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Colonial Health Care

As we head toward Thanksgiving, JLF’s Jordan Roberts has published a research brief on the health care to which the pilgrims would have had access. Roberts explains:

The patrons on board the Mayflower had two resources at their disposal. The first was a medical book, The Surgeon’s Mate: The First Compendium on Naval Medicine, Surgery and Drug Therapy (1617) was written on behalf of the East India Company by Dr. John Woodall, the first Surgeon General of England. The full text of the book is available online

The second resource was a couple, Deacon Samuel Fuller and his wife Bridget Fuller. Deacon Fuller could read the book and apply it. Deacon Fuller would become the surgeon of the Plymouth Colony, and his wife assisted him. She was in practice until 1663.

Roberts cites a section of the book to give insight into how far medicine has come:

On the Head-saw – The Head-saw is an instrument with which a vent may be given sometimes through the Cranium, and thereby the use of the Tra?pan may be happily forborn: and for that reason this instrument may have a place in the Surgeons Chest: sometimes also a small ragged piece of the Cranium may so hang, that this instrument may be used to sawe it away. But I wish young Artists not to be over-busie in* sawing, plucking away, or raising the fractured Cranium, as is said, more then of mere necessitie they are argued unto, lest fearfull and suddain accidents follow, not to be avoyded not stayed: If ought be meerly loose, and in sight, take that away; if not, forbear to pluck much at first, for nature is exceeding beneficiall in eiecting unnaturall things in that part, and very froward if thou use force whilest she is weak her self.

Roberts writes:

Thanks to the innovation and hard work of so many medical professionals over the centuries, we have advanced far beyond the medical knowledge that the Pilgrims had. Thanks to human ingenuity, we have a broad understanding of healing and the way the human body works. During this year’s Thanksgiving, we should be thankful for spending time with friends and family. We should also be grateful that, comparatively, we live in the most medically advanced period in human history.

Read the full brief here. Read more from JLF’s Thanksgiving 2019 series here.

Brenee Goforth / Marketing and Communications Associate

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