Helen Wilkinson Reynolds



A little bit of my personal experience here–this is a follow-up on an important discovery made by past Dutchess County/Hudson Valley historian Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.  In the past when I taught my course on these studies I liked to tell my students that this is the single topic that commenced my work on the history of alternative medicine in the Hudson valley, back in the summer of 1982.

During my first visit at Adriance Library, the rare books room librarian (Myra Morales) noticed I was especially interested in this region’s medical history.   I was then researching Dr. Osborn’s recipe book, a result of my recent discovery of the history of Hudson Valley medicine writings published decades earlier as part of the Yearbook of the Dutchess County Historical Society.   This librarian then pulled out for me a box containing a special collection of notes taken by historian Helen Wilkinson Reynolds.  Ms. Reynolds managed to review most of the newspapers of the valley for the early 1800s and had compiled her findings on various small pieces of paper, which she saved and kept as a collection of citations and notes to later be followed up on.  I was particularly interested in her note “Medical Electricity?” that appeared on one of these pieces of paper, especially due to the dates attached to that advertisement in the Poughkeepsie Journal in 1802.

Like Ms. Reynolds, I began to wonder what kind of electricity were they talking about in the 1802 newspaper.   It took me only a short while to begin developing a possible answer to this question.  But several decades would have to pass before I could understand this part of medical history well enough to narrow the possibilities of what kinds of electric healing were being practiced in the valley about that time.

It ended up that due to the philosophy of electricity and the body during this period of American medical history, various sorts of medical electricity were being promoted in the Hudson Valley. For some reason, a practice with unique ties to the Philadelphia scholar Benjamin Franklin, somehow by-passed Philadelphia almost completely and instead of being promoted by the medical school of Philadelphia, or even New York City, managed to instead become a unique and important piece of Hudson Valley history.

This medical electricity fad in the Hudson Valley in part came about as a result of a book published out of Troy, New York, by a Dr. Gale entitled Medical Electricity.   It was also a consequence of a fairly well localized popular form of medicine that made use of “metalic tractors” invented by Elisha Perkins of eastern Connecticut, promoted by Daniel S. Dean from Oswego just south of Verplank and Richard Todd in Fishkill under the name “Metalic Points” beginning in 1797.   Adding further to this popular “modern medicine” movement (as opposed to the “antient medicine” advertised in some ads in the Poughkeepsie Journal) was the work of Quaker Jedediah Tallman, who like many Quakers believed in these claims about electricity healing the body, and so started his own business promoting the sale of cylindrical chaped static electric generators in 1799.

Dean’s and Todds “Points” (Oswego hamlet and Fishkill, Dutchess County, NY), Tallman’s cylinders (Dover) and Gale’s book (Troy) revived an age old-fascination that previous Dutch physicians had with life and the vital force, once commonly demonstrated by their use of the Leyden Jar and probably an exciting piece of news when it finally reached the Dutch families living in New Amsterdam and New Netherlands during the late 1600s to early 1700s time period.  In the more recent years of Hudson valley history, there was still more evidence for this claim to present due to the invention of static electric disk and globe generators, just prior to Volta and Galvani’s unique discoveries of electricity and the earliest version of a battery.   These new scientific findings were also immediately preceded by a publication of an English translation of the writings of Dr. Hufland of Germany in 1794 , in which the flow of energy through the natural setting and its importance to the life process was defined, a philosophy that had Cadwallader Colden as one of its several metaphysical philosophy initiators and Samuel Hahnemann–the creator of homeopathy– as one of Hufland’s and Colden’s late bloomers with this piece of metaphysical philosophy and history.

The association of the natural philosophy underlying Gale’s and Hufland’s writings to the philosophy of Quakerism and Hudson Valley physician Shadrach Ricketson’s claims in his book are now much easier for local historians to comprehend and assign meaning to.  As stated elsewhere and numerous times, this is a very much a direct result of the Dutch history of the Hudson Valley and its related multicultural heritage.

The public availability of this fairly scarce book is thanks to:  http://www.iment.com/.  For a review of this book in its entirety, go to  http://www.iment.com/maida/familytree/henry/theman/atlocustgrove/medical/electricity/cover.htm.                                                  Notice too, the owner of this book–Gilbert Livingston –a member of the famous Livingston family responsible for establishing the local merino wool industry about this time, and a believer in the philosophy that health was a result of one’s ability to acclimate to local climate and weather conditions, a very Lamarckian concept common to early 19th century, pre-Darwinian medical philosophy. 

From Thomas Gale’s Medical Electricity, or Ethereal Fire . . . 1802.   

Medical Electricity

Perhaps one of the most important pages in Ricketson’s book is his page entitled “Medical Electricity” (p. 265), for which reason this page is presented in its entirety as a part of this review:

Ricketson notes the following important philosophical and utilitarians lines of thinking with regard to the use of medical electricity:

  • Electricity works as a “powerful stimulant.”
  • Electricity may be used as a prevention measure.
  • Electricity may be used to treat a disease or condition.
  • Electricity has the ability to resuscitate an individual with no sign of life.

The effects of electricity upon the body’s physique and something that can that best be described as an ‘energy state’ are as follows:

  • promotes blood flow or circulation
  • increases animal heat and perspiration
  • increases secretions of the body
  • increases excretions of the body
  • works through resuscitation by effecting problems that are related to lack or loss of adequate air flow into the lungs (“drowning, suffocation and other like causes”)

This combination of physiology and pathology features treatable with electricity tells us that Ricketson sees the body as harboring some universal energy form, akin to or resembling the already locally popular notions of Newton’s (Cadwallader Colden’s) concepts related to Gravity and universal (planets and stars related) magnetism.  This ‘energy’ is responsible for motion and flow (i.e. blood circulation), the production of heat in the body (with a measurable temperature and leading to sweat), the ability of the body to perform important vital functions such as the secretion of fluids (mucus membranes, respiratory passages, expulsion of pus from a skin sore or infectious state), excretions of fluids (production of urine, menstruation, occasional watery diarrhea of no other known cause), and reviving, adding to, or substituting for the energy in the body related to brain activities and consciousness.  This last concept according to Cheyne was essentially the cause for too much “Passion” and the related diseases, and was something borne by the “Brain”, that which defines the “Soul” of the individual.  It is possible Ricketson took on this value of electricity as some form of power or the like that related to the “soul” or perhaps was the driving force for a body’s soul, the substance that vitalized it.  Ricketson’s take on this piece of the natural philosophy behind his statements about Medical Electricity, in the ned, are perhaps only an ideology that he himself can fully comprehend, but something which it helps to try to attach Quaker Natural Theological reasoning to (more later on this).

According to Ricketson, the diseases that Medical Electricity can be used to manage are (identifications in brackets made using Dunglison’s Medical Dictionary, Rev. Ed., 1874):

  • Rheumatism
  • Gout
  • Kings Evil [Scrofula]
  • Palsy
  • St. Anthony’s Fire [Erysipelas]
  • St. Vitus’s Dance [Chorea]
  • Epilepsy or falling sickness
  • Gutta Serena [Amaurosis, or loss of sight]
  • Nervous Headache
  • Tooth-ache
  • Suppression of the Menses
  • Contractions and Cramps of the Limbs
  • Obstructions
  • Tumors
  • Ulcers


 The Different Forms of Medical Electricity

A total of fifteen medical conditions or problems were directly mentioned in Ricketson’s “Medical Electricity” passage.  According to Ricketson, each of these conditions can somehow be “healed” or prevented by electricity the some  means of application.   Since there were both preventive and treatment methods available for these conditions, several methods of applying electricity are inferred by this material.    The major forms of applying “Medical Electricity” at this time were as follows:

  • “Metallic Tractors” or “Metalic Points”
  • Leyden jar
  • static electric disk generator
  • lightning rods with chains, attached to the home/rooftop
  • magnetic materials such as some ore or a magnet

Metallic Tractors.  Around 1796 the metallic tractors were popularized by Dr. Elisha Perkins of Connecticut.  This use of a bimetal device was soon after promoted by his son Benjamin, who made an attempt to market it in the New York City area.  With the increasing numbers of incoming yellow fever epidemics at the time, these tractors were used to treat and manage and reportedly save more lives than bloodletting during the 1799 epidemic in New York.  However, it was this same epidemic that led to Elisha’s own demise by the end of that year.

In the months and years ahead, the popularity of Perkin’s method continued to grow in spite of Elisha’s death.  This led to the development of the Perkinean Institution in London in 1804.  Just prior to this, Anglican scholars paid a considerable amount of attention to the possibility that there was some for of natural philosophy based reasoning for the overall success of the metal tractors.  Such dealings had even led some of the churches to come to some sort of “belief” with regard to Perkin’s remedy.  Due to this booming interests in natural philosophy, the success of the tractors attracting quite a following, including some of the most important and influential scholars and professionals for the time.  In 1802, this led the “Doctors of Divinity” in London to form a team consisting of 30 clergymen, 21 regular physicians, 19 surgeons and 8 university professors, all of whom reviewed Perkin’s claims, of which around 5000 were presented, and in the end, supported Perkin’s claims and findings.  This strengthened the following of this popular culture “fad” for quite some time, support which would be limited somewhat by the passing of Elisha’s son Benjamin in New York just a few years later in 1810 [James Thacher, Boston, 1828, pp. 422-5].

As this form of healing became quite popular in Europe, it also resulted in heavy criticisms from regular medical professional in the New York-Connecticut setting.  This resulted in little coverage in the Medical Repository printed in New York, except for the occasional brief jokes, comments, and criticisms.  Years later, New York medical professor and journal editor making critical statements of this “quack” in his “Reminiscences” of local medicine provided in a speech he made in November of 1857 (John W. Francis, 1858, p. 25).    Francis said:  “Dr. Benjamin Perkins, the inventor of the metallic tractors, a charlatan, whose mesmeric delusion, like clairvoyance in these our own days, had something of a popular recognition, and whose confidence and temerity in the treatment of his case, yellow fever, by his own specific, terminated in his death, after three days’ illness.”   (Note again the inclusion of the trine–“three day’s illness.”.)  Since this is a reminiscence, it is also important to note Francis’s historical error regarding name recall and recognition–Benjamin is referred to due his local recognition and popularity in New York, yet it was Elisha who in fact died from the 1799 epidemic and invented these devices.

[Note: As of April 29, 2011, “Metalic Points” is covered separately at https://brianaltonenmph.com/6-history-of-medicine-and-pharmacy/hudson-valley-medical-history/1795-1815-biographies/john-r-todd-fishkill-ny-and-perkins-metallic-tractors/]

Leyden Jars.  The most “Dutch” form of these remedies was the old-fashioned Leyden Jar.  Invented in 1746/1747 by German inventor Ewald George Van Kleist, its applications to medicine were developed about the same time by Dutch scientist and physician, Pieter van Musschenbroek (1692-1761) of the University of Leyden, Netherlands; another story historians make reference to claims that Musschenbroek  invented the same device independently, thereby assigning the discovery to both of these inventors.  The Dutch take on the philosophical meaning of this discovery developed quite a lot of popularity in the Netherlands and in the Dutch Colonies.  Parts of this belief system were reinforcement of other Dutch concepts introduced to medicine nearly fifty years earlier, such as Hermann Boerhaave’s ability to produce a magically healing recipe consisting of magnetism.  The resulting popularity of the Leyden Jar could have  quite easily been imported into the North American colonies, in particular to New Amsterdam/New York City Dutch families.  But there was also an avenue by which this metaphysical concept could acquire some British support as well in the New England-New York area.   Improving upon the traditional Dutch method required a little bit of understanding for improvements to be made, which were achieved when an interconnected multi-Leyden jar apparatus was produced during the early 1800s.    Contact of the top metal sphere with the glass made using a conductor cord resulted in a simple brief shock; contact with the same conductor connected to multiple Jars could have quite more of an effect.

Disk Generators.  Disk generators were perhaps the most popular form of electric cure.  Their uses in medicine started with the Hauksbee apparatus around 1709, a device which had a handle used to spin the disk, which through a belt helped to turn a glass globe being rubbed by leather; this friction of the leather against the globe is what produced the static electricity, which was stored by the glass globe.  This energy was then discharged upon contact with the glass globe on top, or through some device that served as a cord-like conductor.

ca 1768 - Upper Hudson Valley Region Shock Therapy Device

ca 1768 – Upper Hudson Valley Region

Like the Leyden Jar, a multiple sphere apparatus could be produced based on the above device.  By producing friction using several spheres, more static electricity could be generated and stored.   This energy could then be transferred via a chain to what ever was in contact with its end.  In the case of the above model related to an invention produced in the 1760s by an Albany engineer, the  individual to the right is standing on a resin block which insulates him from the ground.   Anyone who makes contact with his hands is grounded and therefore receives the medical electricity.  This type of humorous practice was sometimes engaged in at fancy outdoor parties and such, and on occasion for providing some form of “healing” or “preventive power,” for example an activity once sponsored by Benjamin Franklin referred to as an “Electric Picnic.”

A similar method was developed for the use of catching the energy from Lightning Storms.  Using the above procedure, substituting the man on the resin block with an insulated bed bearing a brass frame and resin blocks under each leg, Lightning Rods and chains atop a house would be connected to the bed in order to transmit the electricity from lightning to the bed frame, revitalizing an ailing body and its diseased parts, in theory.  This method of electric cure was of course costly, but was a popular way some went about trying to cure palsy and other forms of paralysis during the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Now, these palsies could be of any form and kind at this time, and the most common forms they took were in the form of “palsy” related to some of the childhood diseases, in particular the same disease Franklin Delano Roosevelt caught at a child’s summer camp–poliomyelitis.  But other forms and other causes for paralysis or palsy existed in colonial and early post-colonial times, ranging from some sort of cerebral dysfunction- or birth-related related palsy, to the paralysis that occurs after a stroke.  One of the most common paralysis-inducing diseases at about this time was an infantile fever resulting in encephalitis.

In 1790, Luigi Galvani produced the first cell device which bore two chemicals, and a cell containing liquid.  This was followed by related work involving Alexander Volta.  These historical events resulted in a precursor to the common battery, in which metal plates are stacked, at times as high as 15 inches.  In terms of its used as a medical device, the apparatus would have been cumbersome, and required recharging in the form of a fresh supply of ionic water for it to operate.  Such a device at first seems too cumbersome and impractical to promote and sell within rural settings such as the Hudson Valley, especially as one heads further upstream.  Nevertheless, a likelihood for its use by upper class exists for local families, and so it was an option for the elite, even though Shadrach Ricketson may not have been so willing to support such marketing locally due to his concerns for the poor.

The use of magnetic ores, such as in the form of an amulet worn around the neck, may have been utilized as well, although no evidence exists regarding the popularity of wearing a magnetite or theoretically magnetic or electric crystal about the neck for treating any of these conditions.  This method of applying electricity, once popular in ancient times (centuries earlier), and to a small extent as part of the mysticism practiced alongside alchemy, astrology, magic and the like, would not become popular again until the mid-19th century, when necklaces consisting of multiple metal disks arranged in the shape of a coin were worn as amulets.


Dutchess County Medical Electricity Promoters

Of the above methods for employing or implementing medical electricity in the Valley, it appears the following options were available:  Leyden Jar or a multiple Leyden Jar apparatus,  Disk Generator, and possibly a Galvani/Volta cell device.  The Disk Generator was the most popular form, the Cell apparatus the most innovative for its time.    In the Political Barometer, a Poughkeepsie Medical Electrician who had removed from New York City due to yellow fever, stated he offered all forms of electricity then available.   The special kind of electricity offered by the salesperson in Dover seems less determinable.  Based on the time frame, his apparatus could also be any of the three common option, but due to the advertisement’s timing, may be for the new form of Disk Generator being produced (the second one in the above figure).

One thing seems certain, the history of Perkin’s Tractors and its tremendous dislike by New York physicians suggests that in no way was Ricketson using or believing in their use, especially as a local medical and public health leader and a member, in good standing with the local medical groups and trying to become a member of the medical schools medical association, one of several newly formed associations at the time.  In his book, it is possible that Ricketson appreciated the natural philosophy being shared by Perkins, but was unwilling to take it so far as to have a patient’s life depend upon the use of this device.  Its theory of use was principally theoretically based.  There was no exchange of metals through contact with the tractors, and especially no exchange of electricity.  No power was stored by this device, and to later historians it appears Perkins actually meant that the purpose of the tractors was to redistribute, guide or redirect the flow of electricity itself , the disease-fighting vital force’ (again a term they did not use for this) through the body.  A theory that reckons well with some of the popular concepts of contagion and disease, human body activities, Animal magnetism, red blood cells activity under the physician’s lens, motor spasmodity and the like, but in no way did theory surpass the more visible powers and effects of nature, at least in Ricketson’s mind.

For this reason, more than likely Ricketson made ample use of other forms of electric cure popular in the region, and as previously stated, there was a very popular device being promoted beginning in 1799 by an agent in Dover.  The advertisements for this device refer to a part of the device that uses cylinders in place of disks, which comes in various sizes, against which leather or some form of specially treated fabric is rubbed for the static electric generation (illustrated above).

“Dover.  Jedediah Tallman.  12 May 1799.

“The Subscriber living on Chestnut Ridge in Pawlings Town takes this method to inform the public, especially those who labor under infirmaties, that he had relieved and perfectly cured the following maladies, through the applications of Electricity, most of which in a very short time, viz,: Scropholia, or King’s Evil, Erysipelus, or St. Anthony’s Fire, St. Anthony’s Dance, useless limbs, weak nerves, cramps, convulsion fits, fever sores of 5 or 6 years standing, Fellens, biles, violent headaches, angea, bruises, &c and flatters himself that Gouts and Rheumatic complaints may be speedily removed, and by perseverence entirely relieved.  Also those who would wish to be furnished with ELECTRICAL MACHINES may be, with every apparatus for medical uses which will work in the most powerful manner (with directions for exciting and keeping them in the best order, in writing (if they choose) on as low or lower terms than at New-York, with Cylinders of 6,7,8, or 12 inches in diameter.”

“Ridge, 22d of 4th Mo. 1799”

The static electric produced by these cylinders may be stored within the cylinder itself and release by way of a chain conductor leading from the device to the specific part of the patient being treated, or it may be stored within a Leyden jar placed alongside the entire device (the central and rightmost figures).   Whatever the method, the result is the same, for individuals with, for example, a palsy, the muscles that no long work twitch of contract, causing the limb to move and/or bend at one of more joints.  There would also be a sensation felt at the skin and subdermal level.  In the case of pain, this would be used to “numb” the area afflicted by the disease resulting in chronic and very localized pain.  In either case, the perception of the result of the treatment is the same–the disease tissue, part, organ, etc. appears to be “revitalized” and/or getting better.

Multicell Leyden jars may have also been available,as well as the liquid cells device just invented by Galvani and Volta.  An important side note to all of this is the religious upbringing of the salesman marketing these modified Hauksbee Apparati, Jedediah Tallman was a Quaker.  More than likely, whatever was taking place in Dover, was also taking place in Poughkeepsie, and perhaps even in Shadrach Ricketsons immediate neighborhood, church community, and at home.

As further evidence for the popular fad taking place in the valley involving “Medical Electricity,” we need only turn to another newspaper, The Poughkeepsie Journal, to once again find evidence for the popularity of medical electricity.  This time the advertisements that appeared beginning November 9, 1802, were paid for by regular physician Caleb Child, who along with Patent Medicines and numerous other medical sundries made available to the public his services in:

“Medical electricity in all its various branches, which has proved very beneficial (when judiciously managed) in various diseases, particularly in those arising from obstruction and nervous affections, and which has perfectly cured many Chronic distempers, performed with caution and skill, acquired by long experience.

N.B. Doctor Child offers his medical services, in particular to such persons as are afflicted with Rheumatic Disorders, Diseases of the eyes, Deafness, Nervous Headaches, Cutaneous Eruptions and Epileptic Fits; and begs leave to observe that may oftentimes by application to him be relieved from their complaints.”

Dr. Child’s store was located on Main Street, Poughkeepsie, “a few rods east of the Market, and nearly opposite the Printing-Office of N. Power and Co.”, a storefront with officespace “lately occupied by Dr. Thorn and Mr. Bramble”.

By heavily promoting these methods of healing to the valley as a whole between 1799 and 1806, these medical electric healers did much to influence Ricketson’s days spent writing his book.  Evidence for his support as noted in the book suggests that Ricketson perhaps hadn’t fully employed this method of healing as much as Mr. Tallman and Dr. Child.   This method of cure had many uses, and Ricketson was perhaps witness to some of these uses.  But to what extent he personally employed such treatment methods is uncertain.  It is very possible Drs. Ricketson and Child had a fairly close professional relationship in terms of philosophy and theory, and both would a few years later serve as important community leaders once a local medical Society was formed at the township level.  Ricketson’s listing of maladies cured by medical electricity are very similar to the list penned by Dr. Child in his advertisement, with a few additions.  So, what was Ricketson’s relationship with Jedediah Tallman like?

One thing Tallman’s promotion of electric cure tells us is that his faith in its use is very much like Ricketson’s faith.  Both were Quakers.  In terms of the Quaker philosophy and tradition, the notion of healing with a natural power or energy was by no means anti-Quakerist.   In a religious philosophical sense, this method of healing had already satisfied the Methodists, as evidenced by Cotton Mather’s writings in his then unpublished work The Angel of Bethesda, and was since promoted by Mather’s followers.  If medical electricity could satisfy Methodists and Calvinists, then it could most certainly meet the needs of Quakers and Quaker physicians, who had their own take on God as the “Light” of the “Inner Self” and of the Universe.  This omnipresent “light” of the static electric took on more forms in the Hudson Valley than just the spark of the electric cure device.  It’s greatest local form of natural theological symbolism is the local lightning storms that are produced by the local topography.  These storms had an impact on the first impressions of early Hudson Valley travelers like the early Dutch Labadian Jasper Danckaerts and members of the Filipse family.  Now it was time for these same natural events to influence the Hudson Valley Quaker movement and Quaker medical practice and tradition.

Medical Electricity and Public Health

In terms of Ricketson’s view of the applications of Medical Electricity and validating as a public health expert, it is important to realize that Ricketson refers to the use of Medical Electricity as both a preventative and therapeutic measure.  He recommends it for local diseases like Erysipelas, Focal or Localized Epilepsy (myoclonus, Jacksonian seizures), and certain well-localized problems like Amaurosis (late age blindness onset), toothaches, contractions or cramps of the limbs, certain palsies, obstruction, tumor, “cancer”, and even “Nervous headache”, we can see some method of applying the shock to the related tissue, organ, body part or muscle in question.  For more somatic (total body) diseases such as chorea, generalized epilepsy or convulsions, tremors related to chronic alcoholism or parkinsonism,  scrofula, generalized palsy or post-stroke paralysis, rheumatism and gout (both with joint pains and difficulty bending), we might expect localized shocks to be applied with the goal of impacting the entire body.

A similar method of using medical electricity would be used to prevent potentially lifelong diseases from getting worse or recurring.  In some cases, this was used to provide evidence suggesting it may be of some success.  In one common story retold about this use of medical electricity, a physician made use of it to demonstrate that limb muscles were still vital, in spite of their lack of mobility or power to contract on their own.  This suggested to the physician, patient and onlookers that there was an obstruction or prevention of “vital forces” that was immobilizing the limb in question.  Even though the disease’s paralytic state was usually in a long-term sense irreversible, this gave those who were afflicted and their friends hope that a cure might happen.

The following sentence in Ricketson’s book ending the section on Medical Electricity provides some of the most important insight into this part of the Quaker tradition and philosophy.  Shadrach Ricketson’s personal and Quaker philosophy and the underlying psyche responsible for his devotion to his work as a physician are strongly alluded to, suggest the reason that perhaps Dr. Ricketson never got married:

Although brief, this sentence is one of the more important pieces of the puzzle to understanding Ricketson’s take on the use of Medical Electricity and the practice and meaning of medicine.  The “drowning, suffocation and other like causes” could have referred to one, or more of his experiences in medicine to date.  His writings suggest he was quite familiar with the unsanitary nature of gaol spaces, and the tendency for these unhealthy settings to make any healthy body take an opposite course.  He was possibly also in some sort of direct contact with other legal and legal penance practices, including the hanging of the worst of  all of the  criminals at times.  It is even more possible that Ricketson managed to be in close proximity to cases of drowning in the Hudson River, much like a famous one published and philosophically discussed by him and his family, or Ricketson and the rest of his Quaker’s Friends community.  It is important to note here as well that drowning  was a common and even fairly well-localized event of historical importance to the County’s and Valley’s history.  The husband of Madame Brett for example was lost in this same fashion almost a century and a half earlier:  after being struck in his head by a sailboat mast, he died by drowning in the Hudson River.  Ricketson’s observations or reminiscences of tales about other potential drowning victims and their chances of being saved, the mistreatment of gaoled criminals, and the use of deadly forms of punishment for some who were placed in gaol (something the Quakers were very much against), may have convinced Shadrach of the value and applicability of resuscitation practices, performed using a medical electric device.   According to his statement, he may have been convinced by a child who went unconscious due to a fall through ice, or a victim of an accidental fall into River water who could not swim, or someone who also fell off a sailboat due to bad weather, or someone in gaol who was recently hanged for a crime.  Whatever the cases, Ricketson seems to be referring to the sort of event that was several times printed in the local newspapers and weekly journals from London distributed about the region.  Or he may have in fact witnessed an actual local drowning event and saw a local child’s life be pulled from ‘suspended animation’ and the innermost, not fully departed soul saved.  This latter was most likely case, for Shadrach or a close association, or even a member of his family.  According to this words, Shadrach feels fairly certain about his claims and the related events he has learned about and/or witnessed.

As proof for evidence of this claim that Ricketson was influenced possibly by some of the local writings, as well as by his experiences, one needs only go a few years back in time, to review some fo the stories told when Shadrach was a child.  The most important of such stories about the value of life was that of a prisoner in Boston, sentenced to be hanged to death for a crime he committed.  During this time, in Ricketson’s youngest years and throughout his adult years, a popular ‘vital force’ or ‘energy’ related concept dealing with the body and its ability to live and move pertained to the Animal Spirit, which was in charge of most of the body’s parts, and the “soul” and related “spirit” related to the Brain.  This philosophical notion is also noted in Cheyne’s book on ‘Health and Long Life’, a book which Shadrach based his own writing plans and style upon.   In Cheyne’s book, medical philosophers and physicians believed the brain and mind were controlled by the “Soul” or “Spirit” (as Cheyne referred to this), and had to do with some sort of direct communication or relationship with the Creator or God (for religious believers), or if your were agnostic/atheistic and in tune with the local Newton-Colden letters and writings about Isaac Newton’s philosophy and findings, the Natural Universal elements.  For the time, one of the better known pamphlets published on this happening related to a recovery from suspended animation  was The Wonderful Monitor: or, Repository.  Containing A curious and most astonishing Account of the Revivification of young Jo. Taylor, printed and distributed by E. Russell of Boston in 1788.    But the story this pamphlet tells begins one year into Ricketson’s newborn life, 1767.

In this story, a person who underwent a legal hanging in 1767 , and as later signed off as dead, recovered or came back to life a couple of days later.  This revivification was witnessed and verified by physicians, who then wrote out and hand published their conclusions about how such an event could happen.   The news of this event first appeared in the London newspapers in 1768, recounted with a few more cases for examples by Gentleman’s Magazine in 1771, followed by the production of a book on the same in 1773, ultimately leading to the formation of the first Humane Society (now Royal Humane Society) in 1774.  (Note: In 1774, the word “humane” referred to events and such as pertaining to people or humans, lacking to association we traditionally assign to it today.)  In the years that followed, Humane Societies were also formed in the New England and new York areas, with advertisements and meeting announcements published in local journals.  In 1788, the Massachusetts Humane Society was  formed (the same years as the above pamphlet), introducing the term ‘resuscitation’ to medical professionals in the immediate area and initiating this new natural philosophy related medical and popular culture movement.   The year in which New York established a similar special interest group is uncertain.  In some of the local common news and professional new newspapers, the minutes of these meetings were published.  As a Quaker, the ability to resuscitate and revivify an apparently dead person, must have had some natural philosophical meaning to Ricketson, his personal take and interpretation of such remains uncertain, but most certain was Quakerian in nature.  In some Quaker form of thinking, such as resuscitation says to the Quaker that the “intellectual spirit” was still recoverable, even thought the “animal spirit” of the body appeared to be curiously inactive and suspended.  This is just another example of traditional Quaker humanitarian thinking.

More of Thomas Gale’s book

More “truths and discoveries” from Thomas Gale, 1802.

Again, for the entire contents of this book, see:


For more on Perkin’s Metalic Points being sold in Fishkill, 1797, see  https://brianaltonenmph.com/6-history-of-medicine-and-pharmacy/hudson-valley-medical-history/1795-1815-biographies/john-r-todd-fishkill-ny-and-perkins-metallic-tractors/

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Google books on the same

C.H. Wilkinson.  The Effects of Electricity . . . 1799, bound with Reverend Wm. Jones.  Six Letters on Electricity. 1800.