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A Hair-raising Find

October 5, 2009

This week I continued my in-depth research of the 18th and 19th century Collections. They yielded many surprises both useful for the project, and others which are simply curiosities for an historian of this time.  The Collections of this week were

The following Collections show promise for the exhibit. 

One  of the most fascinating finds of this exhibit so far has come in the form of a medical scale, dating from around the turn of the 19th century.  It is a small, portable scale possibly used for measuring out medicine on medical rounds throughout the city.  It even has a carrying case (bottom of the picture) which makes the scale small enough to fit into a jacket pocket.  Objects such as this are wonderful visual pieces for an exhibit, since we often can connect with the past better through object than only texts.

The Davidson Papers also provided intriguing medical information about the care of slaves during this time.  In an antiquated plantation journal, the opening pages give information on raising crops side by side with how to care for sick slaves.  Later in the journal the owner records visits to the slaves by an actual doctor.  This tells us two things, first that plantation owners would at times call for doctors, instead of handling all slave medical care at home, and secondly that doctors did tend to slaves at this time.  This last point is further confirmed by evidence in D.T. Caldwell’s medical journal.  Special Collections has two of Dr. Caldwell’s medical journals, both of which detail the patients he saw, diagnoses given, and treatments enacted.  They are invaluable for studying the practicality of medical treatment in Mecklenburg County during this time.  As somewhat of a side note, another interesting anomaly was found in the Caldwell-Davidson Papers are two locks of hair, believed to be from two of the children who died young.  Keeping the hair of deceased family members during this time was a very common practice.  It was even made into ornamental jewelry or pictures.  For more information see *

The locks of hair in this collection are this elaborate, but based on the same Victorian principles of mourning the dead. 

The Jetton Family Papers poured forth a wealth of information on 19th century medicine as well.  One of the most interesting parts of this collection is its reference to a 19th century slave-turned-free midwife named Selina Watts Jetton Johnson.  I hope to find more information on her before the completion of the project.  The Jetton Papers also produced the only other two physical items so far.  One is labeled a lancet and the other glass lenses from 19th century spectacles. 

100_1605      100_1609

I believe the item in the first picture is actually a fleam.  This is the item on the right. The item on the left is a compass also in the collection.  The fleam was used as a method of extracting blood for medicinal purposes.  See the website below for more information on fleams and bloodletting.  The second photo shows three lenses.  I believe two belong to the same pair of glasses, while the third is a different strength.  It is difficult to tell in the picture, but the two lenses on the outside are the matching ones and they are bifocals. *

*The author would like to make it known that these outside websites do not reflect the opinions of the author or the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  These are simply outside sites that may provide more information for the curious viewer.

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