In 1851 American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright submitted his paper, “Drapetomania, or the disease causing Negroes to flee” to the Medical Association of Louisiana, and thus the disease, drapetomania was born.
Let’s make sure we have the pronunciation right…dray-ptoh-may-nee-uh.
Cartwright — who was born in North Carolina and studied medicine in Philadelphia — declared that sane slaves did not want, nor would ever consider,fleeing slavery.
Accordingly, those who did were mentally insane — suffering from drapetomania. The cause was masters who foolishly treated their slaves humanely.
If a master noticed his slave becoming sulky and dissatisfied without cause, the master should quickly whip the devil out of him in order to make the thought of fleeing dissipate before it was acted on. Another remedy that Cartwright suggested was the severing of both of the slave’s big toes.
Cartwright also said white slave masters should also be aware of another mental illness, which he termed “drapetomania aethiopica,” and which resulted in a slave’s willingness to work hard.
He opined that drapetomania aethiopica was quite often found among “free negroes” than among slaves working large plantations, but all masters should be aware of this newly invented disease.
His recommended cure?
“ . . . have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint [the slave’s skin] all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.”
The Medical Association of Louisiana commended Cartwright on his findings, and his paper was published in DeBow’s Review — a widely circulated magazine in the American South.
It was also published in “The New Orleans Medical and Surgery Journal.”
Dr. Cartwright gave numerous lectures on “niggerology” during the 1840s and 1850s.
As late as 1914, the third edition of Thomas Lathrop Stedman’s Practical Medical Dictionary included an entry for drapetomania, defined as “Vagabondage, dromomania; an uncontrollable or insane impulsion to wander.”