There are two essential publishers of Thomsonianism, Samuel Thomson himself and J. W. Comfort one of his closest followers and most influential writers on the philosophy of Thomsonian medicine.  Several other Thomsonian supporters need to be mentioned as well, like Elias Smith of Western New York who wrote and had published his own interpretation of Thomsonianism, without sacrificing any of Thomson’s original manners of practicing medicine and healing.  There is also Alva Curtis, a strong advocate of Thomsonianism until about 1834, when he and Samuel Thomson split their professional relationship and Curtis started his own press in Ohio supporting Thomsonianism and using that name for the practice quite often, but developing his own new take on this form of practice and calling it Botanic Medicine.  A final name most important to the Thomsonian profession was Poughkeepsie’s own advocate for this practice serving as an alternative to mineral doctoring (regular medicine), Thomas Lapham.

The following are section of Thomson’s and Comforts books used to demonstrate some of the basic Thomsonian principles.

Samuel Thomson,  Botanic Family Physician.  Boston, 1820.

pp. 70-

Directions for Preparing and using Vegetable Medicine

No. 1.–Emetic Herb

Three different ways of preparing the Lobelia are given by Thomson:

“1.  The powdered leaves and pods.  This is the common form of using it; and from half to a tea-spoonful may be taken in warm water sweetened; or the same quantity may be put into either of the other numbers when taken; to cleanse the stomach, overpower the cold and promote a free perspiration.”

“2.  A tincture made from the green herb in spirit.  This is used to counteract the effects of poison; to be either internally or externally used; and for asthma, and other complaints of the lungs.  For a dose take a tea-spoonful, adding about the same quantity of No. 2, in half a tea-cup full of warm water sweetened, and in all cases of nervous affection add half a tea-spoonful of nerve powder.  For the external effects of poison, take the above dose, and bathe the parts affected with the tincture, repeating it till cured.”

“3.  The seeds reduced to a fine powder and mixed with Nos. 2 and 6.  This is for the most violent attacks of spasms and other complaints, such as lock-jaw, bite of mad dog, fits, drowned persons, and all cases of suspended animation, where the vital spark is nearly extinct.  For a dose give a tea-spoonful, and repeat it till relief is obtained; then follow with a tea of No. 2, for canker.”

Doses for children are calculated according to age.  The very young are given a dose of the powder either in a half teaspoonful of water, or in raspberry leaves steeped in water and then strained and sweetened, “repeating the dose every ten minutes, till it operates; and give some pennyroyal or some other herb tea for drink.”

                                                      [pp. 70-71]


Materia Medica

1.    Lobelia/Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), the powdered      leaves and pods.

      “…to cleanse the stomach, overpower the cold and    promote a free perspiration.”

2.    green herb (Lobelia) in spirit. 

      No. 2

            Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum)

      warm water sweetened

      nerve powder.

      A tincture made from the green herb in spirit…used to     counteract the effects of poison…for asthma, and      other complaints of the lungs…all cases of nervous       affection…”

      “For the external effects of poison…bathe the parts       affected”

3.  seeds (Lobelia), reduced to a fine powder

      No. 2

            Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum)

      No. 6

            gum Myrrh pounded fine, spirits of turpentine, gum          camphor, good fourth proof brandy or high wines.

      treatments include “all cases of suspended animation,       where the vital spark is nearly extinct.” 

      “follow with a tea of No. 2, for canker.”

“No. 2.–Cayenne

      “This is a medicine of safe value in the practice, and may be safely used in all cases of disease, to raise and retain the internal vital heat of the system, cause a free perspiration, and keep the determining powers to the surface.  The only preparation is to have it reduced to a fine powder.  For a dose take from half to a tea-spoonful, in hot water, or a tea of No. 3, sweetened to a tea-spoonful, in hot water, or a tea of No. 3, sweetened; or the same quantity may be mixed with a dose of either the other numbers when taken.  The dose should be repeated every ten to fifteen minutes till the desired object is effected, and continued occasionally till health is restored.  When this number is given, the patient should be kept warm, by sitting by the fire, covered with a blanket, or in a warm bed.”


Materia Medica

Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum),  

      reduced to a fine powder.

hot water

No. 3 tea, sweetened         “No. 3” for cankers? or Lobelia recipe no. 3?

either [of] the other numbers

      Nos. 1-6, or 1-3 of Lobelia?

“the patient should be kept warm, by sitting by the fire, covered with a blanket, or in a warm bed.”

“No. 3.–For Canker

      “Take Bayberry root bark, white Pond Lily root, and the inner bark of Hemlock, equal parts of each pounded and well mixed together; steep one ounce of the powder in a pint of boiling water, and give for a dose a common wine glass full, sweetened.

      “If the above cannot be had, take as a substitute sumach bark, leaves or berries, red-raspberry or witch-hazle leaves, marsh rosemary, or either of the other articles described under the head of No. 3; they are all good for canker, and may be used together or separate.

      “When the violence of the disease requires a course of medicines, steep one ounce of the above mentioned powder, No. 3, in a pint of boiling water, strain off a wine glass full while hot, and add a tea-spoonful of No. 2, and the same quantity  of sugar; when cool enough to take, add a tea-spoonful of No. 1, and half that quantity of nerve powder.  Let this dose be given three times, at intervals of fifteen minutes; and let the same compound be given by injection, and if the case requires it again repeated.  If mortification is apprehended a tea-spoonful of No. 6, may be added to each dose and to the injections.”



Materia Medica

Bayberry root bark         (Myrica cerifera?)

white Pond Lily root            (Nymphaea alba)

Hemlock, inner bark of           (Tsuga canadensis, also other Tsuga spp.)

sumach, bark, leaves or berries,         (Rhus typhina, other Rhus sp.)

red-raspberry leaves         (Rubus sp.)

witch-hazle leaves         (Hamamaelis sp.)

marsh rosemary         (Limotium sp.)

“No. 4.–Bitters.

      “Take the Bitter Herb, or Balmony, Barberry and Poplar bark, equal parts, pulverised, one ounce of the powder to a pint of hot water and half a pint of spirit.  For a dose take half a wine glass full.  For hot bitters add a tea-spoonful of No. 2.

      “This preparation is calculated to correct the bile and create an appetite by restoring the digestive powers; and may be freely used both as a restorative and to prevent disease.

      “When the above articles cannot be had, either of those that have been before described under No. 4, which are all good for the same purpose, may be used as a substitute.”

                                                      [Ibid, p. 73]


Materia Medica

Bitter Herb        (Rumex sp?)


Barberry        (Berberis sp.)

Poplar bark        (Populus sp.)

hot water


“No. 5.–Syrup.

      “Take Poplar bark and bark of the root of Bayberry, one pound each, and boil them in two gallons of water, strain off and add seven pounds of good sugar; then scald and skim it, and add half a pound of peach-meats; or the same quantity of cherry-stone meats pounded fine.  When cool add a gallon of good brandy; and keep it in bottles for use.  Take half a wine glass full two or three times a day.”

      “Any other quantity may be prepared by observing the same proportion of the different articles.”

      “This syrup is very good to strengthen the stomach and bowels, and to restore weak patients; and is particularly useful in the dysentery, which leaves the stomach and bowels in a sore state.  In a relax or the first stages of the dysentery, by using a tea of No. 3, freely, and giving this syrup, it will generally cure it, and will also prevent those exposed from getting the disease.”

                                          [Reference to cholera???]

                                                        [Ibid, p. 73]


Materia Medica

Poplar bark        (Populus sp.)

Bayberry, bark of the root        (Myrica cerifera?)

peach-meats        (Prunus sp.)

cherry-stone meats pounded fine        (Prunus sp.)


good sugar

good brandy 

No. 6.–Rheumatic Drops.

      “Take one gallon of good fourth proof brandy, or any kind of high wines, one pound of gum Myrrh pounded fine, one ounce of No. 2, and put them in a stone jug and boil it a few minutes in a kettle of water, leaving the jug unstopped.  When settled, bottle it up for use.  It may be prepared without boiling, by letting it stand in the jug for five or six days, shaking it well every day, when it be fit for use.

      “These drops are to remove pain and prevent mortification, to be taken, or applied externally, or to be put into the injections.  One or two tea-spoonfuls of these drops may be given alone, or the same quantity may be put into a dose of either of the medicines before mentioned; and may be also used to bathe with in all cases of external swellings or pains.  It is an excellent remedy for rheumatism, by taking a dose and bathing the parts affected with it.  In the head-ach (sic) by taking a swallow, and bathing the head, and snuffing a little up the nose, it will remove the pain.  It is good for bruises, sprains, swelled joints, and old sores; as it will allay the inflammation, bring down swelling, ease pain and produce a tendency to heal–in fact there is hardly a complaint, in which this useful medicine cannot be used to advantage.  It is the best preservative against mortification of any thing I have ever found.

      “For bathing, in rheumatism, itch, or other humours, or in any swelling or external pain, add one quarter part of spirits of turpentine; and for sprains and bruises, a little gum camphor may be added.”

                                                      [pp. 73-74]


Materia Medica

gum Myrrh pounded fine

turpentine, spirits of

gum camphor

good fourth proof brandy

high wines

stone jug

“Nerve Powder

      “This is the American Valerian, or Umbil, and the preparation has been sufficiently described, for which see page 58.  This powder is a valuable and safe medicine and may be used in all cases without danger; and when there are nervous symptoms, it must never be dispensed with.  For a dose take half a tea-spoonful in hot water sweetened; or the same quantity should be put into a dose of either of the other medicine, and also into the injections, in all nervous cases.”

                                                            [p. 74]

From p. 68-69:

American Valeria, or Ladies’ Slipper, sometimes called Umbil, or Male and Female Nervine

There are four species of this valuable vegetable, one male and three female; the male is called yellow umbil, and grows in swamps and wet lan; has a large cluster of fibrous roots matted together, joined to a solid root, which puts forth several stalks that grow about two feet high; it has leaves something resembling the poke leaf. The female kinds are distinguished by the color of the blossoms, which are red, reand white and white.  The red has but two leaves, which grow out of the ground and lean over to the right and left, between which a single stalk shoots up to the height of from eight to ten inches, bearing on its top a red blossom of a very singular form, that gives the name of female umbil.  This kind is found on high ledges and in swamps,  The red and white, and white umbil, grows only in swamps, and is in larger clusters of roots than the yellow, but in a similar form; its top is similar to the red, except the color of the blossom.  The yellow and red are the best for medicnes; the roots should be dug in the fall when done growing, or in the spring before the top puts forth. ….When the roots are dug, they should be washed clean, acrefully dried, and pounded or ground to a fine powder…This powder is the best nervine known…”

Thomson recommends this nervine powder for “all cases of nervous affection, and in hysterical symptoms.”  He considers this the substitute for opium “which is generally given in cases of spasmodic affection, and which only deadens the feelings and releives pain only by destroying sensibility, without doing any good.”  Regular doctors consider the American Valerian to have a narcotic nature, “but this is a mistake” Thomson writes.  By purportedly quieting the nerves, it causes the patient to go to sleep during which time Nature will “recover the natural tone of the system.” 

For a recipe, Thomson gives “Half a hot water sweetened, and the dose repeated if neccessary.”  It may be combined with any of the other numbers. 


Materia Medica

American Valerian, or [American] Umbil

hot water sweetened

“Composition, or Vegetable Powder

      “Take two pounds of the Bayberry root bark, one pound of the inner bark of Hemlock, one pound of ginger, two ounces of Cayenne, two ounces of Cloves, all pounded fine, sifted through a fine sieve, and well mixed together.  For a dose take a tea-spoonful of this powder, with an equal quantity of sugar, and put to it half a tea-cupful of boiling water; to be taken as soon as sufficiently cool, the patients being in bed, or by the fire covered with a blanket.

      “This composition is calculated for the first stages and in less violent attacks of disease.  It is a medicine of much value, and may be safely used in all complaints of male and female, and for children.  It is good for relax, dysentery, pain in the stomach, and bowels, and to remove all obstructions caused by cold, or loss of inward heat; by taking a dose on going to bed and putting a hot stone to the feet, wrapped in wet cloths, it will cure a bad cold, and will generally throw off a disease in its first stages if repeated two or three times.  If the symptoms are violent, with much pain, add to each dose a tea-spoonful of No. 6, and half a tea-spoonful of No. 1; and in nervous symptoms add half a tea-spoonful of nerve powder; at the same time give an injection of the same.  If these should not answer the purpose, the patient must be carried through a regular course of the medicine, as has been before described.”


Materia Medica

Bayberry root bark         (Myrica cerifera?)

Hemlock, inner bark of         (Tsuga sp.)

ginger         (Zingiber officinalis)

Cayenne         (Capsicum annuum)

Cloves         (Eugena sp.)

Cough Powder

      “Take four tea-spoonfuls of Skunk Cabbage, two of Hoarhound, one of Wake-robin, one of No. 1, one of No. 2, one of Bayberry bark, one of Bitter root, and one of nerve powder, all made fine and well mixed together.  When taken, to be mixed with molasses.  Take half a tea-spoonful of the powder on going to bed; keep warm and continue it till relief is obtained, particularly on going to bed.

      “When the cough has been of long standing, it will be best while taking this prescription, to go through a regular course of the medicine, and repeat it if necessary.”

                                                            [p. 75]


Materia Medica

Skunk Cabbage



No. 1

      Lobelia/Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)

No. 2

      Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum)

Bayberry bark

Bitter root

nerve powder

      American Valerian, or [American] Umbil

Cancer Plaster

      Take the heads of red clover and fill a brass kettle, and boil them in water for one hour; then take them out and fill the kettle again with fresh ones and boil them as before in the same liquor.  Strain it off and press the heads to get out all the juice; the simmer it over a slow fire till it is about the consistence of tar, when it is fit for use.  Be careful not to let it burn.  When used it should be spread on a piece of bladder, split and made soft.  It is good to cure cancers, sore lips, and old sores.”

                                                            [p. 75]


Materia Medica

red clover, heads of

brass kettle


      “Take one pound of Bees wax, one do. of salt Butter, one abd a half do. of Turpentine, twelve ounces of Balsom-fir (sic); melt and simmer them together; then strain it off into a bason (sic), and keep it for use.  It may be used to heal fresh woulnds, burns, scalds and all bad sores, after the inflammation is allayed, and wound cleansed.”

[p. 75-76]


Materia Medica

Bees wax

salt Butter


Balsom-fir (sic)

bason (sic)

Strengthening Plaster

      “Take Burdock leaves and Mullen leaves, bruise them and put them in a kettle, with a sufficient quantity of water, and boil them well; then strain off the liquor, press, or squeeze the leaves and boil it down till about half as thick as molasses; then add three parts of Rosin and one of Turpentine, and simmer well together, until the water is evaporated; then pour it off into cold water and work it with the hands like shoemaker’s wax; if too hard put in more turpentine, when it will be fit for use.  It should be spread on soft leather and applied to the part affected; and it is good to strengthen weakness in the back and other parts of the body.”

[p. 76]


Materia Medica

Burdock leaves

Mullen (sic) leaves



Volatile Salts

      “Take crude Sal Amoniac (sic) one ounce, Pearlash two ounces, and one pound each by itself, mix them well together, and keep it close stopped in a bottle for use.  By damping it with spirit or essence will increase the strength.  This applied to the nose is good for faintness and to remove pain in the head; and is much better than what is generally sold by apothecaries.”

[p. 76]


Materia Medica

crude Sal Amoniac (sic)


Nerve Ointment

Take the bark of the root of Bitter-sweet two parts; of wormwood and chamomile each equal, one part, when green or if dry moiston (sic) it with hot water; which put into horse or porpoise oil, or any kind of soft animal oil, and simmer them over a slow fire for twelve hours; then strain off; and add one ounce of spirits of Turpentine to each pound of ointment.  To be used for a bruise, sprain, callus, swelling, or for corns.”

[p. 76]


Materia Medica

Bitter-sweet, bark of the root of

wormwood, green or dry

chamomile, green or dry

horse oil

porpoise oil

soft animal oil

Turpentine, spirits of


      “Make a strong tea of Raspberry leaves, or of No. 3; take a cracker pounded fine and slippery Elm bark pulverised, with Ginger, and make a poultice of the same[.]   This is good for old sores, whitlows, felons, and for bad burns, scalds, and parts frozen.  Apply this poultice and renew it, at least as often as every twelve or twenty-four hours, and wash with soap suds at every renewal; wetting it in the interim with cold water, or a tea of Raspberry leaves, till it discharges; then apply the salve till a cure is effected.”


Materia Medica

Raspberry leaves, strong tea

cracker, pounded fine

slippery Elm bark, pulverised


soap suds, wash

cold water

Raspberry leaves, tea


No. 3, strong tea

No. 3.–For Canker

Bayberry root bark (Myrica cerifera?); white Pond Lily root (Nymphaea alba); Hemlock, inner bark of     (Tsuga canadensis, also other Tsuga spp.); sumach, bark, leaves or berries, (Rhus typhina, other Rhus sp.); red-raspberry leaves (Rubus sp.); witch-hazle leaves (Hamamaelis sp.); marsh rosemary (Limotium sp.); sugar

See separate description above.

Injections, or Clysters

      “This manner of administering medicine is of the greatest importance to the sick; it will frequently give relief when all other applications fail.  It is supposed that the use of them is of great antiquity; wether this be true or not, the using them to relieve the sick, was certainly a very valuable discovery; and no doubt thousands of lives have been saved by it.  The doctors have long been in the practice of directing injections to be given to their patients, but they seem to have no other object in administering them, than to cause a movement in the bowels; therefore it was immaterial what they were made of.

      “According to the plan which I have adopted, there are certain important objects aimed at in the administration of medicine to remove disease, viz. to raise the internal heat, promote perspiration, remove the canker, guard against mortification, and restore the digestion.  To accomplish these objects the medicine necessary to remove the complaint, must be applied to that part where the disease is seated; if in the stomach only, by taking the medicine it may be removed; but if in the bowels, the same compound must be administered by injection…the grand object is to warm the bowels, and remove the canker….

      “The common preparation for an Injection or Clyster, is to take a tea-cupful of strong tea made of No. 3, strain it off when hot, and add half a tea-spoonful of No. 2, and a tea-spoonful of No. 6; and when cool enough to give, add half a tea-spoonful of No. 1, and the same quantity of nerve powder.  Let it be given with a large syringe made for that purpose, or where this cannot be had, a bladder and pipe may be used.”

[pp. 77-78]


Materia Medica

strong tea made of No. 3

No. 2

No. 6

No. 1

nerve powder.

given with a large syringe or bladder and pipe

Stock of Medicine for a Family

1 oz. of the Emetic Herb,

2 ozs. of Cayenne

1-2 lb. Bayberry root bark, in powder,

1 lb. of Poplar bark

1 lb. of Ginger,

1 pint of the Rheumatic Drops

      “This stock will be sufficient for a family for one year, and with such articles as they can easily procure themselves when wanted, will enable them to cure any disease, which a family of common size may be afflicted with during that time.  The expense will be small, and much better than to emply a doctor and have his extravagant bill to pay.”


Materia Medica

Emetic Herb/Lobelia/Indian Tobacco         (Lobelia inflata)

Cayenne         (Capsicum annuum)

Bayberry root bark, in powder,         (Myrica cerifera?)

Poplar bark         (Populus sp.)

Ginger,         (Zingiber officinalis)

Rheumatic Drops

      gum Myrrh pounded fine

      turpentine, spirits of

      gum camphor

Fluids to base infusions/decoctions on:



      good fourth proof brandy

      high wines


good sugar

kettle, brass


animal oil?

[p. 78]

Other herbs discussed separately [pp. 59-69]:

Spearmint               (Mentha spicata)

Peppermint        (Mentha piperita)

Pennyroyal        (Mentha pulegioides)

Burdock                 (Arctium lappa)

Skunk Cabbage     (Symplocarpus foetidus) East coast species.

Wake-Robin        (Trillium sp.)

Thoroughwort            (Eupatorium sp. esp. E. perforatum)

Featherfew        (

Clivers                 (Galium sp.)

Black Birch Bark  (Betula lenta)

Evan Root               (Geum sp.)

Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus rubra)

Balsam Fir        (Picea sp.)

Genseng                 (Panax ginseng?)

Snakeroot               (Asarum canadense? Serpentaria?)

Mustard                 (

Horseradish       (

Balm of Gilead          (Populus sp.?)

Butternut               (Carya sp.?)

Blue and White Vervine  (Verbena sp.)

Pipsisway or Rheumatic Weed   (Chimaphila umbellata)_

Godlenrod               (Solidago spp.)

Meadow Fern       (Pteris sp.?)

Yellow Dock       (Rumex crispus?)

Prickly Ash       (Zanthoxylum spp.)

Bitter Thistle          (Cirsium spp.?)

Archangel               (?)

J.W. Comfort, M.D.  The Practice of Medicine on Thomsonian Principles, adapted as well to the use of families as to that of the practitioner….4ed.  (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1853), xxxix-liv.

Principles of Medicine

“I.  Matter, in all its diversity of character, quality, form and combination, may be classed in two great divisions, namely: Organic and Inorganic Matter.

II.  Organic Matter includes the two vast kingdoms of nature: the animal and the vegetable kingdom.

III.  Inorganic Matter includes all bodies not possessed of life, and which are endowed with a capacity for life.

V.(sic)  Without organization, there cannot be life; and again, organized bodies, though possessed of a capacity for life, require the impression of “stimulants, to call into activity.”

                                                [Comfort, p. xxxiv]

V.  [Brown, Richrand and Thomson are quoted].

“A proper organization, and suitable temperature, produce life and motion.  Caloric, or heat, is the cause of life and motion.” Thomson.

Comfort then goes on to described the effects of heat and cold upon the fertile egg, stating:

“Place the egg in a temperature of 98 degrees of heat, and vital movements will commence in the elements composing the germ…If the egg becomes chilled, vital movement ceases, disorganization and decomposition ensue.

      “In the early period of human animal life, heat is derived from the mother; and after birth, ehat is generated within the body.  The generation of heat withjin the body is as neccessary to vital action in man, as external heat is necessary to sustain vitality in the chick, before it vursts from the shell.”

                                                [Comfort, p. xxxiv]

“VI.  It is the animating power of heat, that the system becomes susceptible to the impression of other life-giving agents; as air, light, electricity, galvanism, food, drinks, and medicine.  Animals that remain torpid and insensible during winter, are reawakeneed into life and activity, on the return of warm weather.  Upon the same principle, the steam or vapour bath proves a powerful auxiliary remedy in the cure of disease, by imparting caloric and electricity to the blood; and in many instances of slight ailments, is sufficient of itslef to rtestore to the system the power necessary to establish health.”

“VII. “If the system be deprived of caloric for a certain length of time, all the preservative, recuperative, and sanitative phenomena cease.  It is the same, also as respects oxygen.”—Broussais.”

“VIII.  Caloric (heat) brings into play the nerve power, (assumed to be an electro-galvanic influence,) which operating through the medium of the nervous apparatus, carries on and governs all the vital functions…”

Author explains:  Dr. Thomson’s premise from which he [Comfort] derives this hypothesis is what Thomson termed “the power of the inward heat,” an means to assist vital funtions and produce vital energy, normally under the control of nervous influence.  The result is to enable the body to overcome disease and re-establish health. “It is through the agency of vital energy, inseparably connected with the funtion of calorification, that the causes of disease are resisted, and health restored, when the system is invaded with disease.”

                                                [Comfort, p. xl]

IX.  “A good digestion, and a proper supply of food and air, are requisite, not only to supply the wastes of the system, but also to produce the amount of heat and nervous energy necessary to maintain heatlhy action in the system.” 

The stomach is likened to the fireplace, the food is the fuel “upon which life and motion depend.”

                                                      [ibid, xli]

skip to:

XVI.  “Nature is the real physician: in other words, diseases are cured, wounds healed, and injuries repaired, by processes of actions or movements under the control of the vital principle, or laws of life.  These curative processes are manifested by fever, inflammation, vomiting, diarrhoea, and convulsions.”

                                                      [ibid, xlii]

skip to:

XIX.  “It is by action–by vital movement–taht disease is overcome.  The direct tendency of cold, poison, and other causes of disease, is to suspend vital motion, weakening the power that sustains nutrition, or vital chemistry….The most fatal cases of disease are those unattended by fever…the vital forces are at once prostate below the point to admit of reaction;—the patient, remaining cold and partly insensible, from the commencement of the disease, until the spark of life is extinguished.”

This explanation was used by Comfort to explain the fatal nature of Asiatic Cholera: “the functions of nutrition, and, consequently, taht of calorification and enervation, being, in many cases, suspended, in the outset of the disease.”

                                                      [ibid, xliii]

XX.  “The amount of vital power in the system is always less in disease than it is in health….”

                                                      [ibid, xliii]

XXI.  “The stomach is the great repository from which the body receives its support….”

                                                      [ibid, xliv]

XII. (sic) “Vomiting, and other disease-expelling and curative actions, are instituted and carried on by a power generated at the base of the brain,—the medulla oblongata.”

Comfort’s use of the term “medulla oblongata” represents a major change in the philosophy voiced by Samuel Thomson’s son in the legal documentation of Thomsonianism perfromed by a NY justice.  [See previous section]  By recognizing this anatomical detail, voiced as a structure and in professional terms, he recomposes Thonmson’s premise using professional terminology.  This in turn may suggest his own reading knowledge, once adaminantly (sp.?) opposed by Dr. S. Thomson. 


XXIII.  “In medicine, error in theory leads to error in practice.”  

Comfort then goes on to criticize blood-letting, purging, and the use of “antimony, nitre, calomel, digitalis, and various other poisonous agents.”   The fever, he claims, is to be taught as “the increased action of the heart and arteries, necessary to sustain the curative actions, as evidence of excess of vital power.”

                                                      [ibid, xlv]

XXVI.  “Medical treatment, to prove beneficial, must harmonize with the principles of life.  Pain may be relieved by stupefying the brain with narcotics; fever may be subdued by prostating the vital powers; the heart’s action is lessened by the adminsitration of digitali and other sedatives; and inflammatory action may be reduced by cathartics, and general depletion; but such treatment always involves nature…”

                                                [ibid, xlv-xlvi]

XXVIII. Succinctly stated:  “Disease consists, essentially, in diminished vital power.”

                                                      [ibid, xlvi]

XXX.  “Disease is produced by agnets or causes which exert an influence upon the system, not congenial to the vital principle, or which are not in relation with, or adapted to, the laws of life.”

With this, Comfort emphasizes the influence of cold and dampness as the causative of disease, such as small pox, measles, scarlet fever, all of which aere due to “specific poisonous agents” from food, excessive eating and dring and “anima passions”, and he notes rheumatism, catarrh, bronchitis, quinsy, “sick headach,” bilious fever and erysipelas as having exposure to cold and dampness as their common cause. 

“Marsh Miasmata,” Comfort describes is “The poisonous effluvia, or vapour, arising from decomposition or vegetable matter, together with cold and dampness…the principle causes of the fevers, particularly in low, marshy districts of country.”  This is possibly related to explanations felt by Thomsonians and Neo-Thomsonians who crossed the Overland Trail and witness the deaths ensuing in the river valleys and later experiencing the large number of consumption or tuberculosis cases which ensued during their early years of settlement in the Northwest.  Comfort explains: “Newly cleared land gives rise, also to noxious vapours, from the decomposition that ensues on the exposure of fresh earth to the sun.  This will account for the prevalence of disease in newly settled places.”

                                                      [ibid, xlvi]

XXXII.  Thomson’s explanation for fevers is given:  “What is commonly called fever, is the effect, and not the cause of disease.  It is the struggle of nature to throw off disease.  The cold causes an obstruction and fever arises to remove it.  This is universally the case.  Remove the cause, and the effect will cease.” [last sentence italicized.]

Comfort likens Thomson’s theory to theories expressed in the writings of “Hypocrates, Sylvius, and other early writers on medicine.”  

      Again quoting Thomson: “When a patient is bled…it lessens the heat, and gives power to the cold…By giving opium, the feelings are deadened; the use of antimony, calomel and nitre, tends to destroy the power in the system of producing heat.”

                                                [ibid, xlvii-xlviii]

The following numericized explanations cover a variety of diseases or medical conditions as solo descriptions. 

His closing statements include:

“XLII.  “Curative in design, the results of fever and inflammation are always bebficial, under favorable conditions.”

XLIII.  Finally, whenever nature is called upon to repair an injury, or to protect an organ or tissue from disorganization, she performs the work by means of inflammation, aided, sometimes, by fever.”

XLIV.  It must be borne in mind, however, that the efforts of nature often require the aid of medcines, and other means, for regulating and sustaining her restorative actions….”

                                    [ibid, liii-liv, NOTE:    the wrong numerical sequence  is given;   the page numbers  change abruptly from xlix to  l.]

Closing statements by Comfort described Thomson’s formulas as methods he invented to rid the ill body of “canker, or “vitiated secretions.”  These are fixed in the stomach or gut, and in all diseases tend to prostate or interrupt the stomach, interrupt digestion, thus allowing for a continuance of the disease.   

The “leading object” in the practice of Thomsonian medicine is thus the removal of whatever “canker” or collecion of vititated secretions, which causes disease onset.  This is done by inducing vomit, causing a sweat, and providing a vegetable purgative.

                                                      [ibid, liv]

      is given;   the page numbers  change abruptly from xlix to   l.]

 Recommended Readings.

Tobey A. Appel.  The Thomsonian Movement, the Regular Profession, and the State in Antebellum Connecticut: A Case Study of the Repeal of Early Medical Licensing Laws. J Hist Med Allied Sci (2010) 65 (2): 153-186.  Online at