The Kingsbridge Plot

Town Life,
page 10 of 14

They were constantly eloping with their masters’or mistresses’wardrobes, sometimes with portions of both, and setting up as gentlefolk on their own account. We find one Jersey girl running a fine rig: dressed in a velvet coat and scarlet knee-breeches, with a sword, cocked hat, periwig, and silken hose, she had a gay carouse in New York tap-houses and tea-gardens, as long as her stolen twenty pounds lasted; but with an empty stomach, she ceased to play the lad, and went sadly to the stone ketch. I turn regretfully from the redemptioners; they were the most picturesque and romance-bearing element of the community.

But little is known of the early practice of medicine in New Netherland, less than of the other American colonies, and that little is not of much importance. It must be remembered that the times were what Lowell has felicitously termed the twilight through which alchemy was passing into chemistry, and the science of medicine partook of mysticism. Astrology and alchemy were not yet things of the past. From the beginning of the settlement the West India Company paid a surgeon (Jacob Varravanger was the name of one) to live in New Amsterdam and care for the health of the Company’s “servants.” But soon so many “freemen” came — that is, not in the pay of the Company — that some doubts arose in the minds of the Council whether it would not be better to save the salary, by trusting to independent practitioners. There were three such in New Amsterdam in 1652. They made pills and a terrible dose of rhubarb, senna, and port-wine, called “Vienna Drink.” But folk were discouragingly healthy in the little town in spite of poor water, and lack of drainage, and filth in the streets, and the Graft. Van der Donck said, “Galens have meagre soup in that country; “and soon the poor doctors, to add to their income, petitioned the Director that none but surgeons should be allowed to shave people. This was a weighty matter, and after profound consideration, the Council gave the following answer:—

“That shaving doth not appertain exclusively to chirugery, but is only an appanage thereof. That no man can be prevented from operating herein upon himself, or doing another this friendly act, provided that it be through courtesy, and that he do not receive any money for it, and do not keep an open-shop of that sort, which is hereby forbidden, declaring in regard to the last request, this act to belong to chirugery and the health of man.”


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