By Mark Yokoyama
In a little brown notebook full of 18th century medical cures and other valuable information, many people are mentioned. Some are patients, some are doctors. Some are notable figures in St. Martin history; others we may never know.
Some remind us that there was a patient behind each treatment, like the woman Judy. She appears in the title of a remedy: “For the dry belly ache such as the woman Judy had”. Others invoke family names still common on St. Martin, like the pills to J.B. Gumbs “to act on the liver”.
Some tell a story of inter-island connection. A number of cures are recorded from a Dr. Griffin from St. Kitts, and one from “the French Doctor Laguionie.” Others help us place the notebook in history. One medical recipe was “recommended for the man Will belonging to the Estate Mary’s Fancy”. This seems to show that this was written during the time of slavery.
Early in the notebook is a list of medicines delivered from New York to Mr. Lucas Percival. He was born around 1809 and died in 1877. He is best known as the owner of the Diamond Estate in Cole Bay. Just after emancipation was announced by the French, 26 enslaved persons left the estate to gain their freedom across the border. This escape showed that slaveholders on the Dutch side could not sustain slavery as it was. They were forced to make changes long before it was finally abolished by the Dutch in 1863.
Most of the cures in the first part of the book come from Dr. Allaway. Peter Welles Allaway was a surgeon who bought the Union plantation in Colombier in 1832. After French emancipation in 1848, Dr. Allaway was the first planter to sign a contract with free workers. Despite being a doctor, Allaway’s contract has a clause noting that he makes no commitment to providing medical care to the workers.
The “Remedy by Parson Hodge of Anguilla for cough and digestion” is noted as “good”. He is the Reverend John Hodge, who introduced Methodism to Anguilla and St. Martin. He was a free man of mixed race – a black mother and white father. He was also the first Caribbean person ordained by the Methodist Church. At the time, there was no doctor on Anguilla, so medicines were provided by the Methodist Missionary Society and care was given by missionaries.
One more name found in the book is not tied to the major historical changes in 19th century St. Martin, but is still important. Tucked at the bottom of the page is a short recipe: “Pills (by Doctor Allaway) prescribed by him for my daughter Anna Gumbes who had a catarrh, bilious fever and obstinate”.
Do you have an idea who the parents of Anna Gumbes are? Share it by writing in to The Daily Herald or firstname.lastname@example.org.