We're revising a 2014 episode today. In the late 1700s, medical colleges needed cadavers for educational dissection, but there were no legal means for obtaining them. This led to some unorthodox dealings in the acquiring of bodies, and brought New York to a fever pitch in 1788.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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with eighty happy Saturday, everybody earlier this week we did an episode on Robert listed, who did groundbreaking work in the field of surgery in the nineteenth century, but became better known for some really gruesome and possibly apocryphal moments in his career. In that episode we very briefly mentioned the lack of cadavers available for medical study at that time, and we mention that there was more on this in our prior episode on the doctors riot of seventeen eighty eight, which came out on July, sixteenth twenty fourteen. So we thought this would be perfect time to put that episode back into the feed. It's a story that combines medical history, racism classes, a mob violence and changing attitudes about by section and medical study as a lot so
welcome to stuff you missed in history, class of production of I hurt radios, how stuff works and welcomes the tin and I'm falling fry back with a part.
Thar bone launched. We talked about a couple of times on the show, not our wider and stuff like that. It's been a while, since we brought up thought owns, which is a comedy podcast about medical history, that has the dye Sidney, investing Mcelroy and I was
catching up on their show on the plane last week, and I listened to their episode called corpse.
Left and the resurrection men which included, among other things, a little about the doctors riot of one thousand seven hundred and eighty eight, which is what we're going to talk about today, because
that sort of my appetite talk more about
that and learn more so up,
if you already was the sub areas, which I know some of our listeners do listen to sob owns there's some cross over there. We
Definitely going to talk in more detail about just the doctors.
in that context, that led up to it- and this is
Evidently, a different angle then saw bones. So you you, you know
It's gonna be new stuff in here, even if you listened to that episode, so
four context in seventeen sixty five North America got its first medical school at the College of Philadelphia and from
Beginning medical students at the College of Philadelphia worked with patients at the Pennsylvania Hospital, gradual
developing the blueprint for today's medical schools and teaching hospitals.
programme was meant to be a person's sole source of medical education, though
and the same was true of other medical schools that opened up during the colonial period and after the revolutionary war. At this point, most people
doctors through apprenticeships and America's first
call. Schools were intended to be this sort of period of additional focused, steady for peace,
who had already finished their apprenticeships they already effectively where doctors before they even went. The medical school there was
also a lot of anatomical study on cadavers in these programmes, only idea that doctors needed to learn anatomy and the could ever she is a good way to do. This had become really pay
will it during the eighteenth century,
the thing that had not become really prevalent was a big supply of cadavers to dissect.
The idea of donating your body to science really did not exist. At this point.
Colonies. Either had no laws governing how bodies may be used for medical study or they specific,
golly, prohibited certain uses for
a bull dissecting unclaimed bodies,
there was definitely no regulation of how cadavers might be legally obtained and delivered. So schools needed these bodies for legitimate study, but they had no legal channels to get them was there were
all kinds of religious and cultural taboos that made people pretty opposed to the idea of having their bodies cup cut up.
examined after they were dead among
Christians and Jews. The body was sacred: various Christy
damn denominations believed that being cut up after death was sacrilegious than it would prevent them from getting into Heaven or from being resurrected on judgement day
Similar beliefs about the sacredness of the body also ran through african traditions that slaves had brought with them and be
doktor at this point in time did not have the prestige and the cloud that it does today, at least in the western world, so
People were not particularly inclined to go away
all of these layers of taboo to
let their bodies be cut up by doctors and it didn't help. The british medical schools have been using executed criminals for their dissections,
So this made american communities associate being dissected with being a criminal or would being punished. Although
oh- it was illegal. Their worsens
what's that got their bodies from prisons and almshouses and other institutions they would covertly by the bodies of people who had died before they even were buried but really
The primary source of cadavers for
a really long time was grave. Robbing
This, of course, had its own social and religious implications, so
your charge were and remain for many people, sacred bodies, sacred
digging up bodies out of graveyards and cutting them up was a gross offence and it made
doctors who already work particularly well respected, seem like they have
Just this want and disregard for human life. In just no regard for basic decency, there were
doctors and students who dug up their own cadavers, but they mostly outsource that work to people who were known as Resurrectionists, who did the actual,
gray robbing. I feel that this would be a great series on one of the secondary chain
does the resurrectionists
but he had this process the resurrectionists down to a science. So at this
point embalming was not widely used. It you know had culturally
history. It had happened in many places, but in terms of like the modern approach to it, that was not
these guys had to work quickly, ideally within hours of burial, it was kind,
like a heist movie accepted involved, grieves instead of a bank
instead of digging up the whole length of the casket they'd work. Just fine,
head and they would weaken one end of the casket by drilling holes in it before
bashing it in and just pulling the body out through the whole with hooks
in and out of the place within an hour and timing, the passing of their getaway vehicle, so they could see
if the body into it and escape the
if that were at the biggest risk of being robbed were the ones that belong to poor people and slaves, and these were the p,
who were less likely to have someone watching out for the grave after the people died and both of these place,
The resurrectionists did not have to be quite as on the ball with their. You know, they're they're, heist shenanigans because
the people who were being buried in cemeteries for the poor and for slaves didn't have the money to buy a coffins. They were married buried directly in the dirt and the word
Harriet Martineau, who was writing an account of a trip in the eighteen, hundreds quote in Baltimore the bodies of colored people.
Elusively are taken for dissection because the whites do not like it and the colored people cannot resist so
overwhelming majority of stolen bodies were those of black people, and poor people having money or status was not necessarily a protection.
profile body thefts made headlines. Such
The time that a search party found the body of John Harrison, who was son of power.
didn't William Henry Harrison and Father a president. Benjamin Harrison adamant
college in Cincinnati. This method, people
could afford. It would bury their loved ones in these sealed iron coffins or they would surround the whole grave site in this metal cage that covered the whole thing. Some of them. You have the money to even hired armed guards to watch over their newly buried bodies.
And, regardless of who you were your body really was not safe from fast until it had been in the ground. For about two weeks in the winter,
shorter in the summer, at which point
B to decompose to be dissected.
before we move on to exactly what was happening in New York at the time of this particular riot. Let's have a brief moment for a word from a sponsor
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in New York, where the riot that we're talking about today took place
A major source of bodies or cadaver study was the potter's field where the poor and the unknown were buried in unmarked graves. The other big
with the negroes burial ground, which was kind of coincidentally quite close to New York Hospital,
Nearly all of New York cities, black population, was buried in negroes burial ground
There was only one church that very black people in a segregated, churchyard
Turning to flee to do so as body
from the negroes burial ground became more and more commonplace for
The slaves would actually buy lands to use as private cemeteries.
this didn't necessarily help. Since these private burial ground sometimes became targets of their own New York.
He's demand for all these cadavers came from two sources: one
its medical school at Columbia, college and the other was Richard Bailey, who was a doktor from Connecticut and he was teaching not for credit medical classes at New York Hospital, which we just mention, was very close,
The negroes burial ground and that made the negroes burial crack ground an easy target for gray robbers, so both
reed people, an slaves in New York at this time had become increasingly upset at the prevalence of gray brown. Grave robbing from the black beard
Play February of seventeen. Eighty eight, a group of two thousand slaves and one thousand freed people begin
petitioning the city's common council, including the mayor and aldermen, not for them,
robbing to stop, but for it at least, to be carried out in a decent and respectful way.
this petition read in part most humbly, sir,
We declare that it has lately been the practice of a number of young gentlemen in this city who call themselves students of physic to repay
to the burying ground assigned for the
use of your petitioners under
the cover of night in the most wantin sallies of excess. They dig
bodies of our deceased friends and relatives of your petitioners,
carrying them away without respect for age or sex mangle there.
Flesh out of a want and curiosity and then expose it to beasts and birds.
your petitioners are well aware of the necessity of physicians and surgeons, consulting dead subjects for the benefit of mankind. Your petition,
Yours do not presuppose that as an injury to the deceased and would not be adverse to dissection in particular circumstances. That is if it is conducted with
decency and propriety, which the solemnity of such occasion requires Europe. Petitioners do not wish to
He'd the work of these students of the physic, but most hum
pray. Your honor is to take our case into consideration and adopt,
that's measure as may seem to prevent further abuses in the future.
Their petition was ignored, but on February twenty first, so only a couple of weeks
later, the Daily Advertiser published an anonymous report about how quote few black,
our buried, whose bodies are permitted to remain in the grave and quote
the rest of February and part of March. The daily advertiser went on to publish really horrifying accounts of grave desecration and body theft, and
things came to a head in April. There are several conflicting reports.
Exactly what started the riot. So it's not completely clear exactly what happened, but there
three pretty common elements among all the various retelling, the first
that on April thirteen, some doctors and their teacher were descending a cadaver in a lab at New York Hospital. The second
by some means or another, a boy got a glimpse of what was going on through the window, and the doktor saw him in the
is that one of the surgeons, probably in an attempt to scare the boy off waved the
davers arm at him and said
versions of the story. One of the doctors shouted
it was the boys mothers arm
By coincidence, this boy's mother had died very recently. This version of us
Re usually goes on to say that the boy ran home and told his father, who exude his mother's grave, only to find it empty. That seems like a lot of things
But had to happen just that way
it feels like an urban legend yeah, so
definitely happened to spark of a whole riot. But this particular bird
the story is completely retold, but I read a couple of things that kind of went back through all of the earliest correspondence and news reports and were like we there's not actual documentation of exactly what really Tipp the scale.
but regardless of how exactly this whole thing started a mob, soon descended upon New York Hospital. In
letter to Virginia Governor, Edmund Randolph, Colonel William, have described it this way.
The cry of barbarity and its was soon spread. The young,
of Galen fled in every direction. One took refuge
the mob raised and the hospital apartments were ransacked and the anatomy room were found. Three fresh bodies,
one boiling in a kettle and see weathers cut up with certain parts of the two sexes hanging up in a most brutal position. The circumstance
together with the wanton and apparent inhuman complexion and the room, exasperated the mob, beyond all bounds to the total destruction of every anatomy in the hospital
and while many of the doctors and the teachers did indeed flee, some stayed behind to try to protect the cadavers, the other specimens in the teaching materials
but the mob that arrived at the hospital dragged all of this out into the street and they set it on fire. They
they re, buried the bodies that had not been dissected yet the man
James Dwayne, arrived with the sheriff and put the doctors and teachers into protective custody at the jail was called,
things down a little bit
during the night medical students from Colombia, fearing that their school was gonna, be the next target went into this
all the hide all of their anatomical materials and cadavers that they would not be burned and destroyed as well, and this
and out to be a fortunate move. Since, during the night to medical students, George Sweeney and Isaac Gunnar broke into it
sure charred and stole the body of a well known, white woman, which
that the mob that form the next morning was immense and furious. It swelled too
five thousand people. This Ma
Was bound and determined to find and destroy anything that was being used for anatomical study at Columbia, so they searched the entire com
age, including the dorms, and they went on to third doctors, homes,
Person they ran across was even beaten solely for wearing black, which was the color that the doctors usually war and when the mob found nothing
They all ended up, going
jail where they started an assault on the building, with rocks and bricks,
tore down the gallows to use the wood as a weapon as the rocks
ex windows and made their way into the cells where people were
held the doctors and the students started
Collecting them, along with
broken glass to defend themselves.
And this riot went on for another full day until the governor called out the militia they brought in a brigade and artillery, and
in suing Malay it's the morally, not clear exactly what happened, but ultimately at least three rioters and three militiamen were killed. The final death toll,
is often cited at twenty an f
words residents of New York, double down on their efforts to protect the bodies of the dead armed
groups called Dead guard men started to keep watch over cemeteries.
Bailey and other doctors budged the truth by saying they had never asked anyone to steal a body from one of the city's graveyards. The reason this was,
really on the up and up was that the potter's field and the negroes burial ground were both outside of the city limits and, in fact, that this point black people
only be buried outside the city limits, so
what they were saying with technically true, but it was really pretty easily yes
here, was a grand jury investigation, but no charges seem to have been filed and no one,
simply because both the rioters am the doctors were breaking the law. This right,
apart from destroying,
Comical equipment and samples and causing some death
had some ongoing ramifications, which we want to talk about afterward from a sponsor. This message is brought to you by eighty t. Home security made easy. What does real protection mean for your home and business? It means the latest innovation and smart homes, security, combined with twenty four seven monitoring from eighteen, the most trusted name in homes, security you get a team of professionals designing and installing a secure, smart home. Just for you, you get eighteen thousand employees, safeguarding you with connection to first responders you get the nation
number one: smart home security provider. You get a secure, smart home with everything from video, doorbells, indoor and outdoor cameras, smart locks on lights, controlled from the eighty app or from the sound of your voice. You
professionally, monitored carbon monoxide and smoke detectors you get controlled from custom designed to fit your home. You get safety on the go in monitored.
are, or when your kids are at school. With the eighty t go up complete with an s button, so go on secure your home or business today
with the eighty, the doctors riot with an s o s button so go. Eighty eight was only or of the anatomy riots in the United States between seventeen.
five and eighteen. Fifty four there were at least seventeen of them they took,
United States between seventeen sixty five and eighteen. Fifty four there were at least seventeen of them. They took place primarily in new
England, where most of the medical colleges were at the time, but they were also riots as far West as Ohio in Illinois, and these were not at like fly by nine shady schools.
in January of one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine, which was the year after the doctor's ride in New York, took place. The New York Legislature pass
laws that made great robbing illegal and they earmarks
right and New York took place. The New York legislator pass laws that made great.
would be legal supply of bodies. But this didn't provide enough bodies for the medical study that was going on so the
Be legal supply of bodies, but this didn't provide enough bodies for the medical study that was going on
passed a law, making it legal to dissect unclaimed bodies in eighteen, thirty, one New York did.
same thing in eighteen. Fifty four
other laws were a little bit slower in coming by
New York, did the same. Thirteen Louisiana eighteen Alabama still had no legal way for medical schools to obtain cadavers, while most,
Our states had passed laws allowing unclaimed bodies donated bodies and the bodies of executed criminals to be dissected.
even then the bodies that were being dissected and medical schools were disproportionately those of poor people and minorities. So they were people who couldn't.
or burials or their families couldn't afford to claim their bodies, and
and for cadaver purposes continued in the United States until the their families couldn't in the claim
sixties and nineteen Seventys, the medical establishment work to change people's perceptions of dissection and of donating bodies to science and nineteen sixty eight, the National conference,
people's perceptions of dissection and of donating bodies to science and nineteen sixty
gift ACT or you? Eighty eight.
this made donating your body, a choice and a gift, and it also gave
person who was doing the donating so the person whose body it actually was the ultimate say in what
oh gave the person
If you wanted to donate your body, it would
Donated, even if your next of kin objected to the choice that you had made, almost
every state had had adopted this law or something very similar to it within a few years.
Restate today, bequests actually make up the large majority of cadavers which complete,
We changed the demographic of dissected bodies and medical schools the at one.
my sources cited a personal communication from somebody at Duke University Medical School from about ten years ago, and it back here
According to this personal correspondence, like
it covers the Duke were overwhelmingly theirs of caucasian pupil. I could not find statistics
we're like the broader
all of United States, medical school or in general people who are donate their bodies. But
this whole shifts in it. From being a thing that happens to you, if you can't afford to be buried to a thing you choose to do tat,
we changed the whole picture of it, just very fascinating.
Kind of gruesome it is, but do you know it
the people recognise that science needs their body after they have shuffled off this.
What oh, thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday, if you have heard an email address or a facebook url or something similar over the course of today's episode, since it is from the archive that might be out of date, now
can email us at history, podcast at how stuff works, dot com- and you can find us all over social media at missed in history- and you can submit.
I'm too our Cheryl on Apple Podcast, Google, podcast. The eye radio app and wherever else he wasn't upon podcast study Miss than history glasses, a production I might radios. Helstone works for tasks. For my how radio visit thy heart, radio, Appleton guests or wherever you listen to your favorite, shows.
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