George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 24 February 1768]

24. Went a ducking between breakfast & dinner & killd 2 Mallards & 5 bald faces. Found Doctr. Rumney here at Dinner who staid all Night. Mr. Magowan returnd.

Rumney had come to see GW’s stepdaughter, Martha Parke Custis, who was known as Patsy (Patcy) to her family and friends. Now 11 or 12 years old, Patsy had suffered from epilepsy at least since the age of 6, and with the beginning of her adolescence, the malady showed no signs of abating (receipt from James Carter, 12 April 1762, ViHi: Custis Papers). On this occasion Rumney prescribed 12 powders of unidentified composition, “a vial of Nervous Drops,” and a package of valerian, a drug that was thought to be useful in controlling epileptic spasms (receipt from William Rumney, 18 Feb. 1769, ViHi: Custis Papers; hooper description begins Robert Hooper. Lexicon-Medicum; or Medical Dictionary; Containing an Explanation of the Terms in Anatomy, Botany, Chemistry, Materia Medica, Midwifery, Mineralogy, Pharmacy, Physiology, Practice of Physic, Surgery, and the Various Branches of Natural Philosophy Connected with Medicine. New York, 1826. description ends , 981). But these medicines, and the many others that would be tried in the future, could not relieve Patsy’s condition. She was beyond the help of eighteenth-century physicians, and much to the dismay of her family, epileptic attacks would plague her at frequent intervals until one caused her death in June 1773.

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