Welcome to The Sloane Letters Project
A pilot of this project, Sir Hans Sloane’s Correspondence Online, was first launched at the University of Saskatchewan in 2010 to coincide with the 350th anniversary of Sir Hans Sloane’s birth. The project was renamed The Sloane Letters Project when it moved to this site in 2016.
The correspondence of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) consists of thirty-eight volumes held at the British Library, London: MSS 4036-4069, 4075-4078. The letters are a rich source of information about topics such as scientific discourse, collections of antiquities, curiosities and books, patients’ illnesses, medical treatments and family history. Most of the letters were addressed to Sloane, but a few volumes were addressed to others (MSS 4063-4067) or written by Sloane (MSS 4068-4069).
So far, we have entered descriptions and metadata for Sloane MSS 4036-4053 and 4075, as well as several letters from each of the following: Sloane MSS 4054-4055, 4066, 4068-4069 and 4076. Several of these entries also include transcriptions. Further entries and transcriptions are being made available gradually.
Worthy Sr Your kinde Acceptance of my last and Desires of my Next, Obliges me to Proceed. I Observed in the Introduction to your Natural History of Jamaica page 106 you mention a Strange Disease in a Black Woman rotting her Fingers and Toes and Worst at full Change of ye moon; and that if Virulency of the Humour was such as to eat and Corrode the Bones of the Fingers and Toes soo as to Drop off wch is Matter of Fact What I have Seen: and is Certainly the most miserable Distemper yet known in the whole World for it does not only eat up all the fingers and Toes but also the Feet and Hands and at last kills them. This Distemper the Negroes Call Wassa and is said to be Peculiar to them and soo let I ever Remain amongst them and not infecting ther Parts and People as the yaws hath and doth doo. The Negroes tell as that as soon as any in their Country have it: they are Excluded from ye Conversation of Humans and that by either shutting them up Close in a House or Sending them into a remote and Distant Place their to Perish by themselves being lookt upon as a Sore and Heavy Judgment Upon them being noo Cure for it The first I saw was a Negro Woman that had this Distemper only in her Toes with Running Ulcers and in some processes of time it Corroded and East off all her Toes and not Stopping there eat into her foot and after some years Her Legg Swelled as bigg as Her body and Dyed: I Observed that at Some times She would be seemingly very Well and Brisk her Toes Dryed Up for Some months and not Broke out at Change and full as you Observed in Mr Thorwoods Negro: but all of a Sudden it would brake with that VIolen-ce that nothing Would stop it. The Poor Wretch had a Not-ice that eating of Fowles or Eggs would Accasion its breaking out and therefore for many years had Obstained from either but this must be a meer notion (although most Negroes are of this opinion) for it frequently Break out intil it killed Her notwi=thstanding the abstinance from Eggs and fowles. The Second that I saw that had this uncommon Miserable Distemper was a Negro Man, whose Fingers Toes and Part of His Feet and hands were eat off Many years aged, and nowseem to be stopt He living to be very Old and a Sad Spectacle; He was alive last year and about sixty years Old and Seem to be Hearty and comes to the Negro Market in St Iago Dela Vego every Sunday: The 3d Person I saw had this unparroled Distemper was A White Man and Master of a very Good Plantation, how He got it I Never Could understand it appeard Upon His fingers ends at first: He Tried all manner of means for a Cure, but all failing it was concluded to be the Negroes Wassa, and soon it Proved eating Up all His fingers Joint by Joint and at last killed Him; but this by the Way wch makes it ye more Strainge is that although He was Married and Got Children whilst this Distemper was Upon Him Never heard Any of them was infected with it. I also Heard of a White Woman that Labourd under this incurable Distemper wch is Certainly the Worst of Distempers there is an uncommon Disease called the Lyrronam Itch wch appears first as Red and hard knobs or Protuberances on the Joints of the fingers with a Great Itching and Sometimes Ulcerateing and not easy to be Healed but Sometimes Will Dry of themselves but still Remain Red and Knotty.
The Next Affrican Distemper you take Notice of if the yaws in a Negro Fellow in page 126 this is in all Respects is of a better Degree and quality than the Former because this may be Cured; wch the former Could not, as you Experienced, Neither by yt given inwardly or outwardly Applied with Sulphur Vivum, Unil: [?] Oxylapathum of the Dye of Sarfae Woofs etc: which are very Prevalent in this Distemper [The] first symptome is Violent Pains in all the Bones especially in the Arms and Leggs and whn it Brakes out they are easy or Fired from Pains This is soo common A Distemper in Affrica amongst the Negroes that Scarse any of them miss having it sooner or later in their life time in Manner as the Small Pox: and I am off the Opinion that this Distemper Called yaws was the Original of the Neapolitan or French Disease Moast ravly tainting the Seminal or Spermatick Vessels branch=ing out into ye Groin and Obscene parts first and then infecting the Mouth and Throat with a filthy eating Crusty Scab; Infants oft brings it into the World with them indicating its Original Spermatick Taint, and although Mercurial Medicaments have Cheifly been made use of for its infernal Discharge and Such as tho the Filthy Pox Requires yet in the yaws I have seen it often fail and Negroes hath Cured it by specifick Plants when Skillfull Physitians Could make noo Cure of them; and although I am of your Opinion that it is Gen
Generally Got by Copulation yet I have Seen Several Persons that was infects with it with out Copulation: I Know A Gentle Woman that had a Sore Thumb that Got it by handling and Playing with A Negro Pickanony that was Born full of it U have known some hath got it by Dressing of yawy Negroes and Severall that hath had Sores about them and Conversing with yawy Negroes hath been infected I know A White Child Born with it that Gave it the Nurs that only attend=ed it: a Large Treatise might be writ Upon that Subject there is what they Call two sorts of it; the Large Scab; and the small one not much bigger then great Pins Heads and very thick: this is the Hardest to Drive out and the Worst to Cure and if either Sorts are not first Well Drew out; or the Least Pain Remaines, you may Depend Upon it let them seem Never Soo Well they Will Brake out again Sooner or later: I always used to Wait for its Third time comeing out; and then an easy salivation would Performe a Cure. Or a Good Diet with China and Sarsa; and Cinnabar of Antimony; would effectually Cure it without Salivation: and what is most strainge is, that, any Person that once have had this Loathsom Leprous Disease; Never Getts it again, let them converse how they Will with Yawy Persons. You also Say that Some Sorts of this Distemper Seem to be the Elephantiasis or the True Leprosie. [Word scribbled over] Antions and A=rabian Physicians Spakes off: wch I take rather to be that Distemper, wch I have Seen Several Negroes have in their Leggs and feet; wch would be swelled as bigg as their bodys Rough and sull of Wrinkles like an Elephants Hyde with Great Warts like Barnicles and noo Sore or Breaking out of all: wch Distemper I Never Heard was Cured But as for the yaws and Pox There is an Old Negro Woman belonging to Madam Vassel in St Elizabeth Parish wch Never fail of Curing them Altho Never Soo Rotten (as it is Said) and that She can Cure the Wassa and that with only a Decoction made of Specifick Plant for these Deplo=rable Distempers; wch She would by noo means Discover for many years Neither by money no Good Words; until of late wch is now mad euse off by most Planters to Cure their Negroes of these Dreadfull Distempers (wch they say Never fails) and is Called by the Name of the Negro Woman that first made use of it; whose Name is Ma and by some it is Called Mocary Bitter, which I suppose from being found Growing in the Bay of Mocary Near Withy Woods Some Small time before I Left the Island of Jamaica this Plant was Showen to me where I Observed some of it to Grow in a little wood on the Left hand of the Road that Leads from St Iago dela Vego to Passafe Fort, it is a Small Tree with a lite Brown Bark like to Lance Wood (wch if I Mistake not, you Call it in your Catalogue) Laurus [?] folio Brevioro, flora race moso minoro I Never Saw the Flower of the Majos Plant: The Leaves in all Respect and like our English Ash of the Common or, its fruit is as big as out English Black B. or Damazen, but of a Pear Trashon [?], first Green, then of a most Buetifull Scarlet and when Ripe of a Shineis [?] Black Colour: containing a Glutinous yellow Gum or Juicy Pulp (like the Berries that Pomol Spakes off that the New Balsam is made from) in wch Pulp is continued four large seeds Triangular, wch when Joined makes a and figure: the Pulp and seed is of a Sweetish Bitter Taste, they Grow in Clusters Upon one Stalk hanging Down like Grapes, but not soo Close together, containing 50 or 60 Berries Upon one Stalk; Soo much for this Wonderfull and Admired Plant. I take Notice in Page 126 you also take Notice of Another affrican Distemper accasioned by a Worm Breeding in the Muscular Flesh of Negroes Something like the Lumbricus Terrostris, wch is Generally Called the Gainoa Worm and very common to New Negroes (and Some Say ketching) it ought to be managed with greate Care for if it Breakes within the Skin, their follows a Daingero-us, and Sometimes an incurable Ulcer: Soo as Some have Lost a Legg and Sometimes the Negro its Self: This Worm is Small and White in bigness of a Small Wyer [?] and Lyes in the Muscles quilted round in Manner of a quile of Rope (as I have Obser=ved when I have Opened the Part expected:) The Way the Negroes Got them out is to Poultise the Part with Cassador Bread and Hogg Fat until it Brakes and can Let the Worm, wch they take Hold of and Get one
Turne Upone the Quil of a Small fether and Still apply the Poultise and every day Draw a little at a time very Greatly, for fear of breaking it[.] Some Negroes Whissels all the time they Draw it out pretending they Get it out by that, wch is mear Deceate like the Oba or Doctor Negroes, make them believe when they are sick they Got out by Conjuration; Hair, Nails, Tooth, Pins, and Such like Trumpery out of their sides of the body; and they Fancy themselves well Upon it: But the Most Suerest and Safest Way of Curing them, hath been lately found out: by useing the Oil of what they Vulgarly and falsely Call Agnus Castus; wch is one of the Great Ricniuss, like our English Plama Christi; if the part be very Hard they take a little fine Cassador flower and mix with this Oil and make a Poultise applying it to the Part until it is Soft and Break; after which they Anoint or Embro=cate ye part with the Oil very Well every Day Applying over it one of the Leaves of ye Plant over it, which either Draws it out or consumes the Worm; and Heals the Part: This is What account I can give you at Pressent; of these Strange and uncommon Distempers; concludeing with all Due Respects, your most Humble, and Obedient Servant, to Command at all times Henry Barham Great Carter Lane London Jan: 29th. D: 1717/18
Read more- Letter 2261