“A Dictate of Both Interest and Mercy”?: Slave Hospitals in the Antebellum South
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 65, Number 1, January 2010
- pp. 2-47
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As a contribution to debates on slave health and welfare, this article investigates the variety, functions, and overall significance of infirmaries for the enslaved in the antebellum South. Newspapers, case histories, and surviving institutional records of antebellum Southern infirmaries providing medical treatment for slaves offer a unique opportunity to examine the development of modern American medicine within the “peculiar institution,” and to explore a complex site of interactions between the enslaved, physicians, and slave owners. The world of the medical college hospital in South Carolina and an experimenting clinic in Alabama are reconstructed using newspapers and medical case histories. The Patient Register of the Hotel Dieu (1859–64) and the Admission Book of Touro Infirmary (1855–60) are used to highlight the types of enslaved patients sent to these two New Orleans commercial hospitals and to explore connections between the practice of medicine and the business of slave trading in the city. In addition to providing physicians with a steady income, slave infirmaries were key players in the domestic slave trade, as well as mechanisms for professionalization and the mobilization of medical ideas in the American South.