Saturday, January 21, 2012

1864 Letter from "Eye, Ear, and Throat" Doctor to Union Sailor! (Part I)

Today I share a GREAT letter in my collection written in 1864 from a doctor in New York to a sailor in the United States Navy.

The letter is awesome on so many accounts - especially for its content and for the biographical details available on the writer and the recipient.

Start with the cover! It's addressed to "2nd Ass[istant] Eng[ineer]r Hiram Parker, Jr, U.S.N., U. S. Steame
r Louisiana, off Washington North Carolina"! More details on Hiram Parker, Jr., will be provided in my next post. The USS Louisiana has a GREAT Civil War history, which is detailed in the online "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships" with an entry here.


The letter is written on stationery of the "Office of Dr. Lighthill's Institute for Treatment of Diseases of the Eye, Ear, and Throat, No. 34 St. Mark's Place, New York." More biographical detail on Dr. Lighthill (Lighthills, actually!) will be provided in my next post.

The letter indicates that Parker had sent Dr. Lighthill $25 for some medicines. Though Parker probably earned more than the $12 to $14 a mon
th given to landsmen and seaman, it's still a lot of money for the day, especially for a young sailor.

It appears that Lighthill sent back to Parker some medicine: one a gargle for which he provides detailed directions, another medicine to be taken internally (although it's not clear if it's a syrup or a pill) with some instructions, and a third medicine with no other specifications.

Readers will see in my next post about the Li
ghthills that they did indeed specialize in the "eye, ear, and throat," publishing small books on cures for various afflictions and advertising widely.

My guess is that Parker was suffering from "catarrh," a 19th-century term for respiratory ailments such as colds or bronchitis (but not the more serious pneumonia).

4 comments:

FMeyer5 said...

Enjoyed the post. Remarkable how he came up with $25.00.

Mark Noce said...

Very enlightening. Where do you find these letters? It's really cool to find authentic documents. I saw a letter I really liked from the 12th Massachusetts once, but couldn't afford it. I'd love to know how to track down documents from specific units.

Jim Schmidt said...

Ferdinand - yes it remarkable. I'm not sure how much an engineer made but even today, with insurance, I don;t have to pay $25 for medicine. That was a large amount of money and he must have either been confident in th etreatment, desperate for one, or both.

Jim Schmidt said...

Mark - thanks for the comment and great question!

Most of the letters and other ephemera I find on eBay or from a few trusted delaers in documents.

I think the afforadabilty has a lot to do with what you were looking for. Letters from well know regiments, with great battle content, with sought-after autographs, etc., can get quite expensive.

My area of interest is in medicine so I just regularly do keyword searches for "medic*" on eBay, etc. in a few categories including

Civil War>>Correspondence
Stamps>>Covers
Collectibles>>Paper (pre-1900)

And every now and then somethng of interest (and affordable!) comes up.

It's really cool to have something that old and in someone else's hand, and - most of all - it's also fun to share.

You might want to consider doing similar searches for a regiment(s) you are interested in.

Hope that helps and good luck with your searches! Let me know if you need any other help or advice!