Having the Poughkeepsie Thomsonian in my possession is really fortunate.   Over a twenty five year period I repeatedly sought out ways to review this journal either as hard copy or on microfilm/microfiche via interlibrary loan.  In the large LC books in possession of some libraries there is this devoted to journals on microfilm.  According to this list, at most five copies of microfilm containing this journal are in existence.  The closest one at the time was in Montana, which the library refused to share via interlibrary loan with the historical society in my hometown at the time–Portland, Oregon.

Upon returning to New York, and doin like any inquisitive researcher of local history with all possible fingers crossed that day, I went to the Stormville Flea Market and purchased, as expected, maybe a bag or two of incunabula, etc. dealing with old medical books, letters, papers, photographs, etc. pertaining to my now 35 year old “hobby”. (I’d call it work if someone was willing to hire me, but my rich background in this field tends to distance traditional academic researchers, who spend more time researching what others before them wrote, from wanting to converse with me.)

My long term goal is to scan this entire item and made that pdf accessible at this site for download.  The original will go to some local library.

This page a work in process as I begin to work out the sections of this page for presenting the Poughkeepsie Thomsonian and detail its value to our knowledge for local Hudson Valley medical history.  As I taught students for about 20 years in Portland, Oregon, the Hudson Valley is the center of alternative medicine for the country.  I know that some historians in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and even Chapel Hill would like to think otherwise, but the cultural diversity of the valley due to it Dutch history is why this region is so important to the history of US alternative medicine.  With the exception of homeopathy, nearly every major class of healing can somehow be traced to the Hudson Valley.  Chiropractics of course has its birth in Iowa, and the rarely heard about Natripathy from Indiana, but the basic premises upon which these alternative philosophies are based can be traced back to predecessors in the Hudson Valley area.

So why not call New York City the center of alternative medicine, after all Wooster Beach, the initiator of  Reformed and later Eclectic medicine came from the city?  New York does have an important history relevant to the development of alternative medical practices. We learn more about this by simply reading about the political arguments that occurred from 1795 to about 1820 between Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia’s school and Samuel Mitchell of the New York Medical School (not Kings College or the predecessor of Columbia College, which was a school class room training like Harvard at the time, with a limited clinical setting or responsibility for the MD degree; for example, see story about Harvard Graduate Caleb Child.)  But both of these are allopathic settings with allopathic traditions and teachings.  The first alternatives to allopathy is really the topic here, not the variations of theory and philosophy contained by an ever-changing art based on philosophy, beliefs and traditions more than a science based upon a scholarly generated sense of absolutism.

The first alternatives we can surmise are those indigenous derived professions and the non-traditional forms of Dutch, French, Swedish, Finnish, African-American, Indian, Moravian, Quaker, Shaker, and even English philosophies being promoted in the Valley north of the Anglocentric urban traditions professed and practiced by New York’s (not New Amsterdam’s) city doctors.  If we merge all of these cultural and religious groups into a single class for the time being, the next generation of new age medicine is the “Indian doctor” or “Indian root doctor”, developed due to the influences of local Christian Mahican-Algonkin, Moravian-baptised, Shekomeko-Pine Plains-Gallatin resident “Prince Quack Mannessah“.

The Poughkeepsie Thomsonsonians represents the first well-planned and implemented, business like venture of non-allopathic healing developed to meet both the financial and spiritual needs of people unable to afford the costly care of regular physicians and/or who refused to engage in the new form of medicine coming out known by most as mineral remedies.  Their medicines were usually considered to be very toxic when compared with past remedies, and the new herbal medicines being generated through the documentation of locally native medicinal plants.

The Thomsonian profession actually began quite early, perhaps as early as 1807 to 1809 if we consider the earliest years when its found Samuel Thomson began “experimenting” with the use of herbal medicines (actually more like playing a practical joke on your friends, by convincing them to try eating lobelia).   The first writings on this in pamphlet form seem to have appeared between 1812 and 1815.  By 1817 the profession was defined, and by 1820 “Friends groups” were developing locally and nationally.  During the 1820s, legal actions enabled and disabled practitioners of this faith in various places around this country.  For the most part, allopathy continued to fail in receiving much public support due to its continued support for mineral remedies and toxicity, in association with recurring signs of its lack of success rejuvenated every few years by the return of various epidemics, and the major numbers of deaths brought on by yellow fever in general.

In 1832, Asiatic cholera struck the United States for the first time, remaining a problem for one or two years, with evidence showing its retention in this country well into the mid 1830s in the midwestern fort settings, as late as 1837 (Minnesota-Dakotas).  The cholera epidemic changed the minds of many survivors.  The 1832 events brought attention to the Thomsonian cause, and the changes in State medical practice laws accompanied by the bringing of several practitioners to court for killing their patients set the stage for what would happen at the next national Thomsonian and Friend meeting.   Personal, professional and regional differences made the followers of Samuel Thomson breakaway and form their own groups.  Alva Curtis of Ohio was one such person, who renamed the profession Botanico-medicine, and our local Thomas Lapham, who retained the name Thomsonianism, was the other.   A third individual very active in following Thomsonianism was Wooster Beach, driven out of New York by a mob years before, resurfacing in Ohio around 1832, and by now a leader in his own field known as Eclectic Medicine. [A lot of the history of these schools is mapped and reviewed at another site in this blog.]

The years 1837 to 1845 were important to the development on the non-allopathic field due to the changes in state laws these professions produced.  Homeopathy became active and supported during this time, especially by doctors in Poughkeepsie.  The Poughkeepsie Thomsonian was published only during the first five years of this period.  From 1842 to 1849, Thomsonianism changed from the profession Samuel Thomson defined it to be, to a profession made much more complex by the various publishers to follow in his footsteps.  Elias Smith of upstate New York was one such follower representing the Great Lakes region of the state.  By 1849, what kept Thomsonianism alive and active as a profession was the devotion of its philosophy and teachings to various metaphysical belief systems.  As noted elsewhere, the Poughkeepsie Thomsonian perhaps had this very trinity-based belief system underlying their attraction to this practice, a belief system supported by claims made by one of Samuel Thomson’s family representatives, appearing before the New York state attorney in 1849.

The underlying themes to look for in these sections of the Poughkeepsie Thomsonian, are as follows:

  • The names of the followers, supporters and distributors of Thomsonian medicines and books
  • Religiosity and mention of the church or family religious practice
  • Natural philosophy
  • Nature and healing
  • Mineral versus botanical drugs
  • The anti-opium movement
  • The anti-lancet movement