Autograph Letter Signed to Dr. Hathaway. Medical, Jeremiah Barker.
Early Diagnosis for What was to be Called Huntington’s Disease

Autograph Letter Signed to Dr. Hathaway.

Stroudwater, (Portland, District of Maine), November 25, 1801. Item #709

Folio.  290 x 180 mm., [7 x 11 1/2 inches]. 4 pp.  About 1100 words.  Paper stock browned, slight breaks at folds, edge wear; overall a bit fragile but highly legible.

Lengthy and interesting medical letter in which Dr. Jeremiah Barker (1751-1835), physician of Maine, writes to a Dr. Hathaway concerning his treatment for the rare disease of Corea (Chorea) or St. Vitus Dance;  an involuntary movement disorder.  One of a group of neurological disorders called dyskinesias, the term is derived from a Greek word for a kind of dance, as the quick movements of the feet or hands are vaguely comparable to dancing or piano playing.  Born in Scituate, Massachusetts, Barker went to Cambridge, where he studied medicine and surgery under Dr. Lincoln, a prominent physician and Harvard Medical School graduate. 

 "I received your letter concerning the case of Corea [Chorea] or St. Vitus Dance, as the disease is termed. In the course of my practice several cases of that kind have occurred, and I have as often removed the complaints without any difficulty; neither have I ever known an instance of a relapse. I consider it as a form of nervous disease, in which the muscles of the limbs are particularly affected and sometimes those of the face. The disease may with propriety be called an Asthenia, depending upon certain debilitating powers, which primarily disorder the digestive process and these powers or remote causes act upon the nervous system in such a manner as to produce the irregular actions & motions of the muscular fibers, producing the phenomena which are observed to take place. In all diseases of this kind, however variant the symptoms may be, only whatever name they are called by nosologists, my views are in the first place directed to the digestive powers or functions, for while the digestive powers perform their functions duly & regularly, the other functions of the body will be in exact correspondence, and the contrary. It is the position of Dr. Darwin's et al., that when digestion is impaired, fermentation in the aliment immediately takes place, which in a greater or less degree deranges the whole system..."

Although somewhat correct on the description of the malady, Dr. Barker mistakenly ascribed the syndrome to digestive ailments. In fact, he was known as the "Alkaline Doctor" because of his belief that excess stomach acidity caused a number of illnesses.

Upon receiving his license Dr. Barker then opened a medical practice in Barnstable, Cape Cod, where he married Abigail Gorham. During the Revolution Dr. Barker joined the Continental Army as a surgeon and was a member of the ill- fated Bagaduce Expedition against the British Navy, when the ship in which he was serving was forced to retreat up the Penobscot River. With the remainder of the officers and crew, he made his way through the woods, undergoing extreme hardship. Around 1792, he moved to the Portland area.

 See the account of Barker in Dictionary of American Biography, and American National Biography on-line


Price: $450.00

See all items in Americana, Manuscripts, Medical
See all items by ,