What does it all mean?

From annual physican reports, which were sent yearly to the Board of Health in Copenhagen, we know that a European trained physician (Dr. Christopher Johnson) treated enslaved individuals at Cane Garden. Treatments often included venesection (blood letting), cupping, calomel and mercury powder treatments, and the ingestion of other heavy metal derivatives. Other than 2 apothecary bottle fragments and a wide variety of alcohol and/or medicine bottles (alcohol was also used as a medical treatment and pain alleviate); Western medical devices are largely lacking from the archaeological assemblage.

Tools associated with specialized medical treatments were likely part of the physician’s specialized toolkit and would not have been widely available for use on a daily basis. Instead, it is more likely that physician assistance was only sought in ‘extreme’ cases when the plantation manager thought it necessary to intervene. Daily care was most likely undertaken by an enslaved sick nurse or even family members or friends of those who were injured or ill.

It is probable that enslaved sick nurses used both domesticated and ‘wild’ plant species for nutritional and medicinal purposes. A preliminary study of the macrobotanical (plant remain) samples from the midden includes amaranth or pigweed seeds, smartweed, and other plants commonly used for food and medicine. Whether these plants were intentionally collected and eaten remains to be seen, but preliminary analysis suggests that they greatly outnumber domesticate species.

Zooarchaeological remains, or animal bone, are predominately from caprines (sheep/goat) and pigs and consist of mostly distal elements, or foot and forelimb fragments. Many of the remains are highly fragmented and exhibit evidence of cutting or chopping.

Daily care at the hospital consisted of nutritious meals, as evidenced by the overwhelming frequency of highly processed animal bones and hollowware ceramic vessels (cups, bowls, soup bowls). High frequencies of ceramic bowls and highly processed animal bone have been interpreted by archaeologists to to indicate the presence of African-based cuisines, such as stews and gruels. Animal bones which evidence chop marks, cut marks, and saw marks have also commonly been used as an indicator of foods which were cooked and heavily processed in order to maximize their nutritional benefits. Ceramics types from the hospital midden at Cane Garden predominately consist of bowls and cups (86%) as opposed to plates, suggesting that enslaved individuals may have relied on a liquid or semi-liquid based diet. This is consistent with archaeological evidence from other enslaved domestic contexts whereby families and social groups relied on primarily soups and stews as a major foodsource. Today, as in the past, soups and stews provide a nutritious and easily digestible foodstuff for elderly, sick, and injured individuals.

The archaeological evidence from the midden deposit suggests that daily care and healing practice revolved around holistic notions of care. Evidence of nutritious foodstuffs, such as soups or stews, predominate in both the ceramic and zooarchaeological assemblage. In addition, there is a large percentage of wild or procured species, such as local fish (parrotfish), sea urchins, bivalves, gastropods, and other marine resources. Preliminary studies of the plant remains indicate people may have been procuring and using wild plant species, which were both widely available and nutritious. While the documentary evidence indicates that European trained physicians such as Christopher Johnson attended the estate on a semi-regular basis, nurses and caregivers were incredibly adept at using a range of resources to provide the majority of  daily care and nutrition to those who needed it.

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