Public Health in Florida’s History:
testimony from Jacques LeMoyne
From 1564-1565 – 455 years ago – Jacques LeMoyne lived in Florida, recording life in a French Huguenot settlement near present-day Jacksonville.
LeMoyne’s drawings include a picture called “Mode of Treating the Sick,” which preserves a fascinating snapshot of Timucua natives protecting the public health in 16th-century Florida.
You should know that this picture and its caption contain graphic information and images that may not be appropriate for everyone.
You should also know that historians have raised questions about the ethnographic accuracy of this picture, and presented evidence that the publisher altered LeMoyne’s memoires to appeal to European readers in 1591.
Taking those caveats into account, we hope you will find perspective and inspiration in this moving picture and informative caption, showing Floridians from the 1500s working together to care for the sick and protect the public health.
Theater with a Mission (TWAM)
LeMoyne and Public Health
“Mode of Treating the Sick”
“Their way of curing diseases is as follows: They put up a bench or platform of sufficient length and breadth for the patient, as seen in the plate, and let the sick person upon it with his face up or down, according to the nature of his complaint; and, cutting into the skin of the forehead with a sharp shell, they suck out blood with their mouths, and spit it into an earthen vessel or a gourd bottle. Women who are suckling boys, or who are with child, come and drink this blood, particularly if it is that of a strong young man; as it is expected to make their milk better, and to render the children who have the benefit of it bolder and more energetic. For those who are laid on their faces, they prepare fumigations by throwing certain seeds on hot coals; the smoke being made to pass through the nose and mouth into all parts of the body, and thus to act as a vomit, or to overcome and expel the cause of the disease. They have a certain plant whose name has escaped me, which the Brazilians call petum, and the Spaniards tapaco. The leaves of this, carefully dried, they place in the wider part of a pie; and setting them on fire, and putting the other end in their mouths, they inhale the smoke so strongly, that it comes out at their mouths and noses, and operates powerfully to expel the humors.”
To learn more about public health in 1500s Florida, see Settlement of Florida, compiled by Charles E. Bennett and published by the University of Florida Press in 1968.
To learn more about how Florida’s past informs Florida’s present, visit www.theaterwithamission.com, and follow Theater with a Mission on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.