Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Vaughan to Thomas Jefferson, 16 April 1819

From Benjamin Vaughan

Philadelphia, April 16, 1819.

Dear sir,

After a little excursion, I returned to this city yesterday, & found that Dr Physick still continued unable to see me; but I have the pleasure to send his opinion, taken from his lips by the only person allowed to have access to him upon business. It is to the following effect.

‘Dr P. has seen several cases analogous to that in question, in elderly people; particularly if of a gouty disposition. He thinks it would be hazardous to attempt a cure. The best means of palliating will be by the use of an ointment of

{ red precipitate,
Venice turpentine,
corrosive sublimate,
butter, &

The parts most troublesome may be occasionally touched with this; & Dr P. has usually found it to afford great relief.—As a wash, Dr P. recommends a strong infusion of rue.

As to the constitutional disease, Dr P. can scarcely judge. He thinks however, that the regimen may be too stimulating. He would not forbid wine, but on the contrary advises it; but he would lessen the quantity, avoiding such as are acid. He thinks it of consequence to avoid all acids & all acescent food; & he recommends one or two tea-spoonfuls of prepared oyster shells, to be taken after every meal, with the view of correcting any acidity.’1

So far the communication from Dr Physick; to whom I forgot to make mention of the boil on the thigh.

I now take the liberty to add some intimations of my own.—First, to unload the vessels of the legs & knees, I presume to advise a tea made of the pyrola umbellata, called in the Eastern states winter green, and in Pennsylvania pipsisewa.—It is the herb which gave the principal relief to my old schoolfellow Sir James Craig, acting as a diuretic; & it has much relieved several of my country neighbors & others,2 by promoting urine.

Secondly; to open the pores, I beg to advise your having a few quarts of water at 76° of Fahrenheit poured over you, daily or every second day;3 wiping yourself immediately afterwards. My cousin Mr Rt Hallowell Gardiner has used this recipe by my advice with great success, for a bowel-complaint; and now often merely dashes upon himself a pint or quart of spring water at its usual temperature.4—Both practices will act as tonics:5 but I prefer the first plan for a patient advanced in life.

Thirdly, when the bowels are very troublesome, I would take 2 or 3 grains of rhubarb; & drink a wine6 glass of chalk & water, freed from its sediment & skimmings. This may be repeated day after day, if found necessary.

Should the pyrola umbellata & the course advised by Dr P. fail to remove the œdematous swellings in the lower extremities, I shall then request the favor of a line on the subject.

I am concerned that necessity has made it requisite to wait thus long, before fulfilling my promise.—As to what I have added, I think Dr P. would concur in it, were it proposed to him.

Respecting Dr Cooper, I waited till I learned that he had recd the letter addressed to him on the part of the Central University: but before I could find the moment for visiting him, he desired Mr Walsh to request me to call upon him, as he was still confined to his room. I went, & found both himself & Mrs Cooper disposed (as I thought) to obey your call.—I told him what I had seen & heard; & he seemed satisfied with my statements.—His having been at Carlisle had been of service to him.—To diminish his houshold cares, I recommended his having his dinner dressed by the College Cook; which may perhaps7 answer for some of the other Professors.—Since his pneumonic complaint, he has had a gouty attack.

I shall endeavor to send you some Swedish turnip seed from this place; & I have written for some to be sent you from Hallowell.

My son by his last letter had reached Fayetteville, on his way to Charleston.—He was to be the companion of Govr Middleton of Washington, who had to take the stage in consequence of having a lame horse.

I have seen Mr Short here, who desires me to present his compliments; having made many particular inquiries after yourself & all the members of your family.

Mr Bagot sets off to day for Annapolis; but has not heard from his frigate, since she went to Halifax to refit.

I will carefully return Cabanis on Catarrh, when I have had leisure to reperuse it.

Whenever you have occasion to command the services of our family, wherever dispersed, I trust that you will not fail to do it with the utmost freedom, knowing (as you do) their feelings & habits.

Should you have occasion to write to myself, you will oblige me by giving me the title of the French8 book on subjects of Natural History, which you so much value.

With my best respects to Mrs Randolph & the young ladies, I have the honor to be,
Dear sir,
Your respectful & faithful humble sert

Benjn Vaughan

I must send the above medicine by another post; & if possible the particulars of the recipe.

The Abbé Corea has just returned to Philadelphia, & talks (as he has before done) of visiting Maine.

RC (DLC); second postscript written perpendicularly in left margin; addressed: “To the Honble Thomas Jefferson, Monticello”; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 17 Apr.; endorsed by TJ as received 1 May 1819 and so recorded in SJL.

acescent: “acidic; sour” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Inconsistent closing double quotation mark editorially altered to a single one.

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Preceding five words interlined, with superfluous semicolon editorially omitted.

4Preceding four words interlined, with superfluous period editorially omitted.

5Remainder of sentence interlined.

6Word interlined.

7Manuscript: “may perhaps may.”

8Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • Bagot, Charles; British minister plenipotentiary to U.S. search
  • books; on medicine search
  • books; on natural history search
  • Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de; Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière search
  • butter; medicinal use of search
  • Cabanis, Pierre Jean Georges; Observations sur les Affections Catarrhales search
  • carriages; stagecoaches search
  • chalk; medicinal use of search
  • Cooper, Elizabeth Pratt Hemming (Thomas Cooper’s wife); mentioned search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); health of search
  • Cooper, Thomas (1759–1839); University of Virginia professorship proposed for search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; U.S. travels of search
  • corrosive sublimate (mercuric chloride); medicinal use of search
  • Craig, Sir James Henry; health of search
  • Gardiner, Robert Hallowell; health of search
  • gout search
  • health; boils search
  • health; bowel complaint search
  • health; catarrh search
  • health; edema search
  • health; gout search
  • health; pneumonia search
  • health; staphylococcus infection search
  • Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière (G. L. L. Buffon) search
  • horses; disabled search
  • household articles; turpentine search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books and Library; loans books search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; and wine search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; staphylococcus infection search
  • medicine; and tea search
  • medicine; books on search
  • medicine; chalk search
  • medicine; ointments search
  • medicine; oyster shells search
  • mercuric chloride (corrosive sublimate); medicinal use of search
  • mercuric oxide (red precipitate); medicinal use of search
  • Middleton, Henry; U.S. travels of search
  • natural history; books on search
  • Observations sur les Affections Catarrhales (P. J. G. Cabanis) search
  • oysters search
  • Physick, Philip Syng; and medical treatment for TJ search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); children of search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); greetings sent to search
  • red precipitate (mercuric oxide); medicinal use of search
  • rhubarb; medicinal use of search
  • rue (plant) search
  • rutabagas (Swedish turnips) search
  • seeds; rutabaga search
  • Short, William; sends greetings to Monticello search
  • staphylococcus; TJ infected with search
  • tea; medicinal use of search
  • tea; wintergreen search
  • turpentine; used in medicine search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and P. S. Physick’s treatment for TJ search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and rutabagas search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and T. Cooper search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; and TJ’s health search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; family of search
  • Vaughan, Benjamin; letters from search
  • Vaughan, Petty; travels of search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; T. Cooper as proposed professor search
  • Walsh, Robert; and T. Cooper search
  • water; medicinal use of search