Mike Olmert To Give Talk

April 3, 2019

Mike Olmert will be giving an illustrated talk on the History of Slave Infirmaries, to the Annual Meeting of the St. Michael's Museum, Talbot County, MD.

Slave hospitals were once prominent on the plantations of the South. Part medicine, part quarantining of sick slaves, part economics, part charity, and part hypocrisy, they were integral to any large agricultural enterprise. Most of them disappeared after the Civil War. Still, ghostlike images of this building-type persist in pictures from early photography. They are also a few surviving infirmaries and some old plantation ruins. They also have a presence in farm journals and diaries. Some of them were quite large — capable of treating fifty or sixty patients at a time. Several examples from Jamaica were constructed as elegant Georgian buildings in imported British limestone.

In many of the hospitals, slaves were allowed to practice African folkloric medicine. They used plants and other natural cures, which were plainly safer than standard western medicine, which featured blood-letting. These folk doctors were fairly common, to judge from the number of runaway-slave ads published in period newspapers that describe a missing slave as a “doctor.”

His talk will take place at the St. Michael's Library, 106 Freemont St., St. Michael's, MD 21663, on Sunday, April 7, at 2 pm.