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Title:medicine chest
Date Made:early to mid 19th century
Materials:leather, base metal: brass, tinned sheet metal; paint, wood, glass, cork, paper, ink, drugs, textile
Place Made:United States; New England (probably)
Measurements:overall: 6 1/2 in x 15 in x 9 in; 16.51 cm x 38.1 cm x 22.86 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2001.7
Credit Line:Mr. and Mrs. Hugh B. Vanderbilt Fund for Curatorial Acquisitions
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Leather-covered, brass-studded medical chest with a red-painted interior, which was used by Dr. Horatio Arnold Hamilton (1778-1850) of Enfield and Somers, Connecticut and came with his saddlebags (HD 2001.6). Horatio was the eldest son of Dr. Asa Hamilton (1758-1801) originally of Brookfield, Massachusetts, who moved to Somers, Connecticut, in 1779. Horatio and his two brothers, Theodore (1781-1808) and Joshua (1784-1814), received the majority of their medical instruction from their father, who was described at the time of his death as "an eminent surgeon and physician." Horatio practiced briefly in Sandisfield, Mass., returning to Somers in 1800 and practicing medicine in the Somers/Enfield area until 1850; the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford has portraits of Horatio and his first wife, Elizabeth Bement (1775-1839) who married in 1798. A contemporary rural physician was expected to have a working knowledge of many specialities, which is evident in the contents which came with this chest appraised at the time of Hamilton's death at $2. The lid is fitted for surgical tools such as amputation or trepanation (boring) instruments; the box is lined with 24 inside leather pockets holding glass vials sealed with cork plugs and glass stoppers. The chest contained several small, unidentified tin pill cannisters, glass bottle, and 53 paper pockets bound with string and inscribed the contents on the outer wrappers. Many of his medicines (see complete list in data file) required an understanding of the then-popular theories of the four principle humors and their associated elements - yellow bile (fire), black bile (earth), phlegm (water), and blood (air). These 'humors" required balancing, and the medicines most commonly used to restore balance in ailing patients were botanicals such as the "Tincture of Rhei," "Peruvian bark," "Cascarilla" and "Gentian" found in this chest. The identification of "digitalis" (foxglove) in 1785 by William Withering spurred intensive research into botanical remedies and their uses, and theories of the four humors were slowly abandoned, replaced by analysis of the specific healing properties of the botanicals. For example, tincture of 'Rhei' or rubarb, is a purgative; Peruviana bark, an astringent used to reduce fevers and treat malaria; Gentian, a digestive stimulant, an anti-inflammatory; and Cascarilla, an astringent. Several Native American remedies were also found in the chest including extract of boneset used to induce sweating and vomiting and treat symtoms of malaria, yellow fever, influenza and colds; and Virginia snakeroot to reduce fevers and treat poisoning. Horatio Hamilton's inventory also noted that he had more than 60 medical texts covering a range of medical thought from midwifery to children's illnesses; he also had copies of the "Boston Medical and Surgical Journal," "Medical News," and "Braithwaite's Retropectives." In 1830, Horatio left a message in foundation of the chimney of the house he was building for his son, Dr. Horatio Asa Hamilton (1799-1839) with a family history and the following statement: "I lived in a day when thirteen states only existed, and many of these thinly settled, since which the savage wilderness has been prostrated and twelve new large states added to the Union. I lived in the days of the great French revolution, when Louis XVI, their King, and Marie Antoinette, his wife, were beheaded, and thousands followed them by the stroke of the guilotine; when Napoleon Bonaparte usurped the throne of France, and with his numerous armies spread terror thoughout the world and made European kingdoms totter, by him the greatest battles ever fought, that modern warfare ever beheld, at last obliged to flee on board his enemies' ship and be carried to the island of St. Helena, and there die an exile. I lived to see Spanish South America free themselves by revolution and a long bloody war from the yoke of Spain, their champion and liberator is Simon Boliver."


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