Marvelous Cures

In the Grima Family papers, frequent allusions to family illnesses and deaths, and expressions of "little confidence in the medical profession" (Bartolème Grima, November 12, 1850), speak to the poor state of health care in the 19th century. Because of these limitations, ailing New Orleanians often sought out African American and Native American practitioners of folk medicine.

On the outskirts of the French Quarter, J.B. Valmour, a celebrated Afro-Creole healing medium, attracted large interracial audiences by virtue of his success in "the laying on of hands." While in Mexico in 1850, Bartolème Grima, who was suffering the complications of a debilitating stroke, attempted to track down a similarly gifted Native American "healer" who had achieved "marvelous cures."

In the end, Grima relied upon traditional, though no less startling, medical therapies. In a letter to his brother Felix Grima in the fall of 1859, Bartolème described a commonly prescribed 19th century treatment:

"I was confined by a light illness and only last night I applied a few dozen leeches. I am better today but so weak that I am only able to write a very short letter."

At the New Orleans Grima residence, Louise Grima--Bartolème's niece--referred to another medically approved, though equally dangerous, prescription for 19th century ailments in a letter written on Tuesday, September 21, 1857:

"My dear brother, I am writing you some hasty lines by the post which leaves this evening and it is already very late. . . . If you come to see us this week, I pray that you will be so good as to buy me a little pot of opiate at Monsieur Blanchard's. . . .Adieu my dear friend, Papa urges me to close my letter. Excuse my paper, it is the only scrap in the house. It is absolutely necessary that you come to see us Friday, or Saturday or later--goodbye. I embrace you with all my heart. Your very loving sister, Louise (P.S. I do not know if you can understand my writing as my hand trembles.)"
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