The Dutchess County Medical Society is Formed, 1806
The following announcement was posted in the region’s professional journal in medicine, Medical Repository, printed and distributed out of the New York area adjacent to the New York Medical School. This announcement detailed the official formation of medical societies for the lower portion of New York State.
Circular letter of the Medical Society of the State of NewYork, to the County Societies. Signed by Nicholas Romayne, M.D. President, and John Stearns, M.D. Sec’ry.
The Medical Society of the state of New-York, view with much satisfaction the organization of the several Medical Societies of the counties, by virtue of the law of the 4th of April, 1806, for regulating the practice of Physic and Surgery; and they entertain no doubt that due exertions will be made by every incorporated Medical Society, to satisfy the just expectations of the legislature and of the public, respecting these institutions.
This law not only contemplates the establishment of such regulations, in the practice of physic and surgery, as may give respect to the medical profession, and redound to the public good, but tends to promote the knowledge of the healing art, by exciting to new investigation, and by encouraging a professional education. The Society do not doubt but that the powers with which the county medical societies are invested, will be exercised with moderation, and that nothing will be done to give offence to the public: they will recollect that Medicine has been justly considered one of the liberal professions, and that this character can be supported only when it is exercised on principles just and liberal.
The medical society of the state, at their first institution, deemed it expedient to invite their members to such scientific investigation, as would be interesting to the profession, and important to the public.
In a new country, many of whose resources are still unknown, beneficial effects must result from favouring investigation and scientific researches; and though the pecuniary means of the society have been limited, yet they have offered premiums to encourage such enquiries as might be useful and interesting.
Few exertions have yet been made to examine and record the various productions of vegetable nature throughout the state; nor has much been done to investigate the several objects connected with the mineral kingdom, with the formation of the earth, and the aspect of its surface.
These subjects the medical society of the state earnestly recommend to the attention of your society: and they make no doubt that a spirit of investigation and research will be duly encouraged.
.. As the medical profession can only be respectable in a well informed community, and as the ignorant and illiterate are the only dupes of empiricism, the county medical societies will see the usefulness of exerting their influence to promote education, and of uniting their efforts with the Regents of the University for such purposes.
The science of Medicine comprehends almost all the sciences and useful arts which contribute in some form or other to preserve health, and to prevent and cure diseases; it is, therefore, requisite that the county societies should unite their efforts with the Agricultural and other societies of the state, to aid in their labours the promotion of the arts and the public good.
It is also important that the medical societies should collect and record such historical facts as are connected with the settlement of their respective counties, and all such other circumstances as will elucidate the history of the state.
Whatever relates to the causes, the nature and the cure of diseases, will obviously claim the serious attention of every county society; and they will no doubt invite their respective members to the due exercise of their professional duties, as well as to those observations which may contribute to extend the usefulness and add to the importance of the profession.
The medical society of the state cannot conclude this circular communication, without affording assurances of their perfect disposition to promote the respectability of the several county societies, and to exert all their efforts to support the dignity of the medical profession.
Events seemed to be occurring in threes in regular medicine during the early 1800s. In 1787 the first attempt was made to officiate a society for physicians in the Dutchess County region. In 1797 the state passed a law demanding that the doctors regulate themselves and watch over their practice or risk the Governor personally engaging in much the same process, this decision made immediately after Elisha Perkins had so successfully marketed his metalic points to the public. Now with these series of events behind them, and with the recurring problem of yellow fever epidemics about to take a major blow due to the establishment of quarantine practices by physicians in the shipping cities of New York and Philadelphia, it was finally time for physicians to once again sit down, take a deep breath, and begin to think about the public and its well-being in general. Once again it was time for the profession to clean out its closets of practitioners whose skills were either too rusty and old-fashioned to allow to continue, or were in serious need of revamping by forcing these practitioners to become a little more engaged in the medical education process. Up until now, the general public was under the impression that everything was occurring in threes. This third change in the medical profession as a society had to be something that could result in physicians receiving more support from the public in general, placing themselves and their version of the medical profession back on the center stage for the travelling circus show medicine and its practitioners often seemed to be turning into.
Between 1805 and 1812, the year the elephant made its way into the Pleasant Valley village setting, people were beginning to “see the elephant” in medicine. Everyone possible was passing through this setting trying to promote their own internal philosophy and money-making agendas. The practice of portrait reading known as physiognotracing was going through its third generation of artistry when yet another skills craftsman in this field invented his own tool and began marketing it on the streets as some sort of face-reading device meant to be used mostly for recreational purposes, but for everyone who participated in this unique art, turned it into something that would allow each individual to better visualize their innermost self or psyche, something a regular physician could never seem to do on his own.
Meanwhile, the strengthen their profession as a scientific skill, not just an Art ruled by such things as Magic and Natural forces, regular medicine practitioners made it a responsibility of their physicians to engage themselves at least twice yearly in the profession as a member of its society. Those best behaved and active in this course would win the generous support of the Society and in turn be allowed membership with the group officially. For the old-timers still reflecting upon their Revolutionary War experiences as doctors, this meant they too had to keep up with the times in this rapidly changing field of science if they were to finally receive the public and professional support they had sought out for so many years. For the younger doctors interested in specializing in some unique skill like midwifery, oculism (making glasses), or dentistry, this required not only training in this new aspect of the field at some highly respected university, but also experience with these previously ignored body parts in the form of an anatomy lab coupled with a surgery apprenticeship. The next person to be wearing George Washington’s wooden teeth were now to be carved more accurately and precisely by these newcomers to the field, and not just be a product of someone’s personal carving skills not at all taught in some sort of formal academic program.
This semi-unionization of physicians for the region also allowed for two improvements to be made–the development of a library, and of a centralized location for the more expensive medical and surgical instruments. The library allowed for books to be purchased, stored and circulated in order to keep physicians up to date in their old skills, and able to learn the new skills and new philosophies then being published about health and disease. The medical supply room and society’s “quartermaster” so to speak made it possible for the region in general to greatly advance its skills and make previously unavailable options for patients now available for the most needy. The first devices these doctors obtained for such an endeavor were the expensive diagnostic and treatment tools needed such as the Lannaec stethoscope, the trephining tools for treating hematomas, or the calipers for delivering babies. But also probably included in these supplies would have been such contraptions as barometers and thermometers, used to monitor the pressure and temperatures with the goal of being able to predict an ensuing epidemic rather than witness it consequence and interpret it only in retrospect. A full surgery kit was needed for the region, in case someone’s personal kit was not enough for practitioners to make do with when they borrowed it, along with its characteristic uncleaned, rusty, unkept fashion that its owner may have practiced.
Then there were the younger ones coming into the medical world, people aspiring to become doctors who were encouraged to attend the biannual meeting, show their face, argue their philosophy, educational background and cause, and hopefully obtain permission from someone to initiate an apprenticeship under him. This way, you needn’t be a member or close relative of a family of physicians any more to stake your claim in this profession. You only had to be well-educated, and able to read and write to get your appreciation and support from the others. Being from a family that was higher up on the local economic scale wasn’t as necessary as you ability to observe the nature of disease and experience its consequences in epidemic forms for the first time. If you had your own unique theory as to why the Hudson Valley diseases were different from the diseases down in New York, or up north in Albany, this too could be your ticket into the next series of lectures being given down in New York or in some highly educated physician’s mansion along the Hudson River shoreline.
Your best mentor or person to look up to at the time could have been anyone from Samuel Bard himself, who was by now local and engaged mostly in community events and religious activities, such as programs developed to attend to the needs of the poor and to further propagate and promulgate the teachings of the Bible, to Valentine Seaman, a well experienced epidemiologist trained in the Nature of disease, not just disease itself. If you were a person who was very esoteric, very eclectic, and best of all, very unique or original, you may remind the local doctors of Samuel Mitchell, a physician turned congressman with as many theories under his belt about disease as he had acts passed pertaining to natural resource utilization, in particular minerals and ores. The best doctor at the time that the Dutchess County medical society re-evaluated itself, underwent a reform, and changed it administration for the second time (the third time if you count the little 1805 fiasco with military training being allowed and required), was the doctor who was a specialist in any of several fields or branches of medicine now developing. You could be a metaphysical doctor practicing something between regular physical medicine and medical electricity that survived its bouts with professional criticisms, or you could be an old-fashioned mineral doctor who made use of certain substances as medicines because they were useful and effective, not because they were plant-derived versus mineral-derived. Your plant products included regular dried and processes plant products, like the stronger substances drawn from opium latex and certain precursors to the upcoming alkaloidal products. Your mineral products included numerous salts, crystals, metal by-products, iron, mercury, and arsenic.
Over the next few years, medicine and surgery became more separated and the military would come to play an important role in how one could be trained. The War of 1812 was in the horizon, but already numerous things were happening that seemed to be events very similar to those of wartime experiences and years. Supplies dwindled every now and then as embargos were activated by European competitors in the world market. This led to a prevailing poverty and sometimes lack of adequate supplies when it came to foods and clothing. Physicians like Bard and others were often engaged in programs trying to reduce the local problem of the poor residing in the Dutchess County setting, but seemed to be ineffective at adequately suppressing this endemic sociomedical problem. During this presidential administration, small battles erupted both in the south and in the north, the same places where the War of 1812 would have its greatest effects on the growing country of the United States. According to the news stories printed in the Poughkeepsie Journal, there were problems with the English trying to again control of certain island settings, and Russia was always at odds with its neighbors, making Russian goods sometimes hard to come by as well. The United States was going through a time when it had to independently develop its own highly successful farming and livestock industries, or risk losing everything the country had that was a sign of its independence to a state of dependency on all of the European now providing it with essential living supplies.
The period of 1806 onward in New York and Hudson Valley medicine consisted of several features that made it a geographically defined, very unique field of medical practice. Livingston popularized the wool trade and introduced merino sheep to the valley, in turn leading to the establishment of a wool trade business that fed into the public fears about disease being a direct consequence of one inability to adapt to the local climate, and the need people had to protect themselves from the topographic nad climatic evils of nature responsible for such diseases as the fevers from spring to fall and the influenza of the winter. Mitchell sensitized people to their internal sources of wealth, the geological products of the unique strata existing throughout the region. Within these strata were not only precious metals in need of an industry to make good use of them, but also numerous medicines yet to be uncovered for use in maintaining a good public health profile for the region. Samuel Bard had his days of seclusion to contend with an older, more mature physician, now with a desire to do everything possible to assist the poor and promote the Christian religion, perhaps the results of a subconscious sense of guilt he felt for spending a life in exceptionally high income status, in the city of New York and out, and something his neighbors would never fully appreciate due to their comparative state of strict poverty. Bartow White would further the cause of the Livingstons, develop his own true sense of returning wealth to the poor, whilst working alongside John Astor and others in opening the country for all post-colonial state residents to experience. Bartow White was a true American physician, trained in America, by a father of the Revolutionary War, and someone with close personal and political ties with American doctors and American needs, not European trained people with a British attitude trying to disguise their behaviors that were once linked only to Loyalism from the now much healthier eyes and minds of the general American public.
This means that 1806 also represents the time when medicine for the first time became fully American in nature, philosophy and attitude. The development of the 1806 union had a diminished effect of former European trained minds to argue with any or all decisions being made about disease. Lamarckianism had become Social Lamarckianism, the members of the governmental staff had adapted to their new environment, and now two generations later, were better equipped, educated and physically able to suppress the negative impacts non-American thinking could have, except for that of the French. The French influenced medicine in a much more positive fashion than any English doctor could. The French made the American doctor sensitive to the needs of the poor and able and willing to develop a unique way of incorporating psychology into them medical profession of the United States. It was the French influence that introduced physiognotracing to the United States medical community, and the French that made some doctors begin to show a sense of sensitivity to the mentally ill people, beliefs that regular doctors totally lacked as a part of their philosophical materia medica around this time. 1806 is also when the pacifistic Quakers and sensitive natural theologians of Puritan influence had their direct impacts on local Dutchess County medicine. All of these influences took place in the Hudson Valley, not in Philadelphia or New York City. According to Erasmus Darwin (not Charles, his philosophy is still a couple of decades away), the influences of Nature were resulting in a society and culture that was becoming a great deal more diverse.
NOXON, ROBERT. 1750. edu. Fishkill appr. Soc. Poughkeepsie, 1806. Born Poughkeepsie, July 31st, 1750; student of Dr. Robert Thorn; lived at 83 Market street, Poughkeepsie and Society, 1806.
LATHROP, WILLIAM. 1760-1812. cp. Washington, 1785. soc. 1806. Born 1760; Washington about 1785; Society, 1806; died April 18th, 1812. According to Bayley: “A well educated, successful physician, with the degree of M. D.”
THORN, JAMES. 1763-1816. soc. 1806. Born New Hackensack, N. Y., June 21st, 1763; Society, 1806. As a commentary on the changes in social customs, it may be noted that at Dr. Thorne’s funeral the best families were represented, and the bearers were leading men socially and professionally. They were so drunk that the burial was delayed two hours for them to sober up sufficiently to be able to carry the body from the house. Died New Hackensack, June 26th, 1816.
WHEELER, WILLIAM. 1753-1810. cp. Upper Red Hook, nd. soc. Rhinebeck, 1806. Born August 12th, 1753; Rhinebeck and Society, 1806; Upper Red Hook; died April 14th, 1810.
BARTLETT, RICHARD. Stanford and Society, 1806. Pine Plains 1850.
BUCKNUM, AMASA. 1768-1856. cp. 1806. edu. Oxford, 1806. soc. 1806. Born England, 1768; graduated Oxford University; Society, 1806; Stanford; in 1854 he was attacked with gangrene of the foot; he amputated the toes himself; died June 15th, 1856, and is buried at the Bear Market. With regards to his character, Bayley: “A man of unusual attainments, very stout, fond of a joke, and of a cheerful disposition.”
SAFFEN, THOMAS. 1768-1810. cp. Beekman, soc. Beekman, 1806. Born February 22d, 1768; Beekman and Society, 1806; died July 21st, 1810.
TOMLINSON, DAVID. 1772-1841. cp. Rhinebeck, 1806. soc. 1806. mbr. 1819. bur. Rhinebeck. Born 1772; Rhinebeck and Society, 1806; Member of Assembly, 1819; died New York City, April 25th, 1841; buried Rhinebeck.
VAN KLEECK, BALTUS LIVINGSTON. 1774-1843. Son of Dr. Lawrence Van Kleeck, a physician from New York City. Lawrence Van Kleeck removed to Poughkeepsie, and died there in 1783. Baltus Livingston retained a practice in Poughkeepsie for several years before removing to Newburgh. He joined the Medical Society in 1806, and remained in practice in Newburgh until his death on May 9, 1843. Joined the Medical Society with his brother in 1806.
VAN KLEECK, JAMES LIVINGSTON. -1816. Another son of Dr. Lawrence Van Kleeck. Became and MD, practicing in Poughkeepsie until his death. Joined the Medical Society with his brother in 1806.
GUERNSEY, EZEKIEL H. 1775- 1853. cp. Stanford, 1806. soc. Stanford, 1806. Born Amenia, April 12th, 1775; Stanford and Society, 1806; Doctors Calvin P. and Peter B. were his sons; died September 17th, 1853.
JUDD, URI. 1775-1850. cp. Northeast, 1806, soc. Northeast, 1806. Born Waterbury, Conn., 1775. Grandson of Dr. Benjamin Judd, a noted doctor of Connecticut; Northeast and Society, 1806; Milo, Yates County, 1831; Penn Yan, N. Y., 1850. Bayley: “A very prominent man professionally.”
ROGERS, JOSEPH. 1776. d. 1814. cp. Fishkill, 1806. soc. Fishkill, 1806. Born Connecticut, October 31st, 1776; Fishkill and Society, 1806; died March 16th, 1814.
BERRY, CYRUS. –. Cp. nd, Pleasant Valley. soc. Pleasant Valley, 1806. Society, 1806; Pleasant Valley after Dr. Ely.
DOWNS, JAMES. –.  d. nd. cp. nd. soc. Clinton, 1806. Clinton and Society, 1806; Pleasant Valley with and after Dr. Ely.
ELY, WILLIAM. –.  d. nd. cp. Nd. soc. Clinton, 1806. Clinton and Society, 1806. Worked as senior in business with James Downs’ drunkenness and neglect ruined his business. Had at one time a large practice, but neglected his work, and died in the alms house.
CHAMBERLAIN, JOHN. –.  d. 1875. cp. nd. Soc. Poughkeepsie, 1806. 1806. Poughkeepsie and Society, 1806; died Millerton, 1875.
COOK, GEORGE W. –.  d. nd. cp. soc. Clinton, 1806. Clinton and Society, 1806.
DELAVAN, DAVID. –.  d. 1824? Cp. Pawling, nd. Soc. Pawling, 1806. Pawling and Society, 1806; Dover Plains previous to 1824.
DAYTON, DANIEL. –.  d. nd. soc, Poughkeepsie, 1806. Poughkeepsie and Society, 1806.
LEONARD, ALPHEUS. –. [1786/1806?] d. 1829. cp. Amenia Union, 1806. Amenia Union about 1806; died 1829.
DODGE, JEREMIAH. Society, 1806.
HALSEY, ABRAHAM. Born January 7, 1764. Died March 7, 1822. Fishkill and Society, 1806.
PINCKNEY, JOHN. Low Point and Society, 1806.
QUINLAN, THOMAS. Clinton and Society, 1806.
SMITH, JOHN W. Amenia and Society, 1806.
WALDO, CHARLES. Poughkeepsie and Society, 1806.