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The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1840-1880$

Wendy Gonaver

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469648446

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469648446.001.0001

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Servants, Obey Your Masters

Servants, Obey Your Masters

Religion and Resistance

(p.82) Chapter Three Servants, Obey Your Masters
The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1840-1880

Wendy Gonaver

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

One of the key cultural functions of nineteenth-century asylums was reframing mental suffering or “insanity” as medical illness—a secular experience—while also promoting the values of mainstream Protestantism, which, in the South, included the preservation of slavery. This process of cognitive reframing posed particular challenges for enslaved and white patients who adhered to marginal beliefs. Engaging in voodoo, believing oneself “tricked,” and espousing abolitionism were characterized as superstition or fanaticism by administrators who attempted to suppress these ideas and practices. Distinguishing between religion that promoted social conformity and that which fomented dissension was perceived as especially important at a time in which denominational schisms over slavery divided the nation’s churches and permeated political discourse.

Keywords:   abolitionism, insanity, tricked, voodoo, cognitive reframing, Protestantism, Superstition, Fanaticism, marginal beliefs, slavery

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart … ​ And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forebearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

—Ephesians 6:5

Oh! that Almighty God might be with me, and my kinsman, and the same gentleman who is in company with us … ​Servants obey your Master’s [sic] and Masters Obey Me[,] James de Cocy as your father.

—from a sermon by James Cossy, a free black patient at Eastern Lunatic Asylum.1

One of the key cultural functions of nineteenth-century asylums was to reframe mental suffering as a medical illness—a secular experience—rather than a spiritual malady, while simultaneously promoting the values of mainstream Protestantism. For most white Southerners, a healthy worldview included the preservation of slavery. Not all patients at Eastern Lunatic Asylum shared this conviction. Galt’s tenure began just as the denominational schisms that divided the nation’s churches and permeated political discourse reached its apex. In 1844, the Methodist Church separated into Southern and Northern branches over the issue of slavery. The following year saw the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention, again in response to the divisive issue of abolition. At a time in which religious debates dominated the political landscape, the perceived need for state agents to distinguish between acceptable religion that promoted social conformity and unacceptable religion that fomented radical dissension was exacerbated, but not always openly acknowledged. Asylum doctors, including Galt, suggested that excessive religiosity was an effect of insanity rather than a cause.2 By ostensibly shifting the focus away from sacred matters, physicians aimed to create a rational, more effective (they hoped) niche in the treatment of insanity. Whether religion was seen as a cause or an effect, however, the attempted cure was the same—change the way patients understood religion by intervening in their spiritual lives.

(p.83) Of the thirty-one women and thirty-four men admitted in 1842–43, Superintendent Galt deemed noteworthy the religious affiliations and/or propensity toward enthusiasm of thirteen women and twelve men. In other words, religion factored into diagnosis for a little more than 40 percent of the women and slightly less than 40 percent of the men.3 This statistic seems to belie the notion that religious explanations for insanity were outmoded. Patients found themselves in a bind because their religious beliefs and behavior were scrutinized as part of the diagnostic process and could be used against them as evidence of insanity. At the same time, they were encouraged to take comfort and guidance from the religious services provided by the asylum. Equally confounding was the indistinct boundary between secular and spiritual realms. The very concept of “moral therapy,” even as it demonstrates the elision between medicine and matters previously the province of the church, suggests an incomplete differentiation. Some of the medical methods employed were similarly quasi-religious. The persistence of water baths in the asylum, for example, did not have an exclusively scientific rationale. The calming property of the bath (not the shower-bath or douche, which was forcibly administered and akin to drowning or, in contemporary parlance, “waterboarding”) was similar to the peace that Methodist patient Eliza McGuire—who wished to be baptized—felt at the touch of spray on her face while riding the ferry to the asylum from her home on the Eastern Shore.4 Yet McGuire’s interpretation of the spray was framed in her admission papers as evidence of a deluded mind.

In an essay on delusions that he published in the American Journal of Insanity, Galt claimed knowledge of credible reports about individuals affected by bizarre fantasies, such as one woman who “occasionally fancied herself a tea-urn, and, under that impression, would assume a suitably imitative position.”5 Ten years earlier, Edgar Allan Poe—Galt’s distant cousin—had published a story satirizing moral treatment in which the author observed, “There is scarcely an insane asylum in France which cannot supply a human tea-pot.”6 Galt chose to deploy this hackneyed cliché to make the argument that some delusions are relatively harmless and, therefore, don’t necessitate asylum intervention. Contrary to Galt’s claims about the existence of delusional women who thought themselves teapots—in another instance he mentions a woman who thought herself a goose and behaved accordingly—the record books of Eastern Lunatic Asylum reveal inmates whose beliefs were decidedly less silly. By 1856, when his essay was published, Galt certainly would have known better. In fact, nowhere in his private correspondence and records does he mention encountering people who thought themselves farmyard fowl or inanimate objects. Instead, Galt’s firsthand observations of patients (p.84) centered on their alleged religious delusions. Of special concern to him were patients who preached abolitionism or participated in camp meetings. The peculiarity that mattered most at Eastern Lunatic Asylum was a patient’s relationship to the peculiar institution—slavery.

Madness and Religious Expression: The Long View

The association of religion with madness is ancient. Historian Roy Porter writes that Christian Scriptures even “welcomed certain modes of madness,” regarding as holy both the “innocent otherworldliness of the Pauline fool or … ​ the ecstasy of the Old Testament prophet.” Reformation piety, especially, “was sympathetic to speaking prophetically or hearing voices from Beyond, as marks of a divine madness.”7 This sympathetic view existed alongside a more negative framing of religious “madness” as the work of the devil, although neither supernatural explanation for insanity ruled out natural causes such as accidents and passions. Treatment was equally eclectic, combining physical remedies with spiritual mediation offered by a variety of healers. In the eighteenth century, however, there emerged in Europe a new field of medicine devoted exclusively to the ostensibly secular treatment of the deranged. By the nineteenth century in Europe and in America, doctors specializing in insanity subsumed religious madness into medical discourse, creating the modern experience of mental illness.

The practitioners who sought to cure mental illness through kind treatment, occupational therapy, and carefully controlled diet and environment believed that the asylum represented the ideal, regulated environment in which to provide this moral treatment. Although many asylum superintendents were Christian, they saw asylum medicine as a largely secular enterprise. On one level, this meant only that their institutions were not beholden to any church for funding or administrative policy. But on a deeper level for most physicians, even those whose faith underpinned their sense of charity or duty on behalf of the insane, secular medicine also meant a rejection of the notion that insanity was a sign of possession by demons or a punishment from God. Though illness might be viewed as God’s will, physicians’ cures were not considered exorcisms.

The moral treatment that was the hallmark of progressive, secular asylums had originated in the care previously provided by religious healers. Philippe Pinel, the founder of modern French psychiatry, incorporated the pastoral care of the Catholic Church by retaining nuns as caregivers, but he limited the participation of priests and secularized the rationale for treatment, turning it (p.85) “into a tool to wrest medial jurisdiction and expertise of madness from the Church in a campaign to exclude the religious orders from the care of the insane.”8 As noted by historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, this transition paralleled the growing power of a centralized state whose authority was supported by institutions that promoted the values of those who benefited most from the expanding government bureaucracy—the burgeoning professional class. While one might deplore the cruel treatment of the insane that allegedly preceded secular asylum care in France, at least the physical punishments and deprivations of the Middle Ages demanded only outward compliance; a patient was not required to internalize or change his or her values or beliefs, as was the case with enlightened moral means.9

Anticlericalism was not a major issue in Germany, but there was tension between “the adherents of rational religion—those who sought to render theology compatible with natural law—and [the adherents of] neo-orthodoxy,” with asylum doctors tending toward the former.10 One exception was J. C. A. Heinroth, who “insisted that moral depravity alone—sin, guilt, and evil conscience—produced insanity.”11 English institutions eagerly employed clerics and offered regular religious services. As in Germany, religious rationalism triumphed over evangelical orthodoxy. Even the famously influential York Retreat was created by Friends who had “retreated from their original free-spirit Antinomianism, becoming quietistic and respectable.”12 The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, had practiced faith healing, but religious madness at the York Retreat was considered a morbid condition. Seriously disturbed patients, those who thought they could perform miracles or who claimed to be biblical figures, were barred from meeting for worship. Secular care did not mean an absence of religion but rather an endorsement of “rationalism” over orthodoxy and enthusiasm.

It was at this transitional moment in the late-eighteenth century that American institutions first opened.13 American superintendents distrusted religious revivals for producing too much excitement. The occurrence of religious movements such as the Millerites—preacher William Miller predicted the Second Coming of Christ would occur around 1844—afforded them the opportunity to denounce “a popular religious error.”14 Most educated Americans were wary of sectarianism in public office and believed that revivalism contributed to insanity, an idea that was supported by “the fact that the insane often had religious delusions.” For this reason, an evangelical Christian would have been considered “a highly unsuitable choice for asylum work.”15 Animal magnetism, spiritualism, and mesmerism were also viewed with suspicion by some, as were expressions of hostility or indifference to family members. (p.86) Family members and superintendents were particularly critical when they perceived a change in an individual’s nature, so zealotry in and of itself was not necessarily regarded as a fixed symptom of insanity. Nevertheless, beliefs and behaviors that might once have been regarded as admirable religious piety or passion came to epitomize unhealthy instability in the nineteenth century.

Former asylum patient and Millerite Elisabeth T. Stone, for example, wrote that describing her spiritual crisis to a doctor “seemed to me like mockery.” She thought a minister was a more appropriate counselor, and she wondered, “if holiness was liable to become a disease and medical men knew it.”16 Her question went unanswered, and she was pushed into voluntarily committing herself to McLean Hospital in Massachusetts for several months. Asylum physicians worked to redirect and reshape marginal religious beliefs like Stone’s precisely because they conceived of their agenda as secular—as science—despite the fact that they were attempting to reconfigure the spiritual lives of their patients. Additionally, doctors tended to regard religious enthusiasm and adherence to marginal sects as tangible proof of inferior intellectual capacity, which they attempted to ameliorate with their own more sophisticated form of religious indoctrination. Asylums offered religious services and sermons that emphasized the values and beliefs of mainstream Protestantism, and rebuked enthusiasm for fringe sects through punishments and inducements.

Asylum superintendents were sometimes conflicted about the proper role of religion in their institutions. Some worried that attention to religious topics would make depressed patients more morose and delusional patients more agitated. Others emphasized religion’s capacity to soothe troubled minds, regarding attendance at church service as part of a salubrious plan to cultivate disciplined habits. Religiously devout superintendents felt that their mission to cure mental illness did not preclude their Christian duty to missionize. British superintendent Nathaniel Bingham, for example, argued that it was not wise to treat religion “like a bale of goods coming from an infected port” when the majority of inmates would benefit from sacred “antidotes” for disordered thinking.17 He also compared the insane to former slaves in the West Indies, arguing that both had been humbled by God and were, therefore, more tractable and accepting of Providence. Though Bingham condescended to both groups by speaking of them in infantilizing terms, his praise for their supposed lack of pretentious refinement was intended as a compliment. Of former slaves, he celebrated “their regard to truth, their forgiveness of injuries, their mutual love as brethren, their strong attachment to their teachers, the extent of their liberality, though poor, their habitual assurance of God’s pardoning love, and their happy deaths.”18 Not every observer of West Indian emancipation (p.87) agreed with this assessment. One worried plantation overseer in Jamaica complained that Christianity emboldened newly freed blacks to strike for better wages and working conditions.19

Writing from London, where he had little contact with former slaves, Bingham’s analogy was a benign abstraction. For John M. Galt, however, the religious faith and proclivities of slaves and asylum patients was a concrete concern. In his first year in office while preparing his report on asylums for African Americans, Galt studied etiological statistics. He was particularly interested in the frequency of intemperance as compared to fanaticism. The results of his study were alarming. “What an astounding curse is intemperance!” he observed, “But how infinitely more fatal is the curse of fanaticism!” Like his peers, Galt distinguished between religious perplexity and excitement. Perplexity implied intellectual obsession with religion, especially one’s own damnation; it was dangerous because introspection could lead to suicide. But enthusiasm was arguably more frightening because it was viewed as an extroverted mania that could inspire the formerly meek to brazen acts of violence and resistance. Criticized by his professional peers for probing patients’ religious ideas, the threat of abolitionism nevertheless compelled Galt to be on the lookout for pious agitators.20

In his analysis of the gradual transformation of British attitudes toward religious “madness,” historian Roy Porter argued that “the medicalization of divine madness was not crudely manipulative or conspiratorial.” The medical materialism of elite physicians and the “waning of the spirit-drenched cosmos” were, in part, unintended consequences of developments in mechanical science and “the extension of man’s dominion over Nature.”21 Porter asserted that the belief in “demonomania” and the faith healings and “mass ecstasies” that characterized John Wesley’s field preaching declined precipitously in England after only one decade of Methodism, leaving very few adherents by the mid-eighteenth century.22 This narrative is problematic in the American context, however, because of the comparatively late timing and widespread influence of numerous American “awakenings.” The emphasis on sanctification—the bodily experience of God’s grace, power, or presence—blossomed in England in the late 1750s and 1760s, just prior to the arrival of the first Methodist itinerants in the colonies, thus ensuring “the centrality of the sanctification experience in the early years of American Methodism.”23 While the weeping, crying, falling to the ground, gyrating, and shouting for joy that characterized sanctification may have failed to gain an enduring foothold in England, these practices rooted very deeply on American soil, especially in the South. The development of asylums in America cannot be understood without (p.88) appreciating concurrent developments in American religious institutions, especially the mass conversions of African Americans to Christianity. For this reason, the Eastern State Asylum—the only institution in America to routinely accept slaves and free blacks as patients and to employ slaves as attendants—offers unique insights.

In Virginia

Eastern Lunatic Asylum was located in the very cradle of evangelical religion, particularly African American Protestantism. The first revivals in the Chesapeake Bay region occurred in the 1770s and 1780s and were dominated by Baptists and Methodists. Between 1774 and 1777, the Brunswick Methodist circuit near Petersburg went from 218 members to 1,360. By the 1790s, approximately a quarter to a third of Separate Baptists (a radically evangelical group that formed in Virginia in the 1760s) and Methodists in Virginia were black.24 Most evangelical churches in Williamsburg and the surrounding counties were biracial, and black Baptists, whose numbers had continued to multiply exponentially following local revivals in the 1820s and 1830s, in some areas comprised nearly two-thirds of all church members.25 Churches in Richmond set apart pews for 1,000 blacks, but that estimate only accommodated one-sixth of the total black membership.26

Despite unsatisfactory accommodations, free black and enslaved converts continued to flock to Sunday services, eventually leading to the establishment in some cities and towns of separate but affiliated churches for blacks and whites. By 1841, there were two black churches in Petersburg with 2,000 members and two churches in Norfolk with 700 members. The First African Baptist Church in Richmond had 2,000 members. In Gloucester, Ebenezer Church had 50 white and 804 black members, and Petsworth Church had 16 whites and 246 blacks. The Dover Association, formed in 1783 after the General Association of Separate Baptists divided at the James River into upper and lower districts, reported 20,000 members, 12,000 of whom were black.27 Additionally, in the majority of biracial Baptist churches in Virginia, women outnumbered men and African American women predominated in both biracial and all-black churches.28 The enslaved staff members at Eastern Lunatic Asylum, and many of the patients—white and black—were drawn from this body of believers.

This huge influx of African American church members was controversial for many white Christians. John Fanning Watson, author of an anonymously published 1814 pamphlet entitled Methodist Error; or, Friendly Christian advice (p.89) to those Methodists who indulge in extravagant emotions and bodily exercises, derided enthusiastic worship associated with biracial camp meetings. He described such enthusiasts as “persons of credulous, uninformed minds” without education, refinement, and good manners. Castigating the poor and illiterate in general, Watson located the origins of these “errors”: “‘It began,’ he said, ‘in Virginia, and as I have heard, among the blacks.’”29

Class propriety and racial identity were not all that was at stake. The mass conversion of African Americans contributed to growing tension over the issue of slavery. In a self-published book defending noisy worship, clapping, and speaking in tongues, author G. W. Henry argued that God granted Southern slaves the authority “to sing and shout” in anticipation of freedom, just as the Israelites joyfully celebrated their liberation from Egypt.30 Many white Methodists and Baptists, though not abolitionist, condemned the slave trade. The Religious Herald, the newspaper of the Dover Baptist Church, strongly condemned the slave trade, “charging that those who engaged in the traffic forfeited the esteem of the community, and contending that the traffic was incompatible with the New Testament.”31 Religious antislavery in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had “made more headway in Virginia than elsewhere in the South,” and support of colonization “was stronger in Virginia than in other Southern states.”32 Although the extent and significance of antislavery sentiment in Virginia should not be overestimated, the attitude of many influential white Virginians was that slavery was a necessary evil that, in time, would be eradicated. This was John M. Galt’s view, which he expressed in a letter to a Northern colleague. “Living in the South, being a Southern man in all my associations & feelings,” he wrote, “I view slavery as a not unmixed evil. But whether this be so or not, it is a feature of society, which the increasing density of population must destroy. This must be perfectly evident to any reflective man.”33

All Virginia religious denominations officially approved of the American Colonization Society, with the strongest support coming from Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Episcopalian Bishop William Meade was an ardent supporter of colonization who denounced slavery as “‘one of the most tremendous evils that ever overhung a guilty nation upon earth.’”34 Most Virginians, however, did not openly endorse the elimination of slavery. Even fewer envisioned a harmonious multiracial society. The notorious few who did attracted negative attention. One of the most famous large-scale manumissions involved a wealthy Virginian named Richard Randolph, who liberated his slaves in his will and provided them with land after emancipation. Although debts prevented the immediate manumission of all of Randolph’s slaves—some were (p.90) sold off to pay creditors—Richard’s widow, Judith, ultimately freed about a hundred slaves.35 John Minson Galt was interested in the Randolph family from a medical standpoint, asking, “What persons in the Randolph family suffered from mental disease?” Especially noteworthy was Richard’s brother, John, whose alleged insanity was manifested by his purportedly “advertising negroes & then wishing to abuse persons offering to purchase.” John was also parsimonious and abstained from hard liquor. Galt noted that John experienced a “religious frenzy” in 1818, which led him to read the Bible to his slaves and explain it to them. He apparently “talked only then of freeing his negroes. Said he had a vision.”36

At the root of his query was suspicion that John’s desire to free his slaves stemmed from insanity rather than genuine religious principle. Galt observed that the men who witnessed Randolph’s will in which he freed his slaves, his stepfather St. George Tucker and a Mr. Leigh, apparently had second thoughts about it. According to Galt, Tucker, who was himself a supporter of colonization, thought Randolph “merely a little unstable,” but Leigh found him “clearly unfit.”37 Years earlier when still a medical student, Galt had joked in letters to his sisters about John Randolph’s contrarian presence in Virginia politics, but these eccentricities were given new form through the frame of asylum medicine. While intrigue, scandal, and maybe even mental illness did plague the Randolph family, it is evident that Galt regarded the abolitionist feelings and politics of its various members as symptoms of derangement. Even if John Randolph was mentally unstable, emotional volatility does not preclude a person from having a conscience or from making a rational decision.

Galt’s search for evidence of insanity among prominent Virginians also led him to the Carter family. Noting, “Bishop Tobius says that he never knew a Swedenborgian that did not have some mental kink,”38 Galt appears to refer to Robert “Councillor” Carter, III, who embraced the Swedenborgian faith in 1787 and subsequently freed almost 500 slaves, the largest manumission by an individual in U.S. history. Emanuel Swedenborg himself believed that “the human form divine” was to be found in the center of the African interior, where a new celestial day was dawning among “a more Interior people than the rest.” Divine revelation led Swedenborg to assert that the original Christian Gospel—once known as an unmediated vision and understood by man—had been corrupted and forgotten over time except by a tribe in Africa, which, undisturbed, had preserved the original Gospel and therefore possessed the highest degree of inner knowledge. Swedenborg concluded that Africans “possessed a greater genius and a greater capacity for spiritual illumination than did Europeans.”39

(p.91) Although Swedenborg did not specifically address the issue of slavery, the notion that Africans represented a spiritual ideal was outrageous to most white Americans and Europeans. Several Swedenborgians besides Carter were actively involved in international abolitionism. Two men, C. B. Wadström and August Nordenskjöld, published a pamphlet in English describing a plan for establishing a colony on the coast of Sierra Leone founded and run on Swedenborgian principles. Entitled Plan for a Free Community upon the Coast of Africa under the Protection of Great Britain; but Intirely Independent of All European Laws and Governments, the pamphlet lays out democratic principles of governance, making connections between the literal bondage of Africans and the “abject servility to innumerable monied Tyrants” of Europeans. It argues for suffrage for all adult males, the dissolution of all social class, the eventual abolition of slavery, and a prescription that the “European” and the “Negro” should live together in harmony.” As a member of the abolitionist African Institution, Wadström also worked with abolitionists Henry Gandy, Thomas Clarkson, and Granville Sharp in England to turn public opinion against slavery.40

In America, however, the actions of prominent men like Carter and Randolph had little effect on public opinion. Western expansion and the profitability of the cotton trade reinvigorated the South’s commitment to slavery in the nineteenth century. Consequently, by the 1830s Northern abolitionists had grown disenchanted with gradualist approaches and colonization schemes. In 1835, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison launched a postal campaign to blanket the South with antislavery literature. The result was a flurry of public meetings and published letters from Southern clergy denouncing Garrison’s tactics and abolition in general. Presbyterian synods, Baptist associations, and Methodist conferences throughout the South passed resolutions condemning abolitionist agitation. The Presbytery of East Hanover, Virginia, resolved to “unequivocally & entirely disapprove of & condemn the principles, plans, and efforts of the Abolitionists, as impolitic, unscriptural, & cruel.” Across the James River from Williamsburg, the “citizens of Surry County” publicly fretted that “the abolitionists … ​are formidable both from the means which they appear to command, and the activity with which they employ them.’” The Richmond Whig was filled with similar statements of anxious outrage. At public meetings throughout Virginia, concerned citizens concluded that abolitionism was cunningly presented “under the garb of philanthropy, and in the sacred name of religion.”41 The Baptist Goshen Association felt he need defend itself in the Richmond Enquirer against possible rumors with the following: “We regret that in (p.92) consequence of having certain incendiary publications addressed to us, without our knowledge or consent, our ministry should be censured and suspected in some degree as aiding and abetting the Northern fanatics in their nefarious designs.”42 This, then, was the contentious atmosphere patients such as James Cossy had to navigate.

Religion and Respectability

James Cossy, a longtime asylum resident and free black man originally from Gloucester, Virginia, was a patient whose religious ideas Galt examined with great interest. Admitted in June 1822 for mania, he was between forty and fifty years old when John M. Galt became superintendent twenty years later. Superintendent Galt took a special interest in Cossy, who posed a real challenge to conventional classification schemas. “In the incoherence of conversation,” Galt wrote about Cossy in 1842, “there would seem to be dementia. And yet the wildness of the ideas would show mania; which is also shown in the rationality of his general conduct.” In his habits, Cossy seemed more “eccentric” than “mad.” His disposition was typically quiet and mild, though Galt noted that Cossy “occasionally gets in a passion, from false ideas of having been ill-treated.”43

In February 1847, James Cossy delivered an impassioned sermon before a group of his “kinsman” and one “gentleman” at the Eastern Lunatic Asylum. Cossy had been a seaman prior to 1822. His time at sea had exposed him to a much wider world than rural Gloucester, and had taught him about navigation—knowledge upon which he drew when crafting metaphors for his sermon. Cossy continued to travel locally even after his institutionalization. A September 1853 entry in the Patient Register notes: “He [Cossy] has become Carrier for the Virginia Gazette.”44 Galt speculated that Cossy’s “going into the world” outside the asylum kept his mind from stagnating and “sinking into a low stage of dementia” unlike those patients who were constantly confined. Galt nevertheless considered Cossy—an occasionally loquacious and apparently literate man—grandiose in his delusions, a trait allegedly exacerbated by his job as carrier. Galt noted that Cossy, “has been more excited both before and since undertaking this. He evidently imagines himself to be an important personage in connection with the Journal.”45 Indeed, if the transcription of his 1853 sermon is accurate, James Cossy also proclaimed himself James de Cocy: a ship’s captain, sexton at Christ Church of Europe and Baltimore, “King of Africa,” “Master of Arts and Sciences over Africa which I call Hell on Earth,” and keeper of the “Gates of Hell.”46

(p.93) Cossy’s sermon, which Galt may have considered “wild” and incoherent, might be better characterized as audacious and meandering. It begins with the following verse from James 1:5:

  • If any of you lack Wisdom,
  • Ask of God that giveth to all
  • men liberally, and upbraideth
  • not, and it shall be given him

From there, Cossy articulates what he means by wisdom. Punning and analogizing the celestial sun to the Son of God, Cossy asserts that wise ministers know that the earth turns to the sun, which shines its light on the path to “the Redeemer[’s] love.” They also “know the course of the moon or stars that aid the moon by night.” But, he cautions, “See how the moon will disappear not to be too high for the Sun,” suggesting that spiritual navigation toward redemption parallels a humble, possibly covert, knowledge of earthly navigation by the stars. Cossy also implies that his knowledge of the Lord and ability to plot a course were superior to those who considered him a delusional fool or who would deny him the pulpit of Christ Church. Lest there be any doubt about his superior knowledge of God, Cossy reframes Ephesians 6:5–9 to command: “Oh! that Almighty God might be with me, and my kinsman, and the same gentleman who is in company with us … ​Servants obey your Master’s [sic] and Masters Obey Me[,] James de Cocy as your father.”47 After that he concludes: “All ministers ought to preach Christ Jesus his son as the Holy Ghost and all their business here below!!! Three days and nights did he lay in the body of the Earth and paid the debts and then he came out and shined his Celestial body and came out of all the Ends of the Earth[.]”48 In short, he exhorts his listeners to feel the presence of the Holy Ghost in all realms of life, not just in church. One wonders whether Cossy was familiar with Swedenborgian theology given the shared predilection for astronomical metaphors and the centrality of Africa in their respective cosmologies.

James Cossy was described as merely “eccentric rather than mad” in his habits, yet authorities determined that he was incapable of living outside the confines of the asylum, and so he was maintained at state expense for decades. Cossy’s case dramatizes a central fact of the asylum—administrators and patients often held different, and at times divergent, religious values and viewpoints. Moreover, religious differences were tied to racial and class identity and, frequently, to debates about the immorality of slavery. Understanding these differences is fundamental to understanding how seemingly secular medicine became the dominant paradigm for treating mental illness. Although Cossy’s (p.94) behavior was generally “inoffensive,” his religious exhortations placed him at odds with the white, mainstream Protestant idioms and ideologies officially sanctioned and encouraged by the institution. What, then, constituted acceptable religious expression?

Unlike James Cossy’s fiery sun, Superintendent Galt perceived God as a more distant sun from a different galaxy whose rays were not capable of scorching the earth. He believed that God was best appreciated by marveling exclusively at “the great phenomena of nature” rather than through divine manifestations in human transactions or, to paraphrase James Cossy, in earthly business below. For Galt, prayer was formed in his heart as if in “the midst of a dim twilight” in which “the form of things”—doctrine—was not distinct, but rather like the distant stars “ever gleaming softly, silently, calmly above us.” Not surprisingly, the enthusiastic worship style of “the Evangelical Protestant sects” was anathema to him. Consistently, Galt failed to grasp the substance beneath the style. He evinced instead a desire to sweep aside doctrinal difference in favor of an ecumenical recognition that all Christian sects bowed down “unto the Great Creator,” while at the same time asking rhetorically in the pages of his journal, “does it not seem like fanaticism & presumption in those who preach as though they were intimately, thoroughly & fully acquainted with the nature & ways of the Diety [sic].”49

Superintendent Galt did not think enthusiastic faith to be ipso facto a symptom of mental illness, but his class background militated against a personal embrace of evangelical religion. His Protestantism emphasized conventional respectability, discipline, and the belief that divine revelation and miracles were a thing of the past. “Perhaps modern discovery may be given by Providence instead of additional revelation,” he wrote, “Christianity must sooner necessarily have led to it.”50 He associated religious enthusiasm with epilepsy and intellectual weakness, and regarded it as a medical problem when it inspired a believer to behave dangerously or in a way that exceeded his or her station in life.51 For example, Galt contended that “a prominent delusion” among African American patients was “to imagine themselves white.” He did not necessarily mean that these patients imagined that they had pale complexions (although Galt did allege that James Cossy preferred the company of light-skinned individuals) but, rather, that they claimed social privileges which belonged only to white men. “In the male patients,” he added, “there has been usually some form of religious delusion.”52 Thus he noted disparagingly in his casebook that Richard G., a free black patient who had worked in the Richmond city jail before coming to the asylum, “frequently asserts himself to be a minister; will preach, pray & exhort to prove it.”53 Galt sought to discourage (p.95) those religious beliefs that encouraged patients to lay claim to a spiritual or social equality that they did not legally possess. Little wonder, then, that Galt did not think much of James Cossy’s sermon.

Galt was impressed, however, by a prayer composed by a white male patient. He saw fit to publish verbatim this prayer in the asylum’s annual report in order to raise awareness that patients “are capable of far greater intellectual exertion, than a person unaccustomed to the insane would suppose.” Like Cossy’s sermon, this anonymous prayer also begins with a reference to James 1:5: “O Lord our Heavenly Father, with reverence and humility, would we make prayer and supplication unto thee. We read in thy word that thou givest liberally to all men, and upbraidest not, and thou has erected a throne of grace, and made propitiation for our sins.”54 Confessing with “shame and confusion of face, that we have ten thousand times erred,” the composer of the prayer notes that sinners rightfully deserve to be “banished from thy presence and the glory of thy power,” yet are afforded “a day of probation.” Those whose lives “have been cast in pleasant places” are positioned “to serve thee in newness of life, and to fear thee continually.” The prayer ends with a request that all who listen continue to humbly “walk in wisdom’s narrow way” and in fear of the Lord, for this fear “is the beginning of reason.”55 Apart from the common biblical reference, the penitent tone of this sermon is quite different from James Cossy’s bold exhortations, which partly explains why Galt considered the former exemplary and the latter evidence of a disordered mind. The message of the two compositions is also different. This anonymous penitent explicitly advised his audience to humbly walk a narrow path set out by God. He recommended fearful resignation in order to receive God’s grace. For Cossy, on the other hand, God’s light or grace was cast upon ever-wider paths around the world and in worldly business for all who wish to possess it, and was also reflected covertly through the moon for those who claim it in secret. In both the substance of his sermon and his extravagant claims to authority that he did not legally possess, Cossy preached resistance.

Religion and Resistance

John M. Galt frequently ruminated on the religious debates of his era. As a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, Galt had made a point of visiting other churches and experiencing other services, including Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and the Universalist Church. He made several visits to Catholic churches for the music, but found the sermons offensive and “utterly false.” His harshest opinion he reserved for Quakers: “the more I see (p.96) of Quakerism, the more I am disgusted with it.” He deplored the simple, brown clothes that many Quakers wore as ugly. Most importantly, identifying abolitionism almost exclusively with Quakers, he eventually concluded that Quakerism was “absurd, stupid, and evil in its consequences.” In short, Galt’s peregrinations ultimately served only to recommit him to the idea that the Episcopalian sect was, in his estimation, the only “true church.”56

That a man who once expressed abolitionist sentiments, however tepidly, would simultaneously denounce Quakers for a more emphatic expression of the same opinion is perhaps confusing. The apparent contradiction is resolved by framing Galt’s objections as scorn for hypocrisy. He was similar in this regard to Henry A. Wise, President John Tyler’s appointed minister to Brazil. Wise alienated his Brazilian hosts by railing against the African slave trade despite his support for slavery in general. His denunciation of the slave trade, however, focused on illegal Northern participation. Wise even went so far as to allege that Americans involved in the trade were Northern abolitionists. One ship carrying 600 slaves from Brazil, he reported, “was owned by a Quaker of Delaware who would not even eat slave sugar.”57 Accusations like these earned Wise a reputation among his enemies as a strident, paranoid, and ineffectual politician. Galt attempted to disseminate his views on asylums in Brazil through Wise, but he described the unlikely diplomat as someone whose “order of mind” was “peculiarly suited” to being a contrarian.58 Galt was not alone in this negative assessment. John Quincy Adams characterized Wise as “the personified caricature of Virginia,” writing in his diary, “great conception, wild but energetic elocution—bathos of conclusion, small and pitiful result.”59 Over time, John M. Galt’s peers came to view him in much the same way and for similar reasons.

Superintendents Thomas Kirkbride and Charles Nichols, the two Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane colleagues with whom Galt had the most contentious relationship, were both Quakers. Pliny Earle, who came to Kirkbride’s defense after Galt published his critique of Kirkbride in 1855, was also a Quaker. These men were, however, Orthodox Quakers. Orthodox Friends were generally wealthier and more urban than their non-Orthodox counterparts. They were also more accommodating to slaveholders on the issue of abolition and less egalitarian in the practice of their faith; their mode of worship was influenced by Anglicanism.60 According to historian Nancy Tomes, Kirkbride’s “conservative Quakerism marked him as a devoted Christian, yet one who eschewed the potentially divisive force of enthusiasm and had no religious designs on his charges.”61 It is not clear whether John Galt was fully aware of the diversity within Quakerism, (p.97) but it seems likely that the professional rivalry with these two men was exacerbated by Galt’s religious chauvinism.

Galt’s prejudices definitely shaped his interactions with patients. During his tenure as superintendent, he encountered few Catholics and just one Quaker. In the case of Quaker patient Catherine Brabbs, Galt’s contempt was directed at her plain appearance and poor personal hygiene. Galt likely attributed her lack of vanity to her religious identity rather than to her suicidal state of mind.62 More revealing were Galt’s interactions with Catherine Lockran, an Irish Catholic servant employed by a Mr. Tipping. According to Tipping, Lockran had exhibited no unusual behavior for the first few months of her employment. But one evening, upon Tipping’s return from a church meeting, he found Lockran dressed and holding a Bible under her arm, asking to speak with a Presbyterian minister. Tipping decided that her desire stemmed “not from genuine conviction but a disordered mind” and so refused her request. How Tipping arrived at that conclusion isn’t clear, but his refusal apparently upset Lockran. The next day and evening she grew increasingly agitated, wailing and “deploring her case as a sinner.” Tipping must have responded by locking her in a room because he stated that on the second night after their initial exchange, Lockran escaped and was found on top of the three-story house. Whether she intended to jump to her death is unclear, but in the days that followed she remained distressed—especially on the subject of “her guilt as a sinner”—and at some point took a large quantity of laudanum, either “to destroy herself or ease her mind.”63

Although Tipping noted that Catherine Lockran was “sometimes more rational than at others,” she ended up in jail in the fall of 1842. The jailor testified that she “talked rationally & begged me not to put her in a room by herself & asked me to stay with her.” He did stay to listen, whereupon he discovered that Lockran was “much distressed, & timid, & fearful, & expressed uneasiness about something which she would not reconcile to her conscience.” She “appeared afraid to be left by herself” and “said she had been brought up a Catholic; [but] had become dissatisfied [with Catholicism] & thought they were in the wrong.” Her strongest objections were “against Priests.” She “read the Bible much, & seemed desirous to unite with some church.” Having unburdened herself to the jailor, Lockran grew more composed. As a precaution, however, the jailor removed everything from her cell before retiring for the night. In the morning he returned to find apron strings “tied tight around her neck.” The jailor kept Lockran for a week—until she tried to escape “by running down stairs & injured herself”—then removed her to a private house where she remained for several days (p.98) until she was returned to an exasperated Mr. Tipping, who then sent her to the asylum.64

Galt did not dispute Tipping’s assessment of the crisis. Although Galt expressed interest in understanding his patients’ experiences, and Catherine Lockran’s views on Catholicism may well have complemented his own, he apparently did not encourage her to share her thoughts.65 Instead, he observed that she seemed frightened upon admission. Fear apparently yielded to “abusive,” that is resistant, behavior. Within a month she became “less abusive,” a fact Galt attributed to the efficacy of his treatment program as measured by Lockran’s willingness to work. Lockran’s new religious convictions, however, remained intact. She was, in Galt’s words, “Little changed. Sings and prays much.” Like her employer, Galt eventually grew exasperated by Lockran’s obstinacy. Temporarily abandoning his determination to forgo mechanical restraints, Galt recorded that his patient “Behaved badly until the 16th, when [the] straitwaistcoat made her act rightly.”66

Galt’s prejudices also surfaced in his published work. In 1852, he published an essay on the Mexican War—which he supported—in which he attributed the weakness of the Mexican state in its northernmost territories to the enervation of “Romanism.”67 His feelings about Catholicism did not, however, prevent him from turning to Catholic countries such as France and Italy for professional inspiration. Any superintendent would have been expected to know about Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, where Jean-Etienne Esquirol had taken over from his famous teacher, Philippe Pinel. Galt’s notes on Esquirol’s published cases reveal what Galt found most useful for his own practice. He paid particular attention to cases involving women with suppressed menstruation, suppressed lactation, suppressed appetite, and mystical or enthusiastic religious expression. In one such case, a woman who had grown despondent over the death of her daughter and was very much affected “by certain political prophecies at the time afloat” became morosely quiet and stopped eating. When she finally began to speak again, it was only to lament and wax loquacious on the subject of “God & the great events he had announced to her, that the messiah would appear &c.” For this she was committed and, apparently, calmed immediately. After a short relapse, this woman signed an agreement with Esquirol stating that if the great events that she alleged were going to happen did not occur by the date she had prophesied, then she would admit to insanity and consent to treatment. When the date had passed and no messiah came, the woman apparently conceded her error and was able to go home soon after “entirely recovered.”68

(p.99) Esquirol’s revulsive technique inspired Galt. In 1846, the American Journal of Insanity published excerpts from Galt’s first annual report calling for the probing of a patient’s religious misconceptions. Amariah Brigham, Utica Asylum’s superintendent at the epicenter of the Millerite controversy, denounced such ideas as dangerous since such confrontation “could only deepen a patient’s delusion.”69 Galt did not agree. He concluded that Phebe Epps, a fifty-eight-year-old white widow, suffered from “nervous crises as M. Esquirol would call them.” This was evidenced by excessive shaking, the fact that her mind centered on “ideas of being possessed by Satanic agency,” and her professed belief that the devil entered her body through her leg. Galt engaged Phebe directly and apparently taught her to regard her religious thoughts about evil as a symptom of insanity, so that when the feelings of possession twice resurfaced during her eight months at the asylum, “she subdued them” and “overcame them.” As was the case with Esquirol’s patient, having conceded her errors with the aid of medicine and “strong exertions,” Phebe Epps was discharged.70

Mary C. Britt, a white widow about forty years of age with three children living, was also admitted for religiously induced violent behavior, including an attempt to burn her hand because she “imagined something living in [it].” Like many women in her position, the death of her husband six years earlier had left her in “straightened” circumstances. To support herself and her children she had opened a boarding house with the aid of her mother. Then her mother and son died, and she began reading Scriptures in lieu of her previous passion for novels. Mary’s first evidence of insanity was “loud singing of hymns & extemporaneous exhortations.” She was not a church member, but it was noted that she regularly attended Methodist services. Although she was “always healthy” before this “attack of insanity” and “religious excitement,” it was also noted that as a girl Mary had been “affected with St. Vitus’ dance.”71 Like epilepsy, St. Vitus’s dance (Sydenham’s chorea) is a disorder characterized by spasmodic movements that since medieval times had been associated in Europe with religious frenzy.

For Galt, St. Vitus’s dance was readily linked to the kinetic worship of camp meetings that offended men like John Fanning Watson, and in this instance suggested a predisposition toward insanity. Glossolalia (speaking in tongues), crying out, falling down, spasms, and other means of calling for or signifying the presence of God at a sacred meeting were interpreted at the asylum as symptoms of insanity. The challenge for the superintendent was getting patients to see it that way as well. In Mary Britt’s case, as with Phebe Epps, Galt judged his efforts a success. He concluded that although Mary was “Inclined to talk, sing & gesticulate,” she appeared “conscious of her derangement …. ​I (p.100) think [she] is not wedded to her religious notions, having a latent sense of their unreality.”72 When Galt encountered Patsy Campbell, a free black woman whose symptoms allegedly first appeared after she attended a camp meeting, the disease was “turning & twisting her about in a strange manner.” After eight months, Patsy remained “very boisterous & cheerful” but she too was discharged.73

Preventing patients from injuring themselves or others might have been judged an adequate cure, but superintendents had grander ambitions. These ambitions shaped a subtle yet far-reaching expectation that patients abandon supernatural explanations for affliction and embrace instead a new concept of themselves as individuals suffering from a medical disease that required secular care.74 What a patient might perceive as the symptoms of soul sickness, doctors might diagnose as mania or melancholia. Coming from rural, “burned over” areas, many patients at the Eastern Lunatic Asylum had a religious or spiritual worldview that was not always shared by the legislators and doctors responsible for their institutional care. The pressure to accept a medical model of well-being created real dilemmas for them. For example, doctors regarded speaking in tongues as gibberish indicative of disordered thinking. Patients, however, may have viewed “these peculiar exercises” as the Holy Spirit demanding the self-mortification that preceded God’s saving grace.75 In this view, to suppress the desire to speak or shout, as was required by asylum doctors, might result in a loss of opportunities to experience divine power and forgiveness. Moreover, the religious worldviews of some patients led them to advocate racial egalitarianism. Sometimes this was an explicit politics, as with abolition. More often, these patients’ prioritization of religion coupled with the belief that all people were spiritual equals in the eyes of God affected their personal conduct in ways that were deeply unsettling to the hierarchical plantation system.

Just how unsettling is revealed by a brief note on the same page where Galt scratched down information about the Randolph family, in which he asserts that Randolph’s case is “pretty much like Turner’s case & Rudd,” two asylum patients under his care.76 There is very little else of substance written about these two patients, except for one other document in which Galt wrote of Mr. Rudd: “This was a case in which I believed insanity to exist; but it was a case in which eccentricity melted into insanity. The Board in such cases must be governed by expedience.” Expedience apparently required temporary institutionalization. Although Rudd’s accompanying papers attested to only “a slight degree of insanity,” an assessment supported by his unremarkable appearance and acceptable “mode of conversation,” it was decided that “a short (p.101) incarceration might be of service to him as a restraint, inducing him to restrain himself” from whatever eccentric behavior or beliefs had caught the attention of his detractors. From that brief note on the page dedicated to outlining insanity in the Randolph family, one might reasonably infer that Rudd’s only eccentricity—and Turner’s as well—was abolitionist conviction.77 Fortunately for Mr. Rudd, it was agreed that should there be no change in his behavior or opinions, he would nevertheless be discharged at the end of the month since “it appeared hard to keep such a man in the institution all his life.”78

Although the line between eccentricity and insanity was thus acknowledged by asylum administrators to be fine, and not every evangelical abolitionist ended up in the asylum, Rudd and Turner were hardly the only such cases. One patient, J. E. Scott, tried to send a letter to an anonymous “Dear Sir” stating: “I have been confined in Williamsburg. I am a northerner. I am opposed to the institution of Southern Slavery …. It is my design to divide the United States. I have been overrun by the state of Virginia.”79 If the intended recipient was someone outside the Asylum, it is evident that that person never received Scott’s letter.

Asylum patient L. Lee found himself in a similar predicament. Lee may well have been Luther Lee, a Wesleyan minister hired by the American Methodist Association (AMA) to preach the peaceful abolition of slavery throughout the southwestern Virginia circuit.80 Luther Lee, who was also a conductor on the Underground Railroad, wrote in 1846 that the aim of the AMA was “to send anti-slavery missionaries to the south, or aid in supporting those whom God in his providence may rise up in that land of whips and chains and gags, to preach deliverance to the captives, and the opening of the prison door to them that are bound.”81 Reverend Lee was based in Ohio from 1857 to 1859, where he was preacher in a Wesleyan and Congregational Church, united in opposition to slavery. Lee’s memoirs are circumspect about his underground journeys, but he had Methodist allies in Virginia. On July 4, 1860, Reverend Lee delivered the funeral service for abolitionist revolutionary John Brown in North Elba, New York. In his own words: “That was the oration of my life, the most radical and, probably, the most able I ever delivered.”82 The following October at the fifth General Conference, Lee was elected “a general missionary to travel through the whole connection to preach, lecture, organize Churches, and promote its interests.” After moving his family from Ohio to Syracuse, Lee began his organizing work “with more zeal and energy than was prudent in the circumstances.”83

An L. Lee was arrested in Prince George County soon thereafter and sent to the Eastern Lunatic Asylum. He escaped after a short stay, taking the unusual (p.102) step of notifying administrators as to his whereabouts. It is not clear who opened the asylum door for Lee, but as discussed in chapter two, enslaved caretakers were routinely accused of assisting runaways through either direct aid or disciplinary negligence. Having left behind a sealed note intended for Galt that bade the superintendent “an affectionate goodbye,” Lee took off through the meadow that lay southeast of the asylum to an anonymous friend’s house along York River Road. From there he caught a steamer home and, upon his arrival, sent another note, dated November 12, 1860, explaining his actions:

I feel now about like one translated [sic] from Hell to Heaven and I think it will be a long time before I shall return again unless I should be disposed to pay you all a friendly visit. I am not mad and have only been thought so by those who do not possess diagnosticatorial discrimination enough to determine a Lunatic from a Solomon. I think I understand the Constitution of our beloved America as well as the most of people, and also the laws of Virginia. I conclude that no man has the right to arrest or imprison me as Felon or a Lunatic until I violate or threaten to violate some law of the code, and this is something I have never done or threatened to do. I feel now that I have a right to shout when I am happy and also to express my opinions verbally or typographically on Religious or Political subjects. This is all I have ever claimed.84

Lee concluded his statement by informing Galt that he would deliver an address the following month at the Prince George courthouse decrying his unlawful incarceration, and he invited the physician to attend. Lee also asked that Galt direct the asylum steward to ship his belongings to a friend’s house along with a signed discharge notice “when you think I am worthy of it.”85

Lee’s identity and the exact nature of his public proclamations prior to his arrest are uncertain, but the “Religious or Political subjects” powerful enough to scandalize and arouse the ire of Virginians in 1860—one year after John Brown’s raid in Harper’s Ferry and one year before Virginia seceded—were slavery and its abolition. Just one year earlier, Superintendent Galt had received a letter from a Winchester sheriff looking for information about a patient going by the name of “Major Leigh,” whom someone at the asylum suspected was an accomplice of John Brown’s. The sheriff believed that many sympathizers, “aiders and abetters [sic] of Brown,” had made their way to Virginia following the raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry.86 The enquiry did not produce the accomplice—perhaps because the accomplice was Luther Lee—but it surely drew attention to the importance of the state in policing beliefs, and the role of the asylum in that endeavor.

(p.103) Given this volatile climate, it is unsurprising that a man such as Edward Peticolas would also end up in the asylum. As with Rudd, Turner, Scott, and Lee, Peticolas was a patient who was confined expressly—and perhaps unfairly—because he subscribed to increasingly unpopular religious beliefs and practices. It was he who copied “verbatim” “A Sermon by Capt James de Cocy,” also titled “The Gate of Heaven” or “Sermon for a young man who wishes to be a clergyman of Christ Church Baltimore.” Presumably Peticolas was the “gentleman in company with us” mentioned in the epigraph of this chapter. But who was he and why was he listening so assiduously to James Cossy?

Like Cossy, Peticolas was described as a lifelong “eccentric.” He was a sixty-one-year-old white artist who had lived in the city of Richmond prior to his involuntary admission to the asylum. In the same notebook as the transcribed sermon is a skillfully drawn picture of two birds, one holding a feather in its mouth, underneath which is the caption: “Capt., James De Cocy, The Father of White Indians” (see figure 4). The term “white Indians” referred to European-descended people who chose to live as and with Native Americans. The abduction of colonists that sometimes occurred in previous centuries had long ceased by the mid-nineteenth century, but romantic writers found in indigenous culture appealing, if idealized, motifs. Several captivity accounts became bestsellers in the 1820s and 1830s. These included true stories of individuals who chose to remain with their indigenous abductors, rebuffing attempts at rescue. Petticolas, who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, was old enough to have witnessed or heard firsthand accounts of the border wars and abductions along the Pennsylvania frontier. More importantly, Peticolas seems to have identified with the nonconformist “white Indians” who preferred Native American culture and company to their natal communities. According to the testimony of his son, a physician teaching in the Medical Branch at Hampden Sidney College in Prince Edward County, Peticolas had always exhibited strange proclivities. For example, though unaccustomed to outdoor work, twenty years prior to his commitment, Peticolas “suddenly” took up gardening, a hobby he continued to pursue despite worsening rheumatism. Peticolas also disliked his wife “without real cause” and burnt up everything connected with her after her death, declaring it “impure.”87

A decades-old interest in gardening and an unhappy marriage do not seem aberrant enough to merit involuntary commitment as a lunatic, even by the comparatively loose standards of the nineteenth century. Peticolas’s son, whose own testimony indicated that his father was “entirely lucid” on all topics except religion, was nevertheless able to convince three magistrates that his father was a lunatic. That the son was a doctor—a respectable man with medical (p.104) knowledge—surely helped persuade. He alleged that his two paternal uncles were also insane, suggesting that the illness was hereditary.88 Edward Peticolas’s own behavior, however, was probably the most important factor in his admission. In addition to his unspecified peculiar “religious notions,” Peticolas’s putative insanity manifested in his living arrangements; he lived by himself in “a home half-furnished,” and he “permitted a free coloured family to live on the same premises, who attended to his different wants.” Peticolas’s son was especially alarmed by his father’s “great tendency to give away property,” presumably to the aforementioned family. By consorting with a free black family—choosing to remain with them like a “white Indian”—and giving away his property to them instead of to his lawful heir, his doctor son, Peticolas’s lifelong eccentricity was recategorized as insanity.89

After his father’s commitment, the son’s only letter—or at least the only extant letter—makes no inquiries about his father’s well-being, requesting only that Superintendent Galt attest to Peticolas’s insanity in order to enable the son to gain legal authority over his father’s property. Galt seemed to enjoy the elder Peticolas’s company, reporting their conversations about politics and music in his personal journal.90 In the medical casebook, Peticolas was observed to be “melancholy and anxious for his account books” and unable to play the violin, and was frequently described as excited and dirty.91 He broke two window panes early in his incarceration, but claimed that he was “only ‘playing the madman.’”92 His apparent preference for the company of free blacks was lent credence by the attention he paid to fellow inmate James Cossy. He was not judged a physical danger to himself or others.93 Rather, the threat he posed was that of socially inappropriate behavior—giving away property to free blacks—possibly justified in his mind by some unpopular religious notion about racial equality.

Peticolas’s son may have intended for his father to remain in the asylum only until he could take over any remaining assets—a temporary incarceration as with Mr. Rudd—but his father had one remaining power. On November 21, 1847, just nine months after entering the asylum, Peticolas killed himself. Asylum record books indicate that his death was natural. However, a surviving letter that Steward P. J. Barziza wrote to Superintendent Galt makes it clear that Peticolas committed suicide and that asylum administrators conspired to hide that fact from his family. After passing an uneventful evening in his usual fashion, Peticolas’s body was found the next morning by Jefferson, the slave who had entered his room to build a fire. He had hanged himself with fabric from his pants. In the words of Barziza, “As I was the first and only person to see him, except three of the servants, it immidiately [sic] occurred to me (p.105)

Servants, Obey Your MastersReligion and Resistance

Figure 4. James De Cocy, Father of White Indians. This drawing (circa 1847) by Eastern Lunatic Asylum patient Edward Peticolas accompanies a transcription of a sermon by fellow patient James Cossy. Peticolas was an elderly white artist from Richmond, and Cossy was a free black seaman from Gloucester. Eastern State Hospital Records, Library of Virginia.

to send for Mr. Clowes, and enjoined upon him and the Servants present to observe a profound silence, but to state about, upon my assertion, that he must have died in a fit.” It is striking that Barziza described himself as the “first and only” witness when he was, in fact, the fourth, and that he was confident that he could trust the others to maintain this ruse. Upon later discovering a note from Peticolas, which requested that his family not learn of the manner of his death and instead be informed simply “that he was found dead in the morning,” Barziza admitted to feeling “great pleasure” that he had “resorted to this deception” in the first place.94 Peticolas’s son went on to briefly serve as superintendent of the Eastern Asylum after the Civil War, when it became a whites-only institution, but it is unclear whether he ever saw the letter to Galt about his father’s death or was otherwise informed of the truth. Sadly, Dr. Peticolas also committed suicide at the asylum in a lurid fashion. In 1868, he jumped from an asylum window, “dashing his brains out on the sidewalk below.”95

In a draft essay entitled Ideas on Insanity, Superintendent Galt speculated that “lunatics like Joan of Arc & Nat Turner (we should apologize for their mentions together) attain success by producing such an [energy] as would not (p.106) be possible or probable in individuals moving in the routine track of life.”96 Nat Turner, who in 1831 led the bloodiest slave revolt in North American history, was from Southampton County in Virginia. Turner “was viewed by his fellow slaves as a preacher, healer, and seer” who read celestial events as signs from God ordaining violent revolt.97 Despite Galt’s hesitancy to compare Turner to Joan of Arc, both claimed divine intervention as the source for their revolutionary action, and therefore both were insane in Galt’s estimation. At Eastern Lunatic Asylum, one goal was to stop any would-be prophets from following the example of Nat Turner or Joan of Arc by inculcating the habits and thoughts of those on “the routine track of life.” Arguably, however, the biggest threat to slavery was not the occasional firebrand like Lee or Scott (or Nat Turner) but the possibility that sustained interpersonal connections might undermine the institution, as it apparently did for the elderly Peticolas. As with caregiving, Christianity sometimes encouraged opportunities for reciprocal relationships. Blacks and whites “preached to, prayed for, and converted each other,” the status of master and slave temporarily suspended by shared emotional fervor and conviction.98 The difficulty interracial worship posed to slavery, in the words of historian Albert Raboteau, was “ensuring that the egalitarian tendencies of Christian instruction would remain safely within the boundaries of slave management.” Control was potentially weakened “when some masters admitted that they had been converted to a more spiritual view of their slaves.”99 Perhaps this is why patient John T. Williams was “removed from habitual position amongst the coloured insane” in March 1853.100

The asylum’s promotion of rational Christianity devoid of political radicalism offered a means of containment. Superintendent Galt knew firsthand slaves’ influence on white society. Viewing himself as an expert on issues pertaining to the care of mentally ill African Americans, Galt authored a treatise on what he deemed “superstition.” Galt explained that “a belief in omens & signs is not uncommon in Virginia: many families have particular things falling under this category, which they have a sort of faith in as predicting by their occurrence [sic] some good or evil.”101 To illustrate, Galt mentioned “hearing voices which do not really sound,” seeing persons or spirits “where all is thin air,” and imagining that some animal or thing is preying upon an organ of the body, as was the case with Mary Britt and Phebe Epps, both white women.102 These delusions or illusions were, he asserted, particularly common among African Americans and slaves in the West Indies. But anyone who regularly “permitted his imagination to succumb” to superstitions increased the risk of insanity.103 For example, white patient Narcissa Cox, who may have been practicing voodoo, “on one occasion killed a chicken, upon the pretense (p.107) that the devil was in it[;] that it came ‘staggering’ up to her.”104 And Ann Burton, a thirty-three-year-old seamstress and a native of England, also spoke of persons “bewitching her and doing injury by secret influences.”105

Most of the individuals who held what Galt considered superstitious notions were not insane. Jane Deacon, for instance, a recently widowed white woman, answered the board’s questions at her commitment hearing “calmly” and in “quite an accurate & sane manner.” Much to Dr. Galt’s perplexity, however, she evinced “a belief that persons are interfering with her by witchcraft.”106 Eventually, Galt concluded, a superstitious person’s excitability or gullibility might snowball into insanity. Thus, he argued, those who fancy themselves “tricked” might bring about their own demise. In Galt’s estimation, they imagine themselves “tricked” either because they are hypochondriacs or because, initially, they are suffering from some disease. Their imagination, in turn, “increases the effect of the disease or of itself causes the patient to waste away.”107

Jane (Duerson), a thirty-two-year-old slave and mother of four living children, may have exemplified this process for Galt. Jane “imagined herself under a spell/ in negro phrase tricked.” She exhibited “no perversion of intellectual functions,” but she refused to “hold communication with others” and was “greatly excited” against “a woman with whom she supposed her husband to be intimate.” According to her owner, Jane experienced some relief after “going to a negro-doctor,” but eventually those remedies failed and she grew severely emaciated. Yet it is unclear whether the asylum treatment—which attributed her illness to a “uterine if not puerperal origin”—proved more effective for Jane.108

Accounts of slaves and free blacks who believed that they were tricked reveal that a telltale symptom was snakes crawling under the skin. There is evidence to suggest that some patients at Eastern Asylum explained their condition in this way. The 1852–53 Register notes, for example, that Amanda Roby “continues to imagine herself infected by a scorpion and a serpent.”109 Even Galt himself, in private, admitted to occasionally feeling a strange stirring under his skin—“an unimpeded motion in incubus”—that he intellectualized by asking, “was this not the origin of the witch craze?”110 Some believed that it was possible to see a snake inside the mouth of a victim of conjure.111 It would not take much imagination to regard parasitic worms as small snakes, and asylum patients with helminth infections frequently passed or vomited worms. After Narcissa Cox killed the chicken she was “said to have passed worms, though she denied it,” and she claimed as well that her coffee was poisoned, essentially implying that the staff were tricking her.112 From the patients’ point of view, a supernatural explanation that accounted for physical symptoms undoubtedly (p.108) seemed more rational or plausible than a medical theory of insanity that addressed itself vaguely to the matter of “nerves.” Perhaps it was the quasi-religious aspects of medical care that might have made it easier for patients and their families to accept institutional methods and curative measures—the connection of water baths to baptism, for example. Yet the doctor could remain oblivious to patients’ spiritual interpretations of his “secular” treatment, allowing both parties to come away satisfied from their interaction.

Galt’s public dismissal or denigration of African American explanations of disease as “superstition” might have been partly an effort to contain its influence on white society. Late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century accounts of hoodoo attest to widespread belief among white Southerners. Between 1877 and 1913, for example, there were twelve white patients at the South Carolina State Hospital who claimed to be the victims of conjure.113 Galt’s attitude was also typical of white physicians who overlooked or misinterpreted the broader “pharmocosm” in which conjuration occurred in order to bolster Eurocentric diagnoses and treatments.114 By locating the source of affliction in patients’ imaginations, Galt ignored their insistence on a relational vision of health in which affliction and well-being were inextricably linked to “broader community relationships.”115 This is not to say that all of the African American patients at the asylum were sane; even within their own communities some of them were doubtlessly perceived as deranged. But the explanation for their derangement and the prescribed treatments were different, and without asylum intervention, the ultimate outcomes might have been as well. The same or similar might be said of the white patients about whom Galt noted a propensity for religious enthusiasm.

The religious beliefs and expressions of many of the patients stand in marked contrast to the faith espoused by the asylum administrators. Sometime circa 1844, Superintendent Galt wrote a letter to the Eastern Asylum’s board of directors seeking approval to offer regular Sabbath services to the patients. His appeal was multidimensional. First, he quoted Pliny Earle, who had alleged in 1840 that only four institutions in the United States failed to provide regular religious services to inmates, in effect shaming the directors for being at the head of a comparatively deficient enterprise. (Fifteen years later the relationship between Galt and Earle was less collegial.) Further, Galt asserted that the same could be said of Europe, giving the example of Aberdeen in Scotland, where services were viewed as a “useful occupation.” At no other time were patients observed to behave “so like rational & accountable beings.” The curative influence to which so many superintendents attested was, in part, due to the “powers of self-controul” that were called upon in order to sit through a (p.109) service. At minimum, services were something to do—an activity preferable to idleness. In turn, the exercise of self-control was said to increase “the self-respect of the patient.”116 Galt’s argument on the efficacy of religious services was bolstered not only by quotations from respected figures like Earle and Samuel Woodward of the Worcester State Hospital but also by his own experience. He pointedly thanked Reverend Leak “for the religious services which he was kind enough to conduct in this institution.”117 Notably, Galt did not argue that religious services were necessary at the asylum in order to preserve the souls of his patients. Religion served a purpose at the asylum, but its function was material rather than spiritual.

Although John M. Galt was dismissive, and even contemptuous, of all sects save Episcopalians, he was considerably more permissive in his attitudes than some of his colleagues when it came to the religious freedoms granted to enslaved attendants. He allowed for separate Sunday services for the slaves that were led by fellow slaves and involved loud singing, which several board members found objectionable.118 Galt also granted permission for a burial ceremony for an enslaved attendant, in which “the servant George” proposed to “sing a praise” in lieu of or in addition to usual service provided by white officer Mr. Clowes. He was similarly sympathetic when the matron reported that Harriet was “almost distracted about Ned’s not being buried in the country,” and confronted white officers after a “col’d congregation” was refused a room to preach despite his expressed willingness to give it to them.119 Galt’s permissiveness is remarkable given the social context. Rebellions such as Nat Turner’s had generated “a vehement white backlash that manifested itself in stringent measures that severely curtailed the independence of African churches and the rights of assembly of black Christians.”120 By 1832, in fact, ten years before Galt took over the asylum, the African Baptist Church of Williamsburg was closed and slave members at Elam Baptist twenty miles up the James River in Charles City “were transferred by their owners to a church under white control.”121 Galt nevertheless continued to allow a free black patient, James Cossy, to wander and preach despite complaints from board members and fellow patients.122 In short, Galt’s attitude toward the asylum slaves and their right to practice religion as they saw fit were considerably more relaxed than the attitudes of some of his colleagues.

Perhaps it was Galt’s open-minded disposition that prevented him from fully realizing his vision of a regular chaplain who would also act as a teacher at the asylum.123 The board of directors approved, but the turnover of ministers at the asylum remained high, especially compared with the lifetime tenure of most of the other staff. In addition to Mr. Leak, Galt’s correspondence (p.110) mentions services provided by Misters Withers, Clarke, Totten, Dennison, Minnigerode, Morris, and Joyner (also spelled Joiner).124 The parade of ministers was occasionally punctuated by gaps in which there were no services offered.125 The asylum’s role as promoter of rational religion may be one reason it proved difficult to retain ministers. Even the most conservative ministers probably regarded their primary purpose as saving souls and not just helping patients pass time. They might also have resented measures to regulate their message, such as when Galt noted in his journal, “Should always determine character of services before going in the officiate.”126 But another reason surely had to do with the fact that the asylum minister had to please superintendent, patients, staff members, and members of the board of directors, who did not always agree with one another. Board members complained about the nature of some of the sermons. “Mr. Morris preached a funeral sermon,” wrote Galt, and the next day “Mr. Waller spoke to me about Mr. Morris’ sermon, whereupon I said that I did not understand what Mr. Morris had done to be in accordance with the views of the Board, but that we must yield to the Directors, & Mr. M would settle the matter with the Directory.”127 Steward Barziza even threatened to kill Joiner for some unspecified transgression.128

Through it all, Galt tried to keep track of patients attending services and promote what he thought was in their best interest. In November 1853, he noted, “Col. Armistead asked if there was any change in the Chapel. I said I thought that perhaps there were more patients in attending [sic], but that nothing positive had taken place.”129 The meaning behind this negative assessment is unclear. Did Galt mean that the patients were dazed and uncomprehending? Or were they restive, their worship remaining, in his view, irrational? In either case, Galt’s disappointment might not have been shared by the patients in attendance. Like the baths, patients and administrators might have come away from a Sunday service having understood the event in different ways.


In the Annual Report of 1843, Superintendent Galt wrote, “most causes of insanity arise from some infraction either of the moral or the physical laws of our being.” Chief among moral causes were “strong feelings” aroused by domestic troubles and affliction. Emotional turmoil was, he suggested, more pronounced in rural communities of the South since there were fewer people and events to divert attention from “the family circle.” He cautioned that the “proper safeguard” against passionate feeling was “resignation to the will of (p.111) Providence,” indicated by the “calm conviction” that everything that happens in this lifetime and in the world “springs from the one great cause, and in answer to some good purpose.”130 Based on their letters, it would appear that many white patients’ family members did indeed take solace by resigning themselves to God’s will. They accepted that the mental illness afflicting their loved one was preordained by God. “I endeavor to resign myself to the will of God,” wrote one wife about her husband who was a patient, “humbly hopeing [sic] that this affliction[,] however severe it may seem as this Time, will work for us a far more exceeding weight of Glory.”131 A letter that one mother wrote to her daughter named Mary Barrett, a patient, also typifies this attitude: “I hope by the blessing of Divine providence you will be restored to health and be able to be returned to your family and friends; my dear child[,] try to be contented.”132 Clearly, however, there were many asylum patients (and enslaved asylum staff) for whom resignation was not an attractive option. For these patients, religious faith was transformative, spurring one to action and, sometimes, rebellion.

Moral therapy dismissed the idea that the insane were possessed or cursed as unscientific superstition. Like his peers, John M. Galt maintained that religious enthusiasm was more often a symptom of insanity rather than a cause. At best, he argued, religion was sometimes an exciting, secondary factor for those predisposed to insanity. This distinction was crucial as it enabled administrators to promote their own vision of acceptable religion and to deride marginal beliefs. One of the key functions of the asylum was to shape patients’ understanding of illness as a secular experience rather than a spiritual malady. Secular medicine was not, however, completely divorced from religion. Superintendents tamped down enthusiasm while simultaneously promoting the values and worldview of mainstream Protestantism, which in the South, included acceptance of slavery. For enslaved and women patients especially, this cognitive reframing of suffering diminished the sense of peace and empowerment that religious faith sometimes provided.


(1.) James Cossy [also Cossey and de Cocy], n.d., Box II. C., ESH. According to J. M. Galt’s patient register from 1843, James Cossy was admitted on June 27, 1822. The sermon was transcribed by another patient, Edward F. Peticolas. Peticolas identifies himself as Edward G. Petticolas, but both names appear to refer to the same man.

(3.) Numbers and Numbers, The Disappointed, 96. The authors quote Superintendent Stribling of Western Lunatic Asylum: “In such cases the brain has frequently been acting morbidly for some time, without its being discovered, and at length when influenced by religious feeling, its manifestations upon this subject indicate mental disorder—this the effect, is hastily seized upon and assigned as the cause.” Galt’s notes on aphasia include a quote from Milligen: “Religious delusions are no doubt the occasional cause of insanity; but these ideas are more generally an effect.” See Box IX, folder 0013, ESH.

(4.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Eliza McGuire entry, ESH. “Always been moral & virtuous, and is a professor of religion” “Before justices an inclination to sing, & talk at random on various matters. Edwin C. Phillips says he thinks since derangement, exercised on the subject of baptism, frequently saying she wished to be baptised [sic]. Coming to the institution, the spray from the boat calmed her …. ​A Methodist.” Hydrotherapy was a popular antebellum practice that existed independently of asylum medicine, but it was a method that many asylum doctors incorporated into their regime, and its proponents likewise returned the favor by publicly supporting asylum care over that provided by families at home.

(8.) Goldberg, Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness, 47–48.

(10.) Goldberg, Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness, 47–48.

(12.) Porter, Mind-Forg’d Manacles, 73. Porter cites Digby, Madness, Morality and Medicine.

(13.) Dain, Concepts of Insanity in the United States, 24. According to Dain, half of the eight institutions founded before 1824 were consciously modeled after Tuke’s York Retreat, but “the majority of American medical men were ignorant of developments in the treatment of mental illness” until the 1850s.

(16.) Stone, A Sketch of the Life of Elizabeth T. Stone, 1842, 27. See also Numbers and Numbers, The Disappointed.

(18.) Ibid., 209–10.

(20.) On the distinction between perplexity and excitement: Box IV, folder 0026, ESH. On fanaticism: Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 1, folder 16, 1842–1844, item 7, SSC.

(23.) Taves, Fits, Trances & Visions, 85.

(24.) Ibid., 79–80.

(26.) Alley, A History of Baptists in Virginia, 212–13. Alley cites The Religious Herald, a Baptist paper, from September 1838.

(29.) Taves, Fits, Trances & Visions, 77.

(30.) Henry, Shouting: Genuine and Spurious, 248.

(33.) JMG to “My Dear Sir,” Box III, folder 0016, n.d., ESH.

(35.) Ely, Israel on the Appomattox, 47–49. Ely writes that John Randolph was “a man capable of paranoid flights of imagination,” and that St. George Randolph spent much of his adult life “under intermittent treatment for mental illness.”

(36.) JMG, Box VII, folder 0018, n.d., ESH.

(37.) Ibid.

(38.) Galt Family Papers II, Box V, folder 57, “Ideas on insanity,” n.d., SSC.

(39.) Rothberg, “The Swedenborgian Search for African Purity,” 233–40. See n. 118, citing Swedenborg’s A Treatise Concerning the Last Judgment: “in greater enlightenment than others on this earth, since they are such that they think more interiorly, and so receive truths and acknowledge them.”

(42.) Ibid., 38.

(43.) James Cossy, Box I, folder 0015, ESH.

(44.) Patient Register, 1852–1853, James Cossy entry, Sept. 30, ESH.

(46.) Cossy, Box II. C., patient writing folder, ESH. These images are evocative because the “Gates of Hell” could also be the gate to Africa (“Hell on Earth”), with Cossy appointing himself the keeper, perhaps to defend Africa from the illegal slave trade or perhaps to contain whatever misery he may have witnessed as a seaman in African ports.

(47.) Ibid.

(p.217) (48.) Ibid.

(49.) Galt Family Papers I, Box 15, Commonplace Book, February and March 1846, SSC.

(50.) Galt Family Papers I, Box 15, Commonplace Book, August 3, 1846, SSC.

(51.) Box III, folder 0045, JMG to “Gentlemen,” ESH. “There is not a more common symptom of epileptic insanity than an exaltation of the religious feelings.”

(52.) John M. Galt, Box VI, Folder 0003, ESH.

(53.) Richard G. entry, Patient notebook, 1842–43, ESH.

(54.) Galt, The Annual Report of the Physician and Superintendent of the Eastern Asylum in the City of Williamsburg, Virginia, for 1843, 27–28. Galt writes that this sermon “was wholly composed and written, a year or two since, by a patient who had been deranged ten or twelve years before his admission into the asylum, which was in 1841, and he still continues to be an inmate.”

(56.) Manzo, “Calming Minds and Instilling Character,” 51–53; “Absurd, stupid, and evil in its consequences” from Galt Family Papers II, Personal Papers, Box 5, folder 42, item 18, letter to Mrs. Mary D. Galt from John M. Galt, Oct. 24, 1840, SSC.

(58.) Galt Family Papers II, Personal Papers, Box 5, folder 40, item 25, letter to Elizabeth J. Galt from John M. Galt, Feb. 8, 1840, SSC. Galt observes that Mr. Wise is like Mr. Randolph in that both men exhibit “an order of mind …. ​peculiarly suited to …. ​being in the opposite party to an [admi]nistration.”

(60.) Tomes, The Art of Asylum Keeping, 45. The non-Orthodox Quakers are referred to as Hicksite, so named because they were followers of Elias Hicks.

(61.) Ibid., 48.

(62.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Catherine Brabbs entry, ESH.

(63.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Catherine Lockran entry, ESH.

(65.) Zwelling, Quest for a Cure, 41. The author writes: “Galt not only struggled to discover the root causes of insanity. He also tried to understand his patients’ experiences. Galt’s attempt to learn about insanity from the inside out was a step away from the severe eighteenth-century perspective and a step toward a more compassionate and empathetic viewpoint. On one occasion he wrote in a private journal, ‘I should ask every recovered patient the state of their feelings during their insanity.’” See also Galt Family Papers II, Medical Papers, Box III, folder 38, “Medical Ideas,” Apr. 1844, SSC.

(66.) Galt Family Papers I, Manuscripts, Box 20, Case histories of asylum patients, 1844–1845, Catherine Lockran entry, May 1, 1844, SSC.

(68.) JMG’s notes on Esquirol’s cases, Box III, folder 0005, ESH.

(69.) Manzo, “Calming Minds,” 41.

(70.) Galt Family Papers I, Manuscripts, Box 20, Case histories of asylum patients, 1844–1845, Phoebe Epps entry, SSC. Phoebe spent another year in the asylum, her condition largely unchanged, until she was discharged in spite of residual “morbid excitement” in the form of boisterous cheer.

(71.) Galt Family Papers I, Manuscripts, Box 20, Case histories of asylum patients, 1844–1845, Mary Britt entry, SSC.

(p.218) (72.) Ibid.

(73.) Galt Family Papers I, Manuscripts, Box 20, Case histories of asylum patients, 1844–1845, Patsy Campbell entry, SSC.

(74.) Goldberg, Sex, Religion and the Making of Modern Madness, 51.

(75.) Henry, Shouting: Genuine and Spurious.

(76.) JMG, Box VII, folder 0018, N.D., ESH.

(77.) It is possible that Galt was referring to fits of prejudice and passion about topics other than slavery, but many patients were excited about a variety of subjects so why single out these two men in the context of discussion about John Randolph’s attitudes toward slavery?

(78.) Galt Family Papers II, Box 5 Folder 57, Medical Ideas, May 1844, SSC.

(79.) J. E. Scott to anonymous, n.d., Box II. C., patient writing, ESH.

(81.) Ibid. Harrold cites the 1846 Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Missionary Society of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection.

(82.) Lee, Autobiography of the Rev. Luther Lee, 295. Reverend Edward Smith of Virginia was one such acquaintance upon whom Lee called to help him in public debates with ministers who were opposed to abolition; see 264–67.

(83.) Ibid., 297. Lee provides no details about his underground work nor does he discuss the consequences of his zeal other than to say that he suffered with a lot of colds.

(84.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers Box I, folder 27, Nov. 12, 1860 letter from L. Lee, SSC.

(86.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers Box I, folder 26, letter to John M. Galt from J. H. Henard, Nov. 15, 1859, SSC.

(88.) Ibid. His only surviving child was identified as his son, A. E. Peticolas of the Medical Branch of Hampden Sidney College.

(90.) Galt Family Papers I, Box 15, Commonplace Book, Sept. & Nov. 1847 entries, SSC. Specifically, Galt recorded Peticolas’s cynicism about politicians and his belief that teaching music to young women was too stimulating for young men.

(91.) Box IV, folder 0016, “Males 1847 April,” ESH.

(92.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Edward F. Peticolas entry, ESH.

(93.) In April 1847 Peticolas cut off a piece of a hoe in order to bleed himself “upon the supposition that he required bloodletting,” but apparently the asylum staff did not see this gesture as suicidal so much as medically misguided. The Patient Register lists the date of Peticolas’s death as August 21. However, a letter from Barziza to Galt indicated that Peticolas was found dead in his room on November 21, 1847, having killed himself sometime on Saturday night or in the early hours of the morning on Sunday. See Galt Family Papers II, Box 6, folder 62, SSC. To further complicate this narrative, however, Peticolas wrote that he transcribed James Cossey’s sermon on Sunday, February 5, 1853. However, February 5 fell on a Saturday in 1853. The correct date of the sermon was probably 1843.

(p.219) (94.) Galt Family Papers II, Box 6, folder 62, P. J. Barziza to Dr. Galt, Monday, November 22, 1847. November 22, 1847 did fall on a Monday. Presumably, the August date of death in the Patient Register was a bureaucratic oversight.

(95.) Box IV, folder 0006, ESH. A. E. Peticolas, M.D., served as superintendent for a few months in 1868. Like his father, he also committed suicide, as reported in a colorful obituary from November 28, 1868, in the New York Times: “Dr. ARTRUR E. PETTICOLAS, Superintendent of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, at Williamsburg, committed suicide there this morning by leaping from a window of the asylum, dashing his brains out on the sidewalk below. The deceased was a distinguished physician, and was formerly Professor in the Medical College here.”

(96.) Galt Family Papers II, Box V, folder 57, “Ideas on insanity,” n.d., SSC.

(98.) Ibid, 59.

(100.) Register 1852–1853, John T. Williams entry, ESH.

(101.) John M. Galt, Box VI, Folder 0047, ESH.

(102.) Ibid. See also Galt Family Papers I, Manuscripts, Box 20, Case histories of asylum patients, 1844–1845, Phoebe Epps and Mary Britt entries, SSC.

(104.) Galt Family Papers II, Box 5, folder 58, Medical Diaries, July 9, 1853, SSC.

(105.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Ann Burton entry, ESH.

(106.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Jane Deacon entry, ESH.

(107.) John M. Galt, Box VI, Folder 0047, ESH.

(108.) Patient Notebook, 1842–1843, Jane (Duerson) entry, ESH.

(109.) 1852–1853 Register, Amanda Roby entry, Oct. 31, 1852, ESH.

(110.) Galt Family Papers I, Manuscripts, Nov. 1856, SSC.

(112.) Narcissa Cox, Galt Family Papers II, Box 5, folder 58, Medical Diaries, July 9, 1853, SSC. Other examples of helminth infection: Loose Leaves, July 1857, ESH (“Miss Bear being reported as throwing up a worm yesterday”); and from the Patient Register, 1852–1853: Nancy Cubbage, Oct. 31 “passed worms”; and Betsy Malone, Dec. 17 “several more worms had been discharged upwards” before she died on Dec. 29.

(113.) McCandless, Moonlight, Magnolias and Madness, 376, n. 63. McCandless also notes that between 1877 and 1912, twenty-four black patients plus one patient who could not be identified by race also claimed to be victims of conjure.

(114.) Fett, Working Cures, 39. Fett cites Smith, Conjuring Culture: “A contraction of the phrase ‘pharmacopeic cosmos,’ the term ‘pharmocosm’ emphasizes the healing and harming capacities of spiritual power.”

(115.) Ibid., 6.

(116.) Box VIII, folder 0003, ESH.

(117.) Ibid.

(118.) Box IV, folder 0010, ESH.

(119.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, November 1, 1853, SSC. “Capt. Bucktrout hired Mr. Clowes to go on with his leading service over the dead. The servant George asked that they might sing a praise over the dead as an old fellow-servant.” Harriet distracted about (p.220) Ned’s burial: Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, folder 47, Medical Diaries, Jan. 4, 1853, SSC. Congregation refused room: Box IV, folder 0010, Dec. 1861, ESH.

(120.) Frey and Wood, Come Shouting to Zion, xiv. Whether new restrictions were consistently enforced, however, is open to debate.

(121.) Raboteau, Slave Religion, 178. He cites Jackson, “Religious Development of the Negro in Virginia,” 217–18.

(122.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, Aug. 19, 1848, SSC. “Reginsbury complained of Cossy[‘s/I] told him I was always willing to hear complaints, nay desired it.”

(123.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, Sept. 28, 1845, SSC. “The Chaplain should be expected to act as a teacher.”

(124.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, Jan. 28, 1849, SSC. “Mr. Withers commenced preaching at the asylum.” “Jan. 21, 1850: “New room ready for Preacher. Dr/ Totten preached.” Aug. 22, 1847: “No preaching, Mr. Clarke being sick in James City.” Nov. 1, 1848: “Wrote to Mr. Denison requesting an answer as to the intention of the E. Church in furnishing a Minister; had an interview with him subsequently as also with Mr. Minnigerode. I [raised] the offer of the two gentlemen just named, to preach in the afternoon, & agreed to wait six weeks, for a minister to be supplied.”

(125.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, May 28, 1843, SSC: “Preaching resumed after a discontinuance of 8 or 10 months.”

(126.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Papers, Box 5, Jan. 21, 1850, SSC.

(127.) Box V, Loose Leaves, ESjH.

(128.) Box IC, folder 0011, ESH.

(129.) Galt Family Papers I, Medical Diaries, November 16, 1853, SSC.

(131.) Mrs. Christian to JMG, Oct. 16, 1845, Box I. C., folder 0017, ESH.

(132.) Nancy Wolfe to JMG, encl. to Mary Barrett, April 11, 1844, Box I. C., ESH.