HISTORY OF MEDICINE IN KINGS COUNTY (October 24/17)

Born in New London, Connecticut, in 1730, Samuel Willoughby was a grantee here in 1761, receiving one and a half shares, or the equivalent of about 750 acres of farmland in Cornwallis Township. Willoughby was among the original Kings County grantees who settled on farmland vacated by the Acadians, but he stood out in many ways from his fellow Planters.

As Dr. Allan Marble noted in a September 28 talk at the Historical Society museum, Samuel Willoughby has the distinction of being the first medical practitioner in Kings County. Willoughby practiced medicine in Kings County from 1761 to 1785. As well, he served his community in other capacities, including Justice of the Peace and two terms in the House of Assembly representing Cornwallis Township.

Dr. Marble’s talk included brief overviews of the career of Willoughby and other prominent Kings County doctors in the 18th and 19th century. Among them was Dr. Isaac Webster (1766-1851) Dr. William Bennett Webster (1798-1861) and Dr. Jonathan Borden (1809 -1875). Highlighted also were the careers of later Kings County doctors such as Dr. Elias Nichols Payzant (1830-1925) who practiced in Lakeville and Wolfville, and physicians/surgeons Dr. George E. DeWitt (1842-1924) and Dr. Connell E. A. DeWitt (1882-1973) both of whom also practiced in Wolfville.

Relatively speaking, medical practice was in its infancy during the early Planter period in Kings County. As Dr. Marble noted, in Willoughby’s time medical practice in Kings County hadn’t advanced much beyond the use of emetics, diuretics, cathartics and blood-letting. These practices as well as alternate therapies to treat illness were in vogue when the Planters arrived in Kings County, and as Dr. Marble said, they would remain in vogue until well into the next century.

The history of medicine in Kings County, the theme of Dr. Marble’s talk, also took in the establishment of hospitals in Kings County. Apparently the first hospital in Kings County was established in Wolfville. In 1902, Dr. George E. DeWitt opened the Wolfville Highlands Sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis. Two years later the provincial sanatorium opened in Kentville. The third hospital in the county, the Westwood Hospital, was opened, also in Wolfville, by Dr. George E. DeWitt in 1918; Wolfville’s next hospital, the Eastern Kings Memorial, opened in 1930. Previously Berwick’s Western Kings Memorial Hospital had opened in 1922, the same year the Kings County Poor House and Asylum opened in Waterville; in Kentville the Blanchard-Fraser Memorial Hospital opened in 1938.

As well as a hospital timeline, Dr. Marble discussed the evolution of disease treatment. In Willoughby’s time common disease such as measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and whooping cough sometimes were serious illnesses. Germ theory and the idea that bacteria existed and caused infection was unheard of (it wouldn’t be until the late 19th century that leading surgeons and medical practitioners in England and France accepted the findings of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister).

When the Planters arrived in Kings County the revolutionary medical discoveries of Pasteur and Lister were far in the future. From this, as Dr. Marble inferred in his talk on medical history, everyday life in 18th century Kings County must have been extremely fearful to say the least.

Dr. Marble is the president of the Medical History Society of Nova Scotia. He is the author of 10 historical books.

Dr. Allen Marble

Dr. Allan Marble, right, and Kings Historical Society president Maynard Stevens confer at the monthly meeting of the Society. At the meeting Dr. Marble spoke about the medical history of Kings County. (Bria Stokesbury)

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