Samuel A. Cartwright

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Samuel A. Cartwright
Samuel Cartwright
Born Samuel Adolphus Cartwright
(1793-11-03)November 3, 1793
Fairfax County, Virginia
Died May 2, 1863(1863-05-02) (aged 69)
Jackson, Mississippi
Nationality American
Citizenship Confederate States of America
Education University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Occupation physician
Known for coining "drapetomania"
Spouse(s) Mary Wren

Samuel Adolphus Cartwright (November 3, 1793 – May 2, 1863) was a physician who practiced in Mississippi and Louisiana in the antebellum United States. Cartwright is best known as the inventor of the 'disease' of drapetomania and an outspoken critic of germ theory.[1][2] During the American Civil War he joined the Confederate States of America and was assigned the responsibility of improving sanitary conditions in the camps about Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana.


Cartwright was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, to Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cartwright. Prior to 1812, he began his medical training as an apprentice to Dr. John Brewer. Thereafter, he was apprenticed to Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia. He also attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Cartwright was at one time a surgeon under General (later U.S. President) Andrew Jackson.

He practiced medicine in Huntsville, Alabama (Madison County), then Natchez, Mississippi (Adams County), and finally New Orleans, where he relocated in 1858.

Dr. Cartwright married the former Mary Wren in 1825, and they had at least one child. He died in Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, two months before the surrender of Vicksburg to the forces of General Ulysses S. Grant.


Even though he had studied under the abolitionist Dr. Rush in Philadelphia, Cartwright contributed ideas and literature to those southerners who defended slavery. He is now most well known for describing a condition he called "drapetomania", or the desire to flee from servitude. This arose from a report commissioned from him by the Medical Association of Louisiana on "the diseases and peculiarities of the negro race", first published in 1851, and reprinted several times in the 1850s.

According to Cartwright, drapetomania is a mental disorder akin to alienation [madness]. He said that slaves should be kept in a submissive state and treated like children, with "care, kindness, attention, and humanity to prevent and cure them from running away." If they nonetheless became dissatisfied with their condition, they should be whipped as a prevention against running away.[3] In describing his theory and cure for drapetomania, Cartwright relied on passages of Christian scripture dealing with slavery.

Cartwright also described another disorder, "Dysaesthesia aethiopica", a disease "affecting both mind and body." Cartwright used his theory to explain the apparent lack of work ethic among slaves.[4] Dysaesthesia aethiopica, "called by overseers 'rascality'," was characterized by partial insensitivity of the skin and "so great a hebetude of the intellectual faculties, as to be like a person half asleep." Other symptoms included "lesions of the body discoverable to the medical observer, which are always present and sufficient to account for the symptoms."[5][6]

According to Cartwright, dysaesthesia aethiopica was "much more prevalent among free negroes living in clusters by themselves, than among slaves on our plantations, and attacks only such slaves as live like free negroes in regard to diet, drinks, exercise, etc." — indeed, according to Cartwright, "nearly all [free negroes] are more or less afflicted with it, that have not got some white person to direct and to take care of them."

In the antebellum period, southerners largely considered blacks to be racially inferior to whites. They sought "scientific proof" for their argument to counter the "human rights" claims of the abolitionists. Cartwright’s explanation concentrated on psychological issues of African Americans. In his Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race, Cartwright viewed blacks as people largely incapable of performing certain duties. His arguments were in line with those of such pro-slavery defenders as Thomas Roderick Dew of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and James D.B. DeBow, a southern magazine publisher. Cartwright contributed some fourteen articles to DeBow's Review between 1851 and 1862, primarily on sanitary conditions.

Cultural depictions of Samuel A. Cartwright

See also



  1. ^ Miller, Randall M.; John David Smith (1997). Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery. Westport: Praeger. ISBN 0-313-23814-6. 
  2. ^ Homoeopathic Medical College of Missouri (1888). The Clinical Reporter. 1. p. 320. Retrieved June 20, 2015. 
  3. ^ Cartwright, Samuel (1851). "Report on the Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race". DeBow's Review. XI. Retrieved October 4, 2007. 
  4. ^ Pilgrim, David. "Question of the Month: Drapetomania". Jim Crow Museum. Jim Crow Museum, Ferris State University. November 2005.
  5. ^ Paul Finkelman (1997). Slavery & the Law. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 305. ISBN 0-7425-2119-2. 
  6. ^ Rick Halpern, Enrico Dal Lago (2002). Slavery and Emancipation. Blackwell Publishing. p. 273. ISBN 0-631-21735-5. 


  • "Samuel Adolphus Cartwright", A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. 1 (1988), p. 157
  • Dictionary of American Medical Biography", Vol. 1 (1984)
  • Marshall, Mary Louise (1940). "Samuel A. Cartwright and States' Rights Medicine". New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. 93. 
  • Jackson, Vanessa (c. 2002). "In Our Own Voice: African-American Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in Mental Health Systems". Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  • "Thomas Roderick Dew". Defense of Slavery: Theorists of Racial Inequality. Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2015. 
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Cartwright, Samuel Adolphus". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 

External links

  • Drapetomania, the original article as printed in The New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. (Google Books)
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