Thanksgiving: 5 Facts on Medical Practices of the Pilgrims in the New Colonies

Niamh Madigan

While reflecting on the meaning of thanksgiving, Pharma IQ looks back to the time of the 13 colonies where diseases like smallpox, plague and yellow fever meant short lives for the pilgrims living there

Here are 5 facts of medical practices at that time we’d like to share. While there’s much we can thank medicine for today, we continue to look for cures to many untreatable diseases and for ways to administer medicine fairly and globally.

  1. Surgery was often carried out by barbers as it was considered beneath the dignity of the trained physician
  2.  Two physicians who arrived with the Pilgrims to the colonies were the commander of the Mayflower, Miles Standish: a jack-of-all-trades, military man, explorer, engineer, interpreter, and merchant, as well as a physician and Dr. Samuel Fuller, who practiced as both a physician and surgeon.
  3. Doctors trained in English medicine used techniques based primarily upon the ancient Greek concepts of balance in the body, maintained with diet, herbs, and medicines. 
  4. Therapies used by conventional physicians commonly included bleeding, purging, blistering, and prescriptions of calomel, a form of mercury. 
  5. Surgeons did not gain a respectable status in the medical profession until 1745, officially separating from the barbershop as full-fledged doctors in their own right.