileges associated with that status including his eventual freedom and prosperity However his status as a mulatto and as a professional man did not protect him from many of the ...

Article

Chandra M. Miller

dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. Nothing is known about his parents. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As Martin's slave, Nixon learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor's assistant and to make dental house calls. He also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor's accounts.

In Norfolk, Nixon became involved with the Underground Railroad. Befriending the captains of many of the schooners sailing in and out of Norfolk, he often convinced them to hide fugitive slaves aboard ship and carry them north, usually to Philadelphia or to New Bedford, Massachusetts. After conducting many other slaves through the Underground Railroad, Nixon decided to become a passenger himself in March 1855 He and three other slaves disguised themselves and ...

Article

Elizabeth Mitchell

slave and guide, achieved fame in the decades preceding the Civil War. Nothing is known of his parents or early life, but it is known that Bishop was a slave belonging to Kentucky lawyer Franklin Gorin, who in the 1830s purchased Mammoth Cave for $5,000. Previous cave guides had been local white men, but Gorin either saw something promising in the teenaged Bishop or reasoned that he could save money by training a slave to do the same work. Either way, beginning in the spring of 1838 Bishop received training from the previous guide and quickly took to the job, learning the several miles of trail and numerous pits, rock formations, and other attractions of his underground place of employment.

Bishop was allowed to spend many hours exploring the cave on his own. In the fall of 1838 he penetrated a confusing maze of trails known as the ...

Article

Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, businessman, and writer, was born in Madison County, Kentucky, the youngest of fifteen children of Eliza and Edwin, who were slaves. Burton and his mother remained on the plantation after Emancipation as paid laborers, and he continued working at the “old homestead” after her death in 1869 until he was sixteen, at which time he left following an altercation with the owner.

In 1880 Burton was “converted to God” and subsequently experienced an insatiable desire for learning. Despite discouraging comments from those who thought that twenty was too old to start school, Burton was not dissuaded and determined that nothing was going to prevent him from getting an education except sickness or death. Burton worked for one more year as a farmhand in Richmond, Kentucky. One January morning in 1881 he put a few items in a carpetbag and nine dollars and seventy five cents in his ...

Article

Cesar  

Elizabeth D. Schafer

slave and medical practitioner who developed primitive pharmaceuticals, is thought to have been born in Africa or the Caribbean and transported to the southern colonies as a slave. He might instead have been born into slavery in South Carolina. (His name is often spelled Caesar.) The names of his parents are unknown. He may have been the descendant of skilled medicine men, who transferred medical knowledge from their native cultures to the colonies, sharing drug recipes and folk remedies that used herbs and roots, or of slave midwives, who had performed cesarean sections in Africa and taught other slaves that procedure.

Cesar might also have had Native American ancestors because many Carolina slaves had intermarried with native tribes Southern Native Americans were known for their potent herbal remedies Slave physicians either were self taught or acquired some training from fellow slaves or masters and they became celebrities within their communities ...

Article

Robert C. Hayden

physician, was born in New York City, the son of George DeGrasse, a prosperous landowner, and Maria Van Surly. After obtaining his early education in both public and private schools in New York City, he entered Oneida Institute in Whitesboro (near Utica), New York in 1840. Oneida was one of the first colleges to admit African Americans, nurturing a strong antislavery stance. In addition to welcoming black students to its campus, the institute invited abolitionists as lecturers and provided both a manual arts and an academic program.

In 1843 DeGrasse attended Aubuk College in Paris, France. Returning to New York City in 1845, he started medical training through an apprenticeship with Dr. Samuel R. Childs. After two years of clinical work and study under Childs, DeGrasse was admitted into the medical studies program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1847 Finishing his ...

Article

Elizabeth D. Schafer

physician, was born into slavery at Eden in Davidson County, North Carolina, the son of David Dorsette and Lucinda (maiden name unknown). Two months after his birth he was separated from his mother. After Emancipation he lived with his grandmother on a small farm and attended school in Thomasville, North Carolina.

Dorsette attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, graduating in 1878. A white Hampton Institute trustee, Dr. Vosburgh offered Dorsette a job in Syracuse New York Dorsette became Vosburgh s driver and handyman Encouraged by his employer to become a doctor Dorsette studied Latin to prepare for medical school and enrolled at Syracuse University College of Medicine but soon quit as a result of ill health fatigue and a lack of sufficient funds for tuition After his health was restored and Vosburgh offered to pay his expenses Dorsette applied to the medical department of the University of the ...

Article

Betty E. Plummer

physician, was born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His surname is sometimes spelled Derham. Despite his slave status, he learned basic reading and writing skills from his first owners, whom he described as Christians. Durham also received his medical training from his masters. At that period most American physicians acquired their medical education through the apprenticeship system. Durham began a form of apprenticeship at the age of eight, when he became the slave of John A. Kearsley Jr., a physician who taught him to compound medicines and to perform routine medical procedures. Durham later belonged to other doctors in Philadelphia, at least one of whom was a British sympathizer. This association with a Loyalist master probably explains why Durham later became the property of George West, a surgeon in the British Sixteenth Regiment.

Along with his new master Durham performed amputations on wounded troops along the ...

Article

Eric Bennett

During times of slavery many African Americans maintained the spiritual view of health that had characterized their African ancestors. They believed that good health arose from harmony with nature and other people; poor health, from discord. Sickness could stem from either the curses of others, deviance from religious rectitude, or conflict with the natural environment. In the Caribbean and Latin America particularly, these beliefs combined with Roman Catholicism to produce syncretic religions, such as Vodou, Shango, and Curanderismo, all of which emphasize the supernatural essence of healing.

Slave culture regarded so called root doctors or witch doctors with high esteem and valued herbal cures such as mullen leaves camphor sulphur and multifarious roots Although some of these cures had value in a Western scientific sense many more reflected traditional beliefs One lockjaw remedy for example involved withdrawing the nail squeezing out the excess blood and then wrapping the ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

James Forten was born into a free black family in Philadelphia. When he was eight he began working alongside his father at a sail loft owned by Robert Bridges. While working with his father, Forten attended the Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet's school for free blacks. With the death of his father, Forten, at age ten, ended his formal schooling and worked in a grocery store to support his mother.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, Forten convinced his mother to let him fight. He joined the crew of the American privateer vessel Royal Louis as a powder boy Captured by the British he languished on a prison ship for several months before being released Following the war he spent a year in England and upon returning to Philadelphia worked as a sailmaker s apprentice for Bridges s firm There he invented and perfected gear that made ...

Article

Robert Fay

Freedmen's Hospital was founded in 1862 to serve former slaves and Union soldiers in the Civil War (1861–1865). At that time—and, indeed, until the Civil Rights Movement—many hospitals and medical colleges were segregated, leaving black patients with few health care options and aspiring black physicians and nurses with limited choice about where to study and practice medicine. The Freedmen's Hospital, however, not only provided service to poor whites and blacks in Washington, D.C., but through its close association with Howard University's Medical College (the two joined in 1868 to form a teaching hospital), it came to offer medical training to African Americans.

Part of the hospital's mission was to provide medical care to the indigent despite inadequate federal funding—the hospital was prohibited from admitting paying patients until 1912 During its history administrators worked amid a deteriorating physical plant and outdated equipment and the hospital ...

Article

Elizabeth Freeman was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman's bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman's mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781.

The proposed dates for her birth, which range from 1732 to 1744 are derived from an estimate carved on her tombstone suggesting that she was about eighty five ...

Article

Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, was born a slave in North Carolina. Little else is known about her early life, including the names of her parents. In 1884 she enrolled in the normal course at Fisk University, and to pay for tuition she alternated each year of study with a year of picking cotton. She graduated in 1891.

Grier taught at Paine Normal School and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia, during the 1890–1891 school year, but her long-range goal was to become a physician. In 1890, just one year before her graduation from Fisk, she wrote to Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, inquiring about aid that was available to “an emancipated slave” who wanted to enter “so lofty a profession.” No doubt Grier had heard about the school from her mentor and friend Emily Howland a Quaker teacher and suffragette from upstate New York who had gone south to participate ...

Article

Health  

Diane Epstein

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and most inhuman,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago on 25 March 1966. For black women, this form of injustice has ranged from the horrors of the Middle Passage to disproportionately high rates of heart disease and breast cancer death.

Article

Susan J. Covert and David McBride

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with the health and medical treatment of African Americans from the slavery era through the nineteenth century The first article focuses on the diseases and epidemics that affected Colonial America while the second article discusses progress in African American healthcare despite discrimination in ...

Article

John Ernest

author, businessman, and nurse, was born into slavery near Charlottesville, Virginia, the son of a white man and a black woman, possibly John and Susan Hughes. When he was about six years old, Hughes was sold with his mother and two brothers to Dr. Louis a physician in Scottsville Virginia When Dr Louis died young Hughes was sold with his mother and brother to Washington Fitzpatrick also of Scottsville who soon sent him then about eleven years old to Richmond on the pretense of hiring him out to work on a canal boat Parting with his mother at such a young age was difficult even more difficult was his realization that he would never see his mother again For Hughes this experience became the central symbol of the fundamental inhumanity of the system of slavery a symbol to which he returns at key points in ...

Article

Verity J. Harding

gunsmith and engraver, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the eldest son of Allen Jones, a slave and a blacksmith, and Temperance Jones, a slave. He was one of eight children, a daughter and seven sons, born into a long line of slavery. His paternal grandfather, Charles Jones, was born in Africa around 1770 and brought to America to be sold into slavery some years later. Although born a slave, Gunsmith Jones was freed in 1829 when his father purchased liberty for his entire family Allen Jones was a skilled blacksmith who labored intensely for himself and his family while simultaneously performing his slave duties to earn the vast sum of money necessary to buy his family s freedom After saving the extraordinary amount of $2 000 he was cheated out of the money by his master and left with nothing With admirable determination he ...

Primary Source

Landon Carter 1710 1778 became one of the most powerful men in the colony of Virginia when he inherited eight plantations from his wealthy family In addition to the daily operation of his farms Carter also served to the Virginia House of Burgesses and studied medicine Biased as it may be his diary provides a glimpse of colonial plantation life the passage below shows the author s attempts to apply his knowledge of medicine to one of his servants a slave named Winney Indeed much of Carter s diary is devoted to the physical health of his slaves who obviously represented an enormous investment on his part Whether Carter was being magnanimous or simply pragmatic seems almost irrelevant when one reads the often horrific account of Winney s medical treatment All of the discredited and painful folk remedies of the time are employed on poor Winney bloodletting purging overheating to ...

Article

Brandon Portal

possible former slave, self-taught master builder, engineer, contractor, and property manager, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His parentage is unknown. Although little is certain about Lanson's early life, a Connecticut Journal notice appeared on 5 December 1799 in which Solomon Fisk of Southington, Connecticut, put out a $10 reward for the return of a runaway “Negro servant” by the name of Lanson. It is possible that this was the same Lanson. At some point, Lanson married his wife, Nancy.

The first public record of Lanson was a contract for the extension of New Haven's Long Wharf, for construction that took place from 1810 to 1812 The Long Wharf expansion was essential to the prosperity of New Haven for decades the shallow harbor area had posed a danger to larger cargo ships and severely curtailed trade Lanson overcame this obstacle by extending the wharf ...

Article

Jeri Chase Ferris

slave, nurse, landowner, and philanthropist, was born a slave in Hancock County, Georgia, of unknown parents. Though her slave name was Bridget, she was almost always called Biddy, and not until she achieved her freedom in Los Angeles, California, in 1865 did she take the surname Mason. It is not definitively known why she chose “Mason,” although Amasa Mason Lyman was the company captain on Biddy Mason's journey from Mississippi to Salt Lake City, and later to San Bernardino. Biddy was an infant when she was given or sold to the John Smithson family of Mississippi, to whom she belonged until she was eighteen. Smithson then gave her, along with two other slaves, as a wedding present to his cousin Rebecca when she married Robert M. Smith Biddy Mason s new duties included nursing care of the frail Rebecca Smith and the making ...