The French Years

In a small notebook from St. Martin, recipes for medicines and other valuable notes were stored. It has been protected and saved for about 200 years. Like many books of this kind, it was passed on from one person to another, perhaps from generation to generation in the same family.

After 27 pages written in English, there is a change in handwriting. An additional sixteen pages of remedies are written in a different style, primarily in French. This section begins with a remedy “Pour mal de gorge” or “for sore throat” and ends with a recipe for “Collyre” or “eye drops.” The eye drops seem to contain sulfur, which would burn the eyes. But they also included cocaine, so the patient wouldn’t feel the burning.

A switch to French.

The new handwriting is harder to read, and less consistent. The writing in this section may be from several people, as the ink, style and even language changes. A remedy “For putrid sore throat” appears after many pages in French and is followed by more French remedies. Pages are skipped, and in some cases remedies are included with no mention of what they are meant to treat.

The cures in this section seem to come from at least six doctors. It would be pretty surprising if there were six doctors practicing on St. Martin in the late 1800s. This was after the sugar industry had collapsed and most planters had left the island. It is possible that a number of doctors had visited the island over a period of years, and these remedies were collected that way. The changes between English and French might also reflect the language spoken by the doctor giving the cure.

Cocaine eye drops.

One remedy for flu is attributed to a doctor “à Paris.” This may mean that the the remedy came from a book by a Parisian doctor. Perhaps some of the other doctors in this section were not practicing on the island, but had published their remedies. If so, this may show a shift from learning cures directly from a doctor in the early 1800s to having access to printed materials at the end of the century.

Though more challenging to decipher, this section of the notebook surely offers more insights into life on the island and healthcare at the time. By comparing it to the earlier part of the book we may be able to learn more about how life was different between the end of the slavery era and the beginning of the traditional period. This tiny book, which has given us so many insights into history and culture, has more treasures to offer.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *