THE design of the conference reported here was based on two premises: one was that the history of medicine does not exist in an isolated vacuum, that it is but one part of the continually evolving story of all aspects of man’s life; the other was that a large body of original new work concerned with medicine in colonial New England has begun to emerge over the past few years.

    For some years, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts has convened conferences at which distinguished scholars have been able to exchange ideas and data. Richard J. Wolfe, an active member of the Society, and, as Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Boston Medical Library, a long-time observer of new developments in medical historical research, conceived the idea of an interdisciplinary conference on colonial New England medicine. He enlisted an ad hoc planning committee which, in December 1976, decided that it would be appropriate to ask the Colonial Society to sponsor such a meeting. The late Walter Muir Whitehill, then the Editor for the Colonial Society, was enthusiastic about the proposal.

    The committee agreed that the conference should blend seasoned and younger historians, and physicians, so that each group would be able to provide the others with appropriate anchors in complementary fields of study. In addition, the conferees were asked to report as much new material as possible, so that the published proceedings could be regarded as a summary “progress report” on current research in colonial medicine. Finally, the proceedings would also include sufficient appendices and other raw data to help fuel future studies. Mr. Whitehill’s endorsement of the committee’s consensus persuaded the Council of the Society to sponsor the proposed conference, and the next year was devoted to detailed planning.

    The ecumenical nature of the approaches reflected in the diverse origins of the conferees was designed to elicit at least preliminary answers to a number of relatively new questions: (1) Who were the practitioners of medicine in colonial Massachusetts? How were they defined, and what were their gradations, if any? (2) What was their role in colonial society, and how were the maintenance and restoration of health viewed in that society? (3) What did the “average practitioner” of medicine actually do while performing his day-today professional chores? Can we assess the impact he made on the health of his patients? (4) What role did science in the late eighteenth century play in medical therapeutics? And to what extent did that science differ from the science of today? (5) Was there a distinctive New England medical tradition? If so, how did it differ from those of other areas, especially Philadelphia? What were its origins, and how did it evolve? (6) How do the standard accounts of colonial medicine fare today, in the light of new research? To what extent do earlier medical historical generalizations still hold true, and for what aspects of medical and social organization? (7) And, finally, what are some of the previously untapped sources of proven or potential use to medical historians?

    The twelve speakers and a number of invited guests spent two gracious days at the Club of Odd Volumes on Mt. Vernon Street in Boston on 25–26 May 1978, where our de facto host, representing the Colonial Society, was Sinclair H. Hitchings, of the Boston Public Library Print Room. Three formal papers were given at each of the two morning and two afternoon sessions. The participants adjourned to the Colonial Society’s nearby headquarters house for the final session. The coffee, cocktail, luncheon, and dinner periods all provided ample and pleasant opportunities for informal discussions of the papers that had been presented and for expanding our horizons beyond them. As had been expected, several new papers and joint projects also evolved during the two days, justifying the planners’ hopes for a long-lasting cross-pollination effect.

    The papers presented here are representative of current research in the medical history of colonial Massachusetts, even of all colonial New England. The contributors form a cross-section of researchers in the field: physicians, medical faculty, and historians working in all kinds of milieus, including both universities and learned societies. The papers, too, represent different kinds of history, exemplified by anecdotal, chronological narratives, by studies of the relationships among medicine and its practitioners and their institutions and their patients, and by quantitative analyses of numerical data.

    After the conference, and with the approval of the Colonial Society, the task of preparing these proceedings for publication began. Philip Cash of Emmanuel College became the principal editor, assisted by Eric H. Christianson of the University of Kentucky and J. Worth Estes of the Boston University School of Medicine, while Richard Wolfe continued as the “Executive Officer” for the project; they and George E. Gifford, Jr., had formed the original planning committee. The editors also sought to add as many new photographs as possible; David Gunner of the Warren Museum at the Harvard Medical School helped select materials to be photographed and then took many pictures especially for this volume, while Stephen Borack took many others.

    The conference participants were given an opportunity to revise or even amplify their papers after the conference, especially if they thought it necessary in the light of any new evidence that might have been presented by other conferees. Because of the very diversity of methodological approaches that had been sought for in the conference, the editors expected to find divergence of opinion and interpretation, as well as a certain degree of unevenness of presentation, among the papers submitted for publication. Consequently, the editors decided that they would limit their task to insuring, when possible, the correctness of factual evidence and the relevance of conclusions based on it that had been presented. In accomplishing this task, they did seek clarifications of ambiguous data from each author, and even new appendices that they thought would be helpful to future students of colonial New England and its medicine. In addition, the editors attempted to provide appropriate cross-references to other papers in the published volume.

    In general the editors did not ask authors to make purely stylistic changes except for those necessary for maintaining technical continuity among the papers (e.g., in bibliographic format, although the Colonial Society was asked to assume responsibility for insuring uniform citation style), or those necessary to each author’s apparent intentions. The perceptive queries of Frederick S. Allis, the present Editor for the Colonial Society, and of the keen-eyed staff of The Stinehour Press have greatly facilitated the editorial process. Before they even began their work, the editors agreed that all their queries to conference participants must be results of unanimous decisions. Even the Introduction is a joint responsibility, although each editor was charged with drafting a specific portion. Finally, biographical notes were limited to each participant’s academic background, his current primary appointments, and his published monographs that are most relevant to the content of this volume.

    That we did obtain at least partial answers to many of our original questions, in a variety of formats, will be seen in the following pages. It is perhaps even more important that the gaps in the syntheses presented here will provide new guidelines for ascertaining the necessary scope and directions of future studies. We hope that other students of colonial medicine will share our gratitude to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, to Richard Wolfe, and to the Commonwealth Fund for a generous grant. Together they have made possible an unusual opportunity to test some ancient hypotheses, and to develop new models, as we run the gauntlet from mythology to history.

    The Editors