Samuel A. Cartwright

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 'mental illness' of drapetomania, the desire of a slave for freedom, and an outspoken critic of germ theory.[1][2]

Samuel A. Cartwright
Samuel Cartwright
Samuel Adolphus Cartwright

(1793-11-03)November 3, 1793
DiedMay 2, 1863(1863-05-02) (aged 69)
CitizenshipConfederate States of America
EducationUniversity of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Known forCoining "drapetomania"
Spouse(s)Mary Wren


Cartwright married Mary Wren of Natchez, Mississippi in 1825.[3] During the American Civil War, he was a physician in the Confederate States Army and served in camps near Vicksburg and Port Hudson.[3] He was assigned with improving the sanitary conditions for the soldiers.[3]


The Medical Association of Louisiana charged Cartwright with investigating "the diseases and physical peculiarities of the negro race". His report was delivered as a speech at its annual meeting on March 12, 1851, and published in its journal.[4] The most sensationalistic portions of it, on drapetomania and dysaesthesia aethiopica, were reprinted in DeBow's Review.[5] He subsequently prepared an abbreviated version, with sources cited, for Southern Medical Reports.[6]

If they nonetheless became dissatisfied with their condition, they should be whipped to prevent them from running away.[5] In describing his theory and cure for drapetomania, Cartwright relied on passages of Christian scripture dealing with slavery.

Cartwright also invented another 'disorder', dysaesthesia aethiopica, a disease "affecting both mind and body." Cartwright used his theory to explain the perceived lack of work ethic among slaves.[7] 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."[8][9]

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."

Cultural depictionsEdit


See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Davis, William C. (2002). "Men but Not Brothers". Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America. Simon & Schuster. pp. 130–162.
  • Marshall, Mary Louise (1940–1941). "Samuel A. Cartwright and States' Rights Medicine". New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. 90.



  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. Vol. 1. p. 320. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c "Samuel A. Cartwright and Family Papers", Mss. 2471, 2499, Inventory, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Special Collections, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, page 4.
  4. ^ Cartwright, Samuel A. (May 1851). "Report on the Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race". New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal: 691–715. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  5. ^ a b Cartwright, Ssmuel A. (July 1851). "Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race". DeBow’s Review. Vol. 11, no. 1. pp. 64–74.
  6. ^ Cartwright, Samuel A. (1851). "The Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race". Southern Medical Reports. Vol. 2. pp. 421–429.
  7. ^ Pilgrim, David. "Question of the Month: Drapetomania". Jim Crow Museum. Jim Crow Museum, Ferris State University. November 2005.
  8. ^ Paul Finkelman (1997). Slavery & the Law. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 305. ISBN 0-7425-2119-2.
  9. ^ Rick Halpern, Enrico Dal Lago (2002). Slavery and Emancipation. Blackwell Publishing. p. 273. ISBN 0-631-21735-5.


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