Monday, April 27, 2015

"The Avenger of Lincoln" - A Patent Medicine Connection

This post originally appeared in 2012 as the last in a 5-part series on the W. W. Gavitt Medical Co. of Topeka, Kansas.  It is re-posted on the 150th anniversary of the death of John Wilkes Booth, who was shot by cavalryman Boston Corbett - a review of a very recent book on Corbett is also added.

BOOTH'S SLAYER LIVING
Boston Corbett Who Killed the Assassin of Lincoln
Selling Patent Medicine


- (Fort Wayne, IN, Sentinel - August 31, 1901)


In this post on Topeka's W. W. Gavitt Medical Company, I relate an interesting story that connects the Gavitt company to the Civil War, specifically the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the hunt for John Wilkes Booth.

Recall from Part I that the Gavitt company relied on "jobbers" - that is, agents, to sell their medicines door-to-door - and gave particular attention to enlisting the support of Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R., the leading Union Civil War veterans' organization) leaders and ministers.

Imagine then how pleased Gavitt must have been, then, to learn that Boston Corbett - the man who shot Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, when Booth was finally cornered in a burning barn - was one of his salesman!

Except that he wasn't. Which makes it a story as interesting (if not more so) than if he was!

First, some details about Corbett, whose life after that event was tragic:

After being discharged from the army in August 1865, Corbett went returned to his pre-war occupation of being a hatter, moving from Boston to Connecticut to New Jersey. For reasons unknown (although some speculate it may have been due to mercury poisoning, a chemical which was used in hat-making at the time), he began to display erratic behaviour, such as threatening fellow veterans at a reunion in Ohio in 1875. In 1878, Corbett moved to Concordia, Kansas, and - owing to his fame as Booth's killer - was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. He again displayed erratic and threatening behaviour, brandishing a revolver when the house was in session. He was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. On May 26, 1888, he escaped from the asylum. He stayed briefly with a friend in Kansas, telling him that he intended to go to Mexico; one theory holds that Corbett settled in Hinckley, Minnesota, and is presumed to have died in the "Great Hinckley Fire" of September 1, 1894.

However, in the late summer of 1901, newspaper articles around the country carried reports that Boston Corbett was not dead at all, but rather a "jobber" for W. W. Gavvitt Medical Co., selling his medicines door-to-door in Texas an Oklahoma (avoiding Kansas as he was an escapee from the asylum).

Typical were these headlines in newspapers from Indian, Iowa, and Kansas:

The Avenger of Lincoln a Traveling Salesman
for a Firm in Topeka Kansas

SLAYER OF JOHN WILKES BOOTH
NOW A DRUMMER

Works for Topeka Firm
He Was Recently Reported Dead
But Had Only Escaped From an Insane Asylum
Was a Religious Fanatic

According to the newspaper reports:

"He worked for the Gavitts a long time before they associated him with the man who shot Booth. Finally they suspected his identity and he acknowledged that hewas Boston Corbett in a letter written to the firm some months ago. W. W. Gavitt says he is an excellent salesman and that he has always made money for himself and the firm."

There is a an excellent summary of what happened next in a discussion group thread at the website, Lincoln-Assassination.com:

"The record is not clear whether Gavitt fed information about Boston Corbett to the salesman, or whether Gavitt drew the information from him. James O. Hall always maintained that Gavitt provided the facts and the drummer soaked them up. By the turn of the 20th Century the newspapers picked up the tale and it was soon stated that the real Boston Corbett was still alive. They also mentioned that he would be entitled to receive a pile of pension money.

Eventually, John Corbett was put in touch with Judge George A. Huron, the Topeka-based guardian of Boston Corbett’s estate. Huron had been trying to find out what happened to Boston Corbett after his 1888 escape and disappearance. Huron and John Corbett wrote for quite a while and Corbett finally admitted that he was the object of his search. Huron promised to help Corbett get the back pension. He tried to get Corbett to come to Topeka, but Corbett stated that he was worried that he would be returned to the asylum. Corbett stated that he would come to Gavitt’s home office, but kept finding excuses for not coming to Topeka.

Huron soon became suspicious of the indentification, however. The real Boston Corbett was literate and wrote in a fine hand; the drummer could barely string together a full sentence and his spelling was very poor. Corbett was vague on some of the details of his life in Kansas, and glossed over the story of his past. Huron pressed the case, getting Corbett to sign an official affidavit as part of the pension application. In the dead of a harsh winter, Huron and a lawman travelled to Texas to confront Corbett. What they found was a large, tall, broad shouldered man. He was much different from the slight former cavalryman. He was also several years younger than Boston Corbett would have been.

John Corbett was arrested for attempted pension fraud, tried and sentenced to the new U.S. Prison in Atlanta. He served several years and dropped from sight after he was released from jail."

[Note: The story was also the subject of a short article in a 1991 issue of Civil War Time Illustrated]

So, the Gavitt salesman was not Boston Corbett after all, but it's still an interesting story and an example of how patent medicine firms would use any kindof publicity to increase their sales!

Corbett is the subject of a recent (April 2015) and very good biography, which covers the Gavitt and pension fraud angle very well - the book is: The Madman and the Assassin: The Strange Life of Boston Corbett, the Man Who Killed John Wilkes Booth and my review is below:

4/5 stars

"Boston Corbett is a character, and no mistake." - Cleveland Leader, Sept 6, 1865

Thank you to the kind folks at Chicago Review Press for the review copy.

"The Madman and the Assassin" is an interesting book about an important player in the saga of the Lincoln Assassination: cavalryman Boston Corbett, who shot and mortally Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, who was cornered in a burning Virginia barn.

Honestly, I was prepared to give the book only 3 stars based on the first 2/3 of the book - as with many other 19th century Americans, details on Corbett's early life are understandably hard to come by, but the author does well in sketching his pre-war background and his chapter on Corbett's experience at Andersonville is very strong; Civil War enthusiasts may grow impatient (as I did) with the middle 1/3 of the book, if they are at all familiar with the tale of Booth's plot, the assassination, and/or the manhunt for Booth; that said, the middle third - with nary a mention of Corbett for 60 pages - is written in tight and lively prose, and will appeal to those who aren't as familiar with the story. His forays into tangential subjects - hat making, the Great Awakening, are interesting and short enough that they do not interrupt the flow of the book.

The last 1/3 really makes the book and easily earns it 4 stars overall - a very strong and sympathetic (but not hagiographic) look at a haunted man, and really tragic in the description of his ailments (most brought on from his imprisonment at Andersonville), his own paranoia, his unemployment, and bullying in the press. Among the more interesting aspects were the lengths he had to go to secure a well-deserved pension, even w/ the aid of some powerful political allies - pity the poor veteran who did not have them and had to deal with the bureaucracy of the Pension Bureau. The tale of Corbett's disappearance and supposed re-appearance is the stuff of (incredible) fiction, but is well-documented and well written and must-reading. The descriptions of his periodic reunions with former comrades are also interesting.

Martelle makes great use of Corbett's pension records, period newspapers, and especially the Corbett-Huron Collection at the Kansas State Historical Society to bring the story to life, and his endnotes provide additional illumination (particularly the disappointment in not being able to access long-sealed medical records).

A highly recommended look at the tragic postwar life of a Civil War veteran.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

150th Anniversary - Abraham Lincoln Funeral Train

Note: A version of this post originally appeared in June 2011 as one of a multi-part series on my visit to the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX - it has been updated with a few additional photographs, some new links, and a book review.

"With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin,
and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night,
with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;"

- Walt Whitman, "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd"


This week marks the 150th anniversary of the "Lincoln Funeral Train" - a journey from Washington, DC, to Springfield, IL, that stretched from April 21, 1865 to May 3, 1865.

Many towns along the original route are holding commemorations.

In 2011, I had the great privilege of visiting the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX.

The museum has one of only three scale replicas of the Lincoln Funeral Train crafted by Dr. Wayne Wesolowski. You can learn about his funeral train replica project at "Abraham Lincoln Online" here and by reading his booklet, The Lincoln Train is Coming, which describes Lincoln's funeral arrangements and the trip from Washington to Springfield.

Photos of the scale model and period photos are below.






 In addition to Dr. Wesolowski's booklet, I recently added another related book to my collection: Lincoln's Funeral Train: The Epic Journey from Washington to Springfield (2014) by Robert M. Reed.

My review is below:

4 stars

This book is a really nice addition to my collection of Lincoln-related books, esp. those concerning his assassination and its aftermath. Very good production quality - loads of period photographs and engravings and interesting artifacts or ephemera, all very well re-produced on paper - lively, interesting, and well-documented narrative of the train's journey from beginning in Washington, DC, to its end in Springfield, IL. Will be of great interest to history enthusiasts and others in some of the major cities along the route which are well-documented in this book through newspaper or first-hand accounts. Really quite amazing that a nearly 2,000 mile journey with dozens and dozens of stops - major and minor - was able to stay on schedule. A few minor criticisms, but they do not detract from the overall quality of the book: a) could have used a better editor or proofreader's hand - there are some misspellings, grammar issues, etc., throughout; b) some of the photos or documents featured in the book are at best tangential to the funeral train; others have absolutely no place in the book; c) some of the featured items from auction houses such as Skinner include appraised values - found this disconcerting and wondered if the book was written to appeal to collectors of Lincolnia more than the average reader. All said, a really interesting and well-illustrated volume - a good companion for the 150th anniversary of this tragic event.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 21, 1865 - "Mournful Intelligence" - A Notre Dame Student-Soldier Learns About Lincoln's Assassination

Cross-posted from my Notre Dame in the Civil War blog:

I have featured information about Orville T. Chamberlain - a Notre Dame graduate, Union soldier in the 74th Indiana infantry, and Medal of Honor recipient - several times here on the blog (see here, here, and here).

Indeed, my book - Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory - starts with an excerpt from a letter Chamberlain wrote as a student, dated March 4, 1861, in which he describes how the school had the afternoon off in honor of the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.

It's fitting, then, to share one of his last wartime letters - dated April 21, 1865 - 150 years ago today - and written to his father from his camp about nineteen miles from Raleigh, NC, in which he discusses several pieces of news:

"Quite a brisk skirmish" near Clayton, NC, on April 10, 1865

The announcement of Lee's surrender to Grant - "the camp was full of excitement and joy"

His visit to the state house in Raleigh - "better than the capitol of Indiana or Georgia, but no so good as that of Tennessee."

His interaction with a local Confederate family and their daughter

and - a solemn bookend to his March 4, 1861, letter, this:

Since we came here we received the Gen. Sherman's Order announcing the assassination of President Lincoln.  The mournful intelligence was received by our army with feelings of mingled rage and sorrow.  If the perpetrator of the damnable deed were here, he would be torn into a thousand tatters.  We all wanted to see Abraham Lincoln live to see the fruits of his labors, and we wanted to honor in the future his honesty and his wisdom.

and a quote from Macbeth:

Besides, this Duncan bore his faculties so meek,
He was so clear in his great office, that his virtues
Plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;


and - finally - closing with a note of peace and hope:

"...it is probable that I will live to get home."

Reference: Letter, Orville Chamberlain to Joseph Chamberlain, August 23,1862, Chamberlain Papers, Box 1, Folder 8, Indiana Historical Society (IHS)

Letter, Orville Chamberlain to father, April 21, 1865, Indiana Historical Society

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sugar-Coated Pill of Secession (and Other Civil War Patriotic Covers)

In previous posts (here, here, and here) I have written about my interest in Civil War patriotic covers (envelopes), especially those that have a medicine-related theme. 

In this post, a share some additions to my collection since I last wrote about them as well as an article about medicine- and bottle-related covers that I had the privilege of writing for Bottles & Extras, the official magazine of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC).

First, a couple of new covers!  Both have a "pill" theme - a common motif in medicine-related covers (see more on this in the article below).  I really like the "Cure for Rebellion" cover as it's my first (and only, for now) "used" cover (generally more difficult to find and/or more expensive than unused covers).


 



The "Sugar-Coated Pill" above is also very good and carries several motifs: again, the "pill" (this time in terms of "taking one's medicine" rather than a bullet, with the added emphasis on "sugar-coated" - making something unpleasant more palatable; also - lampooning Jefferson Davis (another common theme described in article below); and, finally, some political commentary on the initial reluctance of Virginia to secede coupled with the reward of securing the designation of Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy (taking it over from Montgomery, Alabama).

Enjoy the article!

“Lincoln’s Renowned Rebel Exterminator”
Civil War Patriotic Covers with Bottle or Medicine Themes
By James M. Schmidt
Bottles & Extras - July/Aug 2014


It’s funny how two or more hobbies can collide to form an entirely new one. Such it was when
no less than five of my special interests – Civil War history, bottles, patent medicines, postal history, and 19th century ephemera – combined in the form of collecting Civil War patriotic covers featuring bottles and/or medicine themes. It’s an especially good time to feature these covers in the pages of this magazine as the country is presently commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war.

Civil War "patriotic covers" - that is, envelopes printed with mono- or multi-color images and/or slogans - have long been treasured and collected by philatelists and people interested in Civil War ephemera or postal history. The covers have also recently attracted interest from scholars who study postal history, 19th century art and popular culture, politics, political sloganeering and propaganda, and other related fields.

Besides their practical use for the mail, the images were intended to personalize, inspire, educate, amuse, anger, and elicit other emotions in wartime. It is estimated that between 10-15,000 different covers were designed and published by more than two hundred different printers, North and South, and sold by mail, in stores, by traveling salesmen, by camp sutlers, and other means.

Typical newspaper advertisement for wartime patriotic envelopes from The Big Blue Union, Marysville, Kansas, Feb. 21, 1863
As with bottles, the cost of acquiring patriotic covers depends very much on rarity and desirability.  William R. Weiss, Jr., expert collector and author of the premier catalog of Civil War patriotic covers, states that prices for unused covers start around $5.00 and range into the hundreds of dollars. “Used” covers (addressed, stamped, and cancelled during the war) can run into the thousands of dollars. Mr. Weiss is confident that few fakes exist, but does acknowledge that some firms do sell reproductions as stationery, for living history displays, etc. (1).

Many of the images on the covers - of politicians, famous generals, and battle scenes - are readily familiar to us even today. However, some of the iconography or symbolism may be lost on a modern audience, yet was readily understood by Americans in the mid-19th century. Like any kind of art (and, indeed, that is what these covers are: many of them simple, but many more elegantly engraved and/or hand-colored), some of the images had a deeper meaning. To aid in interpretation of the covers, I highly recommend Steven Boyd’s Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers (2010). (2)

The surprise – as I started collecting – wasn’t that there was a need to specialize; with thousands of covers, there is a plethora of categories to choose from (Weiss has categories of famous people, scenes, army corps and regiments, caricatures, animals, flags, male and female icons, and much more; each with subdivisions). The surprise is how many examples I have found that fit my rather narrow category; I continue to find new examples in online auctions, published catalogs, archival collections, and other sources.

In this article I share some covers from my own collection (as well as covers in other collections I’d like to add to mine). Why not start with a favorite: “Lincoln as Pharmacist.” Indeed, presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were popular subjects on patriotic covers as they personified their respective nations (on Union covers, Davis is generally lampooned and caricatured; likewise, Lincoln on Confederate covers).

In a nicely-engraved, multi-color cover, a beardless Lincoln appears in a red-and-white lab coat and blue star-filled cap. He is surrounded by “remedies” to Southern secession, with cleverly-named proprietary/patent medicines, including “Lincoln’s Renowned Rebel Exterminator,” “Scott’s Extirpation Powders”, “Butler’s Mineral Pills”, “Schenk’s Volatile Pills” (Scott, Butler, and Schenck were generals in the Union army), “Pure Refined National Elixir of Liberty,” and others. If you look closely, you’ll notice the likenesses of “Jeff Davis” and “(P.G.T.) Beauregard,” hanging by nooses and preserved in jars on a shelf.

Lincoln as Pharmacist - James M. Schmidt Collection
Another popular national image was “Uncle Sam” such as below where he appears in covers featuring another clever “medicine” (“Uncle Sam’s Infallible Remedy for all Rebel-ious Complaints”) or holding a bottle labeled "Davis" as he stands over a snake labeled "Secession."

Uncle Sam's Infallible Remedy - James M. Schmidt Collection

Uncle Sam's Recipe for Treason - James M. Schmidt Collection
The covers below carry a theme of “pills” or “Lincoln’s pills,” a common moniker for bullets, balls, shot, and shell during the Civil War, given their resemblance to the shape of a pill.  An example can be found in a letter from an Ohio soldier (3):

“We crossed the stream and took shelter under the opposite bank just in time, for the rebel line dropped into a ditch about twenty-five feet in front of us. We were not long in giving them some of Lincoln’s pills and they returned Jeff’s best.”

Likewise, lines in a poem written by an Indiana soldier state (4):
 
At New Hope Church and Dallas Hills
We gave them more of "Lincoln's pills”;
And with an aim that always kills,
To show them we have "powder drills."

A Grave Wish - Library of Congress
Lincoln's Pills - Library of Congress
The Union Pill - James M. Schmidt Collection 
 
To Cure Rebellion - James M. Schmidt Collection
Given that the abolition of slavery was an important aim of the Civil War, it is not surprising that African-Americans – free and enslaved – appear in patriotic covers. Below is an example of just such a cover, again with a medical theme. The "Black Drop" cover features a caricature of an African-American "bottled up" (enslaved) with the text: "A popular medicine used by the C.S.A. aristocracy, that cannot be obtained in any Northern apothecary shop, being com-pound-ed exclusively on the sacred soil." "Black Drop" is a reference to an actual period medicine composed of opium, vinegar, spices, often with sugar, that went by several proprietary names.

Black Drop - Collection of James M. Schmidt
While the cover features a message sympathetic to abolition, it also uses a cartoonish image of an enslaved African American, an all-too-common practice in the Civil War era, even in the North. Indeed, some covers used even more explicit racial epithets or dehumanizing imagery (a sad practice carried in medicine, bitters, and other bottle-related advertising into the 20th century).  Other patriotic covers featured African-Americans in a realistic and humane manner.

I will close the article with another favorite of mine, which features the “Secession Physic Cure” with engravings of “powder,” “Union Bitters,” and “Dr. Scott’s Pills” and the  verse:
SECESSION PHYSIC CURE

To cure secession and its ills
Take Dr. Scott's Cast Iron Pills
Well mixed with powder of saltpetre
Apply it to each "Fire Eater"
With Union Bitters, mix it clever,
And treason is warned off forever
Secession Physic Cure - Collection of James M. Schmidt

There are other bottle- and medicine-related Civil War patriotic covers, but I hope this sample has given readers a flavor for the art and meaning to be found in these interesting pieces of history.

References

(1) William R. Weiss, Jr., The Catalog of Union Civil War Patriotic Covers (1995); also see his collecting guide
(2) You can read my interview with Dr. Boyd here
(3) History of Knox County Ohio (1881)
(4) A History of the Thirty-First Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry (1900)



Thursday, September 25, 2014

150 Years Ago Today, Everyday - Interview with Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune

As a Civil War enthusiast, one of the great joys I've had in the six-plus months I've lived here in central Missouri is reading the daily "Life During War Time" column in the Columbia Daily Tribune.  It's right there on page 2 everyday: a few hundred words chronicling a variety of topics about the Civil War in the area, by date, in the words of the people who lived it.

The column from Tuesday of this week was a perfect example: a report of a guerrilla raid in the nearby river town of Rocheport; a successful capture of other bushwackers by Union militia in Fayette; a report on the vanguard of Confederate Major General Sterling Price's 1864 Missouri raid; fights over party nominations for the upcoming Congressional elections; and calls for the investigation of possible treason by a Union garrison in Keytesville that quickly surrendered to another band of guerrillas.

Rich material, that! And: every day!

We have Tribune writer Rudi Keller to thank for the daily recap and he was kind enough to answer some questions about his wonderful column!

Jim Schmidt (JS): Please tell us a bit about yourself, including your career as a journalist and your interest in history

Rudi Keller - Columbia Tribune
Rudi Keller (RK): I am a native of Louisville, Ky., who came to Columbia in 1983 to attend the Journalism School, graduating in December 1986. I have worked for UPI, the Tribune, the Albuquerque Journal and the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian. I returned to Columbia to take a job again with the Tribune in August 2010.

I have always been an avid reader of history and biography, preferring that to all other reading. It is a very general interest, from the Angevin Empire period of English history to ancient Greece and Rome to the Napoleonic era, etc.


JS: What was the genesis of "Life During Wartime"? Was the challenge of writing something every day daunting?  How far in advance is each column written?

RK: Life During Wartime began as an idea to recognize the sesquicentennial of the Civil War that I developed in November 2010. I wrote an article at the beginning of that month to note the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s election (he got 12 votes in Boone County) and decided we should provide our readers with a highly localized history.

I was not sure whether a day-by-day look back at the war was possible when I had the idea, but a little bit of research showed that there was plenty to write about and it could start before Fort Sumter with articles about the politics of secession in Missouri. It has been a daunting job, consuming almost all my free time to the point that I am jealous of any other thing that takes me away from it when I am not working on current news.

My goal is to write each column 3 to 10 days before it is published, with research into my main sources extended three weeks beyond the date of each column so I don’t miss things appearing in weekly newspapers, especially reprints of articles from papers that have not survived to be part of the State Historical Society collection.


JS: Can you describe the geographical area of MO to which you generally limit yourself, and why this is such fertile ground for exploring daily life in wartime Missouri.

RK: Once I had the idea for a day-by-day format, I had to decide the area I would cover. Boone County alone was too small, so I added the seven surrounding counties – Audrain, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Randolph. By adding Cole, for example, I opened up all the activities of the General Assembly, state government and the State Conventions to the basic elements I would research.

Central Missouri is exceptionally fertile ground. In 1861, the first battle of the war in Missouri occurred at Boonville and in October, Secretary of War Simon Cameron visited Fremont near Tipton in Moniteau County to tell him to get after Gen. Price or lose his command.

With a large slave population, deeply divided populace, men joining both armies and guerrilla raids, plus heavy enforcement of martial law I have not lacked for material. Often, the question is what to exclude to keep the account limited to the space allocated by the Tribune.


JS: You use a wide variety of sources - Official Records, period newspapers, county histories, biographies, and - my favorite - the State Historical Society of MO.  What have been some of your favorite manuscript collections you've come across?

RK: Probably my favorite source is the Provost Marshal Papers available from the Missouri State Archives. Every aspect of life during the war is on display here – politicians seeking to help free friends from prison or banishment, widows complaining that troops were stealing corn and testimony from the prisoners themselves explaining their actions or seeking mercy.

However, I have found so many interesting items in so many places, I could not say what has provided the most.

JS: What historical events or people have made the biggest impression on you so far in writing this column?

RK: This is the toughest question because I have learned so much about so many people, some well known and some obscure. My estimation of Ulysses Grant, for example, has grown because he was so different from so many Union generals – he acted with what he had, didn’t complain about what he did not have and was almost always victorious. Grant was briefly a part of the series in 1861, when he was a colonel with only a suspected reputation as a drunk.

Odon Guitar
Odon Guitar, the Columbia attorney-turned soldier, is someone I knew little about. He was a hard-fighting cavalry leader who tried to make both sides in the civilian population behave, and he was successful as an administrator in that regard. When he was replaced in North Missouri, within a few months the worst and longest guerrilla insurgency of the war began and ended only when Price was defeated at Westport.

There are too many others to go on.

JS: What events and personalities can readers look forward to in the coming months as we approach the end of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War?

RK: The final months of the war will include election of a new Radical governor, emancipation of Missouri slaves and the writing of a new Constitution that includes the “Iron Clad Oath” of loyalty to prevent people from voting, teaching, preaching or working as a professional such as attorney or doctor unless they can prove they were loyal from the beginning of the war.

We will also see the last convulsions of the guerrilla war, with the murder of freed slaves, Union atrocities against civilians, and the return of Confederates following the various surrenders.

JS: Is there a good way for non-subscrbers to read some of the previous columns (they've been collected in books, by year, is that correct?)

RK: The columns for each year will eventually appear in a five-volume series of hardcover books, supplemented by photos and extra materials to explain and provide in-depth study of particular issues. So far, we have Volume I, covering 1861, and Volume II, covering 1862, available at the Tribune offices.

Thank you Mr. Keller!  Keep Up the Great Work and Best Wishes for Continued Success and Inspiration!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

150 Years Ago - Yellow Fever Comes to Galveston

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of a terrible yellow fever epidemic that struck Galveston, TX, during the Civil War.  By the time the epidemic ended with the first frost in November 1864, more than 250 soldiers and civilians had died from the disease, with several times that sick and debilitated. 

I'm so honored that the Galveston County Daily News saw fit to publish a feature article this week that I wrote for them to commemorate the anniversary.  The article was based largely on a chapter in my book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (The History Press, 20102), that is devoted to the epidemic.

I happily provide an extended excerpt of that chapter below, with illustrations and hyperlinks to relevant sources.

Chapter Ten
"Fever"

“We were attacked during the summer of 1864 by a silent and insidious enemy against which our heaviest guns availed nothing.  The yellow fever invaded our camp and soon became epidemic, carrying off numbers who had courted death on numerous battlefields and endured the hardships of many campaigns, only to succumb at last to this dreaded scourge.” - Ralph J. Smith, Private, Second Texas Infantry, CSA


Dudley H. Ward was born in 1845 in Austin, Texas, to one of the state’s most notable citizens.  His father, Thomas William “Peg Leg” Ward, was an Irish immigrant who fought in the Texas Revolution (losing a leg to a cannonball in his first battle in 1835; thus the moniker), served as mayor of Austin, state land commissioner, and as United States consul to Panama.  As a teen, Dudley lived with his mother, Susan Marston Ward, but owing to his parents’ marital problems he returned to Texas with his father in 1860, forever estranged from his mother.

Although Thomas Ward was a Unionist and had cast a vote against secession in February 1861 (as did a majority of Austinites), Dudley succumbed to “war fever” and enlisted in the Second Texas Infantry of the Confederate States Army in late 1862.  The regiment distinguished itself in the defense of Vicksburg, Mississippi, but the young Ward and his comrades became prisoners of war when their commander, Lt. Gen John C. Pemberton, surrendered to Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863.  Paroled a few days later, Dudley returned to Texas and stayed a few months with his father in Austin until he was officially exchanged in November.  He then rejoined his regiment (much reduced in numbers) at Galveston in its mission to guard the Texas coast. (1)


A faithful correspondent with his father, Dudley wrote in early September 1864 that he had just returned from a short trip to Houston only to learn from his comrades that he “had just got back in time to leave with the Regiment, which was ordered off on account of the yellow fever.”  Dudley, “thinking there was not as much danger as they apprehended” went to his commanding officer, Col. Ashbel Smith, and secured permission to stay in Galveston.  In the same letter, Dudley explained the reasons for his decision:

I think that one will be just as liable to take the disease at camp which is only five miles off, as in the city.  Besides, all the supplies will have to be brought from this post, and if a person happens to be sick in camp he will be almost sure to die from want of nurses, which I understand are more necessary to the cure of the fever than even medicine…and I think it better that if I am to have a visit from the fever it had better come at once when I am young and able to bear it.  There is no certainty however that the yellow fever is here.  There is a great diversity of opinion in regard to the matter...Which side to believe I do not know but will write to tell you with certainty in a few days as soon as the truth can be known, for I am going to stay and “see the elephant.” (2)

[READ MORE ABOUT THE DUDLEY WARD LETTERS HERE]

In his letter, Dudley Ward was describing – and sadly underestimating - a deadly yellow fever epidemic that struck Galveston in the summer and autumn of 1864.  The disease would take many more lives than his regiment lost in their defense of Vicksburg or that fell in Magruder’s victory on New Year’s Day 1863.

“No disease brought more fear and more deaths to Galveston’s early residents than yellow fever,” one modern historian has justly declared.  No less than seven major epidemics struck the island city between 1837 and 1860, killing more than two thousand people.  One early island historian, writing of the first epidemic in 1839 which claimed 250 lives, uses the fitting imagery of war to describe the scene:

[The] busy scene of progressive life and animation was suddenly paralyzed and the energies of the people were instantly numbed by a dreadful fear, and friend looked into the face of friend, neighbor into the face of neighbor, with the fearful inquiry of ‘Who next?’  An epidemic had fallen upon them, and was decimating their ranks with a fatality more dreadful and irresistible than war. (3)

Victim of an 1854 yellow fever epidemic buried in Galveston - photo by James M. Schmidt
In 1839, Dr. Ashbel Smith (the very same man who was Dudley Ward’s commander in 1864) was one of the state’s leading physicians and was present in Galveston during that year’s deadly epidemic.  He treated the sick for several weeks, all the while taking copious clinical notes of his patients’ symptoms, postmortem examinations of victims, and his own experiments.  In a treatise on the epidemic, Smith’s descriptions gave grim witness to why the disease engendered such “dreadful fear”: it came not just from the fact that people died; it came from the way they died: a gruesome days-long march to death with fever, nausea, pain, bleeding from the nose and gums, jaundice that gave the disease its name, and – especially - the signature “black vomit.”

Smith’s treatise, Yellow Fever in Galveston, Republic of Texas, 1839: An Account of the Great Epidemic, was praised by scientists then and has even been acknowledged since by modern medical historians for its “essential clinical information.”  Still, the actual cause of the disease remained a mystery to Smith, and would remain so for other physicians and scientists for another half-century.  For, like other physicians of the era who attributed diseases to invisible “miasmas,” the otherwise talented Smith also believed in “unseen deadly poisons on the wings” of breezes that blew over the island. (4)

SEE AND READ DR. SMITH'S YELLOW FEVER IN GALVESTON HERE:

https://archive.org/stream/2572008R.nlm.nih.gov/2572008R#page/n3/mode/2up

 

In fact, scientists discovered that yellow fever is a virus transmitted by the bite of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito.  The disease was brought to the New World in cargoes of slaves from Africa.  Indeed, yellow fever has been called one of the prices this country paid for slavery by abolitionists of the 19th century and historians of the present century.  Once only the scourge of the ships themselves - sometimes decimating whole crews, their human cargo, or both - the virus soon began to devastate town after town on the eastern shore of the Americas.  As a locus of the Gulf Coast slave trade, it is not surprising that Galveston also inherited the disease.

To make matters worse, the citizens of Galveston were also ill-served by their city fathers, local physicians, and the press who seemed to have a congenital aversion to basic sanitation or to recognize and admit the early warning signs of an epidemic.  Basic precautions such as draining stagnant pools of water and enforcing quarantines on incoming ships would have saved lives.  Furthermore, when the “sickly season” arrived in Galveston each summer and rumors of yellow fever began to be whispered in the streets, it had been “the usual custom of the newspapers…to ignore the evil or to imply that the epidemic was one of minor proportions,” as one historian stated, all in order to preserve the island’s all-important trade and commerce. (5)
During the Civil War, the disease-carrying insects – dubbed by one historian as “mosquito soldiers” - served as a sort of “mercenary force, a third army, one that could work for or against either side depending on the circumstances.”  Owing to that “army” and the historical indifference to sanitation and quarantines on the island, yellow fever played a tragic role in the history of the Civil War in Galveston. (6)

[See my interview with Dr. Andrew Bell, author of Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War here]


On May 12, 1864, Confederate surgeon Gustav Holland wrote Brig. Gen. James M. Hawes, in command of the island garrison, of a letter he had been shown “from an old citizen of this place.” Dated April 30, 1864, from Havana, Cuba, the writer stated that “a large number of cases of yellow fever had already occurred there and that they were of such malignant type as to justify the opinion that this would prove a very sickly season.”  The letter would prove prescient, indeed. (7)

The letter from Havana also stated that the writer and others intended “to run a regular line of steamers during the coming summer between Havana and this port.”  Ironically, the Union blockade probably saved lives in Galveston in the first years of the war by preventing some infected ships from reaching the island.  But as the island’s port became one of the few still in Confederate hands, Holland admitted to Hawes  that “the necessities of the country and people are such that we cannot afford to prohibit this intercourse although we may reasonably suspect that it will expose us constantly to the danger of having yellow fever imported among us.” (8)

As a precaution, General Magruder issued an order on August 3, 1864, for a strict quarantine on all ships from the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, or New Orleans, until November 15, 1864.  The next day – perhaps owing to protests from the city’s merchants – Magruder reduced the quarantine to eight days, and only for those ships coming from places known to be infected.  As one historian declared, “these watered-down precautions would prove to be woefully inadequate.”  The same historian – an expert in Galveston maritime history – has suggested that the 1864 epidemic was brought to Galveston on blockade runners from Havana. (9)

Soon, rumors of a yellow fever epidemic began hitting the streets and the usual pattern of denial by the city’s physicians and press prevailed.  Greensville Dowell, M.D., a surgeon attached to a Texas artillery regiment, recalled:

When [yellow fever] originated in Galveston, in 1864, I know it was disputed until there were at least seven deaths from black vomit, and four of our yellow fever doctors signed a statement that there were no cases in the city…I was threatened with a court-martial for declaring it was yellow fever. The positive assertions that it did not exist, kept many persons in the city who would have left, and prevented the post commander, General Hawes, from removing the troops out of the city. (10)

SEE AND READ DR. DOWELL'S BOOK HERE:

https://archive.org/stream/39002086312296.med.yale.edu#page/n5/mode/2up

Like a veteran returning to an old battlefield, Col. Ashbel Smith - who had famously documented the 1839 epidemic – found himself in Galveston during other island yellow fever epidemics in 1847, 1853, 1854, and the wartime epidemic of 1864.  He also complained of the delay, writing in a letter that, “The army surgeons have appeared to much disadvantage, doubting and denying the existence of the disease, while persons are dying of black vomit in rapid succession…it was impossible for me to mistake so distinctly characteristic a disease.” (11)

In mid-September, Dudley Ward wrote his father, “The physicians one and all have pronounced the prevailing disease yellow fever; there are upwards of a hundred cases of it and although it is in rather a mild form, of it two to five persons are buried every day."  According to Galveston internment records, the first official death credited to yellow fever (previous deaths were certainly misdiagnosed, perhaps purposely) was that of the Rev. H. Browning, a 40-year old minister from Germany, on September 5, 1864; the first soldier fell to the disease eight days later.  The death toll then accelerated quickly, in a “gradual, persistent and fatal march from house to house,” as one doctor remembered. (12)

The yellow fever hit the soldiers as hard as it did civilians: of the 259 yellow fever deaths recorded from September through November, 117 were soldiers and sailors, 126 were citizens of the city (split evenly between those ten years and younger and those older than ten), and sixteen were African-Americans.  Among the soldiers, Dudley Ward’s regiment – the Second Texas Infantry – suffered the most, losing thirty-one men.  In his memoirs, Ralph J. Smith, a private in the Second Texas with Ward, wrote of the epidemic:

This was a time that tried men's souls beyond the test of battle shouts. No surging crowds of men to urge one on to victory or death yet now what heroic bravery it required to sit alone through the sad and silent watches of the night beside a plague-stricken-comrade's bed and minister to the dying wants of one whose very breath exhaled death into the surrounding atmosphere. (13)

SEE AND READ RALPH SMITH'S MEMOIR HERE:

https://archive.org/stream/reminisencesofci00smit#page/n3/mode/2up

On September 14, Gen. Hawes put out a call for help in the Houston Telegraph, asking citizens “to organize a corps of nurses for Yellow Fever patients” as there was not a sufficient number of “acclimated men” under his command to furnish the necessary nurses and attendants.  Ralph Smith wrote kindly of the soldiers and women who attended to the sick:

But men were found in camp and women too in the city whose thoughts of self were drowned in other's cup of trembling so that not one was left to suffer and die alone. And here during this, epidemic was displayed equally as much heroism if not more than is required to go in to battle both by soldiers and also the good women of the city, true heroines indeed who so kindly cared for and ministered to the sick and dying soldiers. (14)

The epidemic also affected law and order in the city.  If there was a dearth of “acclimated men” to assist in the hospitals, there were fewer still for guards and military police.  Patrols of the city were necessarily neglected and burglaries, murders, and rapes increased.  Undoubtedly some of the crimes were perpetrated by soldiers, further increasing tension between the city and the garrison.
Mercifully, the 1864 epidemic ended when late November brought heavy frosts.

Despite the epidemic raging around him in the late summer of 1864, Dudley Ward declared cheerfully in a letter to his father, “my health continues to be good and I hope will still be so for some time in spite of epidemics...I am doing remarkably well and have not felt the least inconvenience as yet…I have no fears of the disease.”  He concluded by asking his father for some “specie” (“Confederate money is literally worth nothing,” he acknowledged) in the event that “Yellow Jack lays his hands on me” and he should need some medicine. (15)

It was the last letter the young soldier would write to his father: the yellow fever did “lay his hands” on Dudley H. Ward.  He died on September 19, 1864 – only five days after writing the letter - and was buried a day later in the “Soldier’s Rest” section of the Old Potter’s Field in the city cemetery.  The exact location of Ward’s grave - and those of other soldiers - was lost in the 1900 hurricane.  In 2000, a marker was erected to commemorate the final resting place of Ward and more than two hundred other Confederate soldiers who died of disease during the war in Galveston. (16)

Sources

(1) The best source for information on Ward and his family is David C. Humphrey’s Peg Leg: The Improbable Life of a Texas Hero, Thomas William Ward, 1807-1872 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2004).
(2) Letter, September 7, 1864, Galveston, TX, Dudley H. Ward to Thomas H. Ward, Dudley Ward Papers, Texas General Land Office (hereafter TGLO),  Austin, TX.
(3) Hardwick, Susan W. Mythic Galveston: Reinventing America’s Third Coast. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002, p. 27; Hayes, Charles W. History of the Island and the City of Galveston, 2 vol., Austin, TX: Jenkins Garrett Press, 1974, Vol. 1, 387.
(4) Ashbel Smith, Yellow Fever in Galveston, Republic of Texas, 1839: An Account of the Great Epidemic (reprint of the original, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1951), pp. vi-vii, 18.
(5) Fornell, Earl W. The Galveston Era: The Texas Crescent on the Eve of Secession. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961, p. 66.
(6) Andrew M. Bell, Mosquito Soldiers: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and the Course of the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010), p. 4.
(7) Letter, May 12, 1864, Galveston, Texas, Dr. Gustave Holland to Brig. James M. Hawes, M331, Compiled Service Records (CSR) of Confederate General and Staff Officers, and Nonregimental Enlisted Men, NARA.
(8) Ibid.

(9) Andrew Hall, “Did Denbigh Bring Yellow Fever to Galveston?” “Dead Confederates” blog, http://deadconfederates.com/2010/07/09/did-denbigh-bring-yellow-fever-to-galveston/
(10) Greensville S. Dowell, Yellow Fever and Malarial Diseases: Embracing a History of the Epidemics of Yellow Fever in Texas (Philadelphia: Medical Publications, 1876), 26.
(11) Cotham, Edward T. Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998, p. 166.
(12) Letter, September 14, 1864, Galveston, TX, Dudley H. Ward to Thomas H. Ward, Dudley Ward Papers, TGLO; Peggy H. Gregory, comp., Record of Internments of the City of Galveston, 1859-1872 (Houston: privately printed, 1976), 42; Dowell, Yellow Fever, 43.
(13) Ralph J. Smith, Reminisences of Civil War (Waco, TX: W. M. Morrison, 1911), 18.
(14) Galveston Weekly News, September 15, 1864; Smith, Reminisences, 19.
(15) Letter, September 14, 1864, Galveston, TX, Dudley H. Ward to Thomas H. Ward, Dudley Ward Papers, TGLO.
(16) Gregory, Record of Internments, 44.“A Guide to the Dudley Ward Papers, 1863-1864,” Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/txglo/00001/glo-00001.html





Thursday, July 31, 2014

Medical Department #47 - Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

I'm pleased to provide below the text from my most recent "Medical Department" column in Civil War News.

“Medical Department”
August 2014
By Jim Schmidt
 
“Our Bodies, Ourselves”

"Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own." - Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)

 
Anti-Slavery Bugle - Lisbon, OH - November 03, 1860

Recently, I read Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, first published in 1861. I was inspired to read it for two reasons: first, it seemed a good companion to last year’s award-winning film, Twelve Years a Slave (based on the 1853 narrative by Solomon Northup); second, on account of reading a recent excellent article, “"[No] Doctor but My Master": Health Reform and Antislavery Rhetoric in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” (J Med Humanit, Mar 2014), by Sarah L. Berry, Ph.D.

“Northrup’s narrative is a classic among the thousands of narratives told or written by enslaved men,” Dr. Berry wrote me after kindly agreeing to an interview, adding that, “Jacobs’s narrative is absolutely unique in being the only narrative written by a formerly enslaved woman before the Civil War and in directly addressing the sexual exploitation and disrupted parenting of enslaved women. Jacobs was brave to disclose the full extent of her experience to a middle-class female readership.”

Dr. Berry makes several important points that tie together the study of slavery and medicine that should be of interest to readers of this column: 1) she emphasizes Jacobs’s experience about the particular suffering of female slaves, especially in terms of sexual exploitation; 2) she demonstrates the power wielded by slaveholding physicians over the bodies and medical treatment of their female slaves (and of free white females); 3) she notes how Jacobs criticized the “heroic” medicine of the early-1800s; and 4) she explains how Incidents was more than an abolitionist track, but also part of the broader reform literature of the era, including medical reform.

Dr. Berry has a most interesting and diverse academic background – “I have a BS in Biology and a PhD in English, with experience in lab work and clinical research and, post-PhD, expertise in the field of Health Humanities,” she told me - which is wonderfully expressed in her equally diverse teaching, research, and writing interests: medicine, literature, social justice, and health. Most recently on the faculty of the English Department of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, she’ll soon begin a new assignment as Assistant Professor of Biomedical Humanities at Hiram College in Ohio.
 
Harriet Jacobs - c1890s
Jacobs’s Incidents appealed to Dr. Berry owing to her general interest in women’s first-person narratives.  “I wanted to investigate them deeply to see if broad statements about women’s powerlessness that are often made in nineteenth-century studies were always true,” she told me, adding, “I wanted to learn about the nitty-gritty details of a woman’s life with illness, or injury, and medical treatment, and as a result I became very interested in the details of medical men’s practices.”

While Jacobs’s narrative has been analyzed by literature and history scholars, Dr. Berry recognized that no one found “Dr. Flint’s” (the fictionalized name of Harriet Jacobs’s master, Dr. James Norcom) profession as a physician important enough to mention. “That’s when I decided to go to Raleigh [North Carolina] and read his papers for myself, to find out what kind of doctor he was, and how that affected Jacobs,” Dr. Berry said.

Indeed, Dr. Berry’s essay is well-researched, drawing on Incidents itself, the papers of Jacobs’s master, Dr. James Norcom, the papers of mid-19th century reformers such as Amy Post, and recent scholarship in gender, slavery, abolition  and other 19th-century reform movements, medicine, and other academic studies.

 

Dr James Norcom - NC Museum of History
She compared what she found in Norcom’s personal writings with what Jacobs said about him, and about living her life under his thumb. “The results of my research bring to light many biographical and historical facts about Norcom that have not been discussed in the scholarship, and that help illuminate Jacobs’s unique abolitionist strategy of tying anti-slavery with anti-medicine arguments to appeal to a specifically white, middle-class female audience that was already beginning to protest both slavery and medicine in the 1850s when Jacobs was writing,” Dr. Berry explained.

Dr. Berry notes that Harriet Jacobs lived periodically among female reformers of Rochester, NY, who had responsibility for their family’s health. For these women, heroic medical practices were under debate and critiqued as too harsh, too expensive, and ineffective.  As an example of the treatments they criticized, Dr. Berry shares some of Dr. Norcom’s notes on his treatment of a (white) female patient:

“The case of Miss E. Boushel came out of the hands of Dr. Warren who had been prescribing for her, more than a year. She was never bled, seldom purged & only once or twice cupped – morphia & blisters were the remedies principally relied on for her relief. I have found her to require large depletion, active purgatives & strong revulsive remedies.”

Dr. Berry notes in the article that this is much more than an example of the “heroic” medicine practiced in the era, writing, “Norcom aggressively asserted control not only over Boushel’s disease, but also over body as a site for professional competition.” [One of the most interesting storylines in Incidents is Norcom’s “treatment” of Harriet’s original mistress; her subsequent death resulted in her transfer to Norcom’s household.]

“She also drew very clear parallels between the sexual endangerment of free female patients by male doctors who were increasingly taking over gynecology and obstetrics from midwives and the systematic sexual exploitation of enslaved girls and women,” Dr. Berry told me. In doing so, Jacobs “helped her make her case that white women and women of color were equals in terms of bodily rights and vulnerability to men,” she added.

No wonder that the reformers were pressing instead for alternatives that they perceived as gentler and more effective, such as the water cure. Likewise, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell sought to become a physician in no small part to the “moral degradation…from the practice of being treated by men in female complaints” suffered by free and enslaved females, alike.

Until now, my reading in this area had been limited to Todd Savitt’s Medicine and Slavery (1978).  “Savitt is classic and indispensable,” Dr. Berry told me, and happily added some other recommended reading for us: “Sharla M. Fett’s book - Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations (2002) - is an absolute pleasure; very accessible writing and very fascinating insight and evidence into the social and political convergence of African, indigenous, and European healing practices in numerous regions of the south.”

She also lists Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid (2006), Deborah McGregor’s From Midwives to Medicine (1998), and Marie Schwartz’s Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South (2006).

Dr. Berry acknowledges that hers is certainly not the last word on the intersection of Jacobs, Incidents, slavery, and medicine, and sees many opportunities for other avenues of research. “A larger outcome of my archival research was to suggest to me and I hope others the need for deep historical contextualization of enslaved peoples’ narratives in relation to medicine, healing, and the social power of the physician in the antebellum south,” she wrote me.

In her research she found account books and papers from other Edenton, North Carolina (Jacobs’s home until she escaped to the North) physicians, and believes that “much more ought to be investigated,” using those sources to see differences in the treatment of enslaved African-Americans and free whites in the antebellum South.

Web Exclusive: Link to full text of Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl:


https://archive.org/stream/01172152.4717.emory.edu/01172152_4717#page/n5/mode/2up

 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dr. John S. Sappington - Part III - A Paper Chase

One of many folders of the Dr. John Sappington Papers - State Historical Society of Missouri - Jim Schmidt
"Medicine sales very light; stock is old, labels become old and soiled." - Letter, January 3, 1852, J. D. Gregory to Miles Marmaduke.

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure and privilege of being part of a nonfiction author panel at the 2014 Montgomery County (TX) Book Festival.  One of the authors on the panel was the well-known True Crime writer, Kathryn Casey. She was really nice and interesting.  In answer to a question from the audience about how she does her research, she mentioned that she conducts dozens of interviews for each book - often more than a hundred.

When asked about my research techniques, I said - only half-tongue-in-cheek - that I also did dozens of interviews.  Then I explained that in my case, I didn't interrogate people...I interrogated their "papers" - letters, diaries, receipts, etc. - in order to get the best feeling I could for them, in their own words.

And so it was, as part of this continuing adventure (Part I and II here and here) to learn more about Dr. John Sappington of Arrow Rock, Missouri, I went to his collection of papers (and the Sappington Family Papers), which are right here in Columbia, Missouri, at the State Historical Society.

To - er - paraphrase Boromir from Lord of the Rings:


Created by Yours Truly Using the Meme Generator :-)

That's right! It takes some preparation to make the best use of your time and to help the (ever-helpful) archivists help you!

So, I revisited the great advice my good friend Guy Hasegawa gave me, which proved helpful in my last visit to an archival collection at the Galveston and Texas History Center (blog post about that visit here):

“First, do your homework, and be as specific as possible in stating your research interest,” he told me...His second suggestion is to allow plenty of time: “It takes time to locate microfilm or have paper records retrieved,” he said. He also noted that Civil War documents are generally handwritten and are difficult to read quickly. In short, he concludes: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that any sizable project can be done in one day.”

So, first I did my homework!

The SHS-Columbia has some excellent online manuscript finding aids for the Dr. Sappington Papers (here) and the Sappington Family Papers (here), which helped with making a list before I arrived of items I wanted to see. Also, Lynn Morrow's excellent and scholarly article, “Dr. John Sappington: Southern Patriarch in the New West.” Missouri Historical Review, v. 90, no. 1 (October 1995), pp. 38-60 (here) - included references to a lot of material that would be interesting, so I "mined" his footnotes and made a list of papers I knew I'd want to see.

Second, I limited the amount of material I would ask for, especially since the Saturday hours at the SHS are more limited than weekdays. I identified a few folders I was interested in.  There was indeed more that I would have looked at (and will!)...the time spent in reading and transcribing sometimes doesn't allow for seeing everything, so be sure and prioritize!

It's also important to know the policies and procedures of an archive before you visit as to regulations for what paper, writing utensils, computers, photography, etc. are or are not allowed. The SHS policies are here.




The staff at the SHS-Columbia were VERY helpful and courteous...I look forward to visiting again!

In looking at the Sappington Papers I got a wonderful glimpse into the day-to-day mechanics of his patent medicine enterprise:

Letters from entrepreneurial spirits of all kinds seeking permission to have an exclusive Sappington's Anti-Fever Pills agency.

Handwritten testimonials from satisfied users, some of whom also sought an agency

Letters from agents in the field complaining about the blight of all successful patent medicine proprietors: counterfeit medicine.

Correspondence on the quinine (the principal active ingredient in his pills) market.

Reports that his medicine was not doing as well as the medicines of local proprietors

One of many folders of the Dr. John Sappington Papers - State Historical Society of Missouri - Jim Schmidt

Letters from agents urging Dr. Sappington to advertise that his pills did not contain mineral ingredients

Letters about collection efforts - Sappington was vigilant in collections - more than one set of papers detailed his procurement of slaves in settlement of a debt.

And - much interesting correspondence about the publication and distribution of his book, Sappington on Fevers, discussed in the previous post

It was a great trip and I look forward to returning! Many thanks to the helpful folks at the SHS-Columbia! And: please USE and SUPPORT your local archives...often, if people aren't using them, they'll have a harder time justifying the necessary expense of professional archivists and proper storage and conservation.