In Their Own Words…

Description of Yaws and Scurvy According to Du Pratz

When they are viewed, both men and women are stripped naked as the hand, and are carefully examined from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, then between the toes and between the fingers, in the mouth, in the ears, not excepting even the parts naturally concealed, though then exposed to view. You must ask your examining surgeon if he is acquainted with the distemper of the yaws, which is the virus of Guinea, and incurable by a great many French surgeons, though very skilful in the management of European distempers. Be careful not to be deceived in this point; for your surgeon may be deceived himself; therefore attend at the examination yourself, and observe carefully over all the body of the negro, whether you can discover any parts of the skin, which though black like the rest, are however as smooth as a looking-glass, without any tumor or rising. Such spots may be easily discovered; for the skin of a person who goes naked is usually all over wrinkles. Wherefore if you see such marks you must reject the negro, whether man or woman. There are always experienced surgeons at the sale of new negroes, who purchase them; and many of those surgeons have made fortunes by that means; but they generally keep their secret to themselves.

Another mortal distemper with which many negroes from Guinea are attacked, is the scurvy. It discovers itself by the gums, but sometimes it is so inveterate as to appear outwardly, in which case it is generally fatal. If any of my readers shall have the misfortune to have a negro attacked with one of those distempers, I will now teach him how to save him, by putting him in a way of being radically cured by the surgeons; for I have no inclination to fall out with those gentlemen. I learned this secret from a negro physician, who was upon the king’s plantation, when I took the superintendence of it (Du Pratz 1774 [Tregle 2004]).

NPS Ethnography Program