In June of 1830, the Comitia Minora of the Medical Society of the State of New York produced a “Circular on the Subject of a Medical Topographical Survey of the State”. The five members of this committee were
- Jonathan Eights,
- James McNaughton,
- Charles D. Townsend,
- Joel A. Wing and
- Platt William.
The role of this committee according to the circular was to “take into consideration the best means of making a medical topographical survey of this state and then to report on the outline of whatever plan they devised to best carry out this activity across New York State.”
The committee defined the following as essential parts of reporting in some standard fashion on the health of a county:
- County name, latitude, longitude, boundaries
- Lakes, rivers, morasses, bogs and canals.
- Mountains, including their geology and local meteorology and climatology features
- Soil, its mineral and chemical nature, and its impact on local animals and livestock
- Agriculture, including crop lists and monthly rainfall reports
- Inhabitants, their numbers and ethnicity, their method of building houses, the healthiness of the domestic environments common to the county,
- Morals and Education
- Diseases, in the form of a subtopical review of endemic and epidemic diseases
Over the next few years, different writers presented their reports in a variety of ways. The report for Kings County (New York City), which we might expect to be the most extensive, in fact seemed very brief. But it was not any briefer than the standard reports generated elsewhere around this time, and like the others it got right to the point about the local diseases and medical concerns specific to the region. Several counties north of Kings County like Saratoga and Columbia Counties had rich histories also published around 1806. Two counties with a fairly long history of monitoring the medical geography were Onondaga and Madison, located right next to each other in the Finger Lakes section of the state. The writers for Onondaga county provide us with information that we can relate to the first report on the medical geography for this county back in 1806, when it was first being settled by pioneers. The writers for Madison County felt that they had much more to say than most of the counties, and so provided one of the longest reports generated about the health of the counties.
Each of these county reports has a particular character to it, and most have unique wisdom or experiences to offer the readers. Onondaga County’s unique insights into people related to the Mormons, a new religious group now about 20 to 30 members in size. The writer for Madison county had his comments to make about Thomsonian medicine, now emerging in full force due to the printing press, as the writer gave his take on how to take a Thomsonian process for healing and make it better. The county of Columbia was rich in history due to the Shakers, and its famous New Lebanon Springs. Both Saratoga and Madison also had mineral springs to brag about, but for Saratoga this was perhaps an old story and for Madison, a new one with some important additions regarding the unique healthiness of the interlaken regions of this part of New York.
The following are some key findings related to these documents.
The local mineral and hot water springs play a very important role in many counties regarding the health of local people.
Fevers are the most prevalent and common epidemic diseases
Local medicinal plants are mentioned, with some playing a role in dealing with these local disease problems.
Religion and fanaticism are mentioned hand in hand in a paragraph about the local development of Mormonism.
At the time these reports were being generated, Thomsonianism had just received the full support of New York State courts to allow practitioners to engage fully in this practice in the state and to open school very much like Thomsonianism or Botanic Medicine in its philosophy and plant medicine teachings. It took the New York State physicians from 1832 to 1835 to have the state consider and then initiate a reversal of this law for doctors. These notes appear in the same Annual Reviews as the county medical topography reports were published.
Religion as well will play a role in the development of new healing faiths in New York. In general, most of New York north of the Putnam County, perhaps including Putnam County, had places where alternative thinking was born. In the rural settings we have simple life styles being practiced due to need and upbringing serving as the means for new healing philosophies to be born. Within more heavily population communities like hamlets, villages and hamlets, cultural influences can take over and lead the way to the establishment of new religions and forms of healing and new religio-medical philosophies. On another page for example I used this to argue how the Dutchess County-Columbia County gave rise to Indian Root doctoring, first as a necessity practiced by a descendent of the Moravian missions, but later leading to the popular Indian Root Doctoring profession it gave rise to in Western New York into Ohio and Indiana. Eclectic Medicine (first in NYC) and Thomsonianism (Vt-NH) have their histories in New York, western New York and finally Ohio, explaining how they became successful. The Burned Over district (Schenectady area and neighboring counties) and the various places for revivals developed along the Upper Forks of the Delaware River in New York and Pennsylvania also helped to establish this large section of the interior United States as the place for New Thought and New Medical Practices. These county reports provide us with additional local insights into the communities where such events took place, before moving westward into the eastern Great Plains and from there directly to Oregon Territory and the Pacific Northwest, and to some extent California.
The Circular requesting local medical geography and demographic information immediately follows on this page.
On related pages in this part of my blog are those county reports for the 1830s, as they resurface, with notes to be added every now and then to my discretion.
The following Counties are covered, this first pass through: