quack medicine

In the matter of the negro quack.

At the end of their monthly meeting on 2 December 1889, the esteemed doctors of the  Wilson County Medical Society tentatively tackled a sensitive subject. The notes described the matter vaguely: “The society engaged in a private discussion concerning the practice of a negro quack in the town of Wilson, no action was taken but the matter was continued to the January meeting for further consideration.”

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By the January meeting, however, a crisis had arisen. The “negro quack” was tending to the county sheriff, Jonas W. Crowell, and someone had told Crowell that the Medical Society was secretly discussing the matter. (Was “negro quack” code for “root doctor“?) Dr. William S. Anderson was accused of being the snitch and of having put Dr. C.E. Moore in a bad light. Moore moved for a special session to get to the bottom of the matter.

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Eleven physicians showed up for the inquisition. Several testified that discussion at the December meeting was to have been kept strictly private. Dr. Herring averred that he had learned some time after the meeting that Crowell had been told, and he “took steps” to ferret out the identity of Crowell’s informant. Crowell himself admitted in testimony that Dr. W.S. Anderson had told him that the doctors had censured him, but had not named names. Besides, Crowell said, he had already heard much the same thing from other sources. Dr. Ruffin testified that Crowell had told him “he supposed the Medical Society had its secrets and that he would not ask me if it had discussed the matter,” and Ruffin had told him he would not, but he had heard it “discussed freely about town.” Crowell had responded that he “was satisfied” that the Society had in fact discussed it and that “his conduct had been severely criticized” and that the doctors had proposed to “boycot him and his family by refusing to attend them.” After all evidence was introduced, the members voted on Dr. Anderson’s guilt. The vote tally was 5-5, whereupon Dr. Walter Brodie moved to just drop the whole thing. Carried.

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(On another note: On 7 July 1890, Dr. Albert Anderson read a paper on the spleen, a subject suggested to him by “a post-mortem on a negro boy whose spleen weighed 3 1/2 lbs and the dimensions were: 11 1/2 in long, 5 1/2 in wide and 3 1/2 thick. Just 8 times too large.”)

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Minutes of the Wilson County Medical Society, 1887-1891, copy courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.