“The Declaration of Independence is not a bargaining chip . . . “
The following important document in the history of the Fishkill hospital setting and the Revolutionary War unfortunately looks like it is about to be lost due to the antiques business. In a conversation I had with Radford Curdy back in 1981/2/3, he told me about this manuscript he had just purchased from a local family. It was the medical ledger of Stephen Thorn(e). Recognizing the name, I asked him to tell me more about this important document, and asked him for the chance to see this book in person. At the time, he was writing a brief article summarizing this ledger and its contents, but we had a brief chance to go through its contents.
Upon immediately inspection I saw the book to be somewhat boring and reiterative. Stephen Thorne was following a new philosophy of healing soon t o be popularized by a European trained physician, also learned in theology and a member of the Vatican–that doctor was Reverend Joseph Townsend Townsend was most famous for his work with and writings on the poor and his Travels to Spain during the Turkish War, 1785 to1815. But during Townsend’s earlier encounters with medical professionals and patients in this military setting, he noted the common practice by these field surgeons which he referred to as “puke, purge and bleed.” Dr. Stephen Thorne made use of these same terms in parts of his ledger. Even more closely linked to this possible association of Thorne’s ledger with Townsend’s work is the publication of Townsend’s books by a Boston publisher, possibly as early as 1799 but definitely around 1802/1804. This was long after Thorne’s entries into this book that had anything to do with the Revolutionary War. Still, Thorne’s ledger defines the medicine of the Rombout and Poughkeepsie Precinct parts of Dutchess County (today also including everything from Fishkill northward through Wappingers, New Hamburg, Hughsonville, New Hackensack), and so is a very unique document with links to the this important period in United States history.
In addition to the basic three modalities for effective treatments–puke, purge and bleed–Dr. Thorne also made use of several medicines, which fortunately he provided us with some of the chemical details for. Most impressive was his use of arsenic, a mineral remedy. This suggested that Thorne was pretty much practicing a tradition form of regular medicine as commonly taught to MDs through official apprenticeships and hospital based programs. In addition I saw Thorn mention several very antiquated forms of medicines, names based on traditional Latin nomenclature referring to very old medical philosophies.
Thorne’s use of minerals and ancient cures are alluded to in an advertisement that appeared in the local newspapers all along the east coast. Dr. Thorne was practicing what they called “Antient” medicine in the advertisements. This was in contrast with the more “Modern” forms of medicine then being generated, which, depending upon one’s point of view, included such things as water cure, mineral springs, medical electricity, the heavy use of mineral drugs and highly concentrated plant medicines, some of these even alkaloidal in nature such as Coniine from hemlock in resin form and the purified opium products.
Unfortunately, a complete review of Thorne’s work was not possible. Also unfortunate to this important piece of local history, Rad Curdy and I never got together again enabling me to complete my review of this document following the publication of his brief article on it. Some of his identifications as noted in his article were unfortunately off. He even noted the problem he had interpreting some of these drug substances due to the nature of Thorne’s handwriting and a lack of knowledge of those medicines most important to this period in American medical history and the nomenclature in use for these medicines.
Much to my dismay, following the passing of Mr. Curdy, after making contact with the auction house in charge of auctioning off Curdy’s belongings (no family member or heir could ever be located), I learned this manuscript was not in the inventory of his collection. Knowing Rad Curdy, this item was never sold. He had more lucrative items he could palm off for money if so needed (the clippings of Dolly Parton’s dress for starters). The exact ownership/possession route this document took remains uncertain, and is probably not in paper form.
This is a manuscript, in original form, in need of photographing and preservation, not a published book that has several copies circulating about. It has information that like 95% of the information out there about our heritage, will be lost due to lack of continuity and congruity of usefulness, meaning and availability.
As I hoped and predicted, those most interested in making money off of this venture placed this document up for public sale as a public event. I kept a watch on the web waiting for evidence of this item to surface, and so it did.
The exact history of the ownership of this important piece of Americana remains unknown to me, perhaps not so much the case for those who last laid their hands on it before forwarding it to its seller, By doing so the behaviors and professional practices demonstrate no concern for this important part of our national history. It is my opinion that the sale of this item is much like coming upon a copy of Thomas Paine’s most famous writing in an intact condition, or the only copy of a piece of ephemera of national importance and worthy of public attention, and making either of these inavailable for review and research by scholars. The lack of questioning and adequate checking of the documentation of its history demonstrates irresponsibility; the sellers probably never even hear of Rad Curdy or knew about his article documenting his ownership and possession of this important item. This kind of non-professional behavior is very close to the black-marketing we seen ing done of important centuries old churches in Russia, a missing Degas painting, or the theft of some Incan pottery, solely for personal and professional gain.
For this reason I have included the following note on Thorne’s ledger and will at some point in the upcoming months (or years) post my work specifically on this item and what it revealed to me about this time frame in US Medical history, a history for which very few documents as insightful as Thorn’s ledger exist.
I’d like to think that some parts of early Americana are important to our history. The mindset of antiquarians and antiquarian settlers can often be quite different. Unique items that are one of a kind are pieces of history should be protected, like we protect the ceremonial objects found at a Native American site, even when that site is on private land or in public access areas. It is illegal to hunt for dinosaur fossils or to dig up an old ceramic pot with arrowheads in your back yard, but it is not illegal to sell important pieces of Americana that make it to the market in unscrupulous ways. In this case, it is our own repatriation that is being sacrificed for the several thousand dollars, along with an equal number of drawings of George Washington, that get placed in the dealers’ pockets for this very unpatriotic business interaction.
Like good art, there should be a tracable history of possession of this item. This is not the case for Thorne’s ledger. There is no way of knowing how Thorne’s ledger got in the hands of individuals unconcerned about this country’s heritage, and quite obviously this is not of any concern of the sellers of this exceptional, historically important piece of Americana.
This is my take on the sell of this valuable part of American history. It is my hope that some publically accessible library obtains this document, and not just another collector with no concerns or just personal concerns for our heritage. It would be a shame if this piece of history was lost forever.
ADVERTISEMENT posted on the web . . .
Colonial medical ledger of Dr. Stephen Thorn[e], Dutchess County, New York State
MEDICAL MANUSCRIPT – AMERICAN REVOLUTION
[Dutchess Cty., NY]: np, 1775 – 89. Unique.. A good copy; nearly dsbd.; some staining and tide marks; extremities singed.. folio.. A splendid comprehensive record of the medical practice of the colonial physician Dr. Stephen Thorn[e] prior to and after the American Revolution. The entries are in a clear hand and completely fill the 300 page ledger (and endpapers); they begin April 1775 to July 1776 and break off and commence again Sept. 1782 through Jan. 1789 with occ. entries after that date to 1795. Entries are made chronologically both recto and verso. Each family or individual received their own page of record at the initial visit. Thereafter subsequent visits were recorded on the same page as they occurred. The ledger therefore provides a historical view of nearly 20 yrs. of each family’s medical history – something that is unique in our experience. Entries describe the date, type of visit, medication or act, payment and occ. payment type if in kind. Thorn was born in 1737 and died in New Hackensack, Dutchess Cty. in 1795. When the Revolution broke out Stephen Thorn and his brothers did not sign the Articles of Association. He was sent to Exeter, NH. Eventually he did sign the Articles and was allowed to return to Dutchess Cty. where he resumed his practice. The ledger offers an extraordinary insight into colonial medical practices and the general health of the local population. It is an invaluable record.
- Bookseller: Palinurus Antiquarian Books
- Seller Inventory #: 6225
- Book condition: A good copy; nearly dsbd.; some staining and tide marks; extremities singed.
- Edition: Unique.
- Publisher: np
- Place: [Dutchess Cty., NY]
- Date published: 1775 – 89
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly . . . ” [Thomas Paine]
Please write your congressman
Quote from the 2004 Movie NATIONAL TREASURE
You know, the Templars and the Freemasons believed that the treasure was too great for any one man to have, not even a king.
That’s why they went to such lengths to keep it hidden.
The Founding Fathers believed the same thing about government.
I figure their solution will work for the treasure too.
Give it to the people.