Samuel A. Cartwright

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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

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] During the American Civil War he joined the Confederate States of America and was assigned the responsibility of improving sanitary conditions in the camps about Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana.


Cartwright was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, to Mr. and Mrs. John S. Cartwright. Prior to 1812, he began his medical training as an apprentice to abolitionist Dr. John Brewer. Thereafter, he was apprenticed to Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia. He also attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Cartwright was at one time a surgeon under General (later U.S. President) Andrew Jackson.

He practiced medicine in Huntsville, Alabama (Madison County), then Natchez, Mississippi (Adams County), and finally New Orleans, where he relocated in 1858.

Dr. Cartwright married the former Mary Wren in 1825, and they had at least one child. He died in Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, two months before the surrender of Vicksburg to the forces of General Ulysses S. Grant.


In the antebellum period, white Southerners generally considered blacks to be racially inferior to whites. They sought "scientific proof" for their argument to counter the human rights claims of the abolitionists. 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.[3] The most sensationalistic portions of it, on drapetomania and dysaesthesia aethiopica, were reprinted in DeBow's Review.[4] He subsequently prepared an abbreviated version, with sources cited, for Southern Medical Reports.[5]

Cartwright is most remembered for inventing, in this report, a condition he called drapetomania, or the desire to flee from servitude. According to him, drapetomania is a mental disorder akin to alienation (madness). He said that slaves should be kept in a submissive state and treated like children, with "care, kindness, attention, and humanity to prevent and cure them from running away." If they nonetheless became dissatisfied with their condition, they should be whipped to prevent them from running away.[4] 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.[6] 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."[7][8]

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."

Cartwright's Report was in line with the views of such pro-slavery defenders as Thomas Roderick Dew, of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and James D.B. DeBow, a Southern magazine publisher. Cartwright contributed some fourteen articles to DeBow's Review between 1851 and 1862, primarily on sanitary conditions.

Cultural depictions[edit]


  • Cartwright, M. D., S. A. (August 1851). "How to Save the Republic, and the Position of the South in the Union". DeBow’s Journal. 11 (2). pp. 184–197.
  • Cartwright, Dr. (July 1858). "Dr. Cartwright on the Caucasians and the Africans". DeBow's Review. 25 (1). pp. 45–56. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  • Cartwright, Samuel A. (September 1859). "The Education, Labor, and Wealth of the South". DeBow's Review. 27 (3). pp. 263–279.
  • Cartwright, Samuel A. (August 1860). "Unity of the Human Race Disproved by the Hebrew Bible". DeBow's Review. 4 (2). pp. 129–136. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  • Cartwright, Samuel A. (1863). "An essay on the natural history of the prognathous race of mankind". The Dred Scott decision. Opinion of Chief Justice Taney, with an introduction by Dr. J.H. Van Evrie. Also, an appendix, containing an essay on the natural history of the prognathous race of mankind, originally written for the New York Day-book, by Dr. S. A. Cartwright, of New Orleans. New York: Van Evrie, Horton & Co. pp. 45–48.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. 1. p. 320. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b Cartwright, Ssmuel A. (July 1851). "Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race". DeBow’s Review. 11 (1). pp. 64–74.
  5. ^ Cartwright, Samuel A. (1851). "The Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race". Southern Medical Reports. Vol. 2. pp. 421–429.
  6. ^ Pilgrim, David. "Question of the Month: Drapetomania". Jim Crow Museum. Jim Crow Museum, Ferris State University. November 2005.
  7. ^ Paul Finkelman (1997). Slavery & the Law. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 305. ISBN 0-7425-2119-2.
  8. ^ Rick Halpern, Enrico Dal Lago (2002). Slavery and Emancipation. Blackwell Publishing. p. 273. ISBN 0-631-21735-5.


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