Multicultural Medicine and Dr. Osborn
The multiculturalism of the Hudson Valley had everything to do with Dr. Osborn’s vade mecum. Even once I completed my research of Osborn’s recipe book, a process that took eleven years, I had only managed to make preliminary sense of his varieties of recipes, his writing style and his format. One just doesn’t just look at a colonial manuscript and decipher its meaning, especially that of a physician from a family with a mixed cultural upbringing during colonial time.
Cornelius Osborn’s father was English, his mother completely Dutch. His wife to be was French Huguenot, their best of friends and Cornelius’s future neighbors very much Germanic (Luxemborgian) in their tradition and childhood upbringing. His first professional partner was Ashkenazi Jewish, perhaps bearing a hint of New Judaic Slavic-, Moravian-, or Bohemian-based natural philosophical training as part of his Qaballistic philosophy. Osborn became the best of freinds with famous loyalist, Bartholomew Crannell, who once the war began retreated to Canada where he remained once his lands were taken into possession by the local Government; a generation later, his son would become a lawyer and develop the first courthouse serving this part of Colonial England. Osborn was also close friends with an Irishman residing close to the Catskill Mountains, befriended enough to go out of the way on at least one occasion to make his way to this friends homestead during one of the least travellable times of the year.
In spite of these community relationships, there is little evidence suggesting Osborn went through much of an education in the foreign language. His wife Helena of course was learned in at least several languages, including French and possibly some germanic dialects. His mother, being of Dutch descent, had her own languages she was versed in and which she spoke at the Dutch Reformed Protestant Churches they attended, and which Cornelius must have grown up with.
Yet due to his medical training, Osborn was trained to some extent in at least one non-anglican language–Latin. This latin may have been introduced to him in the medical books, but more than likely was learned as part of the pharmacy teachings her had to endure. Due to the various forms of language Osborn used and the applications of these forms he made use of in his manuscript, Dr. Osborn seemed most likely to be primarily English read and trained in writing, but with a touch of Latin here and there primarily due to his apothecary education, but possibly from several medical books he mentioned in his writings that were difficult to obtain non-Latin translations for, like the books on Huxham’s Remedy used to treat specific forms of Fevers with cinchona bark (today we refer to its quinine) or Sydenham’s writings in their origianl latin late 17th century form.
Still, many of the books Osborn refers to may have come to his possession long after his training. Due to their popularity, Huxham’s writings were soon translated into English, along with Daniel Turner’s Treatise on Fevers, and a number of Samuel Sharps’s writings that Osborn makes brief mention of without naming any titles. Most likely, the translations of Peter Shaw provided Osborn with his best medical training in book form,for Shaw successful translated most of the primary books in medicine into English, such as the Lititz and Edinburgh Pharmacopoeias, the most important textbooks for the time on pharmacy and drugs.
One famous historian noted Cornelius Osborn to be British-borne, in the year 1723. This year is suspected to be wrong, and the consequence of either the historian’s inaccuracy in notetaking whilst interviewing family members for the early 19th century writings on Hudson Valley history, or due to recollection problems the family themselves had to deal with. It is even possible that this 1723 might have been a second date of importance to Cornelius as a very young child, although the importance of this date is undefined at this point in this research. The best evidence on Osborn’s childbirth and raising states that a Cornelius was born in Haverstraw area in 1722. This matches Osborn’s training, detailed knowledge with the local herbs, and forms a strong link to his father’s and mother’s lineage and family members. Osborn’s sons were named after various members of James (“Jaems”) Osborn’s family. (Locally, near Haverstraw, this “Osborn” was also spelled or misread as “Hasbun” in Dutch church records and “Haslam” in other related documents by subsequent researchers.) So it is best to conclude that Cornelius Osborn was New York born and raised, and locally trained in medicine by a New York or New Jersey physician. To date, the identity of this Master of his apprenticeship has yet to be uncovered.
Osborn’s medical literary knowledge also suggest he was locally trained in medicine. A physician in Europe during the Colonial Period was almost always traditionally trained, which means he had to spend a lot of time learning, reading, and keeping notes on the practice medicine. The best trained apprenticed physicians from Europe were both well-read and literate in medicine in the Latin language. This was about to undergo significant change during the 1600s as famous publishers and translators began to republish the most important books into other languages, such as English, French, Moravian and Bohemian, in england as well as in the New World. The most famous of such translators was Nicolas Culpeper, an herbal astrologer and Christian of the 16th and 17th century. Osborn, since he was born several generations later, would not really be exposed much to Culpeper’s teachings, but may have had the opportunity to read Culpeper’s translations of the classics such as the Edinburgh and London Pharmacopoeias, both published in Latin. We know for certain that Osborn was read in at least one book translated from the Latin by a physician following in Culpeper’s footsteps. Osborn was more read in the translated writings produced by John Swan and William Salmon, from whom came his materia medica and a popular translation of the work of one of the most famous and popular British Physicians of the 17th Century, Thomas Sydenham.
The Former Indian Neighbors
To Osborn, the the teachings and practice of the local shaman were not the unique experience that they were to his wife’s great great grandfather Myndert Harmenze van der Boergen. Osborn’s family heritage lacked the luster of Indianhood experiences, lifestyles that early Dutch residents of the valley often found themselves married into through the work of local missionaries. Prior to Cornelius’s removal from Haverstraw to the Dutchess County area, notes in passing were made by earlier residents about the Natives residing on these lands, long before their settlement and purchases were completed by the first immigrant families. Some of the earliest forms of these culture to move into this region are noted by Jasper and Danckaerts in their 16670s experience and writings. These tales spoke mostly about Moravian men intermarrying with local Mohegan and even Iroquois families. Yet these marriages did little to transfer medical plant knowledge from traditional Native American culture and know-how into New World European lifestyles. Likewise, we find limited evidence of these same types of assimilation of Native traditions in New Spain and New France early intercultural experiences. The most traditional practices to transfer into Dutch and English culture in new York history for the time pertained mostly to foodways, basketry and decoratives, and occasional medical substances to which European meaning could be attached, like the use of plants in American with similar relatives found inEuropean gardens, or the uses of peculiar herbs and trees with unique powers, like the Sassafras originally of New Spain or the Cinchona of South America.
There was already a lot of cultural influences in the Hudson valley by the time Osborn was born. The Dutch were more strongly influenced in New Amsterdams by the Iroquois than they were by the Wappingis and the Mohegans of the more northern Valley. Some exceptionally early evidence for this claim is found in the letters sent by a little Dutch girl residing in New Amsterdam to her Aunt back in Holland, in which she mentioned the Iroquois, not the Mhegans, making their way to the local farmer’s markets to sell their sassfras and baskets. As for the role of the Mohegans in all of this commerce, this was minimal, at least in the city environment, perhaps due to the attempts made to convert them to christianity by Moravians and the related attempts to clear them from recently claims lands that were bartered and paid for.
So as for the multiculturalism of the valley, Iroquois and Mohegan culture and philosophy to some extent may have been present, but the lifestyles and people living in this fashion were rapidly becoming few and far between. It is this cultural transition that made the information regading local medicines taught to Osborn primarily on the use of Native herbs, but with a European twist to all of these recipes produced and their pharmacological reasoning.
Still adding more to this mixed culturalism in the Valley were the subsequent settlements that began to pop up once New Netherlands was taken possession of by England. The new English royalty leaders attempted to turn parts of New Netherland into places where Anglican-culture offshoots could settle and begin to make claim to all the basic resources of these lands. For this reason we often learn about other ethnic groups making their way into New York beginning about 1700. The previous Germanic-bred Luxemborgians and their high mountainous region settlers of early slavic and pre-Swiss tradition previously occupying the mountainous parts of this colony, were now becoming neighbors to newlay arrived Swedes, Finns, Palatinates, Rhinelanders, Rhone Valley residents, and numerous other Old World social outcasts.
In spite of the potential role Indian culture had on Osborn’s training in medicine, there is little evidence pointing specifically to a single herbal medicine of Indian origin for use that he seems to mention in his recipes. Where did this knowledge go? Most likely a large amount of it was lost, only to be partially recovered and reconstructed nearly a century after the settlement of the Valley, as part of the 18th century history of medicine and botany penned by the early botanists of this region such as Cadwallader and Jane Colden of Coldenhamia and several Philadelphian botanist-physicians.
Still, there are ample amounts of evidence suggesting Osborn learned some of his medicine from an individual learned in local plants and local medical practices, applying European and early Euro-American thoughts and tradition to early Native American plant medicines. This use of local herbs as medicine was not an unusual opportunity for Cornelius, and perhaps it was also not unusual that at times he even included these uses of local herbs not otherwise documented in herbal and materia medica writings except by Osborn through many of his recipes. Just why and how Osborn added these herbs to his regimen requires some review. It is quite evident that Osborn knew the local plants and some of their uses, but only on occasion did he make traditional Native American use of the most local of these plants–he did not have any Indian philosophy that he practiced. Osborn’s philosophy never makes mention of such traditional Indian practices as utilizing the bark on the north side of a tree (a Mohegan philosophy) or applying the herb in some way, shape or form as some form of mimicry of illness induced snake bites and its signs and symptoms. These traditional Native American uses of herbs often completely incorporated into european medicine by 1700, but almost fully redefined in terms of the reasons and methods for their use, all of this done in order to better comply with traditional European medical and religious philosophy. In no way would colonial cultural medicine be in any way shape or form reminiscent of the pagan and demonic (shamanic) practices of medicine often disavowed by local colonial church leaders.
So what Indian Medicine does Osborn use and how are they transformed in European remeides?
Osborn does make use of the Polygala S’eneca or Seneca Snakeroot, the most famous and most typical Indian herbal remedy of the local area. He also makes use of Sassafras, a plant with signs suggestive of some native uses, but which Osborn uses in a more galenical or four humours type of approach. Whereas the French jesuits located just a little to the north interpreted this plant for its power as a medicine due to its three leaf forms (a sign of trinity) or its resemblance to the fleur-de-lis (a signature of Royalty and Royal Claims to this land), Osborn used this medicine as a tonic and a blood-related healing agent, uses hardly resembling those of the regalic, religiophilic French residing much further to the north.
So through these observations we can make the assumption that Osborn used some native herbs in a semi-native, semi-traditional way, other herbs in a very European way based on European philosophical concepts and training, and the remaining in the typical “heroic” way, with uses derived from experience and half-experiences, stories and actual events that came to be as they were practiced by other physicians residing in an around Osborn’s place of upbringing.
Osborn underwent his training in herbalism by his Master, most likely somewhere around Haverstraw about 1735. This would have been a 6-year stint in his life if it took place in traditional apprenticeship fashion. This may have even been when and where Osborn placed his eyes on his first medical books, with which he learned the language of medicine much more than its various methods of writing and spelling out these terms. There are some plant medicines Osborn’s refers to that are hard to identify, one perhaps nearly impossible to verify its identity upon according to its use. There are also those with vernacular names that are seemingly a half-century or more in age, like the “Poppel (Old Dutch name for a Populus sp. or Poplar tree), “Peperidge” (Barberry, usually Wild) and “Quin Quina” (a Latinized Spanish name for the South American native Cinchona sp., the source for Quinine) . It could very well be that when Osborn was trained in medicine during the 1730s, his preceptors taught him many of the teachings of his own apprenticeship years, of the later 17th century period, a period for yet another completely different cultural setting.
Hudson Valley Jewish Culture
Latin, English and Dutch writings were the predominant languages in which medical books were to be found by 1700. These books were read not only by physicians like Osborn and his colleagues, but also by those trained in medicine along a different path of religious faith and medical and health-related reasoning. By 1720, two years before Cornelius Osborn’s birth, the Hudson Valley underwent significant changes regarding the size of its Jewish population. (The first Jewish settlers to make their way to the New York colonial area were probably Sephardic Jews, who managed much of the economic costs of the ships and provided funding for even some of the first purchases of the land from Native Americans by New World settlers. By the time Osborn was a physician, the Ashkenazi population was surpassing the Sephardics.)
For the most part, these families resided in the city of New Amstersdam/New York. Like in the Old World, their social role relied heavily upon their economic worth to the travellers and explorers willing to engage in financial interactions with these entrepreneurs. Like all cultures, lower income Jewish families were also present in the Old World and went through much of the same problems with segregation that their ancestors also had to endure. In the New World, things really weren’t that different, especially for the Ashkenazis.
During the 1730s, the experiences and responsibilities of an Ashkenazi Jewish physician residing in Dutchess County had everything to do with what Cornelius Osborn would make a part of his practices as a physician. The Ashkenazi Jewish culture was transforming some sections of the rural parts of New York Province from a predominantly urban Jewish settings in which Sephardics resided, to a combination of urban Sephardic settings and country-rural and hinterland settings occupied mostly by Ashkenazi’s, be they of Dutch origin or British Origin.
The differences in these origins is important to understand, because Osborn’s first interactions with a physician was with a Jewish physician Dr. Isaac Marks. Since beginning my work on Dr. Osborn, local Jewish genealogists and historians have never been sure about when and where Isaac Marks was born, much less how he actually spelled his name. There were a number of Jewish inhabitants in the city setting bearing similar name,s with the exception of sometimes spelling Marks in a French or Spanish form (i.e. Marques, Marquez and Marquiz to quote a few). There are several very early mentions of a physician travelling through the region in which a Dutch doctor is identified, and later a Jewish doctor engaged in the same barter and trade activities. In one historian’s writings, the conclusion was drawn that these two were in fact the same, so leading to my own suspicion that this physician was more than likely of Dutch origins, at least for the migration, and that his Jewish faith was either completely Ashkenazi or a reformed version of Ashkenazi in which the natural philosophical teachings of the next important Jewish leader, Baal Shev Tov, became popular Jewish culture influences. Since Baal Shev Tov’s teachings and overall lessons were very much like those of Boehme and Boerhaave, it would not be a surprise to learn that Isaac Marks, by being trained in Baal Shev Tov’s new philosophy, might be the primary reason some of Osborn’s practices retain some of the more traditional and perhaps even Qaballistic-like actions taken by a well-trained alchemist.
Colonial Jewish Medicine and Osborn
Most certainly, Isaac Marks lifestyle was very countrybound and much like Baum Shev Tov in his lifestyle. He travelled about with a cart, possibly pulled by a mule, and in the first instance where he is working with Osborn, the two of them are carrying goods in Isaac’s cart for New York Governor Clinton. It is quite possible that Isaac Marks never heard of the Baal Shev Tov, not to mention Osborn. Nevertheless, the similarities in these two Jewish people’s lifestyles are quite similar. Whereas Baal Shev Tov resided in a mountainous area covered by dense woods, with an atmosphere more typical of a hermitage within which one searches for solitude and “oneness”, Isaac Marks was residing in much the same setting by the time he reached his midlife years residing in and around Fishkill. Quite close to the Fishkills was the narrow mountain rain or ridge traversing the Hudson River from east to west. Although quite hilly and probably heavily wooded in areas where no one yet come to inhabit the land, this was not the same as residing in the deepest forests of eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the atmosphere required for Isaac Marks to take on the various moods typical of Baal Shev Tov-like thinking was already there.
Unfortunately, Isaac Marks never left us any detailed writings on his natural philosophy. I have never been able to uncover any evidence telling us whether or not Dr. Marks took on the popular viewpoints posed by many scientists and scholars on the edicts of natural philosophy practitioners and religious teachers. Nor do we have any evidence that Marks was learned and practices in alchemy as part of his Qabalistic heritage. We can however state with certainty that by the 1770s, while residing in Poughkeepsie during his latter years in life, that had a sense of morality regarding cultural issues. The details for this part of Dr. Mark’s persona is expressed by the evidence the county produced in the form of a a note penned by the loca scrivener for the Sheriff claiming the “French Physician” Marks had allowed an escaped black servant to spend the night at his home before heading further eastward or northward away from his master’s home. Dr. Marks was just as experienced and learned as Cornelius Osborn when it came to living in a multiethnic social setting.
By the late 1730s (1739), Dr. Osborn purchased an unoccupied Dutch house standing on an old Dutch farm, on the south face of what would later become known as Osborn Hill. It is possible that this home was occupied, and the land perhaps owned by Isaac Marks himself, although no documents have been uncovered providing any evidence for this. What we do know about Osborn according to the written documents is that by 1742, he is playing important roles in the local Dutch Reformed Protestant church setting. By then he is most likely working as a physician, and about this same time has already married Helenja Parmentier, the daughter of one of the richest and politically most important Huguenot families living north along the river. Other signs of local political importance according to the family’s history include mention of Osborn’s father in law serve as the chief justice of his county–Ulster–on the west side of the Hudson River, but also managing Dutchess County to some extent, under the orders and wishes of the Provincial Governnor for the time. These tracts of land that he helped to develop, plan and manage to roadways for, were located on the opposite side of the Hudson River from Osborn’s future settlement. Although very much political in nature, at least in the beginning, and with the best futures in mind for each of these two families, Osborn’s marriage to Helenja Parmentier allowed both of these families to remain fruitful, both politically and maternally. Aside from 3 sons it is known the Osborns had at least one, possibly two daughters. Helenja would ultimately outlive her husband Cornelius, according to the local census records, she resided with her oldest son James and is probably the elderly woman noted in the first official census records for this state produced in 1790.
As for Cornelius, whereas his family’s church and social life were pretty much focused on Dutch traditions, his professional life can only be best described as the best of whatever he could make of it. It is quite apparent that he remained very much devoted to his practice of medicine as a physician, and did not convert to any allied practices such as surgery or apothecary science. Although perhaps he is best known for his work as a doctor, he was also a fairly successful investor in real estate, and every now and then engaged in this as his other primary business making venture. His third most successful venture pertained to his skills in beer brewing. His vade mecum includes a recipe for “dia drink beer for all decay” [diet drink beer], a panacea use to treat severe ailments; in Osborn’s case, he recommended this recipe for treating consumption and other severe, potentially life-threatening ailments. From a land deed note penned in the 1820s, in which the estates of the Osborn Hill area where he resided ertr described, there is mention of an old brewery that he had built on these lands and the building and equipment he used to brew beer. At the time of this leagal note, were still present on this piece of property.
Aside from the recipes, Dr. Osborn’s teachings in medicine and his resulting philosophy are described to us by his vade mecum. In this pocket-sized leatherbound pamphlet of recipes he mentions several books that he used to learn medicine from, possibly written in Latin but more likely the English translated versions. Reviewing his recipes, it is clear that Osborn was able to compose his recipes for medicines in prescription Latin. These recipes included traditional European formulas with decades if not centuries of history behind them, along with a recipe strongly linked to the 17th century philosopher chemist Hermann Boerrhaave, the famous discourse on fevers by Daniel Turner, the most famous fever remedy (cinchona) offered to the profession by John Huxham, and the writings of the famous 17th century British physician Thomas Sydenham, translated into English by John Shaw.
It also seems possible that for at least several diseases Osborn reviews in the book, he saw some of these diseases as progressive, with one malady leading to the next in some cases. Part of the reason for this is an issue evident for much of colonial medicine pertaining to diagnosis. Many diseases being treated were actually symptoms, and were related to other disease with similar or seemingly related symptomatology as well. For this reason, edema can be related to biliary edema, and the gout and ascites (swelling of the abdomen due to a build up of fluids) could in turn also be related to these ailments and to each other. Since most of the treatments focus on symptoms and reversal of major changes in the body’s form and physique, few had anything to do pharmacologically with the actual disease at hand. There was no knowledge really of small organisms causing disease (with the exception of sizeable intestinal worms), and the varations of the four humours theory and need for bleeding a patient in the right spot continued to take centter stage whenever developing treatment modalities. Osborn makes limited mention of what we consider to be psychologic or psychiatric diseases. He does make mention of this aspect of illness however pertaining to women’s menstrual and pregnancy-related problems.
Still, Osborn was taught medicine at a time when British rule was taking place, at least on his father’s side of the family (his mother and church were still Dutch). He worked alongside the Jewish physician Dr. Marks, and may have even been apprenticed by Marks, which would help to explain his fascination with both the physical and metaphysical alchemy of medicine. For this reason, his discussion of treating the missed or delayed menstrual period in particularly interesting due to its underlying psychologic roots according to Osborn’s readings and training.
Osborn’s most fascinating recipe was his ens veneris, or ‘essence of venus’, which he used to treat the “wandering uterus” felt then to be responsible for the menstrual irregularities, missed periods and the uncontrollable nature of women due to their lunar and venus cycles. Interestingly, Osborn did not adhere to astrological law when composing his ens veneris, nor did he make use of any it venetion elements or compounds like copper to produce the ens. However, Osborn refrained from using any plants in this recipe and focused instead on the use of Iron made to rust by moonlight in his formula. This particular recipe by Osborn is an example of a recipe developed during the transitional period of alchemy, when the past teachings of traditional alchemists businly practicing since the Middle Ages, were being converted to new formulas and theories based on the work of numerous 17th century scientists.
Thes use of iron instead of copper to produce ens veneris was proposed by Robert Boyle, a late 16th century chemist who was trained in alchemy as well. Boyle became largely responsible for eliminating much of the metaphysical tradition of the practice of alchemy, an important step in its transition into chemistry. Robert Boyle deduced that if one is to treat blood, and use alchemy to produce this metallic remedy, why try to convert copper a green metal into some red metallic compound that remains red in solution and thereby resembles the blood this solution was so symbolically was contrived to treat? Robert Boyle replaced copper with Iron, had the iron converted to a rust, and then scraped off and powdered, and sublimes under a gentle heat to produce a yellow powder. This flower of Iron could then be mixed in water, thereby forming the red beverage that served as a medicine for blood-related problems.
There was no doubt a greater success in patient recovery observed following the ingestion of iron rather than copper, especially in an attmept to treat blood-related diseases such as anemia. Boyle’s recipe was favored by Osborn, who was again practicing a modified form of traditional medicine. Osborn added to this notion the use of an overnight period during which time the Iron Powder is made to grow and form a thick layer of rust due to the morning dews. To Osborn, this added the touch of metaphysics he required, which Boyle’s method and recipe were seriously lacking.
The treatment of a Philosophical “Shaking Tremor”
One of the more unique groups of “non-traditional” healers to briefly pass through the Hudson valley and make a short stay in Dutchess County was the Shakers. These healers believed in the practice of various forms of spiritual-based rituals in association with prayer in order to effect whoever was taken ill and in need of of their form of “healing.” The predecessor to this unique New York sect, Ann Lee, became this country’s first Shaker after her travels to New York City and the northward through the valley towards upstate New York in 1776.
During one of these trips through the valley, she was seen practicing the shaking ritual she like to engage in as part of her prayer practice. Soon after, she was placed in the county gaol due to this unusual performance, a practice that most likely reminded some of the old-timers of this part of the Valley of the early 18th and 17th century practices of witchcraft, made famous by the Salem and Eastern Long Island trials against witchcraft. In Salem, this practice of witchcraft resulted in trials during the 1760s. This history of the religious based tests for witchcraft lasted only a few years. During the early 1700s, a similar claim of witchcraft came to court regarding a lady in the lower Dutchess-Ulster county area of the valley.
Whereas the early 1720s witchcraft epidemic briefly took place in local history and in somewhat close proximity to Cornelius Osborn’s home of raising, the similar history of witchcraft trials that ensued near East Hampton of eastern Long Island perhaps had a more dramatic influence on Osborn and his family history, possibility directly associated with this public event. Another Cornelius Osborn resided in East Hamptom at the time of this second set of witchcraft trials. Whether or not he is related at all to the Cornelius of Haverstraw and later Fishkill is uncertain. Yet the similarity of the name Cornelius, due to the Dutch tradition of naming your children after the mother and father’s closest nuclear family relatives, makes it seem very likely that the Cornelius Osborn of East Hampton, experienced in witchcraft and witchcraft trial activities, was somehow related to the Cornelius Osborn of the Hudson valley, who had little exposure to such events.
Whether or not Dr. Osborn knew about or believed in witches is completely a guess to most historians. His father, James, was a traditional Englishman raised during a time when witches were of little concern. His mother, Elizabeth, was a Dutch girl raised in a community rich in folks who believed in the supernatural, but only so far as their own unique form of Christianity allowed them to think about such practices. More than likely, Dr. Osborn was more like his father and not well prepared for dealing with people considered possessed by some, much less trained in how to deal with this problem as a physician. As a physician, he did understand the makings of a person’s psyche, personality and temperament, and if he was learned in any of the belief promoted by Jakob Bohme, then he must have had his own Boerhaavian method of interpreting Ann Lee’s behaviors and habits, not summarizing them to be any form of possession of the body by spirits, but more her own loss of control of her internal feminine energies or ens veneris.
During his apprenticeship in medicine, Osborn may have learned a little about the female energy or spirit, with or without mention of the nature of feminine witchery. In the readings he refers to in his vade mecum, as well as those inferred through the types of materia medica he employed, only the works of Sydenham and Boerrhaave seem to show any possible relationship to what Osborn learned about the behaviors manifested by a psychically impaired patient. In addition, his experience as a child and the cultural knowledge he acquired about this form of inappropriate behavior had him somewhat prepared for what he was about to witness with Ann Lee during her stay in the Poughkeepsie gaol.
Ann Lee was gaoled because her practices were new to the locals. The heart of her gaoltime however had little or nothing to do with her religious practice, and everything to do with the developing war at the time. Some of the newborn patriot claimed Ann Lee to be a loyalist. To Osborn, whether Ann Lee was a loyalist or not did not matter. The Sheriff called him up to the gaol to determine if the was mentally ill and not safe to release.
Whether or not Ann Lee’s unique religious behavior had anything to do with her fate is uncertain. Her praying behavior, which for many was incomprehensible, was now into the hands of the local physician in charge of prisoners. Dr. Osborn was recently appointed as the physician in charge of the local hospital, the barracks, and at times had to tend to his own colleagues being held on loyalism such as Dr. Jonathan Prosser, one of his former colleagues who ultimately had to be imprisoned.
This same Dr. Osborn, whose opinion was highly respected by the community, now had to tend to Ann Lee in the Poughkeepsie gaol in late 1776. With his diverse background in the alternative sciences, he most likely felt comfortable rapidly determining her behaviors to be “unique” at worst. To some extent much like his own due to his exposure to medicine through the local doctors, including his Jewish physician and colleague Isaac Marks. In his own mind Dr. Osborn must have felt the best way to heal this ailment, perhaps in feminine energy as the Boerhaavians might think, he felt she was best treated in the only alchemical way he knew of. For this reason, Ann Lee remain in the Poughkeepsie gaol rather briefly, and a simple visit by Osborn was all that was needed to prove that Ann Lee was not possessed, nor was she of any threat to the local patriots.
Soonafter Osborn’s visit, Governor Clinton of New York allowed Ann Lee to return to her home town just to the north of Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley. During the next several decades, as Ann Lee’s followers and then sect and then religion grew, it had finally spread across the entire Hudson Valley. As a direct and indirect consequence of her passage through the Dutchess County, Ann Lee influenced the thinking of a number of doctors in that region and other healers who were members of these families would later be involved in the formation of new healing sects in the Hudson Valley of New York State.
Osborn’s British, Dutch and Indian uses of Herbs
Osborn was also influenced by a neighboring family, the Coldens. Jane Colden, the daughter of former Cadwallader Colden, lived just across the river from Cornelius and halfway between his father’s original home and the Parmentier estate. Both Cadwallader and Jane Colden were no doubt highly influential upon his training in plant medicine. It is most likely due to Jane’s efforts that Osborn learned of very specific local uses for local plants, along with the more traditional medicinal plants he would be trained is as a Dutch-English colonial resident. More than likely Osborn also learned from others as well as on his own how to substitute the local plants for the more expensive British products. In particular, Osborn learned the use of some very local local Native American herbal medicines such as Dirca palustris (leatherbark), Sanguinaria canadense (bloodroot) and Xanthoxylum spicatum (prickly ash). The most important note Osborn made about a local herbal remedy was for Polygala s’enega (Seneca [Indian] snakeroot)–an herb studied, pressed and identified in the (and perhaps taught to him by) America’s first documented female herbalist Jane Colden, Cadwallader’s daughter.
A review of Osborn’s vade mecum reveals he had extensive knowledge of the plants residing immedately adjacent to his home in the Hudson Valley. Some of the names Osborn used for the local plants were very old names linked to the Dutch part of his upbringing. Still other names he used made it difficult to identify the plant source due to their very specific nature and most likely very local origin. In many cases, due to slow and infrequent travels across long distances within the colonies, the uses of some herbs lacked any way to be shared with other community settings or physicians. Any use of the local plants as medicine by Osborn required that this remedy be very popular locally, and if popular elsewhere have a fairly long history of use supporting any claims that Osborn was making in his own writings.
For this reason Osborn made use of the local Cornus species (Dogwoods) as substitutes for European remedies designed to treat the fever such as cinchona. He also used the fairly common tree Sassafras (Sassafras albidum), another Indian remedy, but one with a long history of English use as well as a panacea of both Middle and North American historical significance. Osborn did make use of the water lilies or lily-pads growing in the local lakes, and he made use of a number of Catskill forest plants formerly residing closer to Dutchess County during colonial times, such as the various Viburnum shrubs riddling the Catskill mountain forest floors and perhaps a local cascara tree used as a substitute for a strong laxative.
Equally important to note are those plants which Osborn did not use, especially those which became highly important to the medical profession during the decades to come. Examples of these plants include the Pokeroot (Phytolacca americana and other species), at least two of which were previously described as medicines by Cadwallader Colden during the 1720s; neither of these were never made use of by Osborn, at least according to his vade mecum writings. Osborn did not mention every popular local remedy or panacea. The local arum jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphylla) was just as abundant and plentiful in the woods in places where the bloodroot and prickly ash could be found, but Osborn did not use this herb.
One of the most important plants in medicine, even to this day, is the local Mayapple plant (Podophyllum peltatum), currently found in higher elevation field and forest edge settings situated close to the Catskill Mountains. It is possible that during Osborn’s life, this plant was distributed fairly close to Osborn’s lands and places of residency as well, like the lands north of Poughkeepsie and just south of lands owned by the Livingstons, where most of the pine trees were harvest for the production of early colonial merchant ships and man-of-wars.
Throughout the swampy areas, lake and water edges, and wetlands of this region could be found Eupatorium perfoliatum and allies, and the next closest relative, Eupatorium perforatum.
Eupatorium perfoliatum or Joe Pye Weed would not become popular until after Osborn’s passing, during the early 1800s as a part of the Indian Root Doctoring profession then developing, when it was named for its traditional Native American user “Jo Pi” [tribe origin uncertain, but possibly one of the New York-Connecticut-New Jersey- Pennsylvania tribes noted in an early map produced on the Hudson Valley medical history, or possibly the result of interactions with Indians as far west as Ohio and the Great Lakes region during the late Colonial/early United States years].
The use of Eupatorium perforatum or Boneset was possibly known about by Osborn, and simply not mentioned in his writings. This plant is called boneset due to the influx of epidemics known as breakbone fever, so called due to the crippling effect of the contracting muscles brought on by this disease, enough to make the arms and legs feel as if the bones were surely breaking. This type of fever was also associa with the yellow fever, a common fever brought in since the late 17th century on ships bearing passengers already infected with this mosquito-borne disease due to their stay or pass through in the warmer climates. This yellow fever may have also come in as a contaminant of the water on board the ships. In either case, Osborn possibly was familiar with this remedy, but since he makes no mention of the yellow fever specifically, he may not have even learned about this use of a specific plant as a specific fever remedy.
Sickness and Disease
By far the most common maladies for the time were related to accidents and natural events, climate, temperature and humidity, lifestyle and disease promoting activities like poor hygiene, poor diet, and living in cramped quarters, and any of a variety of environmental features that help promote disease onset such as climate, land use conditions, and local physiographic or landform features such as water bodies (mosquito-sources). By reviewing Osborn’s vade mecum we are left to believe that certain unhealthy states of the body prevailed in the local living settings.
Some of Osborn’s clients were the members of the richest and msot popular families residing locally. These patients were most likely the one to experience illnesses common to the well-education and well-fed popualtion, such as diabetes, gout (too much dietary meat), liver problems related to the chronic use of alcohol, and certain kidney disorders. The poorer families locally would have experienced conditions brought on by poor diet and nutrients, such as anemia and scurvy.
Depending on the location of their households, their potential for exposure to water contaminated by livestock and human waste may have been a common disease to suffer, such as the bloody diarrhea referred to by Osborn in his writings on dysentery. Those residing next to water bodies and forests were more likely to develop any of the various forms of fevers noted by Osborn to be common to the region. Whereas some of these febrile disease were no doubt imported, like the Malaria (Osborn’s recurrent and intermittent fevers) brought up from the warmer south climates, others were endemic to the Hudson Valley region and related msotly to the local humid, water-rich environments.
Osborn’s familiarity with these local topographic and climate/weather climates for the onset of disease was not doubt already familar to him by the time he removed to the Dutchess County area. His permanent homestead was one set about one-third of the way to the top of a hill. This prevented him from overexposure to the winds, coming from any direction and at times rich in the agents responsible for many illnesses. Osborn was also well above the largest swamps of the area, in his mind, too far away for the miasma to reach his body.
There were a number of common ailments Osborn notes that may be fairly common regardless of community ranking and income. The most common ailment across income groups may have been the piles of hemorrhoids he provides a recipe for in his vade mecum. The most sever was consumption or tuberculosis, for which he had no true cure. Osborn had a treatment for the poorest health state of the body–“the Decay”. he also mentioned the issues he had to face with women like the child about to deliver or the women with a late or skipped menstrual period, a condition with numerous causes and effects. The common diarrhea, colic and bilious colic mentioned by Osborn, the sexually transmitted disease syphilis, and the simple headache could impact or infect anyone.
The only disease mentioned in Osborn’s vade mecum, apparently not penned by himself but rather one of his sons, was a treatment for epilepsy, the Jacksonian form of epilepsy in fact. This disease imapcted one of the teachers of his youngest sons and a nephew, Dr. Bartow White (more on whom later), who was forced to leave his profession as a physician and state congressman, due to the onset of this form of epilepsy durign the 1860s.
Based on his vade mecum, if Osborn composed this book over just a couple or few years begiing in 1759, he was well prepared for the services he would have to later perform as a doctor practicing medicine in a military setting throughout much of the Revolutionary War. Once this war began, Osborn’s was enrolled in the local regiment voluntarily. He was then placed in charge of the local hospital setting, serving directly under a physician hired to adminstrate this military hospital.
This new position Osborn was given had multiple responsibilities atached to it. At times Osborn served as a quartermaster ordering new medications for an epidemic that has erupted. Other times he served mostly as a floor person, wandering the hospital beds in an attempt to make sure the patients are receiving the best treatments and preventive hygienic practices from his nursing and medical assistants. Osborn was responsible for managing special situations, like the quarantining of a colleague-turned-loyalist at his own home during a fever spell, or the management of troops injured in the battle with the British down in the White Plains area. These responsibilities made Osborn’s experiences some of the most important regarding his professional life. Were it not for his prior associations with the local governors and current Revolutionary War General, another local physician most likely would have been recruited for Osborn’s military medical position.
Regardless of his previous local and Native American-like training and practice, as a Revolutionary War doctor Osborn had to pretty much adhere to military requirements and recommendations when it case to selecting medicines and providing treatment. Much of his knowledge of the use of local remedies would barely be applied in this setting, with one exception. The two most required medicines during the war years were opium and cinchona. Osborn already knew about a local source for a substitute for Cinchona. The same did not exist, however, for opium tar.
Throughout his service as a physician in the revolution, Osborn worked mainly in the Fishkill Encampment setting. He is possibly the physician spoken with briefly by the Marquis de Lafayette when he passed through the camp during one of his early travels. He is also the doctor who later played important administrative roles, assisting local spy Enoch Crosby make his way back into the British military camp settings down by Manhattan Island.
Like all physicians during this time, Osborn practiced bloodletting, made heavy use of opium to quiet the upset bowels (then it was used primarily to stop severe diarrhea and dysentery), and requested cinchona or quinine whenever he had to deal with the fever. A general review of drugs applied to the military setting in the war included a number of common remedies but few American remedies. One diary of the war written by physician William Thacher, makes mention only of the use of several trees for their barks as medicines, such as the butternut, an irritating caustic remedy which he considered “a mild yet sufficiently active cathartic, and a valuable and economical substitute for jalap. It operates without creating heat or irritation, and is found to be efficacious in cases of dysentery and bilious complaints.” Thacher also recommended such medicines as a dose of Jalap and Calomel (a mercurial), for which an extract of Butternut may serve as a substitute. This was used to treat the patient suspected of developing small pox, the traditional protocol for which was to administer Mercury and to prescribe a “low diet” prior to the signs and symptoms setting in.
The Post-War Months and Years
Osborn lived into the last days of the battle and the surrender of upstate New York following a bout with the British known as the Saratoga War. Osborn died shortly later, just a few months before the treaty of Paris was signed therby officially ending the war. Osborn’s three sons, James, Peter and Thomas, also became physicians. James and Peter for the most part were trained by their father and his colleagues. James continued to live on his father’s fame as a post-war military hero, but once the war had ended had his own ambitions to become very much like his father. Peter in short time was required to serve as a foot soldier, touring the community and maintaining peace. He served briefly as a surgeon’s assistant to the local foot soldier troops but or unknown reasons, once his 6-year period of service was completed, he was refused the advancement in his career needed to become a physician; little more of Peter’s professional or personal life can be found after this decision was made.
Thomas Osborn, being the youngest son of Cornelius, and his nephew Cornelius Remsen of Newtown, Livingston, NY, who had earlier removed to Fishkill to begin his training under James and Peter, began their training under the famous physician and state congressman Dr. Bartow White. During this time, Thomas Osborn and Cornelius Remsen would meet with several other well known physicians including Valentine Seaman. Thomas remained a traditional physician locally in the Fishkill-Wappingers Falls setting. Cornelius Remsen began his professional career in much the same way, but enlisted in the military to serve as a surgeon in the war of 1812.
Dr. Cornelius Osborn’s teachings continued to live on locally, but due to political changes in the medical system with regard to adequately training physicians in medicine, the traditional appreneticeship form of education would change significantly both nationally and internationally. With the reopening of the first medical school in the United States around 1783, and the formation of local medical societies just a few months later, the ways in which Cornelius and his two youngest son learned this trade would cease to exist. The new form of training required some classroom attendence and didactic training and/or lab experience in a human cadaver dissection demonstration setting. It took just a decade of economic depression, followed by a fairly successful recovery, for the first medical schools to take a strong hold on its profession. The requirements for becoming a doctor in the fairly young United States were about to undergo significant changes legally and intellectually.
When my research on Dr. Osborn’s vade mecum was complete, I submitted an article on his life and writings which was published by the local historical society as part of its yearbook in 1993. My focus was then immediately switched from Dutch multicultural medicine to the earliest concepts of “alternative” medicine practiced during the 1800s. This included a study of the first adoptions of Native American herbs into regular (allopathic) medicine during the first years of the Post-revolution post-war depression.
The Establishment of Alternative Medicine Schooling and Training During The Post-War Years
The first American Medical schools were opened soon after the war, beginning with the equivalent to todays’s Columbia School of Medicine just prior to the war, recommencing its program soon after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
Between 1783 and 1805, several writings were produced detailing the local herbs and their potential use as medicines. Due to the war, trade with England was diminished and at times entirely lacking. The other most common source for medicines, the Dutch trade, assisted the former colonists in obtaining their valuable drugs, but local physicians were left to re-define medicine on their own for the most part. In spite of the war, some physicians did receive training in Englnad or Scotland, and returned to the United States to help form the first medical colleges and lecture series in the US. Dr. Osborn’s sons did not have to undergo thistraining, but his nephew, Cornelius Remsen of Long Island, probably underwent some of this training under one of the most reputable medical school professors and physicians of his time–Dr. Valentine Seaman. He was also trained by Dr. Bartow White, a close friend of the Osborn family’s sons after Cornelius’s passing in 1782. Dr. Bartow White was trained by Seaman, and would bring to medicine as it was practiced in the Hudson Valley area a new take on the causes for epidemics like the various forms of fever, dysentery and consumption that seemed to strike time and time again. Trained in Climatology and Medicine, Dr. White and Cornelius Osborn’s sons and nephew, came to practice America’s first unique form of medicine. This new practice made use of both European Old World and American New World herbal medicines. But for the most part, medicine was changing into a study of element, mineral and metal-based medicines as well such as arsenic and mercury salts, iron powders, sulphur balms and waters, and natural salts formed by evaporating mineral springs water.
The Hudson valley itself gave birth to a number of healing faiths and remedies in the years and decades ahead due to its unique natural features. People settled the counties of the river due to their natural springs, health weather and climate, local farms and foods, and outdoor recreation settings which included one of the healthiest sports of the time–horseback. Over the next 25 to 35 years, the transformation of medicine in the valley just north of New York city is what gave rise to “alternative” medicine as we today understanding these professions to be. It was the epidemics that followed that ultimately led to these new healing professions to become more popular than regular medicine.