Papers (1826-1887, undated) including correspondence, journals, leaflets, diaries, verse, printed material, a drawing and miscellany.
William Samuel Waithman Ruschenberger (1807-1895) was a physician in the U.S. Medical Corps from 1826 through the middle of the nineteenth century. He was born in Cumberland, NJ; educated in Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY; and was appointed surgeon's mate in the U.S. Navy in 1826. His first cruise was aboard the U.S. frigate BRANDYWINE (1826-1829) which made port in several cities in South America including Callao, Peru; Valparaiso, Chile; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He received the degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1830 from the University of Pennsylvania and was commissioned surgeon in 1831. From July 1831 through 1832, he was fleet surgeon aboard the USS PEACOCK, serving again in South America. Ruschenberger was sent to Philadelphia in 1833 where he remained until February 1835, at which time he was appointed fleet surgeon to the East India Squadron (1835-1837), again serving on the PEACOCK, this time circumnavigating the world.
Upon his return, Ruschenberger served at the naval station in Philadelphia from 1840 through 1842. That same year he was attached to the Philadelphia Rendezvous, a training facility for seamen and surgeons. Later that year, he requested temporary duty atthe Naval Asylum in Philadelphia to fill in for William P.C. Barton. He remained there until September 1943 and later that year he was stationed at the naval hospital in Brooklyn, New York. While there he set up a laboratory to prepare pure medicinal drugs for naval use and served as a member of the Board of Appointments whose purpose was to form plans and rules for the Naval Academy. He remained in Brooklyn until he was appointed fleet surgeon for the East India Squadron (1847-1849). During this appointment he served aboard the USS PLYMOUTH and visited Brazil, Canton (China), Java and the Malay Peninsula, and the Philippine Islands. From 1850 through 1854, he had shore duty, traveling between Brooklyn, NY, and Washington, DC, though primarily a resident of Philadelphia. He then became fleet surgeon for the Pacific Squadron (1854-1857) and served aboard the USS INDEPENDENCE, visiting Chile, Hawaii, and Panama before returning to the Mare Island (California) Navy Yard at the end of the cruise.
During 1860 and 1861, Ruschenberger was fleet surgeon for the Mediterranean Squadron. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was named chief surgeon at the Boston Navy Yard, where he served throughout the war. He returned to special duty in Philadelphia after the war (1865-1870) and was promoted to senior officer in the Medical Corps (1866-1869) before retiring with the rank of commodore in 1869. In 1871 he became medical director on the retired list.
Ruschenberger was a member of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, serving as secretary in 1854 and vice president from 1875 through 1883. Also an active member of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, he served as vice president in 1869 and as president from 1869 through 1882. He wrote several books including Three Years in the Pacific (1834); A Voyage Around the World (1838); Elements of Natural History (1850); and Notes and Commentaries during Voyages to Brazil and China (1854). He also wrote pamphlets concerning the rank of naval officers.
He married Mary Wister in the early 1840s, and they had four children. The first two daughters died in 1844, apparently in a cholera epidemic. A daughter, Fanny, and son, Charles, were the surviving children. Charles Wister Ruschenberger graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1869 and served in the Navy until he resigned in 1895.
The collection consists largely of correspondence, diaries, and journals, with some miscellaneous materials included. Topics break down into three main subject areas. The first covers the U.S. Navy and its Medical Corps. The second area relates to Ruschenberger's descriptions of foreign lands he visited. The third constitutes a variety of personal interest topics, including family relationships, world events and U.S. politics, and his writings. Editions of his published works are also found in the third section.
United States Navy and Medical Corps
Appointed surgeon's mate in August 1826, Ruschenberger began his first cruise aboard the USS BRANDYWINE in September of that year. He kept a series of diaries (1826, 1827, 1828-1829) documenting events throughout the cruises, going into great detail about activities at sea. In the 1826 diary he describes the ship, mentioning the number of guns, the number of sailors and marines aboard, and the names of the officers. Sea life and regimen are described throughout the diary. Topics discussed include the amount of "spirits" used daily by the men (p. 1), preparations for leaving port (p. 5), burial at sea (p. 13), meals (p. 15), fighting (p. 15), Sunday activities (p. 17), manoverboard search (p. 19), the effect of squalls and storms on the ship (p. 21), "hollystoning" (scouring) the deck (p. 26), filling water barrels with rain (p. 31), whitewashing and scraping the ship (p. 34), daily activities of the crew (pp. 21, 35-37), and the excessive drinking (pp. 91-92).
Correspondence covering the period of the first cruise (1826-1829) and the cruise with the Pacific Squadron (1854-1857) makes mention of the PEACOCK hitting a whale, which necessitated repair in Callao, Peru (June 14, 1827), dances aboard ship as entertainment for the diplomatic community (February 7, 1828), confinement in the brig as punishment (December 7, 1856), and the difficulty of officers having to share cabin space (November 16, 1856).
Ruschenberger often noted weather conditions in the body of the diary entries, giving statistics for latitude, longitude, air and water temperature, barometric readings, and prevailing winds (September 1826-August 1827). A similar chart of readings (March-May) is given for the 1848 voyage of the USS PLYMOUTH between Norfolk, VA, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sightings of U.S. ships and foreign ships, both military and mercantile, are noted throughout all the diaries, and the Mexican ship, CONGRESS, is described in detail in the 1827 diary (pp. 33-35). In his 1835 diary while aboard the USS PEACOCK as Fleet Surgeon for the East India Squadron, Ruschenberger noted the dates of ports reached in a voyage around the world. An 1848 diary of a cruise to China contains references to many of the topics discussed previously, including the rank and number of men aboard the USS PLYMOUTH (April 24), preparation of the ship for entry into a foreign harbor, search for a man overboard (March 30), and the effects of a rough sea on the men, their clothes, and the ship (March 27, July 3-5, August 9-10). Other topics mentioned are flogging as punishment for theft (April 12), lack of ventilation aboard ship (March 6), and a detailed conversation (March 13) with the ship's master concerning his experience in the Mexican War under Commodore Perry during the attack on Tobasco, Mexico.
Liquor was an accepted beverage, provided in the shore mess and on cruises, although in the Pensacola, FL, mess, only wine and light drink were reportedly available (April 24, 1841). The diaries and correspondence show that Ruschenberger broughtvarious bottles on cruises as did other officers, some supplementing their stock at local ports. Alcohol use could be a problem and it was noted that whiskey made American officers quarrelsome (April 24, 1841).
In 1843 Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry requested Ruschenberger become his Fleet Surgeon in the African Squadron. In a letter (March 3, 1843) Ruschenberger informed Perry that he could not accept the position because he required more than the fifteen days Perry gave him to prepare for the move and because the assignment would not qualify as sea duty. Other topics discussed include Perry's idea to build a desert hospital and Ruschenberger's personal thoughts such as his weariness of abolitionist and anti-slave trade sentiments, as well as his disdain for the sight of black people because of anti-slavery agitation.
As Fleet Surgeon in 1848, it was Ruschenberger's duty to care for the men during the cruise. In August and October of 1848, Ruschenberger wrote to John Y. Mason, then Secretary of the Navy, commenting on the physical condition of Commander Gedney of the USS PLYMOUTH. In 1849, correspondence from Commander Geisinger of the East India Squadron to Ruschenberger involved Ruschenberger's purported accusations against Commander Gedney of excessive drinking and gambling. This particular case is documented in the 1848 diary. Other disciplinary cases are also described. A letter to Ruschenburger (November 16, 1856) recounts a recent court martial of a young lieutenant charged with "willful lying" by his commodore. The 1848 diary also comments on a fight at a ball given by American Consul Tod in Rio de Janeiro which resulted in blows, and swords being drawn by officers, followed by a court martial (May 10, 12), and comments on the politics of such an action at sea (May 28).
Some miscellaneous items concerning the Navy include the constitution and bylaws (1885) for the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.; a Navy Register for 1837 listing U.S. vessels of war, their officers, and their locations; documents and correspondence concerning planning the National Sailors' Fair in Boston, MA (1864); a Naval General Order (Dec. 1834), describing changes in "Uniform Dress" for surgeons and assistant surgeons; and a biography of Commodore Isaac McKeever (1794-1856).
Administration of the Medical Corps and its position within the framework of the Navy was an increasing interest of Dr. Ruschenberger's. From the time he was appointed a surgeon's mate through his retirement, letters document his concern with methods of appointment (February 1, 1835; March 4, 1850); changes in pay scales (January 1, 1835) and extra pay for dangerous duty (June 15, 1838); the routine of assignments between shore and cruise duty (March 10, 1852) and the need for a more regular scheduling of orders (March 12, 1852); problems of promotion (December 30, 1842) and retirement (September 3, 1844); education for assistants and doctors (February 24, 1847); the selection (March 30, 1850) and distribution (December 15, 1847) of hospital and infirmary staff; the fact that no medical officers were appointed to a board of Navyregulations (undated); and rank and the courtesy due rank (September 17, 1850; November 11, 1856). Ruschenberger was involved in a disagreement with other naval officers about shipboard cabin assignments. A copybook of Ruschenberger's incoming and outgoing correspondence includes a lengthy discussion concerning the berthing of officers and the commonly accepted "usage rule" that determined on which side of the mess they were to berth. He solicited supporting statements from such prominent naval officers as Silas Stringham, Hiram Paulding, Cornelius Stribling, Francis Gregory, Alexander Wadsworth, James Paulding, and Charles Morris (July-September, 1840). Morris's letter mentions the usage rule on such vessels as the USS CONSTITUTION, the U.S. frigates CONGRESS and PRESIDENT, and the U.S. brig HORNET.
Morale, politics, and incipient reform of the service are topics of discussion throughout the correspondence, particularly during the 1850s. One letter from John Etheridge in the office of the Secretary of the Navy mentioned a "Secret Board" and the "Star Chamber Board," and compared the passage of the Efficiency Act by Congress to the reign of terror and the Spanish Inquisition (October 18, 1855).
In a letter (September 23, 1842) to William P. C. Barton, Ruschenberger summarized a multitude of Medical Corps complaints and requests, and made suggestions as well. These ideas included the establishment of a Head or Surgeon General position that would be on an equal footing with heads of Navy and would be chosen from the medical corps ranks; specific guidelines for surgeons and other medical staff; better pay and stricter professional standards for surgeons; a medical library aboard ship for sea officers; proper sets of instruments for surgeons; an increase in medical officers and assistants to adequately staff ships and shore duty; rank for medical officers correlative with sea officers and civil officers of the army; the prevention of civil officers from having authority over medical officers unless they are medical officers of higher rank; a rostering system of medical officers that would track rank, sea service, shore duty, and general fitness; encouragement for the medical corps to investigate professional and scientific subjects; auditing by the bureau chief of all medical accounts; and the creation of hospital inspection boards. Ruschenberger also complained of such inequities as the uneven assignments for sea and shore duty among officers (July 24, 30, 1841), and the inability of the Navy to provide for seamen or officers disabled in the line of duty (August, November, 1841; October, 1842; November 24, December 9, and 13, 1842).
As a physician and surgeon, Ruschenberger's correspondence and diaries reflect his professional involvement and interest in medicine and general science. As a Navy surgeon, he attended to the health of the officers and men; however, while on cruise, he also was called to attend civilians in various countries. An early letter to him (July 15, 1830) describes the Brooklyn Naval Hospital. Assigned there himself in the mid-1840s, his letters to his wife discuss the number of men on the sick list, deaths in the hospital from consumption, the lack of supplies and medicines (March 1844), and the housekeeping staff (April 1845). Ruschenberger also mentions requests from sailors fordischarge due to health reasons (1846, 1856), reports that yellow fever is rampant in Rio de Janeiro (March 17, 1850), and fund raising for incapacitated sailors (1864). His 1826 diary recounts deaths of sailors from dysentery (p. 12) and from a fall from the mizzenmast (p. 29), and provides the sick list numbers for sailors stationed in Callao, Peru (p. 42). In his 1848 diary Ruschenberger reports on his own illness (April 17), a visit to a Rio de Janeiro suburb to see a person with a hepatic disorder (May 9), the prevalence of mosquitoes and "chigas" (May 20), and an oil of camphor recipe for a repellent (May 22). A letter from Hiram Bingham (Sept. 15, 1836) concerns the illness of his wife while stationed as missionaries in Hawaii.
As a husband and father, Ruschenberger was also concerned with his family's well being. In 1844, he was concerned with his wife's dyspepsia, and wrote to his mother about the death of his young daughters. In later letters home, he regularly asked about the health of his remaining son and daughter. In 1848, his wife was concerned with a "female complaint" and the following month he responded with two prescriptions. In correspondence to his mother (September 29, 1853), he discusses the use of quinine for ague and its side effects, a patient dying of consumption of the lungs, and the dissipation of yellow fever in Philadelphia due to cool weather.
While most of Ruschenberger's medical practice was devoted to physical complaints he did see some psychiatric cases occasionally. Ruschenberger wrote to Dr. Bell (March 1841) concerning the case of Joseph Israel, whether Israel should be admitted to the naval asylum, and gave his opinion based on six months observation of the seaman.
Writings concerning medical interests include an 1828 translation of a Dissertation on the Epidemic Diseases Experienced in Lima in the year 1821 when besieged by the Liberating Army by Dr. Jose Manuel Valdes (1821), which notes the prevalence of angina, cholera, and intermittent fever; and an essay, "City of Lima" (1832), which includes a section on Indian medicine. A file of miscellaneous writings includes an essay or chapter on Inca sciences, and a "Record of Treatment" for a patient having digestive complaints (August-November 1863) containing notes, a chart of medicines prescribed, and post mortem results.
Diary descriptions of Ruschenberger's travels, 1826-1828 and 1848, are most thorough for South America and are supplemented by correspondence, essays, and draft chapters for publications he planned. An 1835 diary of a trip around the world with the East India Squadron is brief but it makes note of dates when various locations were reached during the trip. Several pages at the end of the volume also provide location information for the 1848 cruise to South America, Malay Peninsula, and China.
Brazil, particularly Rio de Janeiro and the suburbs of Botafogo and Tijuca, is described throughout the 1826 cruise diary. Noted particularly are architectural descriptions of streets and buildings, churches and catacombs, funerals, religion, politics and history, crops, slaves and the slave market, and food and food prices (pp. 38-73). The 1848 diary also contains descriptions of Rio de Janeiro, Botafogo (May 8, 12), and Tijuca (May 9), and discusses other Brazilian topics including the fluctuation of the cruzeiro (May 4, 12, 24), the lifestyle and knowledge of American diplomats in Brazil (May 7, 10, 24), the potential for equality of all races of people (May 16) coupled with the continued preference for having slaves (May 24), the moral prevarication of the Catholic Church (May 16), the level of cultivation of Brazilian society (May 24), and the Brazilian criminal justice system (May 20).
The latter half of the 1826 diary (pp. 98-157) contains descriptions of Chile, including the cities of Valparaiso and Santiago (pp. 103-105, 117, 118); such customs as drinking matte (herbal tea); the prevalence of music in the culture (pp. 132-133); playing billiards (pp. 108-109); and evening attendance at cafes (pp. 150-151). Religious topics recorded include church architecture (p. 136), funerals and processions (pp. 142-143, 155-156), the Catholic Church allowing Protestants to be buried in Chile (p. 114), and the custom of erecting crosses on roads where murders were committed (p. 140).
The 1827 diary continues with the description of a trip to Quillota, Chile, and the sights of women weaving and spinning and men plaiting lassos (p. 1). The religious theme is also continued with comments about Lenten denials (pp. 2-3), the burial of a man's mother-in-law (pp. 20-21), and the celebration on the feast of St. Carmen (p. 45). Also included are the effects of an extensive windstorm with resulting fires, earthquake, and rain destroying towns and causing shipwrecks (pp. 12-16). En route to Lima, Peru, with orders to the USS VINCENNES, Ruschenberger recorded visits to the remains of an Inquisition structure (p. 52) and the mint (p. 55) in Callao, Peru, as well as to a cockfight (pp. 57-58) and a bullfight (pp. 65-66). The 1828 diary describes a tour through the countryside resort area in the vicinity of Callao, including the customs of bathing and betting (pp. 3-4), and a carnival with music and card games played on the estrada (pp. 5-6).
All three diaries (1826, p. 142; 1827, pp. 10, 27; and 1828, pp. 30-31) and correspondence (March 31, 1827) mention the activities of Simon Bolivar in Chile and Peru. Miscellaneous items concerning South America include a translation of a Chilean decree which limited trade and blockaded ports during the war with Peru (undated), and an essay on the San Fernando de Hualgayor ridge in Peru which describes mines.
Correspondence and diaries also document Ruschenberger's travels to Anger Island in Java (July-August, 1848), Panama (1828, pp. 17-29), and Macao Island andCanton, China (August-September 1848). A letter to Ruschenberger describes tourists traveling in Switzerland in 1881.
Correspondence and miscellaneous items document missionary life and ship arrivals in Hawaii in the 1830s. Included is a letter from Hiram Bingham (September 28, 1836) describing the Methodist mission stations in Hawaii. He mentions the number of missionaries, the number of families boarded at the stations, courses taught at the mission-run high school on Maui, station school expenses, and various educational and church related activities. Bingham also discusses the difference between the Hawaiian monarchy and the present system of rule, as well as the presence of Jesuits and conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. A miscellaneous item lists ship arrivals in Hawaii from January 1 to August 1, 1836, giving information about the class and name of vessel, master, cargo, where owned, previous port and where bound. Another miscellaneous item gives sporadic population statistics for several Hawaiian towns, including the number of teachers and scholars, for the years 1831-1835.
Ruschenburger's major personal concern was his family. Correspondence with his mother concerns a long summer vacation she took in Cape May, NJ (June 1831), farmland she bought near the Jersey shore (September 1844), the work her farmhands accomplished, and the possibility of hiring a tenant family for the farm (June 1863). In correspondence with his wife's father, Charles Wister (February 1841), he mentions the poor state of the economy; the bank stocks crisis; and whether Wister thinks banks will borrow on their security; and surgeon salary increases. In June of the following year, he noted that he had not been paid for three months and had been relieved of Rendezvous duty that meant a salary reduction of $350.00 year. Correspondence with his wife includes discussion of the cost of household repairs and packing and shipping in Brooklyn, NY (October 1843); and discussion about household employees, making butter, and raising poultry (April 1845). His wife's letters frequently mention family, friends, and acquaintances; births, deaths, and marriages; and household expenses. Prior to his marriage and prior to setting off on the around-the-world cruise in 1835, Ruschenberger describes attending a Batchelor's Ball (January 6), theatre and dining in Philadelphia, PA (January-February), and visiting women friends in the District of Columbia (February 17). In 1850 (December 21), a friend describes seeing actor [Junius?] Booth play Iago and compares him to [Edwin?] Forrest as Othello.
Ruschenberger's books and articles were a pre-eminent occupation. While aboard the PEACOCK, he wrote in his diary concerning work on a journal publication (August 1837) and in 1844 (April) about writing scientific schoolbooks and selling them to publishers. In a copy of a letter to a Committee on schoolbook supply, Ruschenberger mentioned his book, The First Book of Natural History, published by Turner and Fisher.He accompanied his letter with testimonials. Correspondence from G. Benjamin Smith makes reference to a printing mistake (April 1847). Letters from John R. Thompson, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, published in Richmond, VA, discuss his article on education in the Navy, which was being printed (July 1850), and note the effect of slow mails on their communication (1852). In December 1852, correspondence from John Etheridge, an assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, mentions having seen Ruschenberger's "Notes and Commentaries" on China in the Messenger, and in April 1854, thanks him for a copy of his book Voyages to Brazil and China. Correspondence with J. B. Lippincott (1863-1864) concerns a draft of a medical treatise; orders for Ruschenberger's books; and publicity for Natural History and his other books. Ruschenberger's wife was also involved in his publication efforts, as she was encouraged to sew the originals of his journals and make copies of them for him (1848).
United States political and diplomatic endeavors are mentioned regularly, as are politics and political maneuvering within the Navy (July 1841, April 1842, January 1843). Ruschenberger notes in 1827 (April) that Great Britain is prohibiting the entry of American vessels into her colonial ports in America and the West Indies. In a diary entry (May 19, 1848), he notes that Brazilian coffee shippers are reluctant to send their coffee to Hamburg, France, and Italy because of revolutions. Activities of the American minister in Brazil and the commissioner in China are documented in Ruschenberger's 1848 diary (May 1-12; 1849, March-September). The nomination and rejection of Martin Van Buren for minister to England and the tariff debate (March 1832) are noted in the correspondence as are the problems Andrew Jackson had with political opinion about his home the Hermitage and about "Mrs. Eaton" (July 1831). Etheridge notes the possibility of an extra session in Congress on taxes (June 1845) and comments (August 1856) on sectionalism and the political questions of slavery and their effect on the upcoming presidential election in 1856. Another letter from 1856 (August) notes that an Army appropriation bill will likely be lost due to an attached rider that restricts the Army's use in Kansas.
Several letters discuss topics concerning Philadelphia including the prices paid for piecework done in the home (May 3, 1855), presence of yellow fever (September 19, 1853), opposition to cattle yards and a slaughterhouse on the west bank of the Schuykill River (October 28, 1874), the military on duty after recent riots and people staying home at night (October 1869), and planning for a museum which was probably part of the Centennial Exhibition (August-September 1875). The oversize folder contains an undated and unidentified architectural drawing done by New York architect M. E. Thompson. It appears to be of a military hospital.
Gift of Commodore E. Schuyler Lott
Gift of Mrs. Marjorie C. Lott
Gift of Mr. E. Schuyler Lott III
Gift of Friends of the ECU Library
Gift of Jonathan Dembo
Processed by M. Boccaccio, August 1997
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