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The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies

Introduction to the General Court Martial of Lieutenant Nathaniel Fitzpatrick

The court martial of Lieutenant Nathaniel FITZPATRICK of the Queen's Rangers is a bit of a departure from our normal fare on the site.

It presents a highly personal (perhaps some would say too personal) glimpse into the life of this particular Loyalist soldier. Lieutenant FITZPATRICK stood accused of behaving in a "Scandalous infamous manner" and that might be putting it mildly!

We will warn you in advance that this case contains testimony of an explicitly sexual nature, and we respectfully suggest that if you find that topic offensive, you may wish to take a pass on this one.

Nevertheless, it also provides a fascinating view of some of the social mores of the 18th Century related to sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.

We were naturally curious about the medical aspects of this case and the treatment of venereal disease in the 18th Century.

We turned to our friend, Mike Williams of the British Detached Hospital, a reenactment group, who is an expert on 18th Century medical practices.

Here are his answers to some of the questions we posed:

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Is the disease discussed in this case gonorrhea or syphilis?

My thinking is that the case refers to gonorrhea, since the symptoms of syphilis are not too noticeable to start out with. As the illness progresses, of course, one develops bad sores, rashes, problems with the joints and insanity.

Gonorrhea, on the other hand, is very noticeable: burning and pain when urinating, discharge of pus, and redness of the penile opening. In short, the kinds of things that would get your attention!

Mike referred to the disease as the "French Pox." We asked why this term was used.

Every good Loyalist knows that all bad things have to be from France!

In all seriousness, the disease was called in its turn the French, Spanish, Dutch, Russian and Turk's disease. It just depended on who you were talking to or about.

How was the disease treated in the 18th Century?

How do we treat the poor fellow or lass that suffers from Cupid's darts?

Well, there were many ways of dealing with this illness...

A Negro man in Virginia was given his freedom and a pension of 30 pounds Sterling settled on him for life for coming up with a cure that consisted of a decoction made of the bark of the Spanish oak, pine trees and "Shoemack Root" and an ointment made from hog fat and deer dung.

However, the most popular course of treatment was that which was given to James BOSWELL, the biographer of Samuel JOHNSON.

In 1763 BOSWELL came down with gonorrhea.

The doctor Andrew DOUGLAS, a good friend of BOSWELL, treated the case by confining the patient to his room, rest, skimpy diet, medicines and bloodletting. (BOSWELL, always the Scot, hoped for free treatment; Dr. DOUGLAS, however, charged him five guineas.)

Several of the witnesses in this case make reference to going "to town" or "to the country" to get cured. Why was that?

BOSWELL also told most of his friends that he had gone to the country, no doubt because all types of medical care were not something one discussed in proper company, especially when dealing with this kind of illness.

Did any of the treatments really work?

BOSWELL suffered from high fevers, pain and swelling for five weeks after which the illness was reduced to a scanty discharge. At that time Dr. DOUGLAS discharged him as being cured.

This is typical of the 18th Century medical mindset. After all, if the symptoms are gone the disease must be also!

In reality, of course, the disease was just lying in wait to return at a later time.

He had 16 more attacks later, and for treatment for these he was taking Kennedy's Lisbon Diet Drink containing sarsaparilla, sassafras, licorice, and guaiac wood and costing half a guinea a pint.

His urinary passages needed irrigation with vitriol, nitrous acid, mercury salts and lead.

On 31 January 1770 he wrote "Earle's: sounded: almost fainted." The inevitable stricture had formed and had to be periodically dilated with metal rods passed up the penis.

Eventually that's what did him in. An abscess formed in his prostate and he could no longer pass urine. He died of kidney failure at 2:00 A.M. 19 May 1795.

Short of the obvious, what could the imprudent Lieutenant FTIZPATRICK have done to prevent catching or spreading the disease?

He could have prevented catching such diseases by the use of condoms which were available. They were made of linen or gut.

As a matter of fact, BOSWELL did enjoy several ladies of the town "in Armor" as he called it, but he commented that it was "of dull satisfaction."

One can bet, though, that the satisfaction he received from his medical treatment was one heck of a lot worse!

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We thank Mike for his help in interpreting some of the events of this interesting case.

The case is presented in four parts which are accessible through the following links:

                               Fitzpatrick Court Martial - Part 1

                               Fitzpatrick Court Martial - Part 2

                               Fitzpatrick Court Martial - Part 3

                               Fitzpatrick Court Martial - Part 4

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