So exactly what sort of doctor was John Bristow?

We know he was not a regular MD physician.  He learned medicine in a part of the country that lacked an immediate access to some sort of medical school. 

In 1834, when John was 20, there were 31 medical schools in the country teaching regular medicine.  By the time he reached 34, the age in which he decided to learn medicine, another 13 schools were opened.  The following were the schools of the country at the time Bristow had decided to learn medicine. 


  • 1829.  Medical College of Georgia, Augusta.   Org. 1829.  REGULAR..
  • 1839.  Southern Botanico-medical College, Forsyth-Macon, GA.  Org 1839, 1st class 1841.  BOTANICAL
  • 1850.  Thompsonian College, Barbourville, GA.  Org. 1850,  Extinct.  THOMSONIAN.


  • 1843.  Rush Medical College, Jacksonville.  Org. 1842, 1st class 1843. REGULAR.
  • 1843.  Medical Department, Illinois College,     Jacksonville.      1843. REGULAR.
  • 1849.  (Medical College).  1849.  One Session.  Rock Island.  Removed to Davenport, IA.  BOTANIC?
  • 1851.  Hahnemann Medical College, Altosp., Chicago, Ill.  Org. 1851, 1st class 1860.  HOMEOPATHIC.


  • 1833.  University of Indiana, New Albany.  Org. 1833.  Extinct by time of R.L Polk’s writings.  REGULAR.
  • 1848.  (Indiana Medical College).  1848.  One session.   Removed to Rock Island, IL.   BOTANIC?


  • 1850.   (Medical College).  1849.  One Session.  Davenport.  Removed to Des Moines and then purchased or merged with Keokuk, IA, 1850.  BOTANIC?, merged with REGULAR?


  • 1837.  Univ. of Louisville, Louisville.  Org. 1837. REGULAR.
  • 1846?. Eclectic Medical College, Louisville.  From ? — to ca. 1848.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1848.  King Eclectic Medical College, Louisville, KY.  Org. 1848, extinct by printing of Polk’s Dir.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1850.  Transylvania Univeristy, Medical Department, Lexington.   Org. 1817, 1st class 1850/9. REGULAR.


  • 1834.  Tulane University, Medical Department, New Orleans.   Org. 1834.  REGULAR.


  • 1820.  Medical School of Maine, Bowdoin College, Brunswick.  Org. 1820, 1st class 1821.  REGULAR.


  • 1807.  University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore.  Org. 1807, 1st class 1810.  REGULAR.


  • 1782.  Harvard University, Medical School, Boston.  Org. 1782, 1st class 1783.  REGULAR.
  • 1824.  Berkshire Medical College, Pittsfield.  Org. 1824.  REGULAR.
  • 1845.  Worcester Medical College, Worcester, Mass.  Org. 1845–1859.   ECLECTIC.


  • None.


  • 1840.  Missouri Medical College, St. Louis.  Org. 1840, 1st class ca. 1845(?).  REGULAR.
  • 1841.  St. Louis Medical College, St. Louis.  Org. 1841.  REGULAR.
  • 1845.  Univ. State of Missouri Medical School, Columbia.  Org. 1845, 1st class 1846.  REGULAR.
  • 1859.  Homeopathic Medical College of Missouri, St. Louis Missouri.   Org. 1859.   HOMEOPATHIC
  • (1859).  4 others in St. Louis.  HOMEOPATHIC

New Hampshire

  • 1797.  Dartmouth College, Medical Department, Hanover.  Org. 1797, 1st class 1798.  REGULAR.

New Jersey

  • None???

New York

  • 1767.  College of Physicians and Surgeons, of NYC.  First estab 1767, Org. 1807, 1st class ca. 1811.  REGULAR.
  • 1812.  College of Physicians and Surgeons of Western New York, Fairfield.  Org. 1812.  REGULAR.
  • 1814.  New Medical Institute (Queens College).  Org. 1814, –1830.  REGULAR.
  • 1834.  NY Reformed Medical College (Eclectic), NYC.  Org 1834, –1838.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1831.  NY School of Medicine, NYC.  Org. 1831.  REGULAR.
  • 1830,  Auburn.  REGULAR.
  • 1830.  Geneva.  REGULAR.
  • 1838.  Albany.  REGULAR.
  • 1834.  N.Y. Reformed Medical College, NYC.  Org. 1834–1838.  REFORMED/ECLECTIC.
  • 1848.  Rochester Eclectic Medical College.  Org. 1848–1852.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1850.  Syracuse Medical College, Syracuse.  Org. 1850–1857.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1852.  Metropolitan Medical College, NYC.  Org. 1852–1862.  ECLECTIC.

North Carolina

  • 1796.  University of North Carolina, Medical Department, Chapel Hill.  Org. 1796, 1st class???  REGULAR.


  • 1817.  (Medical College), Columbus.  Van Kleeck initiated.  Short-lived?   REGULAR/REFORMED?
  • 1821.  Medical College of Ohio, Cinncinati.  Org. 1819, 1st class 1821.  REGULAR.
  • 1832.  Worthington Medical College, Worthington, OH.  Org. 1832.  REFORMED/ECLECTIC
  • 1834.  Worthington Medical College, Cinn,.  Org. 1834. REGULAR?
  • 1834.  Cinncinatti Medical College, Cinn.  Org. 1834.  REGULAR.
  • 1839.  American Medical College, Cinn.  Org. 1839.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1845.  Eclectic Medical Institute, Cinn.  Org 1845, 1st class 1845.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1856.  Eclectic College of Medicine and Surgery, Cinn.  Org. 1856, 1st class 1857.  ECLECTIC
  • 1835.  Willoughby University, Medical Department, Willoughby.  Org. 1835, 1st class ?
  • 1839. American Medical College (Eclectic), Cinn.  Org. 1839.  ECLECTIC.
  • 1840.  Botanico-medical College of Cinncinati, OH.  Org. 1840.  In 1850 the name was changed to Physio-medical college. BOTANIC.
  • 1849.  Homeopathic Hospital College, Cleveland, Ohio.  Org. 1849.  HOMEOPATHIC.


  • 1765.  Department of Medicine, Univ. of Penn., Philadelphia.   Org. 1765, 1st class 1768.  REGULAR.
  • 1826.  Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia.  Org. 1826, 1st class 1827.  REGULAR.
  • 1839.  Pennsylvania Medical College, Philadelphia. Org. 1839.  Extinct by time of Polk’s writings.  REGULAR.
  • 1848.  Hahnemann Medical College, Philadelphia.  Org. 1848, 1st class 1849.  HOMEOPATHIC.
  • 1848.  Homeopathic Medical College of Philadelphia.  Org. 1848.  HOMEOPATHIC.
  • 1859.  American Eclectic Medicine College, Phil, Pa.  Org 1859–1880. ECLECTIC.

Rhode Island

  • 1811.  University, Medical Department, Providence.Org 1811–1827.  REGULAR.

South Carolina

  • 1824.  Medical College of South Carolina, Charleston.   Org. 1824–1839.  REGULAR.
  • 1833.  Medical College of the State of South Carolina, Charleston.   Org. 1833.  REGULAR.


  • 1846.  Botanic-medical College, Memphis, Tenn.  Org. 1846–1860.  Mixed history, between Regular and Botanic.    Michael Gabbert, author of a history of Reformed Medicine in the Southern United States, suggests political problems had commenced around 1850. Articles published in 1850 in the Physiomedical Recorder (editor Alva Curtis, Illinois) confirm this.  John K. Bristow’s family genealogy demosntrates that the maternal side, Susannah Gabbert, wife of Elijah Bristow, was possibly a niece of Michael Gabbert, or slightly removed from the main family tree from his lineage (John K. could have taken a steamship to Memphis to be trained by him, but his ledger and the 1850 census suggest otherwise; the influences of Gabbert’s school and the Thomsonian popularity were evident.  Other evidence demonstrated that John was trained in Adams County by Edmund G. Browning, a travelling minister trained in Thomsonianism residing just a few miles west of the Warren IL residence John was in.)  BOTANIC.


  • 1818.  Castleton Medical College, Castleton.  Org. 1818, by Oct. 29th, 1818 State Act.1823.  University of Vermont,  REGULAR.
  • 1823.  Medical Department, Burlington.  Org. 1822, 1st class 1823.  REGULAR.
  • 1827.  Vermont Medical College, Woodstock.  Org. 1827.  REGULAR.


  • 1825.  Univ. Virginia Medical Department, Charlottseville.  Org. 1825, 1st class 1828.  REGULAR.
  • 1826.  Medical School Valley of Virginia, Winchester.  Org. 1826. REGULAR.
  • 1838.  Medical College of Virginia, Richmond.  Org. 1838, 1st class 1840.  REGULAR.

Washington, D.C.   

  • 1821.  National Medical College, Medical Department,   Columbia University.   Org. 1821, 1st class 1822.  REGULAR.

TOTAL:  40Regular, 32 Eclectic or Eclectic Reformed, 2 or 3 Botanic, and 9 Homeopathic colleges.


This information is from RL Polk’s Medical Directory of 1883. (Information about schools with years in red are added to Polk’s list.)   It is listed by State in alphabetical order, and within each state by time.  The time frame for this listing is prior to 1860, even though John initiated his apprenticeship years earlier, due to the possibility that some of these schools may have been unofficially opened earlier than reported to Polk, with future staff members offering training and education on the side.

In Illinois, the number of irregular schools was equal to the number of regular medical schools.  If we include the church-run medical schools operating south of midwestern Illinois, the two regular schools were outnumbered perhaps 2 to 1.  Next door in Indiana, the same situation existed, with regular schools either tied or outnumbered by the irregular schools.    In Ohio, the ratio of irregular schools to regular schools was well beyond that 2:1 ratio.  Ohio was the heart of irregular medicine prior to 1850, and quickly became a state where you could go to learn whatever kind of medicine you were interested in. 

Residing in western Illinois close to the border of Iowa, the closest school he could attend to learn regular medicine was in Chicago.  The second closest school was possibly in New Albany, Indiana, but that school might have been closed about this time.  There were also unstable schools in Ohio, around Cincinnatti, and one trying to open its doors in Memphis, Tennessee.  The Ohio school in Worthington was the most traditional and classic of nonb-allopathic schools.  When Wooster  Beach, the creator of the Reformed Medical profession, was forced to leave New York City around 1826-8 due to locals storming his small school due to medical, political unrest, he went out west and was offered a new opportunity to teach his profession by the Worthington school.  The reformed medical practice and the school at Worthington took off in terms of publicity, support and finances during the mid 1840s.  It is for this reason in fact that John Kennedy Bristow’s mentor, Dr. Edmund Browning, was able to earn his MD degree and two or three years later become John’s and Massie’s master or teacher of medicine.

A close look at the history of these schools shows that there was this school in Indiana in 1848, which removed further west to Rock Island by Spring 1849, and from there to Davenport, Iowa later that same year, before being assimilated by the school in Keokuk by 1850.  This is the only possible school Bristow could have attended to learn medicne, during which time it would have only taken 6 weeks for him to learn and be certified in the most popular form of medicine for the time in these types of schools– botanic medicine.  But Bristow didn’t learn his medicine this way, he learned Botanic Medicine as it was taught to him by Edmund Browning, who was probably trained in Botanic Medicine, even if this training was not received from the most traditional Botanic program for the time–that of Alva Curtis.

A third possibility involves the new school trying to open its dorrs in Memphis, Tennessee.  It ends up that a close relative of John was apparently in charge of initiating that program–Michael Gabbert, one of his mother’s, Susan Gabbert’s (Susan nee Gabbert mar Bristow’s) relatives.  There is good evidence telling us the story of the political turmoil this school was then facing between 1848 and 1855.  This evidence suggests this school was almost opened in Spring of 1850, but due to staff differences regarding what it would practice, was never able to fully engage in any new MD program. (This is covered elsewhere under Bristow.)   So, John did not take a boat down to Memphis to learn udner his uncle is essentially what is being state here.  The Memphis area, because it was a growing city-like setting, began to demonstrate some medical political influences by the most influential sect for the time in medicine–allopathy.  But due to its heritage and Bible Belt location, and the related cultural beliefs of this region, allopathy was losing out to the more sanative forms of healing.  Michael Gabbert was caught in the middle of this belief-based web of opposing physicians groups.  Dr. Gabbert himself was obviously pro-Thomsonian, or perhaps more clearly stated, pro-Eclectic, in which a little of the pro-Thomsonianism philosophy existed, a philosophy typical of the 1845 to 1855 time frame.  (Later on, Gabbert wrote a book on the history of Thomsonianism and Eclecticism, focuing on the southern states.) 

Memphis was perhaps a boundary marker for allopathy, across which allopathy tended to fail in its attempts to dominate the medical profession and its beliefs.  This would explain why the St. Louis history was so rich in alternatives, with many more non-allopathic schools that allopathic schools.  This was surely a time when allopathy was failing both politically and financially.  Only the legal system is what kept this profession’s head above the water of the Mississippi about this time, even though the practices of allopaths were still, overall, very unhealthy and more likely to cause deaths than the practices of its alternatives.

So, based on the above political histories, local history, and John Bristow’s writings regarding his practice,  it is safe to say that John Bristow became a practicing Botanic Practitioner, with a large amount of his initial training in Thomsonian practice, the evidence for which is found in Bristow’s ledger in the form of heavy use of Numbers 1, 2 and 6 remedies, the most popular medicines for the time for any Thomsonsonian practitioner.  But there was also some evidence of non-Thomsonian remedy use.  Therefore, Alva Curtis’s teachings and the teachings of some parallel followers, individuals who maybe wanted to combine Thomsonianism with some of the regular medical techniques, might also be the dominant philosophies of Drs. Browning and Bristow’s practices.  This would help define why Bristow later made more heavy use of some substances we so not expect to see used as a part of Thomsonianism, such as the purified quinine with cinchona as a adjunct, just in case the quinine alone is insufficient due to some lack in a vital force type ingredient.  John also made use of a mineral remedy or two not in Thomson’s writing.  He had to learn about this remedy from someone, somewhere, who himself was also not a pure Thomsonian since he knew about this remedy (Dr. Browning being the non-Thomsonian purist being implied here).

It seems likely that due to religious upbringing, the politics of Thomsonianism for the time in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, westward to Iowa. and the background of John and Edmund’s family upbringing, that John was taught some method that made cautious use of some allopathic remedies, and totally disallowed the allopathic practices of bleeding, heavy use of mineral remedies, increasing use of purified chemicals extracted from drugs such as the mercurials, and the overadministration of opium and its relatives.  The Thomsonian trine-based philosophy of ‘puke, purge, sweat’ could be easily followed as one of the basic tenants to treating all patients, followed by the administration of medicines as needed for adherence to natural healing or sanative concepts.  Instead of using mineral remedies, plants are used even though they are theoretically weaker.  Minerals are also avoided in order to prevent the possible poisoning of someone with a remedy designed to counter the natural events of an illness.  You don’t want to stop a fever from progerssing, you want to encourage it along and promote the sweat, so the body will cool off and the cause for the fever will finally depart the body or go away.

There are diseases that today we conceive of as being totally unrelated.  The fever is simply a symptom of numerous bacterial and viral induced disorders.  This was not the viewpoint by John and other physicians of his time.  There was some understanding of animalcules, worms, and the like as possibly causing diseases, but it was the strength of the human body of the patient so malafflicted, and the state of the environment around that person, that were the primary causes for illness.  One could have a weak temperament and inheritance in terms of body physiology and mechanics, and so be liable to becoming ill.  One could also expose himself/herself to potential disease causing agents, by living next to putrid swamplands, engaging in an occupation that requires you spend too much time in a poor work environment, or commonly partaking in activities that are not health-promoting, but only disease promoting, ranging from drinking in excess to galavanting around the dry plains far too many times per month, instead of regularly going to church.

Such was the belief of John Kennedy Bristow.  You, your family and friends were in some way responsible for your health, and for the means needed to maintain your stable state of health.  Will, and the choices you made when it came to devotion to the church and the kinds of behaviors you would engage in were the two parts of you that had the greatest impact upon your overall health and lifespan.