Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace


Who were some self-trained medical practitioners during slavery?

There were many self-trained practitioners during the slavery period. As early as 1740, a fugitive slave named Simon was identified as a “doctor among his people.” He was able “to bleed and draw teeth.” Another, Joseph Ferguson, a barber in Richmond, Virginia, was a competent leecher and cupper, and later on studied and practiced medicine. Midwifery and folk cures, practiced in the slaves’ former homeland of Africa, were common practices. There were also black pharmacists; for example, Wilcie Elfe of Charles, South Carolina, kept a prescription book dated 1853, which showed that he formulated many drug recipes. His drunkard master trained him and he became so proficient that he managed his master’s drug store. Elfe’s patented drugs were sold throughout South Carolina. While some slaves who were medical practitioners were so respected by their masters that the masters permitted them to buy their freedoms, others became so famous for their remedies that their masters actually granted them freedom. For example, Sir William Gooch of Virginia reported, in 1729, that a very old black man who performed “wondrous cures of diseases” sold his concoction of roots and bark in return for his freedom. Likewise, the General Assembly of South Carolina freed a black practitioner named Cesar, for discovering a remedy to cure rattlesnake bite. He was also granted an annual stipend of one hundred pounds of sterling for publishing his prescription in the South Carolina Gazette on February 25, 1751, so that the general public could benefit from his remedy. His cure was widely publicized beyond the state, appearing in the press in Philadelphia and in Massachusetts.


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