1. Samuel Thomson was born in the town of Alstead, State of New Hampshire, February 9, 1769. His early life was spent in hard labor upon a farm, and his education was limited. He commenced medical experiments when about ten years of age by vomiting his playmates with lobelia, and afterward became as is known, the champion of this herb. He married Susanna Allen, of Surrey, New Hampshire, July 7, 1790. His medical investigations commenced in the treatment of his own family, and then he began to gather roots, herbs and barks and to practice empirically in the families of his neighbors. That he also studied the medical literature of his day is evident from his publications, although he delighted in believing himself entirely independent, and was very caustic and aggressive towards the Regular Medical Profession.
In due course of time, Thomson became known outside his immediate neighborhood. Thus, in 1805, he made a professional trip to Richmond, in 1806 was called to New York City to use his "treatment" on Yellow Fever, and in 1807 to Vermont. After this he traveled considerably over the New England States, and eventually through the West in the practice of his peculiar theory.
During these trips his combative nature led him continually into heated arrangements of members of the Regular Medical Profession, who bitterly denounced his treatments, resulting finally in an open charge of murder against him in 1808, for "sweating (see note *, p. 85) two children to death," and again, in 1809 for killing a certain Captain Trickey, who Thomson declared that he had not treated at all. Finally, in 1809, a Dr. French, between whom and Thomson there had long existed an intense animosity, preferred charges, and Thomson was arrested for the wilful murder of a young man named Lovel, who had died under his attention. Dr. French charged that he "did kill and murder the said Lovel with lobelia, a deadly poison."
Thomson was thrown into prison at Newburyport, Massachusetts, November 10, 1809, where he remained suffering the severe cold of that country without fire or comfort until December 10th, when he was taken to Salem, Mass., for trial, his friends having succeeded in inducing Judge Theophilus Parsons to hold a special session of the court. However, owing to sickness of the Judge, his trial did not occur until December 20th. The prosecution seemed to base their charges on the fact that the powder given Lovel was lobelia, a Dr. Howe testifying to that effect. The defense showed, however, that Howe was not acquainted with lobelia, and also that the powder Drs. Howe and French thought to be lobelia was marsh rosemary root. (Thomson asserts that this was what he administered). Finally the court acquitted Thomson, without, as he claims, an examination of his witnesses. However, Tyng's Reports, vol. vi., states that on the claim of ignorance only did the Judge instruct the jury to acquit Thomson, and our view of the treatment as shown by the report is to the effect that both lobelia and the marsh rosemary were administered.
This was the memorable "Trial of Thomson," but it did not end the assaults of his adversaries. Thomson entered suit for damages against Dr. French, March, 1810, and failed in his prosecution, losing much time and more than six hundred dollars of costs.
In 1811 a doctor in Eastport, Me., while Thomson was passing his office door, tried to kill him with a scythe, and it seems that even Thomson now became discouraged, for he writes: "I found I had enemies on every hand, and was in danger of falling by some of them. Everything seemed to conspire against me."
In March, 1813, he obtained a patent to protect on his system of medicine, known thereafter as "Thomson's Patent."
We find that although Thomson was very bitter regarding the Regular Profession generally, he spoke in the highest terms of Drs. Rush and W. P. C. Barton, of Philadelphia, with whom he had several interviews
Dr. Thomson died in Boston, Mass., 1843. after a tedious application of his own medicine, known as Thomson's Course, (see note 4, p. 85).
We have consumed considerable space in recording the principal points in the life of an exceedingly, energetic and zealous man, who boasted of his illiteracy, never attended a college, or received a lecture in medicine, but who created a lasting excitement in the medical world of America, and who still has many earnest followers under the name Thomsonians, although his methods of treatment are very much modified.
His life was marred by sufferings and quarrels. He was in a constant turmoil and fearlessly attacked his opponents, however high their positions. Defeat did not dishearten him, success nerved him to greater aggressments. Enemies arose within his camp towards his latter days and he met them as fearlessly as he did the "Regulars." We cannot, but admire the tenacity with which he adhered to his views and practice. If he had been permitted to receive a thorough education, and had been led to systematize his labors, his indomitable spirit and tenacity of purpose would have doubtless made him conspicuous among the pioneers of America, either within the medical profession or otherwise. It will yet be our duty to review Thomson's Theory in the practice of which it was claimed (1834) that thirty thousand persons were enrolled. They were then generally known as "Lobelia Doctors" "Heaters," "Steamers," and "Sweaters."
2. Samuel Thomson believed, "that all diseases are the effect of one general cause and maybe removed by one general remedy, is the foundation upon which 1 have erected my fabric." This is a positive statement, showing the views he held of the various disease expressions. The reader must not however, infer (as antagonists to Thomson misstated) that by the term "one general medicine" he meant a single drug. Upon the contrary, he used many drugs and he states, "all diseases might be cured by one general remedy or principle, applied in a great many forms as medicine."
Origin of Disease.—"I found that all diseases to which the human family were subject, were, however various the symptoms and different the names by which they were called, produced directly from obstructed perspiration."
Cause of Obstructed Perspiration.—"If there is a natural heat, there must be a natural perspiration." Obstructed perspiration "is always produced by cold or the absence of a suitable degree of natural vitality."
Heat is Life.—Arguing from the foregoing, Thomson announced the axiom that has since become attached to his followers: "Heat is life and cold is death." He did not perhaps mean this in a literal sense, but, he believed that a low temperature (cold) caused disease, and that fever a friend was an effect of cold. "The cold causes an obstruction and fever arises to remove it." This view is not peculiar. Perhaps, the religious of the Sun worshipers may be considered about the same. "Coffinism" of England was similar.
Canker.—In all Thomsonian works the name is conspicuous. Dr. Thomson believed that a "white feverish coat" was caused by cold and attached itself to the mucous membranes of the stomach and bowels. This he called canker. "Canker and putrefaction are caused by cold. If this growth of canker is not checked and removed, it will communicate with the blood, when death will end the contest between heat and cold." Dysentery is caused by canker in the bowels. The piles is canker below the reach of medicine in the usual way. What is called bearing down pains in women is from the same cause.
Object of Medication.—According to Thomson should be to produce a great internal and external heat to prevent the formation of canker and throw it to the stomach, and then to remove it from the stomach by emetics. Astringent in Thomson's opinion, combined with this secretion (bayberry and other like bodies); stimulants promote perspiration (capsicum, steam, etc.); emetics remove the canker from the stomach.
3. Thomson arranged his remedies into classes and numbered them, often individualizing a drug by making it the conspicuous member of a class. Thus, Emetics made Class No. 1, and lobelia being his great emetic was simply called "No. 1." He would say, 'then administer No. 1."
The classes were as follows;—Class No. 1, "Emetics, to cleanse the stomach, remove obstructions and promote perspiration," lobelia being typical.—Class No. 2, "Stimulants, to raise and retain the vital heat of the body, and promote free perspiration," capsicum being typical.—Class No. 3, "Astringents, to scour the stomach and bowels and remove the canker," bayberry and composition being typical.—Class No. 4, "Bitters, to restore digestion, and correct the morbid secretions of the blood and bile," hydrastis, populus, etc., being typical,—Class No. 5, "Restorative Tonic, compounded to correct digestion, and strengthen the stomach and bowels," wild cherry being typical.—Class No. 6, "Antiseptics, to give tone to the stomach and bowels, and prevent mortification" myrrh and a compound tincture of myrrh being his favorite. The familiar No. 6 of the present day, is modified from Thomson's formula.
The enemies of Thomson have asserted that he first administered No. 1, if that failed, used No, 3. and so on until through with the list if the patient still lived.
4. The following condensed accounts of the system of Thomson's Courses is taken from the American Vegetable Practice, by Mattson. In Thomson's works the directions are not so explicit as herein given, as it seems that he depended to an extent upon the personal instruction of himself or his agents.
Thomson's Course of Medicines.—1st. Give the patient a teacupful of hot bayberry tea, (No. 3,) then an injection of a cup and a half of an infusion of bayberry and a teaspoonful of lobelia. Sometimes the lobelia of this injecting fluid is increased and a teaspoonful of capsicum added.
2nd. When the injection has operated, a steam bath is to be applied to the patient and a second teacupful of bayberry tea. If he does not perspire freely, in ten minutes, give a third teacupful of tea, and add to this last a teaspoonful of capsicum. In about twenty minutes, remove the patient from the bath, and, into a warm bed (sometimes a cup of ice water was dashed over the person upon removal of sweat bath) with a hot stone to his feet.
3rd Add a heaping teaspoonful of powdered lobelia herb to a cupful of the capsicum and bayberry tea, give at one dose, or, infuse five teaspoonfuls of lobelia in a cup and a half of hot water and take in three doses even if each dose vomits.
4th After the vomiting ceases, a second steaming is administered, giving the patient a cup of hot ginger or composition tea while in the bath. Then if the patient "has sufficient strength" he may dress, and if not he must be put into a warm bed. This concludes the "course."
5th Bitters and tonics are then administered. If the malady is not cured the course must be repeated "Miss B—, of Lynn, Mass , took twenty-seven courses for a malignant disease of the stomach." "I knew a gentleman with dropsy to whom a course was administered once a week for nine months," etc.
This severe method of treatment gave rise to the dogeral once applied to Thomsonians:—
"I puke, I purge, I sweat 'em, And if they die, I let 'em"
Drugs and Medicines of North America, 1884-1887, was written by John Uri Lloyd and Curtis G. Lloyd.