Introduction – the Inspiration of Thomsonsianism

Thomsonianism was a self-administered form of medicine developed as an option to the regular medicine practiced by licensed MDs.  Formed around 1809, its was not really communicated that much beyond the borders of the community where its founder Samuel Thomson lived in and around New Hampshire.  Throughout its earliest years, Samuel Thomson engaged in much the same  activities of another inventor or alternative medical philosophy–Elisha Perkins of Connecticut.  Unlike Thomson, Elisha Perkins was a physician and surgeon.   This gave him some of the science and philosophy background needed to develop his philosophy of the flow of some sort of vital or life force throughout the body, enabling him to develop the belief that this vital force could be altered or regulated by the of the use of the “Metallic Tractors”.  This philosophy was based on his observations during surgery that there was this natural tendency for biological parts to show signs of life even when removed from a body.  The ability of a sedated person to experience a muscle contraction due simply to contact with a metal surgical instrument was proof of this.   It took Perkins a few experiments to determine that this happened primarily with metalic instruments instead of those made of ivory or wood.  In short time Perkins used these discoveries to invent and patent his “Metalic Tractors.”

Perkin’s Tractors (their patented name), or as the locals called them “Pointers”, were two 3 inch objects made of brass and steel.  They were meant to serve as some sort of mechanism for administering and controlling this life force in the tissues beneath the skin.  Perkins’ discovery of this came as a result of his work as a surgeon when found that by touching a muscle exposed in his sedated a patients that he was able to cause the muscle to contract by certain metals but not by wood.  He used this observation to define the makings of his tractors.   To prove that his tractors worked, Perkins took his patented device to the cities ravaged by recurring yellow fever epidemics.  This venture ultimately took his life just two years and one epidemic later in 1799. Following Elisha’s death, his son Benjamin made similar attempt to continue in his father’s shoes, only to succumb to the same disease as his father in 1807.

During these years, Samuel Thomson was seeing how people gathered around these new medical teachings and how they developed their faith in the Perkins methods for healing.  Thomson more than likely also learned much from learning about the two deaths the Perkins family experience due to their innovation and methods of promoting its use.   But like most people Samuel Thomson probably lost his trust in the physician due to his childhood experiences with doctors both personally and in terms of how unsuccessful they tended to be due to blood-letting when treating his parents, close relatives, and neighbors.  Indian root medicine had been popular in the back woods now for as long as there were people settled there.  Thomson’s neighbor, a midwife/herbalist only inspired him more to take on some parts of these traditonal medical teachings. 

In addition, a book had just been published and circulated by a printer in Boston.  Its author was Rev. and Physician Joseph Townsend.  This book on Domestic Medicine surpassed another classic family medical book out there with a similar title written by British writer Dr. William Buchan.  These two home medical guides provided different philosophical takes on disease and health.  Townsend’s book was more inspirational to its readers due to his unique religious background and training.  He was perhaps even more famous writing about religious and social topics such as poverty and health than Buchan was with his often Anglocentric take on medical beliefs and traditions.  Neither Townsend nor Buchan met the needs of the local residents searching for local cures in the United States.  Buchan considered America’s non-traditional equivalents to British plant medicines to usually be of inferior quality.   Townsend was not so focused on this prejudice the Europeans had against many American medicines used as replacements for their important income generators.  In a later vade mecum he wrote, the medicines he discussed were of course mostly European in the history of their economics.      But his prejudices were directed more towards how to effectively deal with the poor and starving people of the world, by establishing local programs to aid the poor instead of involving the much larger national government powers.

Unlike the works of Buchan and Townsend, Thomson’s work in medicine very much served the needs of local families.  During the earliest years of his self-administered teachings in medicine, Samuel Thomson may have even come upon the writings of Reverend Joseph Townsend printed and distributed out of Boston since 1797.   This may have in fact led to some of the most important indicators of Thomsonian philosophy.  This possibility, noted as well by an 1870s Eclectic physician reading the works of Townsend, realized that the publication of Townsend’s book in Boston may have given Samuel Thomson the idea that led to his creation of a philosophy often riddled with signs of trinity and the use of trines.  Although such practices in communication for the time were commonplace perhaps, at least in the religious sector of society, the fact that Thomson’s work consisted of many such methodologies based on the rules of three  led many people to accept and practice his form of medicine instead of engaging in the more dangerous practices promoted like regular physicians such as bloodletting, the administration of opium and metal salts instead of herbs, and when herbs were in use, administering concentrated substances removed from the herb rather than the entire herb, such as quinine instead of cinchona.    Whereas the Reverend and other regular trained physician claimed that the best form of medicine practiced by European military physicians was ‘puke, purge and bleed,’ Thomsonians claimed this three-part process had to be  “puke, purge, and sweat.”  Blood, after all, contained what was considered to be the vital force of life.  Even though this term was not yet put to use for this important quality of blood and the body, much of the evidence for the existence of such a substance was already there, ranging from the observations made on oxygen and carbolic acid (carbon dioxide) in the blood, to the fact that suspended animation could take over a body following a drowning, or express itself as a state of somnambulance (sleep walking). 

Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County had the philosophical history needed to make sense of these new discoveries.  The Dutch traditions related to Bordenism (an early vital force philosophy relying upon a trine concept of the energies of the body and its organ systems), Cabalism and natural theology (the local first jewish physician Isaac Marks), Indian Root Doctoring and the related Moravian-Mahican natural philosophy mixtures, and most recently the faith in Medical Electricity (Caleb Child), Quaker philosophy and tradition (Shadrach Ricketson), and Perkin’s “Points” philosophy (Daniel Davis and Robert Todd), were all important predecessors to the initiation of  a Thomsonian following in the Hudson Valley setting.   Be it due to nature’s own workings and natural forces, or the reasons so ascribed to the success of this new medicine by God himself, the methods promoted by Thomsonianism were more fitting to the local culture and its heritage than the midguided philosophies of the traditional physicians trying to sell their patent medicines and promote their state-managed physicians’ training programs. 

The Earliest Years

By 1807, Thomson had pulled together his ‘puke, purge, sweat’ philosophy and soon after began marketing this idea in the form of a pamphlet.  Due to Thomson’s teachings, the people now had a choice.   In 1806, the two major books sold on domestic medicine were William Buchan’s and Dr. Charles Townsend’s books on “Domestic Medicine”.   By 1809 or 1810, Thomsonian philosophy was born , but took a few years to develop an avid following in the immediate New Hampshire-Vermont region.  In 1820 his first fairly comprehensive book on this was printed and distributed, a copy of which was sold to Thomas Lapham of Poughkeepsie.    

There were probably a number of things about Thomson’s philosophy that resulted in Lapham’s attention.  Both the common person and physicians had family members who were victims of the recurring yellow fever epidemics returning to this country almost every year during their childhood.  It was these epidemics, and the common ideology that they were more examples of the plague brought on by God due to dissatisfaction with the people. that made many a commonplace person turn to the church for security, salvation, and best of all, protection from this contagion.   During Thomson’s first years of promoting his medicine, the physicians had managed to control these epidemics to some extent, by establishing quarantine practices for suspected ships coming in.  But this did little to get rid of the memories people had about this scourge, or the alleviate some of their concerns about the use of the lancet.   Regular medicine by now was also promoting the use of mineral drugs, which were much stronger medicines that had the same effects as their herbal predecessors.   Regular physicians had learned to extract crude chemicals from plants, like the alkaloids of opium or the quinine of cinchona, and so administered these to their patients instead of the actual botanical form of this medicine.  With or without the use of these new medicines, the fatality of diseases seemed unchanged to most.  With physicians, either the lancet or mineral remedy could kill, with any other form of therapy, less violent methods of treatment of a seemingly “natural” origin became more attractive.

 Thomsonianism also had the benefits of attracting and engaging people who were strong religious advocates and social leaders, and this became the main reason for its success from about 1820 onward.  People were also developing this disrespect for doctor due to many of their non-traditional ways of interpreting religion and its role as a part of the skills and beliefs of a doctor.  Many famous medical leaders had diverted away from the traditional religious groups, becoming devoted followers of such practices as Unitarianism and its various sectarian initiated derivatives.  Benjamin Rush for example became a devoted Baptist Unitarian as he became good friends with a Reverend who would later, due to thus Unitarian faith and philosophy that he personally had developed, tried to convert all of the United States citizens into believers of the electric cure philosophy promoted by Perkins.  It was also during these early 1800s that Quakerism took hold of much of the medical field as well as the regular citizen.  In Dutchess County, this form of religion, which helped electric cure traditions make their way into the Hudson Valley, was now helping people to come to a better understanding of  what role such beliefs could play in your health and how you search for and receive the  care of a physician. 

For potential Thomsonians this meant they had the answer to their various questions about whom to trust.  Why believe in the agnosticism (pseudo-atheism) practiced by physicians when you could tell God personally that you understood and accepted His premises,  by symbolically practicing this form of self-help in the way that Samuel Thomson had defined it.  This “magic” that Thomson built into his writings and practice methods, perhaps coincidentally and inadvertantly, were the rules he and more so his followers defined when he wrote up his method and had it published in a book.  Thomson’s medicine, his methods of treatment and his recipes, were full of symbolic signs of the trinity.  To his listeners this implied that Thomson’s a method allowed for its users to practice medicine in a sanative way, the way that the Bible said it should be practiced, instead of the regular physicians’ way of bleeding along with the use of mineral drugs. 

The Social Impetus

Thomsonianism had a major advantage over regulars in that it was fairly young and did not have a long history to argue about.  In addition, Thomsonianism was focused on the three major parts of regular medical practice that many people had become unhappy with:  bleeding, prescribing opium and relying upon strong acting chemicals derived from what many considered to be “toxic” plants and strong mineral remedies.    During the teen years of the 1800s, toxic plants was the most common way physicians looked at their medicines, and this term was related to the drug world as it was described in the trade journals.  By the late teens, the average citizen was probably scared into not desiring to take some of these medications due to the degree to which doctors seemed to be focused on this aspect of their medicines.  They were amazed at the way in which Digitalis worked on the heart, by being a poison to the heart, conium ,which worked on the brain and nervous system, and the arsenic, mercury and purified opium ingredients could be so effectively change the physiology of the body, in their minds also serving as a unique form of “medicine.”

By the early 1820s, Thomsonians began to gather themselves in masses.  They formed the Friends of Thomsonianism group which had its first annual, national meeting.  Unlike the regular physicians, who were still struggling to develop stable local societies, the Thomsonians managed to develop their own locally active groups of followers and were now trying to nationalize their new and highly successful alternative to the use of the lancet.  Even though this meeting was successful,  it wasn’t repeated the year after.  This fate for a first time gathering is not really that unusual, the first attempts to established local groups in the Hudson Valley for example began with a one time meeting in Sharon, Ct, around 1787, followed by no other meetings again until about ten years later.  The effects of this first meeting are usually to draw attention to the needs for such a group to the common person in the field, which becomes an experience that ruminates in the minds and guts of these practitioners for a few years, until the profession is not ready to take on a more responsible role in establishing its own support group so to speak. 

The next successful Thomsonian meeting to be held came in the early 1830s, ten years after the first.  By then, Hudson Valley’s Thomsonian followers had convinced themselves and others that they were in the right profession.  Thomsonianism was much better and more tolerable than the practices of regular physicians.  A patient could be then say to himself/herself that ‘A regular doctor or a Thomsonian would no doubt make me puke and have diarrhea to heal my problems or condition, but I’d rather risk the sweat than endure the lancet.’

The Hudson Valley Following

By the 1820s, Samuel Thomson and members of his family were promoting Thomsonianism to such an extent that learning to practice this art of medicine was becoming fairly expensive.  Although the plant medicines were moderately priced, the rights to purchase and promote the use of these remedies came with a price, ranging anywhere from $20 to $100 to receive the certificate needed to post of you wall, stating you have learned and now can practice Thomsonianism.

But there was still more to the division occuring in the Thomsonian sect about this time.  Wooster Beach of New York had been working on his own form of medical practice, and in 1825 introduced to New Yorkers his “Reformed Medicine.”  But this only lasted a short time in the city unfortunately.  It took just a short while for a mob to form and, like they did to Samuel Bard several years earlier for allowing students to performed cadaver dissections on somebody’s deceased grandmother, the public demonstrate their attitudes about Wooster Beach’s claims that his medicine taught at  school of reformed medicine was better than that of the much larger medical school then in operation.  Not that these changes recommended by Beach were worse for one’s health and well-being, but rather it was this discontent that occured due to the simple presence of a medical doctor professing a new method of practice that became a threat to important medical leaders of the city, whose supporters took on the task of making such a possibility extinct in the political world.  As a result of thuis public display of distrust, by 1828, Wooster Beach was out of New York and his School of Reformed Medicine closed.

In the 1820s, Wooster Beach supported Thomson’s beliefs, and wanted to incorporate them into his own methodologies being taught.  In fact, Wooster Beach was once of the strongest supporter of Thomsonianism during its early political years and was the leading member of his profession to attend Thomsons meeting of Friends at the time.  Since nothing really came out of that Thomsonian Society of Friends meeting, except for some knowledge about this practice to walk away with after seeing and meeting  for the first time its founder, Dr. Wooster Beach like others went his own way for a short time.  The next Friends meeting wasn’t until 1834, and by then, the profession was essentially splitting in totwo parts, a process completed once this meeting was over.  There was the traditional New England versions of this practice, who honored and adhered closely to the classic form taught and promoted by Samuel Thomson and his family, and there was the more modernized and different midwest thomsonian-like physicians, who came to call themselves Botanic Physicians or Botanico-physicians.  Two to three years later, by 1837, this new form of Thomsoniasm started up its own program, and called it Botanic Medicine.  This school, initated by Alva Curtis, opened first in Chillicothe, Ohio, and then moved down river to Columbus, and finally itno Cincinnatti. 

Society was by now dictating the directions in which medicine should go.  Medical historians term this period of the profession the alterantive medical period, focusing on the development of new professions and philosophies, which the historians often refer to as “quackery.”  But in fact this period has two non-quackery componetns to it: the failure of regular doctors to appease the worries and concersn fo their patient populations, and the failure of regular doctors to pull the profession tegether well enough to make the neccessary changes needed to please the patient and establish more solidified version of their profession.  During this period of time, there were 5 non-allopathic schools formed for every allopathic school that was established, and even in the clinical setting, in a hospital where one ward was devoted to allopathy, and another ward each for homeopathy and the most popular alternative eclectics, it was the allopaths who lost out in terms of patient loads.  They could not attract their necessary work load, nor could they force the nuns usually running these facilities to effectively market their way of practice.  In the end, ca. 1845-50, it took forced closures of these wards due to the involvement of government leaders that was the only reason allopaths could get an effective number of patients to maintain their profession by.  [I have all of this covered extensively elsewhere, and annotated with references for the purists out there not willing to trust these claims.  See the history of the medical schools for starts, and my essay on “Tactics”.  This is the what the historians do not like to write about, an interesting form of intellectual biasness.]

Thomsonian Popularity Spreads

The five year span from 1832 to 1837 resulted in rapid development of the Thomsonian profession in the entire country.  There were several chief political centers developed in support of this form of medicine.  The most strongly supporting areas were Ohio and Poughkeepsie.  Alva Curtis has his trade magazine in Botanical Medicine being published, which underwent several name changes over the years due to changes in the philosophy of this field.  Based on these names changes alone we can tell that there was a fairly significant change in philosophies that occurred in the Ohio region with this version of Thomsonianism.  Unlike the very traditional, religious centers in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic states, places like Tennessee and Georgia-Alabama, where the actual name Thomsonian appeared in the Journal titles, Curtis’s group at first called themselves Botanic Medicine or Botanico-medicine practitioners, and later Physo-medicine and Physio-medicine practitioners, followed finally by the complete lack of mention of any alternative sectarianism in the name when his journal was purchased by a group in Cincinnatti and renamed the Cincinnatti Medical Journal and published as such for about 6 months during the latter hald of 1852/4.

In Poughkeepsie, the name Thomsonianism held its own in the Journal title, but like the Ohio journal had several changes in publishing plans.  Like many of these newly established publications, this trade magazine only lasted about 5 years, and then was sold to another publisher and distributer.  The years for the Pougkeepsie Thomsonian were just 1837 to 1842, printed and circulated by the printing presses of Edmund Platt.  The chief editor was Thomas Lapham, who was possibly a Quaker.

If we look at the distribution of Thomsonianism during this period of local history, we find there to be several centers for Thomsonian practice in New York.  These medical-political centers were defined by just one local practitioner serving as the local representative of this new form of medicine.  Like any other non-allopathic medical community, you didn’t have to look far to see examples of the failures of regular doctors. 

The following were the primary initiators and followers of Thomsonianism in New York:

  • Dr. C. Thomson, Geddes
  • Dr. J. Thomson, Albany
  • Dr. Thomas Lapham, Poughkeepsie
  • Elber J. Thomas, Ballston
  • Joseph Mitchell, Greenfield
  • Jesse Thomson, Fulton Village
  • Samuel A. Gilbert, PM, Saratoga
  • Dr. D. B Gibbs, Troy,
  • F. N. Albright, Hemphill, Niagara County

A very interesting theme is surfacing with the development of non-allopathic practices in the Hudson Valley by 1830.   The most active initiators and participants in this political history are the Quakers, but the most important history of philosophy in this region regarding health and disease is of Dutch origin and colonial in nature.  Somewhere in between these two periods in Hudson Valley history there are the regular doctors engaged in climate and topographic related philosophies for disease, holding firm to the teachings of Samuel Mitchell, a naturalist and physician and chief editor working with the New York Medical School and the publication of the New York professional trade magazine Medical Repository.  All of these practices are woven together to form the traditions of Dutchess County region, which has two distinct groups of believers–those who are into the natural philosophy but more so natural sciences aspect of medicine, focused on the physical world, and those into the early transcendental take on natural philsoophy, health and disease, and how a traditional God or a Quaker’s version of God prevails in whatever medical events take place within this region.  Without even reviewing any further the details of Thomsonianism, we know from this history that Thomsonianism came to Poughkeepsie due to its underlying metaphysical discipline, not just the herbal basis of Thomsonianism or even the very local or regional antiestablishment nature of some of it practices.  There was a combination of features in Poughkeepsie Thomsonianism that made it the discipline that it was by these 1830s.  This discipline was a result of philosophical and cultural lines of reasoning triggered by the yellow fever epidemics of the first two decades of 19th century history in the valley, furthered significantly by the development of the series of Asiatic cholera epidemics that came into this region, for the same purpose as yellow fever–inward migrations and contaminated people and supplies (including ballast) carried on board shipping vessels.


Asiatic Cholera Years

Once again regular medicine was faltering if not failing due to another epidemic.  This time it was Asiatic Cholera.  Physicians were too confused to see that their treatments for this disease were ineffective.  Bleeding a person dry who was about to discharge more than 10% of the water in their body was not the healthy way to alleviate the biological stress this disease put its victims in.  But this is what regular medicine was doing to its patients.   Worst of all, physicians based all of these provincial mistreatments on a just theory. 

This common sense notion that hte use of the lancet was bad for your health was not in the textbooks regular physicians were learning by.  This was an example of a most important situation when Thomsonians were right, and regular physicians were wrong.  Only the regular doctors could be so engrossed in their theories for the time, protecting their profession by name, rather than by practice, that they really missed this golden opportunity they had to redefine their practice and stabilize their knowledge base and professional and political support based on truths instead of conjectures.  As if this weren’t enough, their elitist nature at times drew them further from the commonplace people they hoped to serve.  Doctors were for the first time placing themselves several notches above the level of knowledge and udnerstanding that the common person had.  Nearly twenty years after the effects of the same had taken place in France, the same inequality was taking place in America due to the the fields of science and medicine.  Perhaps God would have the final word on what this might mean for the profession.

Cholera first came to Dutchess County in epidemic form in 1817, when it made its way to numerous other cities with ports across the United States and unclaimed midwestern territorial domains with similar river and oceanic harbors.   The return of Cholera in 1832 lacked the confusion of nearly synchronous attacks of yellow fever in the late summers and dengue fever and typhus in the mid-winters (referred to as ship fever) that was present during previous epidemic periods.  This enables some mroe effective detective work to begin by the local physicians, who not only learned the use of the map and description of physical environmental features in disease ridden places as an importat part of this investigative process, but whom were also now able to come up with some very individual theories as to what was causing the Asiatic cholera events to prevail.

These Asiatic Cholera epidemic periods  were the primary impetus for local change, including the conversion of allopathy support to non-allopathy by many members of the public.  Like the yellow fever epidemic, regular doctors were failing to prevent Asiatic cholera from prevailing andtaking lives within the urban settings.  Physicians had neither the explanation nor a cure that could be proposed for halting the deadly sequence of events leading to these deaths.  This epidemiological history immediately preceded the initiation of the Thomsonian publications in this country, a time relationship that had both social reasoning and religious meaning on its side.

Thomas Lapham was a fairly recent newcomer to the Poughkeepsie area.  His cousin Pardon resided one county to the south and represented New York City. 

But most importantly, Thomas Lapham was probably familiar with the locally popular Quaker philosophy, if not a direct descendent.

Religion and Thomsonianism

There are several basic proofs that can be made that Thomsonianism was a profession highly respected by religious leaders, by church-going people, and by natural philosophers who did not necessarily conform with the typical religious undertakings.  Those who strongly believed in Thomsonianism did not have to believe in God, but such a belief added to the strength and certainty of your devotion to this faith.  People who were practiced and read in Thomsonianism tended to include this behavior in their practice due to the evidence that it worked.  The allowance of a Creator into the explanation for why certain events took place with regard to a person’s health enabled these followers of the faith to better understand much of what was happening in regard to health.  This tendency to attached religion to health formed a philosophy very much akin to the that of other local leaders in the alternative and regular medical fields of the Hudson Valley–the Quakers.

The Organization’s Stance


Public Support

The best evidence for public support of Thomsonianism, if we can believe in the published stories, is the large response people had to this profession.  Both the standard nationally distributed journal for this sect and the Poughkeepsie Thomsonian published similar experiences when it came to the public reaction to Thomsonianism.  Both of these jounrals claimed the same success in different ways.Now granted, most of the claims made by both sides of the political dispute involving allopathic doctors and their counterparts are very biased.  But any claims made by either side require a very careful evaluation.  In terms of the processes whic took place leading to the success of Thomsonianism, as well as its political failrue just a few years later, we can come up with some conclusions about the outcomes of regular medical versus Thomsonian medical practice. 

The first supposition is that regular medicing has the likelihood of increasing death rates due to its inclusion, fascination and obsession at times with using the lancet.   Still, the same has been said for Thomsonianis with regard to its vapor therapy.  Due to the popularity of Thomsonianism, a number of companies were established that produced vapor boxes for people interested in Thomson’s cure to purchase.  These were often the cause for cases involving serious scalding of patients, and in some cases, death due to severe burns.  So the process itself was not as much in fault and how it was managed by the patient and the inventor and provider of his/her vapor machine.  The same claims cannot be made about the inventor of the lancet, or the creator of the practice responsible for the excessive use of this device.

This kind of argument would have been very attractive to members of the legal authorities involved with Thomsonianism.  So long as these practitioners behaved themselves, they probably jeopardized fewer lvies than the regulars.  It was only when they irritated members of the regular medical profession who were also members of the state and national congress that any political repercussions might ensue.  This was the case in the upper Hudson Valley of New York in 1`845 when Samuel Thomson’s son was brought to court by the State Attorney General, with questions to ask him about his sect’s traditions and medical beliefs.  Interestingly, there is little the State Attorney General could actually do with this knowledge.  He himself lacked the training needed to seed good from bad or effective from ineffective.  The only official people he could turn to about such a concern were the physicians on the local and state medical societies, who obviously were all allopaths.  So of course they were going to disagree!

The following was posted in a Thomsonian magazine in 1837. 


Religious Leaders

The Religious Leaders certain had their cause for worry when 40,000 fled Philadelphia in 1797 right after the yellow fever epidemic hit the city during the month of July.  People appeared to be dropping in the streets and in households at an amazing rate.  At times, entire families were removed from the local population forever.   To any scientifically trained natural science expert, such an impact could easily be explained as a natural event if it weren’t for the fact that both newly immigrated and old-time families were extinguished by this disease.


The Poughkeepsie Thomsonian Philosophy

On May 12th of 1838, the next stage in the growth of Thomsonian began.  The Thomsonian: A Semi-monthly Journal of Family Health began publication and distribution out of Poughkeepsie, New York.  A. H. Platt was its Editor and Thomas Lapham its Proprietor.  Its slogan, printed just beneath the title on the first page of every number that was published, read “Let a knowledge of the healing art be diffused among the people.” 

A portion of this slogan, “…diffused among the people”, referred to the fact that people knew only a small amount of what doctors were trained in and based their practice upon.  The reasons physicians engaged in their seemingly disease provoking care processes at times were pretty much unknown to the common person, and the doctors felt and behaved as though it would be impossible to tell their patients why they were engaging in the activities they tended to engage in.  If you were a mother coming in with your daughter after she has had her first menses, hoping to learn whether or not there was anything to do to make sure she doesn’t become ill like the neighbor’s daughter with chlorosis or the green purges did the year before, you might be provided with just a single yes or no response to your query, and after you ask why he states this to be the case, the doctor either veers away from telling you anything about your speculations on why the poorer family next door had their problems, of he might suddenly go on and on about some theory he has developed based upon his experiences and training that tell him your family is healthier due to the topography of its yard, fields and the back woods or that your family has the temperament and heritage needed for young girls to grow up and become highly productive adults.  He might blame their problems on the father’s family history of delirium tremens and goiter and the mother’s constitution during the lying-in process, claiming you relatives and parents had none of these intervening with their children’s fate in life, a consequence of the much longer history your past generations have had here as locals instead of foreigners. 

Although sensible and thought provoking, and to many very prejudicial and fatalistic perhaps, such words from a physician could only serve to set the speaker up on a higher pedestle in order to get the eyes and ears of others to comprehend all that he is trying to say.  Such a doctor is not only overly domineering at times, trying to take rulership over his patients’ lives and medical fate along with mishaps, he is not at all in touch with the overall needs of the local people who are still, in his eyes, uneducated and still too devoted to the traditions of the past–activities like going to church, believing in the Book of Moses, and promoting what the Bible and pastor say to do over what the physicians and local medical society members say should be done.

Doctors had moved away from the simple “nature cure” ideology by this time.  In contrast, before the 1830s, the “nature cure” philosophy of medicine was never more closer to the modern definition of this belief  then as it is now with the teachings of Thomsonianism. 

Regular medicine was perhaps the furthest it had even been up until this time when it came to nature and healing.  The regular physician of the 1830s was a poison to its own medical profession, a practice that based its increasing focus on the more toxic remedies made from chemicals, metals and minerals on the belief that since these remedies were stronger, it may be better for the body to apply these much more toxic remedies in very small amounts.   Were these practiioner stating this as an argument for the tradition Homeopathy, perhaps the people would not have been so repelled by regular medical teachings.  But fortunately for Thomsonianism, Homeopathy was still a decade or so away from beoming a national craze.  Thosmonianism and the quickly evolving specialty of Eclecticism were the chief competitors pf allopathy, benefitting greatly from their much more healthier regimens.  Eclecticisim was still a few years away from suddenly erupting into a very successful profession nationally, a process that began around 1845.  So until 1845, or at least until about 1837-1839, Thomsonianism was the primarily non-allopathic alterantive in the civilized world, surpassing even the Indian Medicine practices common to the wilderness communities in the Midwest and Far West at times. 

The civilized craze or popular belief in medicine that Thomsonianism helped to initiate was the vegetarian lifestyle and various other practices excluded from regular medical teachings.  Irrefutable evidence exists for this in the Thomsonian magazine published in the mid to late 1830s.  Even though some of these concepts were reviewed in brief in many allopathic writings for the time, the coverage of these topics by allopaths was very superficial, almost unbelievable at times, due to the common association of these beliefs with the quackery these regulars like to preach about.

The following articles are pulled from the Thomsonianism for 1833.  Their commonness to this journal well outperformed any similar philosophy that regular physicians might have like to claim that they held.  Regular doctors were simply not altrusitc to any such claims they made, amking them even less credible in the eyes of even the most common critical readers of both tryes medical journals.  If you were a farmer intersted in reading the trade magazine for the time in regular medicine, you might as well sacrifice half of your time in the barn and field trying to make sense of these highly elitest and non-people friendly magazines.  The regular docotrs used these journals not only to detach themselves from the commonpalce person, they used these journals to do as much to the farmer and Latin writings in Europe during the Renaissance Period did to the common poor folks.  Doctors were elitests not at all in tune with their potential readership and patient population.

For Thomsonianism, this total sense of disenfranchisement was lacking in the medical journals.  Thomson and his followers wanted to do everything they could to get more subscribers, which they accomplished quite successfully very quickly during this time.  The allopaths had only a few years to stop the dissociation the public wanted to have with society’s butchers-turned-chirurgeons for the time–the regular MD.  


The next page in the works for this section — Thomas Lapham – Part II — will review the first year’s publication of the Poughkeepsie published Thomsonain.



The following are local Thomsonian articles with background notes preceding each of the items that follow.  The articles posted here are from the New York version of this journal published out of Poughkeepsie.  This makes much of the news local news for Dutchess County readers.

Botanico-Medical Recorder.  Vol. 7, No. 4.  December 1, 1838, Columbus, Ohio. 

Important Thomsonians to note are:

Dr. J. W. Comfort, Philadelphia, the author of a major review of Thomsonianism, popular durign the 1830s to 1860s.  Comfort added a tremendous amount of detail to Thomson’s philosophy.  He essentially re-wrote or greatly expanded upon the practice and philosophy of this profession.

Dr. R[obert] K. Frost of New York City was the Thomsonian who soon became an example of the profession brought to court for malpractice. 

Dr. Abiel Gardner of Hudson, NY, was perhaps the oldest and most politically important member of the profession.

Dr. Thomas Lapham represented Poughkeepsie.


Note the admission of A.H. Platt of Poughkeepsie as a member.

Pardon Lapham is related to Thomas (cousin?).  Like Thomas, Pardon was probably Quaker.

see p 12

Plans for Publication

The peak of Thomsonianism came to Poughkeepsie around 1838.   This is when local medical printer Platt  made plans to publish a Thomsonian Almanac for the locals to subscribe to.  This almanac would contain basic information on this field, any new discoveries and claims being made by Thomsonians about their professional experiences, and the typical case reports often used to further promote this therapeutic method, examples of successes often preceded by failures on behalf of the allopaths.   Add to this a significant amount of local history, including stories told by local citizens with true to life medical experiences bearing all the features of a typical Hudsonian or New Yorker’s philosophy and tradition, and you have a writing that not only adds to the local public support, but improves upon the public impressions about the value of Thomsonianism as a locally-oriented profession, one that was more in tune with its followers than the allopaths tended to be.

see p. 265

This was a response to the public support that Thomsonian was getting.   

p. 271

p. 287:

p. 366:

Thomsonianism went through a major growth spurt between 1838 and 1843.  This resulted in one of the leaders of this medical sect to be brought to court by the State of New York.  New York had a history of supporting and then not supporting the growth of this healing profession during these years.  Thomsonians across the country underwent publics scrutiny and won this first part of the war that regular practitioners were losing, only to succumb to the political and gubernbatorial battles that ensued once the physicians and the political leaders realized they were losing the trust of the common people.  Just one more series of failures on behalf of  the regular doctors might have been all that was needed for the allopathy profession to lose any remaining support on behalf of the people it once had. 

When we look at the expansion of the medical schools during this time, we find four series of events happening in parallel with each other over time between 1825 and 1845.  First, allopathic schools failed to have any additional institutions opened during this time for the most part.  Second, two new sorts of schools began to grow in very rapid amounts, surpassing any growth that allopathy had during this time as a profession, not just as a school-generated form of medical practice.  During this time the numbers of Eclectic and Homeopathic Schools increased and reached the same number of institutions as those preaching allopathy and the teachings of the lancet, the need for opium and the romantic portrayals regarding the use calomel and other strongly toxic substances that at times surface in the professional and non-professional writer’s world.  Allopathy it seems was doomed for failure the way it was rapidly losing any progress it made in spite of the lancet between 1825 and 1845.

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