To understand the requirements of the Fishkill Hospital servicing the Continental Army, Thacher’s diary provides the best synopsis of these kinds of experiences. Being a Physician and Surgeon, Thacher wrote at great lengths at times about the details of his medical and surgical activities. Thacher’s descriptions appear to equally cover chronic disease management for conditions not pertaining to any wartime problem, along with problems of malnutrition, the unhealthy state of the living quarters, and the actual need for post-encounter/post-battle medical and surgical services experienced by nearly all medical facilities during a war. Thacher’s writings also compare with the writings that appear in the New York Colonial Documents and several of the observations of Marquis de Lafayette, reviews of which are provided in the later sections on this page.
The purpose here is to get a better picture of what the events were that took place for medicine in the Fishkill hospital setting and other hospital settings or makeshift hospitals in the immediate vicinity. Two major routes are taken here to work on this study of Revolutionary War medicine. First, we take a look at what events took place in terms of the local medical care practices, primarily provided in the form of personal accounts. Second, we need to review the most standard sources and somehow come up with a picture of the public health of the Fishkill encampment setting and the nearby village. This is more an inferential approach to researching the history of medicine in and around this facility.
Another purpose is not to replace or duplicate much of the writings already produced about Revolutionary War medicine in general. Instead, I hope to personalize this important piece of local history a little bit more. What are the “truths” of local health and disease that these historical documents fail to tell us about? For some reason, whatever events took place in this setting set the stage for some major changes in medical philosophy following the Revolutionary War.
Before the War, medicine and its philosophy was very much based on philosophical beliefs regarding disease, like the notion that the body had it four humours, and in the vase of vitalists like Osborn, its entia, and there was miasma all over the place out there creating havoc with our otherwise barely to moderately surviving bodies. After the War, interests crystallized regarding the relationship of weather and disease, the interplay of the body with its environment so as to result in disease, the relationship of natural selection processes on how the body evolves and changes in some sort of Lamarckian sense (we take a generation or two to adapt to our new environmental settings and no longer get sick due to the local setting), and the importance of better understanding medicines and their chemistry and physiological effects–be they plant or mineral. Somehow the experiences during the war gave scientists and physicians the insights they needed to change their approach to everything once the new schools were opened after the war. This made Colonial Medicine really old-hat to most young apprentices in medicine. The best teachers for these apprentices were the famous ship surgeons and captains, the best Field Surgeons and the most famous Regimental physicians who managed to stay abreast of their practice in the years that followed. This transition from colonial medical philosophy and tradition and post-colonial medicine as a science that was now focused on the body and nature took place between 1787 and 1792, based on the post-war publications in medicine that soon began to surface.
Finally, another important source for insights into the hospital setting not yet covered here ned to be mentioned (I’ll add this later). Ironically, some reminiscences about the war experience were printed in the late 1780s and 1790s once the war was over. One of these is a description of a prison ship controlled by the British used to ship prisoners down to the Carribean. The descriptions of the unhealthy states on this ship and brief notes about illnesses and a physician attending to the prisoners, a prisoner himself, provide yet more insights into the public health issues that exist in relation to crowded quarters and undernourished, injured soldiers.
In the years following the War, medicine underwent all the changes needed to solidify the practice of medicine as a profession. Schools were reopened or initiated, laws were passed, regulations were established about how a person could be licensed to practice medicine and surgery. Whereas right after the war, the sales of propriety and patent medicines remained a stable career for a few years, the appropriateness soon diminished, even for those marketing a product who were authentic university trained physicians from abroad. For a decade or so, 1785-1805 or longer, you could serve as a surgeon’s mate to earn your rights to practice on your own, a consequence of increased military practiced and protectionist measures taken after the war, behaviors much akin to those which led to the establishment of the coast guard by the national government about the same time. Laws were required of all states in 1804, to further define, legalize and officiate the practice of medicine by license. For another year or two, around 1807-8, you had to first learn from a good teacher, preferable one from the War, and then serve for a year for the state government to become a doctor. This was a very short lived legal venture.
But all of these in turn led to the first successful development of a medical team for the upcoming War of 1812. Some of these lessons required for this new part of the military staff to be established required the efforts of medicine made during the Revolutionary War. In simple terms we can summarize the effect of the war on medicine this way:
before the War, medicine was a philosophy;
after the War, medicine became a science.
The utility of cinchona bark versus cornus florida, the impacts of weather on diseases and epidemics, the need for clothing and food in the encampments, the health problems brought about by poor sanitation, the need for a more solid inoculation program, and the need for a better understanding of the inside of the body and its health were all impetuses for how and why the United States defined its own schools of medical thought once the War was over and any remaining Loyalist style of medical practices forced to vacate the region. The next country to influence American medicine during this time was France, thanks to the Marquis de Lafayette.
Note: For reading purposes, and due to the misbehaviors of my PC in terms of my use of italics, spacing and indents, full paragraph quotes are in blue.
“Sep 1776. – Soon after my arrival here, a soldier had the imprudence to seize a rattlesnake by its tail ; the reptile threw its head back and struck its fangs into the man’s hand. In a few moments a swelling commenced, attended with severe pain. It was not more than half an hour, when his whole arm to his shoulder was swollen to twice its natural size, and the skin became of a deep orange color. His body, on one side, soon became affected in a similar manner, and a nausea at his stomach ensued. The poor man was greatly and justly alarmed; his situation was very critical. Two medical men, beside myself, were in close attendance for several hours. Having procured a quantity of olive oil, we directed the patient to swallow it in large and repeated doses, till he had taken one quart ; and at the same time we rubbed into the affected limb a very large quantity of mercurial ointment. In about two hours we had the satisfaction to perceive the favorable effects of the remedies. The alarming symptoms abated, the swelling and pain gradually subsided, and in about forty-eight hours he was happily restored to health.
“Mar 22d 1776. — Our regiment, according to orders, marched to Roxburg ; and took quarters in the large and elegant house formerly belonging to Governor Shirley. Great preparations are making in our army for some important event. Several regiments of militia have arrived from the country ; and orders have been received for surgeons and mates to prepare lint and bandages, to the amount of two thousand, for fractured limbs, and other gun shot wounds. It is however to be hoped that not one quarter of the number will be required, whatever may be the nature of the occasion. Great activity and animation are observed among our officers and soldiers, who manifest an anxious desire to have a conflict with the enemy. Either a general assault on the town of Boston, or the erection of works on the heights of Dorchester, or both, is generally supposed to be in contemplation.
“Mid-Nov. — Ticonderoga is situated in about latitude forty-four degrees. I have no means in my possession of ascertaining the precise degree of cold ; but we all agree that it is colder here than in Massachusetts at the same season. The earth has not yet been covered with snow, but the frost is so considerable that the water of the lake is congealed, and the earth is frozen. We are comfortably situated in our barracks ; our provisions are now good, and having no enemy near enough to alarm or disturb’ us, we have nothing of importance to engage our attention. Our troops are quite healthy, a few cases of rheumatism and pleurisy comprise our side list, and it is seldom that any fatal cases occur.”
For the first few months in 1777, epidemics seemed to be arising within and away from the encampments, many consisting of the exacerbation perhaps of pre-war medical problems such as rheumatoid arthritis and history of breathing problems due to such things as asthma, pleurisy and specific heart conditions. Still more insight into the field surgeon and physician experience is provided once again by Thacher. Thacher’s journal entries mention a number of diseases, and include his detailed description of several battlefield where he had to serve and his experience with the large number of patients transferred to the Albany hospital.
July. [Men here] are given to inoculate for the smallpox, all the soldiers and inhabitants in town, as a general infection of this terrible disease is apprehended. Dr. Townsend and myself are now constantly engaged in this business.
[ ]. — Melancholy accounts have been received respectfully the situation of our army in Canada ; they are subjected to very great hardships, sufferings, and privations. Destitute of the necessary supplies of provisions and stores, exhausted by fatigue, and reduced by sickness, with the smallpox attended by unexampled mortality, they are in a state but little short of desperation. In addition to all their sufferings, they now have to deplore the loss of their valuable commander. Major General John Thomas. This gentleman was a native of Marshfield, Massachusetts. He was m military service in former wars against the French and Indians, where he acquired a high degree of reputation. He was among the first to espouse the cause of his country in a military character, in 1775, and during the siege of Boston and on the heights of Dorchester, he was distinguished as an active, vigilant, and brave officer. In March, 1776, he was promoted by Congress from a Brigadier to the rank of Mayor General, and by them appointed to command our forces in Canada. On his arrival there, he found innumerable difficulties to encounter ; the smallpox frequently breaking out among the troops, and the soldiers being in the practice of inoculating themselves, to the great injury of the public service. The general deemed it necessary, for the safety of the army, to prohibit the practice of inoculating, and not excepting himself from the injunction, he unfortunately received the infection, which proved fatal to him, and deprived the public of a valuable general officer. He was held in universal respect, and confidence as a military character, and his death is deeply deplored throughout the army.
October 1777, Albany Hospital:
24th. — This hospital is now crowded with officers and soldiers from the field of battle ; those belonging to the British and Hessian troops, are accommodated in the same hospital with our own men, and receive equal care and attention. The foreigners are under the care and management of their own surgeons. I have been present at some of their capital operations, and remarked, that the English surgeons perform with skill and dexterity, but the Germans, with a few exceptions, do no credit to their profession ; some of them are the most uncouth and clumsy operators I ever witnessed, and appear to be destitute of all sympathy and tenderness towards the suffering patient. Not less than one thousand wounded and sick are now in this city ; the Dutch church, and several private houses, are occupied as hospitals. We have about Thirty surgeons and mates ; and all are constantly employed. [break and space added to increase readability]
I am obliged to devote the whole of my time, from eight o’clock in the morning to a late hour in the evening, to the care of our patients. Some of our soldiers’ wounds, which had been neglected while on their way here from the field of battle, being covered with Putrefied blood for several days, were found on the first dressing to be filled with maggots. It was not difficult, however, to destroy these vermin by the application of the tincture of myrrh. Here is a fine field for professional improvement. Amputating limbs, trepanning fractured skulls, and dressing the most formidable wounds, nave familiarized my mind to scenes of woe.
A military hospital is peculiarly calculated to afford examples for profitable contemplation, and to interest our sympathy and commiseration. If I turn from beholding mutilated bodies, mangled limbs, and bleeding, incurable wounds, a spectacle no less revolting, is presented, of miserable objects, languishing under afflicting diseases of every description–there, are those in a mournful state of despair, exhibiting the awful harbingers of approaching dissolution — there, are those with emaciated bodies and ghastly visage, who begin to triumph over grim disease and just lift their feeble heads from the pillow of sorrow. No parent, wife, or sister, to wipe the tear of anguish from their eyes, or to soothe the pillow of death, they look up to the physician as their only earthly friend and comforter, and trust the hands of a stranger to perform the last mournful duties. Frequently have I remarked their confidence in my friendship, as though I was endeared to them by brotherly ties. Viewing these unfortunate men as the faithful defenders of the liberties of our country, far separated from their dearest friends, who would be so lost to the duties of humanity, patriotism, and benevolence, as not to minister to their comfort, and pour into their wounds the healing balm of consolation; [break and space added to increase readability]
It is my lot to have twenty wounded men committed to my care, by Dr. Potts, our Surgeon General ; one of whom, a young man, received a musket ball through his cheeks, cutting its way through the teeth on each side, and the substance of the tongue ; his sufferings have been great, but he now begins to articulate tolerably well. Another had the whole side of his face torn off by a cannon ball, laying his mouth and throat open to view. A brave soldier received a musket ball in his forehead, between his eyebrows ; observing that it did not penetrate the bone, it was imagined that the force of the ball being partly spent, it rebounded and fell out, but on close examination by the probe, the ball was detected, spread entirely flat on the bone under the skin, which I extracted with the forceps. No one can doubt but he received his wound while facing the enemy, and it is fortunate for the brave fellow, that his skull proved too thick for the ball to penetrate. But in another instance, a soldier’s wound was not so honorable ; he received a ball in the bottom of his foot, which could not have happened unless when in the act of running from the enemy. This poor fellow is held in derision by his comrades, and is made a subject of their wit for having the mark of a coward.
A second epidemic struck the camp in Fishkill on April 11, 1777. This time, “the Committee for the Detection of Conspiracies” allowed one of their prisoners, Doctor Jonathan Prosser, to be “permitted to go & remain at house of Doct: Osborn, & be under his Care & Direction, on Parol till the further Order of this Board.” During this same meeting they consigned to Osborn, for the sum of 5 Dollars, “a Number of Doctor’s Instruments lying in the Closet…lest they might be lost” [10,11]. Osborn’s other services to the Committee included the roles he played in assisting spy Enoch Crosby to perform his tasks. Osborn’s place became Crosby’s humble abode for a night or two on occasion, between his travels to and from British camps. Due to his location, Osborn’s home may have even provided a warm place to rest and a meal or two for important travellers like the Marquis making their way through these regions at times.
The various accounts of epidemics and population-related crowding problems inform us that, as a Field Surgeon Dr. Osborn, would have a great deal more to deal with in the years to come. Small Pox and fever epidemics continued throughout the upcoming Revolution War years. In January and April of 1777, epidemic-like disease problems nearly paralyzed the tactical value of the regiments in Fishkill. According to most historians of the War efforts, the “Pox” and other common diseases killed more soldiers than the actual battles they fought. In addition to the few soldiers who were “wounded” in battle, a large number them suffered more from ulcerous lesions and feverish conditions resulting from the infection of their wound and surgical sites. In cases of severe infection, their illnesses developed into such problems as putrid fever and even “bilious fever” (although the latter is a diagnosis more fitting of a patient afflicted by mosquito-bite derived cases of yellow fever). Those remaining who were untouched by infections and such suffered from other problems, which were typically not directly associated with the war such as scurvy due to malnutrition, a spitting of blood due to prolonged consumption cases, cirrhosis of the liver due mostly to extensive long-lasting alcohol use, pleurisy-induced by peripneumonal infection rather than the more modern types induced by heart and kidney failure, ascites (extended stomachs due to internal fluid build-up) brought about by infections of various sorts and heart conditions, rheumatism related to childhood rheumatic fever episodes, sores, scabies, tabes, and diarrhea due to various other non-sanitary living practices these soldiers typically engaged in.
Fishkill, 1778, 1779
As the years passed during the Revolutionary War, problems due to dysentery, fevers, and small pox continued to recur and for much of the time seem to more on the rise than any other public health-related concern the hospital physicians had to come face-to-face with. Popular remedies for these epidemics included the use of the laxatives calomel, jalap, and when time and opportunity allowed, an extract of the bark of local butternut trees as recommended by Revolutionary War Chief Surgeon Dr. William Thacher. For treating fevers, we know that Dr. Osborn relied heavily upon the Peruvian bark which had to be acquired through some southern American or European distributor of this tropical medicine raised and gathered down south.
Samuel Loudon published in his New York Packet an advertisement for Apothecarian Arthur Laughorne, originally of Dover Plains, N.Y., near the Connecticut border, who on July 1, 1779, placed an advertisement for an assortment of medicines to be sold at the home of James Kilborn in New-Windsor, close to the site of one of the field hospitals. Laughorne’s advertisements continued to appeare including one in which he gives a detailed listing of the medicines he had to offer as an “Apothecary at New-Windsor”: Rhubarb, Jesuits bark, Isinglas, Jallap, Ipecac, Opium, Aloes, Borax, Sal Glauber, Epsom, & nitri, Mann…Spanish Flies, Calomel, Conserves, extracts, electuaries, tinctures, emplasters, …otter & launcets (sic), Patent medicines, Anderson, Hooper, and Lockyer’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Duffy’s elixers, James powders, Balsam Honey, Stoughton’s bitters, British Tooth Powders, British and Harlem Oil…with a general assortment of other medicines.”
These advertisements continued in the years to come and would ultimately include Dr. Osborn in the plans to continue the inflow of medicines into the Fishkill hospitals. By the time these hospitals were established in Fishkill, West Point, Johnson’s Inn, and New-Windsor, Laughorne was the most important local source these hospitals had to depend on, as well as numerous other local regiments.
Records of what the encampment site developed into over the years are occasionally noted by Fishkill historians. The facility envisioned by these historians and by myself over the years is as follows:
The barracks of this setting were essentially a “log-house” with ventilation units placed in the roof. A trench was dug/placed in the center of the longhouses to serve as an inlet for fresh water and and outlet or drainage for old or used water. The source for this “fresh water” was the nearby creek, a feeding tributary of the nearby creek (Clove creek?).
A little further to the north, the Village of Fishkill had become a small city to the locals, and must have seemed quite active and densely populated to many old-timers. This unfortunately increased the likelihood for problems due to poor sanitation to set in, and made the area more likely to experience measles and small pox epidemics. As the population increased in size around the village and in the barracks settings, we’d also expect there to be much more small scale epidemics of sore throats (esp. mumps in children, and the deadly diphtheria in adults), pneumonia during the winters, various forms of fevers, and even some small settings predisposed to dysentery due to human waste. The influx of yellow fever, spotted fever (typhoid) and malaria would have been totally dependent on shipping, since the time it took for soldiers and staff to travel to the next nearest medical facilities was enough to prevent much transmission of these two diseases over land.
In terms of other infectious diseases, tuberculosis (consumption) may have increased slightly, more due to increased population density, not due to any significant changes in the surrounding environment and peoples’ susceptibility. The lack of poverty on behalf of some individual would have made them more susceptible to gout and even diabetes. Sexually transmitted diseases would have also slightly increased due to soldier-resident non-military relationships.
In a review of the Pennsylvania hospital records for patients, a number of Fishkill soldiers were noted. The same diseases as above are listed. A large number of injury-related cases are noted, some with a little bit of detail.
Information still in need of addition this page are the medical records or counts kept during the latter 3 years of the War by its Surgeon General.
MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
During his travels through North America, French General Francois-Jean, Marquis de Chastellux visited Fishkill and gave us significant insight in his diary into this community and the soldiers’ barracks.
“This town, in which there are not more than fifty houses in the space of 2 miles, has been long the principal depot of the American Army. It is there that they have placed their magazines, their hospitals, their workshops, &c., but all of these for a town of themselves, composed of handsome large barracks, built in the woods at the foot of the mountains; for many Americans, like the Romans in many respects have hardly any other winter quarters than wooden towns or barricaded camps, which may be compared to the hiemalia of the Romans.”
The Marquis made his stay nearby the army’s headquarters noting the condition of the house in which he stayed and a possible encounter (I state this hesitantly) with Doctor Osborn:
“The house was not as clean as they usually are in America; but the most disagreeable circumstance was the lack of several panes of glass. In fact, of all repairs, that of the windows is the most difficult in a country where, from the scattered situations and distance of the houses from each other, it is sometimes necessary to send twenty miles for a glazier. We made use of everything that came to hand to stuff the windows as best we could, and we made an excellent fire. Soon after, the “Doctor” of the hospital, who had seen me pass by and recognized me as being a French general officer, came with great politeness to inquire if I wanted anything, and to offer me service in his power.”
On November 21, 1780, the Marquis visited the encampment site and was impressed by the skill of the laborers who produced the barracks. He wrote:
“These barracks are regular wooden houses, well built and well covered, having garrets and even cellars, so that we should form a very false idea were we to judge them by what we see…They require only three days to build the barracks, reckoning from the moment they begin to cut down the trees; the huts are finished in twenty-four hours. They consist of little walls made of heaped stones, the intervals of which are filled with earth kneaded with water or simply with mud; a few planks form the roof; but what renders them very warm is that the chimney occupies the outer side, and that you can only enter by a small door at the side of the chimney, The army has passed hole winters in such huts, without suffering and without sickness.”
Soon he departed, only to return to Fishkill two years later. When he returned to the encampment site, the soldiers’ health status would be quite different. He took note of their encampment as a series of “log-houses containing two rooms, each inhabited by eight soldiers when full, which commonly means five or six men in actual fact; a second range of barracks is destined only for the non-commissioned officers. These barracks are placed in the middle of the woods, on the slope of the hills and within easy reach of the water…a healthy and decent situation…” To avoid tedious labor, they were built “without a bit of iron, not even nails”.
As the years passed, the war began to take its toll. Chastellux took notice of those who were ill and displaced from the main encampment site. Many of them were disabled, not by the war, but instead due to poverty, malnutrition and disease. The scarcity of clothing only added to their ills. Battle injuries had become the least of the soldiers’ worries. A first hand description of disabled soldiers was given by Chastellux on November 21, 1780, he writes:
“Four or five miles from Fishkill I saw some felled trees and a clearing in the wood, which on coming nearer I discovered to be a camp, or rather huts inhabited by several hundred invalid soldiers. These invalids were all in very good health; but it is necessary to observe that in American armies every soldier who is misfit for service is called an invalid; now these have been sent here behind the lines because their clothes were truly invalid. These honest fellows, for I will not say these unfortunates… were not well covered, even with rags; but their assured bearing and their arms in good order seemed to cover their nakedness, and to show only their courage and their patience.”
Any increased occurrence of diseases in this setting had to be due primarily to poor sanitation, crowding and inappropriate housing conditions. The water supplies soldiers were provided with were directed to the barracks through ditches and possibly troughs made from hollowed logs. These logs containing the water could have been laid out across the center of each small barracks area, parallel to each linear assemblage of barracks and tents.
These soldiers also had to deal with fevers due to the “miasma” of nearby swamps, and the recurring dysentery they experienced due to the use of the same creek water for drinking and for bathing. During periods of bad weather and heavy rain, the chances for a rapid spread of disease increased with each day of rain, and with each week the date got closer to mid-summer. Those residing down by the creek were most likely to get the fever, than those residing at the base on the mountains. But once the rains began to flood the region, everyone became possible victims of this local problem, making it seem to many that the main cause for this problem had to do with both weather and river water levels.
Many of these patients probably suffered typical battle diseases including penetration wounds by musket ball or sword, crushing injuries, fractures, and powder burns. More detrimental than the wound itself was the aftermath. Many injuries later developed infections, leading to gangrene, mortification, and finally, the need for amputating the effected appendage. The local climate and humidity made for longer recovery times, the greater likelihood for infection to set in, and the more rapid onset of some of the worst forms of gangrene requiring amputation.
The End of the War
Estimates made by historians of war-related deaths range from one out of every nine to one out of sixteen deaths due to disease and malnutrition and not due to the war itself. Like other hospitals, those in or near Fishkill had just a few wounded soldiers to deal with relatively speaking. The greatest number of trauma cases that did manage to reach Fishkill were related to the Battle of White Plains and perhaps up north towards Albany. But the Pennsylvania documents tell us that for some reason, soldiers were transferred around the tristate region to every possible location, along every possible route, with no immediate set of reasons definable for how and why these transfers took place. These other hospitals in close proximity to Fishkill were the Robinson’s House, New Windsor, Newburgh, Otterkill, West Point, Peekskill, Brinckerhoff, New Hackensack, Oblong Patent (Quaker church), and others.
As for Dr. Osborn, even though he was granted his permission as a Regimental Surgeon along with numerous others, due to the location of his home, his local social status, and perhaps even his appearance and state of health, Dr. Osborn seems to have not been allocated much field responsibility. Whether or not he engaged in the recovery of soldiers from the White Plains excursions for example is uncertain. Dr. Osborn’s several orders noted in the Revolutionary War documents suggest he had some sort of administrative role, placing him in rank between the Field Surgeons and Administrators, the Quartermaster and the local town leaders. Thus his home did serve as a meeting place, and even the place to retain Dr. Prosser once he was imprisoned and subsequently in need of some specialized medical or supervisory “assistance.”
There are several lessons we can learn by reviewing the writings about the Fishkill hospital. The following research questions should perhaps be reviewed more carefully for possible answers:
- To what level did disease prevention occur within the hospital setting?
- Were these makeshift hospitals formed in a moment’s notice, or were they more like the very stable buildings associated with the hospital buildings in New York City or Quebec? Chances are they were most like the wooden building seen at other Revolutionary War memorial sites.
- Were the space uses pre-allocated for use in such a way as to distinguish “localized cases” (infectious diseases caught from other bodies, vs. the environment, using Benjamin Rush’s classification) from others, or were the spaces allocated in some adhoc or as needed fashion?
The following public health questions also still need to be addressed:
- Did the buildings make use of a ventilation system like that proposed by a physician about this same time, in order to reduce the “effluvia” or “miasma” wandering about the hospital itself once it was crowded?
- What kinds of sanitation measures were engaged in, in particular, regarding the management of bedding and handling the clothing of soldiers or patients? Was hay implemented for use as a replaceable hospital floor and mattress setting?
- What kinds of foodways, recipes, cooking styles, and kitchen settings were set up?
- Were the facilities sectioned or quartered into special service locations, such as surgical sites in the much larger facilities or special surgical buildings, versus places for the injured? We know that some quarantine measures were taken for measles and small pox. How differentiated and restricted were these quarantine settings?
- How does this compare with the British prison ships which carried captured soldiers and staff to the more southern island settings (a few reminiscences are posted about this)? Some of these reminiscences published around 1790 provide insights into on-board hospitals and in one case, a section of the prisoners in which one member was a field surgeon.
- Where were the medicines stored relative to the hospital beds?
Thanks to the work of the Fishkill archeologist Bill Sandy and others invested in the research of this site, it is proposed that the graveyard setting adjancet to the encampment is where Dro Osborn and many other soldiers were buried. The remaining questions are
- is this also where his oldest Son James would also be buried, and
- was this where Dr. Osborn’s wife Helena was buried?
More Endnotes on Dr. Osborn
Soon after the Revolutionary War ended, Cornelius Osborn was listed amongst those who would receive land as a reward for their patriotic services [12,13].50,51 The new governing agencies had determined that each private would receive a one-quarter section (160 acres) or more pr property for his services. This property would be located “in different sections of the country where the Government had public lands” 51 For some local residents, their land possessions were no more, for example the Loyalist Bartholomew Crannell, one of Osborn earlier close comrades who has escaped to the fourteenth British Colony Nova Scotia soon after the official war commenced. For patriots like Osborn serving in the War, members of the Second Regiment each received rights to two 500 acre plots. As a Field Surgeon, Dr. Osborn was due the rights to one more of these plots making his acquisition a total of three land plots .52 However, no record of land acquisitions in Osborn’s name could be obtained regarding these war-related acquisitions .53 Osborn is also not mentioned in the listing of “Surgeons and surgeon’s mates who have received pensions…” for their valuable services .54 Osborn’s name is not included on the “List of Pensions & Applicants for Pensions” ,55 or the “List of Persons with Service evidenced by manuscripts on file in Comptrollers Office” 56 Osborn’s sons, James and Peter, who were enrolled in the local regiments, were also omitted from these listings and professional wartime papers .57 As a result, any physical or monetary benefits each received for their services remains unclear, and the one to most benefit from this piece of the Osborn family history was the oldest son James, who became a local hero for many, especially those naming their sons after him as part of the Baptismal process, and some of Cornelius Osborn’s sons and other younger generation family members like his nephew Cornelius Remsen. Soon after the war, Cornelius Remsen moved in with Helena Osborn, her son James and family to learn medicine himself. (He would later serve as a Field Surgeon in the War of 1812.)
On August 23, 1782, just after the fighting had ceased and before the Anglo-American Peace Treaty was written, Dr. Osborn died without leaving a will. His Letter of Administration, dated March 18th, 1786, is signed nearly four years after his death by his son James, with Arthur Langharn, apothecarian, and Stephen Smith, hatter, serving as bondsmen, and Nathaniel Tredwell and Thomas Tredwell, Esquire, serving as witnesses [N.Y. Liber 2, 1784-1786, p. 4357] .57 No public notice regarding Cornelius Osborn’s debts has been found in any of the local newspapers.58
In memory of Dr. Cornelius Osborn, the oldest son James submitted an obituary to the local newspaper, Samuel Loudon’s New York Packet. This obituary appears on page 3 of the Packet (then published in Fishkill) and states :59
“DIED. On Friday, the 23d instant, DOCTOR CORNELIUS OSBORN, in the sixtieth year of his age, who for many years was a practitioner in medicine & chirurgery in this place, with great success & reputation. He was remarkable for charity to the poor, and generosity to the distressing refugees, to whom he was sympathizing and ready friend in their sickness, imparting his skill and medicine for their relief, gratis. In his death the poor have lost a valuable friend, his wife a tender husband, his children an effective parent, and his country a zealous and persevering friend. As his death is esteemed a public loss, it is much regretted by all who knew him.”
Osborn’s family remained in their father’s residence for decades to follow. This place later became Osborn Hill. Osborn’s tract of land was about 32 acres in size according to an 1823 land deed filed, noting the continued presence of Osborn’s old mid-18th century beer brewery equipment . His oldest son James remained active as a physician and was for the most part successful, although little evidence remains about his medical practice or experience. the second oldest son Peter tried to become a surgeon of physician as well, serving as an assistant to the Field Surgeon serving the local foot patrol. This six-year position is expected to result in advancement following the completion of such a service. Peter Osborn apparently failed to serve this apprenticeship-like time in some unsatisfactory fashion, enough to make him never obtain a full Surgeon position as he most likely had inspired for. We hear little more about Peter Osborn from this time on.
The youngest son Thomas Osborn was too young to serve in the War, became the main keeper of his mother’s house in absentia when Osborn, James and Peter were away serving the local militia needs. he too benefited from his father’s proud history, but entered the field at just the right time so as to undergo a more intense form of education in this field, along with his cousin Cornelius Remsen. Both Thomas Osborn and Cornelius Remsen met up with local physician Bartow White. Bartow, the son of Ebenezer White, a Field surgeon and physician for Westchester militia groups, had his son Bartow obtain his training from one of the region’s best experts in American medicine–Valentine Seaman. Before Bartow White moved to Fishkill, he received both classroom lectureship and apprenticeship forms of training, was updated in the current understandings of disease and the greatly different post-colonial forms of medical treatment, and he familiar with the now solidified theory of disease in relation to local landforms and climate-weather patterns.
Whereas Osborn and his elders in the family constituted one generation of this family practicing a specific form of medicine defined by a specific type of disease theory, Osborn’s oldest son James practiced some intermediary form of medicine, removing some of the “antient” practices his father engaged in as he recalled due to his own childhood years. Peter Osborn practiced military-promoted Surgery practices, with procedures that were perhaps greatly different from those he expected being familiar with his father’s experiences doing the same. This leaves us with the experiences of Osborn’s youngest child Thomas and his nephew Cornelius Remsen, both of whom were again trained quite differently from the others in the family. By this time, medical education in the United States had developed its own unique set of rules, that these two young students would now have to follow.
Throughout this period of change in medicine, and its several generations of philosophy seemingly developed decades apart, but only a few years each in actuality, we find the issue of physical versus iatrochemical versus mental and metaphysical disease concepts impacting how medicine in the Hudson Valley region would continue to grow, change and be impacted time and time again by an ever-changing medical philosophy. Osborn’s original premises regarding disease as a condition of chemical and alchemical concern continued to be part of the local medical practice. Daniel Turner’s impact on Osborn, who in turn impacted the Natural Philosophers of the valley and the countering religious leaders of this time, facilitated the birth of numerous new forms of non-scientific, non-physical philosophies regarding health and disease causes and prevention. The more grounded physicians like Bartow White and his young apprentices would practice a form of medicine that remained forever changing from one generation to the next for years to come in the Hudson Valley, once again, a reminder of Cornelius Osborn’s own Dutch-English, and later, French Huguenot family heritage.