250 YEARS AGO, JOHN BARTRAM WAS SICK

February 8, 2017
Pete Prown

John_Fothergill_1712-1780 (1)As it’s February, many of us are down with a cold or flu, as is normal for this time of year. Exactly 250 years ago, in the winter of 1767, John Bartram was also ill.

We have a letter written to him on January 8th of that year by the esteemed English doctor and botanist, John Fothergill, offering some transatlantic medical advice.

“I am informed by our mutual friend Peter Collinson [Bartram’s English partner in the seed trade] that since thy return from Florida, thou has been much indisposed. I shall be glad to assist in removing it.”

In the remainder of the letter, Fothergill suggests several 18th-century treatments. Among them included blood-letting (“lose a few ounces of blood from the arm“); dealing with constipation (“about half a tablespoonful of Tincture of Husa Peisa … in beer, wine, or water“); and a note to keep his arms and legs “very warm.”

These are primitive remedies by modern standards, but you have to admire Dr. Fothergill’s attempt to aid his gardening friend from across the Atlantic Ocean.

Considering that John Bartram lived another decade, it seems that the good doctor’s advice worked!

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