Ohio History Journal

Winter-Spring 2001
pp. 5-25
Copyright 2001 by the Ohio Historical Society. All rights reserved.
This article is presented page by page and footnoted according to the original print version. If a sentence appears to be incomplete, scroll down to continue with the next page.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor
John M. Edmiston:
The Fabric of His Life and Death

By Ann Clymer Bigelow

"My Poor Father was a man of fine fealing
but the Cold hand of death Laid him low."
(from the journal of Evan Edmiston)

Dozens of young physicians came west to Ohio during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, looking for a promising community in which to settle and start a practice. They would ride into a town, find themselves lodging, and place an ad in the local newspaper (if one existed yet). Some of them had attended a sequence of medical courses, a few had earned a medical degree; most had apprenticed themselves—customarily for three years—to an older practitioner. But few could have been prepared for the realities that awaited them in the West: the exhausting horseback rides day and night to make their house calls, the widespread ignorance and distrust of their methods, and the overall dearth of civilized comforts on the frontier.2

Dr. John Montgomery Edmiston was one of these early ones. Born near Carlisle in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on November 27, 1790, he was the son of Jenny Montgomery Edmiston and Dr. Samuel Edmiston, who had served as a physician and surgeon in the General Hospital of the

Ann Clymer Bigelow is a Senior Editor of The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press in Columbus, Ohio, and has translated books into English from Russian and Serbo-Croatian. In recent years she has made early-nineteenth-century Ohio history her scholarly focus. She wishes to thank Friends Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for its permission to use the Friends Asylum Records in this article.

1. All quotations from Evan Edmiston are from "Journal of Evan Edmiston" (1837-40), VOL 288, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio. Hereafter referred to as OHS.
2. Information on this topic is well consolidated in two of the eight articles under the general title "The Pioneer Physicians of Ohio: Their Lives and Their Contributions to the Development of the State, 1788-1835," Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, XLVIII (1939), 181-218; namely, Frederick C. Waite, "The Professional Education of Pioneer Ohio Physicians," 189-97, and Howard Dittrick, "The Equipment, Instruments and Drugs of Pioneer Physicians of Ohio," 198-210

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 6

United States during the Revolutionary War.3 Carlisle by 1807 was a handsome town with "about three hundred houses of brick, stone, and wood... a brick court-house and a large stone meeting-house. The streets are wide, and the footways are flagged or coarsely paved."4 Young John attended the small college there, Dickinson, and then went to Philadelphia, where he attended medical courses at the University of Pennsylvania.

In about 1813 the young doctor headed west. More than likely he carried with him his recently deceased father's set of medical instruments and books, which would have cost him dearly had he needed to buy them new.

He went first to Lexington, Kentucky, already a well-established mercantile hub. In 1806 it had 300 houses, mostly brick, that even a supercilious British visitor had to admit were "built . . . in a handsome modern manner, and many . . . furnished with some pretensions to European elegance."5 By 1816 the American gazetteer writer Samuel Brown praised the town's "costly brick mansions, well painted and enclosed by fine yards," its eighty-foot-wide paved main street with the twelve-foot-wide "foot ways" along either side, and its "finely painted brick stores, three stories high, and well filled with costly and fanciful merchandize."6

Three members of John Edmiston's family already lived there. His Aunt Esther was married to the wealthy businessman Col. James Morrison, whom a British visitor described as "a fine-looking old gentleman" with the ruddy face of "a London Alderman"; he had settled in Lexington in 1792 after fighting in the Revolutionary War.7 John's sisters Sidney and Mary had also migrated there, where Mary married horse breeder and eventual mayor Thomas H. Pindell.8 Of such Lexingtonians Niles' Register for June 11, 1814, wrote: "Society is polished and polite, and their balls and assemblies are conducted with as much grace and ease as they are anywhere else, and the dresses at the parties are as tasty and
3. "Minutes of the Supreme Executive Council," Pennsylvania Colonial Records, 13 (1782), 263.
4. Fortescue Cuming, "Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country," in Early Western Travels 1748-1846, ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland, 1904), IV, 48.
5. Thomas Ashe, Travels in America, Performed in 1806, for the Purpose of Exploring the Rivers Allegheny, Monongehela, Ohio, and Mississippi, etc. (London, 1808), 171.
6. Samuel R. Brown, The Western Gazetteer; or, Emigrant's Directory (Auburn, N.Y., 1817), 91-92.
7. Thomas Hulme, "A Journal Made During a Tour in the Western Countries of America: September 30, 1818-August 7, 1819," in Thwaites, X, 66.
8. The family relationships are clarified in the will of James Morrison, in Fayette County Kentucky Records, Will Book E (1819-22), 296-300.
The June 22, 1811, marriage of Pindellto Mary Edmiston is recorded in Fayette County Kentucky Records, III, Marriages. Pindell was mayor of Lexington in 1854.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 7

elegant." Behind this opulent surface some residents supported cultural enrichment as well—Transylvania University, regular theater productions, a 2,000-book library, and thriving bookstores, all of which had come into existence by the turn of the century.9

John very likely hoped to settle in Lexington himself. But the town already had five "regular physicians" in 1807;10 by 1813 the market may well have been glutted. Meanwhile, he probably heard talk of good prospects for a doctor up north, in the new capital of Ohio. So, late that year, he took leave of his relatives' "temperate life of serene repose"11 and struck out for a very different destination.

At that time Columbus had only been in existence a year. The lots and roads had been marked off, and its 300-some settlers had cleared patches of forest and put up rough log cabins. A few small brick buildings also stood here and there among the newly felled trees; tree stumps jutted up in the middle of the mud lanes. The center of the settlement overlooked a pretty bend in the Scioto River, but the dense forest that extended away from it hid numerous ponds and swamps. Settlers needing to conduct any business had to canoe or ferry across the Scioto to the already established town of Franklinton.12

The sight of Columbus probably took John Edmiston aback, but he resolved to give the place a try. In early 1814 the following advertisement appeared on page one of the local Freeman's Chronicle:
Dr. John M. Edmiston
Has commenced the practice of
Medicine and Surgery at Columbus.
His shop is on High Street, near
mr. Green's store.
Columbus, Jan 11, 1814.

Two other physicians were already practicing in Columbus: John Ball, originally from Suffolk, Connecticut, and Samuel Persons (later Parsons), from Reading, Connecticut. But both of these men lived in Franklinton. Hence John Edmiston became the first doctor who both lived and practiced in Columbus.13
9. Richard C. Wade, The Urban Frontier: The Rise ofWestern Cities, 1790-1830 (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), 138-40.
10. Cuming, "Sketches...," in Thwaites, IV, 186.
11. That is how Ashe describes the life of Lexington's ladies, who he says were better educated than the men and showed "a vast superiority" over them "in their opinions and manners" (p. 171).
12. Alfred E. Lee, History of the City of Columbus,Capital of Ohio (New York and Chicago, 1892), I, 212-14, 273-75.
13. William T. Martin, History of Franklin County (Columbus, 1858), 280.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
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Business must have started up too slowly at first to suitthe new doctor, because he soon sought a boost from his most prominent western "connection," Uncle James (Col.) Morrison, in Lexington. Tocomply with his nephew's request, Col. Morrison sent a letter of introduction on his behalf to the most prominent man he knew in the Columbus area-his friend and fellow land developer Lucas Sullivant, the founder of Franklinton.14 In his letter, dated April 2, 1814, Morrisonwrote:

I shall enclose this to my friend Doctor John Edmiston, who is my wife's nephew and who I am just informed has settled in Columbus and intends practicing there as a Physician & Surgeon. This young gentleman has received a good Education, and with it the aid of attending to the Lectures in Phila/a. He is a young gentleman who is spoken of in high terms by all his acquaintances and is of an amiable disposition and unspotted reputation.

Col. Morrison went on to make several practical requests of Sullivant. First, if need be, could he advance Dr. Edmiston a short-term loan of $150 toward the price of a lot in Columbus he was in the processof buying? Second, would he introduce John to his "amiable spouse" and to Morrison's friends, brothers John and Abram McDowell, so as to "accelerate his acquaintance with the citizens?" And third, would he aid the young man with his "counsel and advice in case he should at any time think of purchasing property?" Morrison urged Sullivant not to feel obligated to dismiss Dr. Parsons as his own family doctor, though, in favor of young Edmiston.

By all indications Lucas Sullivant did retain Dr. Parsons as his physician; at any rate, at his death, in 1823, Sullivan towed Parsons a substantial sum for medical care, while his estate account included no unpaid bills to Dr. Edmiston.15 At the same time, evidence has survived that Lucas Sullivant and John Edmiston developed a solid relationship during that decade. Fellow citizens recorded a warm tribute he paid Sullivant, perhaps at his funeral, suggesting a friendship that had spanned the generations and enriched both men's lives. Dr. Edmiston said of Lucas Sullivant:

Take him all in all, with his strong and vigorous intellect, his knowledge of human nature, his decision of character, good judgment, and high sense of personal honor and integrity, he is one of the most remarkable men I ever knew. He seemed born to be a leader, and in whatever direction he had turned his attention, he would have distinguished himself and become a man of mark.16

14. Sullivant/Starling Collection, MSS 459, Box 1, folder 4,OHS.
15. Franklin County Probate Court, estate account No. 0420, microfilm GR1242, OHS.
16. History of Franklin and Pickaway Counties, Ohio (1880),580.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
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Whether or not Sullivant loaned John Edmiston money, the young man did manage to buy a piece of land in South Columbus in 1815, from John McGown,17 an old refugee from Nova Scotia. The land was part of a tract the U.S. government had set aside for refugees from Canada who had supported the American Revolution.18

So, Dr. Edmiston gradually established himself as an up-and-coming young Columbusite, a property owner with a developing medical practice. He got a small vote of official confidence as well, in January 1817, when the Ohio General Assembly chose him to be one of the five inspectors of the Ohio State Penitentiary,19 their tasks being to appoint the keeper and make prison rules.20

But along with his successful practice came frustration of major proportions: his patients were not paying him for his services. The problem was all too familiar to his peers, Drs. Parsons and Ball; the three of them must have commiserated privately about it on many an occasion. Finally they decided to present a united front and run the following notice in the Ohio Monitor:

The subscribers will hereafter require
the payment of their medical bills
yearly, and they request all persons in-
debted to them at this time to settle their
respective accounts immediately, by giv-
ing their notes or otherwise.
Columbus, Sept. 8, 1816

The announcement produced little effect, however. At any rate, when Dr. Ball died in 1818 his estate was left with nearly 350 uncollected patient accounts totaling $2,415.21

For Dr. Edmiston in early 1818 the cash-flow problem turned nasty. He fell behind in his rent payments to John McElvain,the proprietor of the two-story brick inn22 where he had his lodgings. On March 16 he signed an IOU to Mr. McElvain promising to pay him $72.25 within a month.23
17. Franklin County, County Recorder, Index to Deeds, Grantees, A-G 1804-1888,11, 210, microfilm GR3365, OHS.
18. Martin, 12-13.
19. Ohio Monitor, January 30, 1817.
20. Lee, II, 579.
21. Franklin County Probate Court, estate account No.0247, microfilm GR1241, OHS.
22. Martin, 281.
23. See John McElvain vs. John Edmiston, Franklin County Clerk of Courts, Common

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 10

But he was not able to do so, and McElvain kept demanding the money. The young man, about to lose his lease and unable to collect enough cash to make the payment, grew more and more desperate. Not seeing any other way out, he put the following notice in the Columbus Gazette, dated May 11, 1818:
Dr. John M. Edmiston
will leave Columbus about the
25th inst. All persons who
have unsettled accounts with him
will confer a favor by calling and ad-
justing the same, prior to that time.
Such as cannot pay may give their
notes. All accounts that are not set-
tled at that time will be left with an
agent for collection.

There is reason to believe that this notice took Edmiston's fellow Columbusites by surprise, including some town leaders who valued the young doctor highly and were loath to see him go. One can imagine their heated discussions over what action to pursue to stave off his departure and help him get back on his financial feet. Probably at the urging of such men Edmiston sought and won a judgment against one of his debtors, old John McGown, the man from whom he had purchased his property: on May 22, 1818, McGown, in absentia, was ordered to pay Dr. Edmiston $165.24 Innkeeper John McElvain, meanwhile, proceeded to file a suit against the doctor on June 2, 1818, seeking damages of $150, not only for the unpaid debt but "also for money lent goods sold and delivered &c."

As the summer wore on, Dr. Edmiston's allies continued to work on his behalf. One who interceded was Robert Brotherton, a prospering Columbus storekeeper "of a mild and sociable disposition"25 who was no older than John Edmiston himself. Since he had come as a teen from the same county as John, he could well have felt a special bond with the doctor. On August 13, 1818, Brotherton went to court and generously promised that Edmiston's debt to John McElvain could be "levied upon his [Brotherton's] goods chatteles, lands and tenements if default be made,"26 that is, if John Edmiston failed to pay it.

Again in Edmiston's case against John McGown, one senses the influence of the young doctor's champions. When the constable went to
Pleas Court Complete Record (October Term, 1818), I,181-82.
24. John Edmiston vs. John McGown, Franklin County Clerk of Courts, Common Pleas Court Complete Record (October Term, 1818), I, 222-23.
25. Martin, 44.
26. McElvain vs. Edmiston, 182.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 11

collect payment from McGown, who owned a huge tract of land, and the response was "no property found whereon to levy," somebody became outraged on Dr. Edmiston's behalf. The indignation seethes in this passage from the court record for September 12, 1818: "Whereas it being suggested to us that the said McGown is possessed of lands and tenements and being desirous that things which are rightly done should be carried into execution and that right and justice be done," McGown was to be ordered to appear in court.27

The young doctor, meantime, was gone, undoubtedly to Lexington. A notice dated July 9, 1818, ran repeatedly in the Columbus Gazette saying: "Persons indebted to Dr. John M. Edmiston will find their notes and accounts in my hands, by applying soon. John A. M'Dowell." A new notice, dated November 10, 1818, which appeared weekly in the same newspaper from November 12 to December 3, entitled "An immediate settlement is expected," announced that Eli C. King, Esq., would henceforth be collecting the doctor's debts. This notice was datelined Columbus, and in fact sometime in 1819 Dr. Edmiston was practicing medicine in Columbus again.28 Somehow he had firmed up his financial status, so that in spite of the Panic of 1819 that sank Columbus into a major, several-year-long depression, he personally never went under again, economically.

 * * * * *

By now John Edmiston had reached his late twenties. And by now there was somebody new in town, a young lady named Matilda Gwynne, from Allegheny County, Maryland.29 Matilda was nineteen when she arrived in Columbus, having been born in January of 1800. Her father had earned a fortune as a merchant and an investor in western Maryland farmlands, and her brothers, already in Ohio, in turn had invested successfully in vast tracts of Ohio farmland and were operating profitable
27. Edmiston vs. McGown, 222. On the other hand,when debts were owed to McGown, he felt free to brandish the weapon of the law. For example, he placed an ad on the front page of Columbus's Western Intelligencer for May 14, 1814, to notify debtors that unless arrangements were made to settle their debts, "the umpire of the law will be resorted to, to enforce the same."
28. The estate accounts of Franklin County residents David Scott (No. 0276) and John R. Stokes (No. 0311), microfilm GR1241, OHS, both of whom died about this time, show debts to Dr. Edmiston specifically for medicine and attendance in "last sickness."
29. Vital statistics for the Gwynne family are from"Register of Births and Deaths," in "Journal of Evan Edmiston," 77-78; Abraham EvanGwynne, "Family Record," in "A. Gwynne's Note Book," 90-92, Box 6, Gwynne Family Papers, Cincinnati Historical Society, hereafter CHS; and "From Private Farm to Educational Center: A Brief History of the Molly Caren Agricultural Center," by Raimund E. Goerler, University Archivist, The Ohio State University, October 1982 (in private possession of Susan Gwynne Custis).

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 12

general stores in Columbus, Springfield, and Urbana. By this age Matilda, the only surviving Gwynne daughter and undoubtedly the family jewel, would have been thoroughly adept at cooking, spinning, and sewing. The eligible doctor with the "amiable disposition" soon made her acquaintance, and on June 22, 1820, they were married, by the Rev. James Hoge of the Presbyterian Church.30

After the newlyweds settled into living quarters in town, Matilda promptly became pregnant, and on April 7, 1821, baby Evan arrived, followed on August 17, 1822, by James Morrison.31 The expanding Edmiston family also took in a foster child during these years, a boy named Lucius Ball. Guardianship records of the era reveal that the early Columbus community wove an informal safety net for its citizens when necessary, and the fate of the Ball family is a case in point.

When Dr. John Ball died in 1818, he left a widow and five children, aged eleven, nine, seven, five, and three. In subsequent years the children lived with their mother only intermittently. For the most part they lived with other families, to whom the children's guardian, Samuel Flenniken, disbursed funds for their care.32 Among the caregivers were such prominent members of the young community as Judge Gustavus Swan, whose family boarded, clothed, and paid tuition for young John Ball, aged ten and eleven at the time (in 1821-22), and Sheriff Francis Stewart, whose family cared for Mary Ann Ball for three years, when she was eight through ten (to 1823).

The Edmiston-Gwynne family took Lucius Ball into their household, apparently even before Matilda and John got married. At any rate, "boarding lodging & washing was furnished" to Lucius for fourteen months before January 17, 1821, the date Dr. Edmiston wrote out a receipt to guardian Flenniken for $40. Lucius was eleven at the time. Subsequently, accounts at Stewart and Brotherton's dry goods store show that young Mrs. Edmiston selected various amounts of cotton fabric, buttons, thread, etc., during 1821-1823 on Lucius's behalf. In other words, even when he stayed elsewhere, she decided what clothes he needed. Other people were reimbursed for sewing the pantaloons or the roundabout (jacket) for him; Mrs. Edmiston's mother received 50 cents for making two shirts.

30. Franklin County Marriage Records, II, 105.
31. Uncle James Morrison, who died the next year, willed nothing to this namesake. However, his will does name nephew James M. Morrison and great nephews James Morrison Pindell and James Morrison Holmes as heirs, along with a Morrison Harris and a Morrison Boswell.
32. Franklin County Probate Court, No. 0247, microfilm GR1241, OHS, is the guardianship account of the Ball children. Samuel Flenniken was an Associate Judge of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court from 1817 until 1845 (Martin, 156-57).

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 13

Throughout the early 1820s Columbus struggled, along with the rest of the country, with the financial depression that greatly slowed business and, for lack of cash, reduced most transactions to barter. And during these same years the town suffered repeated deadly outbreaks of bilious or yellow fever. Dr. Edmiston must have had more demand for his medical care in these years than ever before, yet he probably fared no better than most when it came to being paid cash for his services. Extant records (his ledgers and daybooks have apparently not survived) support that conclusion. For example, it was 1830 before he was able to collect on a debt for $30.62 from the estate of his patient, John Colshine, who died in 1824.33 And when another patient, Matthew Long, failed to pay his bill in 1823, Dr. Edmiston took him to court; when the man died, in 1825, Edmiston dropped the suit and paid the court costs himself.34

Despite the depression, Dr. Edmiston did have funds in the early 1820s that he could invest. For one thing, Matilda had brought a sizable dowry to the marriage; and perhaps his own inheritance, however small, had come into his hands (Col. Morrison had mentioned in his 1814 letter to Lucas Sullivant that "his portion of his father's estate" would eventually be forthcoming). To his advantage, prices were certainly depressed on the real estate he proceeded to buy. And those lands yielded corn, hay, and other produce he could barter, along with his medical services. Among the lands he purchased during the years 1820 to 1824 were nine parcels of property in Franklin County, seven of them on his own and two jointly with brother-in-law David Gwynne.35 Moreover, chattel records for 1826 show that he owned forty head of cattle that year.36 This was surely an investment suggested by his risk-tolerant brother-in-law Eli Gwynne, a highly successful businessman who grazed as many as 1,200 head at once in enclosed pastures in Madison County, then sent them to distant markets in hopes of turning a nice profit.37

Another indication of John Edmiston's bright financial outlook at this point was the handsome brick house he and his family built. On March 16,

33. Coishine's estate account is Franklin County Probate Court, No. 0493, microfilm GR1242, OHS.
34. Long's estate account is Franklin County Probate Court, No. 0466, microfilm GR1242, OHS. For the lawsuit see Franklin County Clerk of Courts, Common Pleas Court Complete Record, 1825-1827, pp. 55, 139, 166.
35. Franklin County, County Recorder, Index to Deeds, Grantees, A-G 1804- 1888, II, 210-li, microfilm GR3365, OHS.
36. Fay Maxwell, Franklin County Ohio Chattels 1826, 1832 and 1842 (Austin, Minn., 1991), 17.
37. Paul C. Henlein, Cattle Kingdom in the Ohio Valley 1783-1860 (Lexington, Ky., 1959), 10, 20, 57-58.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 14

This photo of the Odd Fellows' Temple shows the Edmistons' house at left, on High Street and Walnut Alley. From The Story of Columbus: Past, Present and Future of the Metropolis of Central Ohio, 1900. (Ohio Historical Society Collections.)


1825, Dr. Edmiston signed a mortgage for Columbus inlot No. 342,38 which occupied a choice location-the northeast corner of High Street and Walnut Alley, half a block south of Town Street. Both he and his wife could remember the dignified look of city homes back east and must have spent many hours together transforming the home of their dreams into a practicable plan. In 1825 they set about building it: a handsome, two-story town house with eight windows and a separate entrance for his office on the corner. One of the first brick houses in Columbus,39 it lent a civilized look to that block of High Street for many years and remained in use by a
38. The mortgage–for $150 to be paid in nine months and another $150 in eighteen months-remained unpaid at Dr. Edmiston's death and so turned up in his estate account (Franklin County Probate Court, No. 0995, microfilm GR3768, OHS). Unless otherwise noted, information about the Edmistons' house, their purchases, and the doctor's medical supplies is drawn from his estate account. The inventory of household goods that was made after Dr. Edmiston's insanity trial was also included in the estate account, and gives a room-by-room enumeration of the furnishings, including those of his office.
39. "Monumental Inscriptions From Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio," The "Old Northwest" Genealogical Quarterly, X (July, 1907), 255.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
Page 15

succession of businesses until midway through the twentieth century.40

In the meantime the Edmistons enlarged their family of four, as Matilda bore daughters Elizabeth Jane, on May 5, 1827, Mary on July 4, 1829, and Jane, on December 24, 1833; their firstborn daughter, Martha Ann, had lived only from October 29 to December 16, 1824. The family also boarded Lucius Ball in 1824, 1825, 1828, and 1830, and his younger brother John in 1826, 1828, and 1829.

That the Edmistons were prospering in these years was reflected in their decisions to carpet their house, acquire a cook stove, and buy fine home furnishings. They could also afford to dress in style: Matilda would buy yards and yards of bombazeen or cassimere, ribbons, and trimmings at Joshua Baldwin's, which she or her mother would stitch up into the fashion of the day, while John enjoyed silver spectacles, a $45 silver lever watch, and a $6 silk hat. Both of them loved fine-quality merchandise, be it a $13.50 set of ivory-handled knives and forks, a $6 tortoise comb, or a $12 silver-plated fruit basket. They were known for their entertaining, and their reputation as hospitable hosts lingered in the memory of a later generation.41

* * * * *

The couple may have been conspicuous consumers, but they also bore serious responsibilities. Matilda managed their household—from shopping to cooking to sewing—and oversaw the upbringing of their youngsters, while John juggled the unpredictable and frequently grueling demands of his practice, in his "shop" there at the house or, as was often necessary, in the patients' homes. He kept his horse well shod and at the ready, because at any moment someone might rush up to the door and summon him anxiously to some far corner or other of the county. His saddle, bridle, and saddlebags hung in his office, where he also kept his glass jars, bottles and vials of medicine, as well as his set of scales and weights, catheter, syringes, and other instruments and supplies. The office also had a bookcase full of medical and other books, his desk—with ledger and daybook—and writing chair, and two chairs for patients and their relatives. The office was heated by a stove.

In his practice Dr. Edmiston employed the mainstream techniques of the day, which is to say: "bleeding and blistering, purging and puking."42 He, like other physicians then, believed that ridding the body of certain amounts of the substances in question could remedy ailments from asthma

40. Lazarus Photo Collection, P311, Box 1, folder 3, OHS.
41. Ruth Young White, ed., We Too Built Columbus (Columbus, 1936), 89.
42. Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 (New York, 1988), 8

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
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to diabetes, angina pectoris to jaundice. Most of the medicines and supplies he needed for these purposes he bought at Dr. Lincoln Goodale's store up the street: jalap and calomel as cathartics, ipecac to induce vomiting, several types of lancets, with which he would cut the patient's vein to drain the prescribed amount of blood, blister plaisters to raise blisters, and cantharides (blister beetles, or Spanish flies), also for blistering.

There were several other pharmaceutical items he made constant use of as well: "soda powder" (bicarbonate of soda?), "pills," probably meaning opium; quinine, for fever; ether, calcined magnesia, gum arabic, castor oil, and something Dr. Goodale listed on Dr. Edmiston's account as "panacea."43 Along with administering these medications and bleeding or blistering patients, Dr. Edmiston would also have been routinely called upon to pull teeth, deliver babies, set broken bones, or make the lonely decision to amputate a gangrenous limb.44 Such were the everyday demands upon a "physician and surgeon" of that time.

By all indications, John Edmiston's career and family life in the early 1830s were at their zenith. His three oldest children, Evan, Morrison, and Elizabeth, attended school in the basement of the new First Presbyterian Church at State and Third Streets; their teacher was a young Massachusetts native, Abiel Foster, Jr.45 That John himself was a leading citizen who held learning in esteem is suggested by his participation in founding the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, in Columbus in February 1831. He was included among the society's thirty charter members, along with such illustrious Ohioans of that period as Benjamin Tappan, James T. Worthington, Dr. Samuel Hildreth, and Alfred Kelley.46

 * * * * *

43. During this period Dr. Goodale regularly advertised something he called "Swaim's panacea" (see, for example, Ohio State Journal and Columbus Gazette, April 28, 1832), which he said was "for the cure of Scrofula or King's evil, Rheumatism, White Swellings, Diseases of the Liver and Skin, General Debility, &c." Whatever its composition, this was more than likely what Dr. Edmiston bought.
44. Charles Bell, in his standard two-volume reference on surgery, which John Edmiston owned (at any rate, Evan listed it among his own "books on hand" in 1838), makes clear what "doubt and perplexity" a doctor could feel when, alone on a call, he had to decide whether to amputate: "There are cases in which the most experienced surgeon will have difficulty to determine whether amputation will save the patient or accelerate his doom .... Each case, as it occurs in practice, is attended with circumstances so peculiar, that it will seldom class with our general aphorisms." A System of Operative Surgery Founded on the Basis of Anatomy (Hartford, Conn., 1812), I, 264, 267.
45. Lee, I, 514-15. Dr. Edmiston's estate account includes a tuition bill from Foster.
46. Act of Incorporation and By-Laws of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio (February 11, 1831), [np., nd.].

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
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In March of 1833, Governor Robert Lucas chose Dr. Edmiston and three other Ohio physicians to take on a challenging assignment. At that time Cincinnati's Medical College of Ohio and the associated Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum were ridden with turmoil: so many vicious charges and countercharges were being exchanged regarding mis-government by the Medical College's Board of Trustees that the very survival of the state's medical school was in doubt. The four doctors, along with one member of the General Assembly, were commissioned to go to Cincinnati in April and investigate the situation.47

The panel convened in Cincinnati on the second Monday of April, as instructed, and set about inspecting the medical buildings, examining stacks of reports, and questioning witnesses. Such a crowd of witnesses descended upon the panel that it had to hire a stenographer to take down all the testimony.48 The daily strain, for nearly three weeks, wore on everybody involved.

For Dr. Edmiston the worst ordeal had to have been inspection of the Lunatic Asylum. Approximately a year before, he had suddenly begun to suffer debilitating epileptic seizures.49 As a doctor, he was well aware they could eventually lead to derangement; indeed, a common medical view at the time was that when seizures occurred frequently, ultimately "a total imbecility or idiotism is induced."50 Surely, then, he must have recoiled at what he saw in the asylum.
Patients . . . in every state of mental alienation, the quiet, the noisy, and the imbecile, the half rational, monomaniac and the slobbering idiot, the convalescent patients and the hopeless incurable, with no distinction except as to sex . . . huddled together, or shut up in their cells . . . . The filth and fetor also, that constantly attend . . . the "wet patients" . . . . The noise and uproar of fatuous and ungovernable maniacs, under constant excitation by the very restraint that it is necessary to impose.51

Not only Dr. Edmiston but the entire commission was appalled by the place. Built in 1827 as a wing of the hospital, it was still Ohio's only state facility for the mentally ill at the time of their visit.52
 47. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, First Session of the Thirty-First General Assembly, XXXI, 424-25, 642.
48. Letter, M. Z. Kreider, Secretary of the Commission, to Gov. Robert Lucas, April 18, 1833, MSS 294, Robert Lucas Papers, Box 1, folder 8, OHS.
49. This is indicated in the post-mortem finding reported in the Managers' Minutes, Friends Asylum, stated meeting August 11, 1834, III (1834-1850), 8. In the Quaker Collection, Haverford College, Pennsylvania.
50. John Eberle, A Treatise on the Practice of Medicine (Philadelphia, 1831), II, 45.
51. Thus did a comparable panel describe the asylum two years earlier, in its report to the legislature. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, Twenty-Ninth General Assembly, XXIX, 40.
52. Lee, II, 591

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In their report to the Ohio General Assembly, dated Dec. 21, 1833, Dr. Edmiston and the other commissioners charged that the Cincinnati asylum building was
manifestly inadequate to the purpose for which it was designed. The smallness of the building [about 40' by 30'], and consequent contraction of the appartments [12 cells on the first floor for men, 12 on the second for women], render it merely a place of miserable confinement for its unfortunate tenants. . . . Like the common gaol of our counties it may secure the body for a season, but is utterly unfitted as a place for mitigating the maladies of the Insane.53
Moreover, Dr. Edmiston and his peers noted, the proximity of the asylum to the hospital resulted in "beings whose ravings and phrenzied shrieks constantly reach the ears of the Hospital patient"; this arrangement brought no benefit to either group of patients. The commission, having "thought much upon the subject of this institution and the best means to . . . make it what it should be, a place of refuge, promising restoration of health and reason to the insane," concluded that the state of Ohio should build a new, larger facility, on more spacious grounds.54

John Edmiston faced a second ordeal in 1833: the cholera epidemic in Columbus that summer. The dreaded disease that had ravaged many regions of North America the year before finally reached Ohio's capital in July of 1833, killing 100-some people within three months despite the all-out efforts of the local doctors.55

Columbus physicians were at odds as to how to properly treat the disease. There were two camps: the establishment doctors, who swore by their emetics, purgatives, and blisters, and the so-called botanical or Thomsonian practitioners,56 several of whom had recently arrived in town, who proclaimed the curative powers of lobelia, cayenne pepper, and "cholera syrup." The latter group especially filled newspaper columns with invective, even blaming the former for the deaths of specific individuals.57

Dr. Edmiston did not appear in print during those months, but he did

53. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, First Session of the Thirty- First General Assembly, XXXI, 220.
54. Ibid., 236.
55. A comprehensive account of the dreadful epidemic is Jonathan Forman, "The First Cholera Epidemic in Columbus, Ohio (1833)," Annals of Medical History, VI, No. 5, 410-26.
56. Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) was a self-taught physician from Massachusetts who developed, patented, and marketed a system of medical treatment using botanical remedies and steam baths. Columbus became a center for the Thomsonian practitioners, and they held their national convention here in 1832 (American National Biography [New York, 1999], XXI, 596-97).
57. See, for example, Thomsonian Recorder, II (Columbus), 8-15 (October 12, 1833), 58-60 (November 23, 1833); Ohio State Journal and Columbus Gazette, August 31, 1833, and November 16, 1833.

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restock his supply of calomel several times. He also bought a copy of Eberle's Practice,58 a mainstream medical bible of the day, perhaps as much for its extensive chapter on mental derangement as for its advice on cholera. He knew and probably attended many of the townspeople who succumbed to "the chollary," but the loss that must have hurt most was that of his children's nursemaid, Seely Francis, on September 28, 1833.59

As 1833 turned to 1834, seizures continued to rack Edmiston. He tried smoking cigars that winter, desperately hoping to relax and get himself under control, but to no avail. And to make matters worse, something was seriously afflicting his lower digestive system.60 By May he may have been eating little but crackers, because between May 2 and June 2 the Edmistons purchased thirty-six pounds of crackers at McElvain and Dalzell's grocery, an item they had not been accustomed to buying at all.

Only hints of Dr. Edmiston's derangement that unhappy spring are visible to us now. He bought almost no medical supplies in 1834, an indication that he was seeing virtually no patients. He kept his books irregularly at best.61 To judge from his extreme combativeness by July, he must have been growing more and more intractable during the preceding months. His beleaguered Matilda made very few purchases in the late spring, but among them were quantities of stout cloth: a dozen yards of muslin on May 19, ten and one-half yards of Russia sheeting on June 1, and several dollars' worth of linen on June 23. In all likelihood she needed to keep replenishing the supply of fresh bedsheets. She may also have cut up some of the cloth into bands for restraining her suffering husband.

John Edmiston apparently was rapidly losing his sanity. Matilda's brothers Eli and David Gwynne, being protective of her and the children, shared her alarm at his deteriorating condition. It was probably the two brothers who, at her urging or with her resigned consent, took the legal steps required to bring the doctor's dangerous situation under control.
58. See note 50.
59. Ohio State Journal and Columbus Gazette. October 5, 1833. The brief editorial, entitled "The Cholera," refers to her as "SELA, a colored woman." A former slave of the Gwynnes in Maryland, Seely came to Columbus with them and shares a grave in Greenlawn Cemetery with the five Edmiston children who died in childhood or early adulthood (the tombstone bears the names of the five, followed by: "and their faithful nurse, Seely").
60. Inflammation of the bowel is referred to in the postmortem report on Dr. Edmiston in the Managers' Minutes, Friends Asylum, stated meeting August 11, 1834, III (1834-1850), 8. In the Quaker Collection, Haverford College.
61. This is clear from a December 17, 1834, statement submitted to the court by two administrators of Dr. Edmiston's estate, Eli W. Gwynne and his brother Thomas's son Thomas M. Gwynne, and was included in the estate account. After listing eighteen notes and accounts due the estate "upon which we can make demands for payment," they say further: "The Book accounts of said Deceased have been so irregularly kept that we can make no legal use of them in statements and therefore return them [as] of no value and will hand them over to the court."

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Under Ohio law at that time,62 any relative or any resident of a township could request in writing that the justice of the peace issue a warrant to the constable to bring a supposed "idiot, lunatic or insane person" before the justice. The same justice would then summon "seven discreet and disinterested freeholders" as a jury to decide whether the person was in fact insane, whether he represented a danger to himself or others, whether he was likely to destroy his own property or that of others, and whether he ought to be put in "close confinement." Their verdict would determine the person's fate.

John Edmiston's case was entrusted to seven of Columbus's most prominent citizens: David W. Deshler, William Doherty, Lincoln Goodale, John Greenwood, Alfred Kelley, Lemuel Reynolds, and Francis Stewart. Samuel Andrews served as counsel. The jury submitted its verdict to Thomas Wood, Justice of the Peace of Montgomery Township, Franklin County, on June 23, 1834. "After full inquiry and personal examination and after hearing the testimony submitted touching said case," they wrote, [we] do return as our verdict that the said John M. Edmiston is insane and that there is danger of [his harming] his life and property if left at liberty and that said John M. Edmiston ought to be put in confinement." The jurors, having built Columbus side by side with the doctor for some fifteen to twenty years, must have seen this duty through with heavy hearts.63

The law went on to stipulate that if the jury called for the person's confinement, he was to be sent to the county jail (for lack of asylums at this time) unless someone posted a bond and vouched for his safekeeping. Many of Ohio's mentally ill in this period did spend some time caged in their county's jail.64 But Dr. Edmiston's family could not consign him to such a dreadful place, instead hiring a respected citizen named Ebenezer Barcus to tend and, when necessary, restrain him. They paid this man five
62. "An act to provide for the safe keeping of Idiots, Lunatics, Insane persons, the protection of their property, and other purposes" (adopted January 29, 1824), Acts of a General Nature, Enacted, Revised and Ordered to Be Reprinted at the First Session of the Twenty-Ninth General Assembly of the State of Ohio (Columbus, 1831), XXIX, 324-29.
63. A copy of the verdict is in the private possession of Susan Gwynne Custis. Dr. Edmiston's estate account includes Sam C. Andrews's bill for $5 "to services in the trial before Esq. Wood in the case of Lunacy &c."
64. The journals of the Boards of Commissioners of several Ohio counties (e.g., those of Columbiana, Fayette, Muskingum, and Washington Counties) that are on microfilm at the Ohio Historical Society illustrate how common the practice was. Moreover, a circular that Gov. Robert Lucas sent out to all county auditors on July 10, 1835, requesting that they report the number of insane persons in the county and, if confined, where, drew fifty-four responses, most of them quite detailed; here again, one sees how frequently the insane were jailed. See Robert Lucas Papers, MSS 294, Box 3, folders 5, 10-13, and 15, and Box 4, folder 1, OHS. According to a summation given in the directors' report in the Fourth Annual Report of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum to the Forty-First General Assembly (Columbus, 1842), 10-11, in 1835 there were 294

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dollars a week to take on such an onerous responsibility. Barcus, a farmer and carpenter John Edmiston's own age, had come to Columbus in 1828 from Kent County, Delaware, as a widower with three young sons. Here he soon married a widow eleven years his senior.65 He must have established a reputation for trustworthiness, patience, and physical strength because he was called upon often during this period to attend Columbusites in their last illness.66

The law on safekeeping of lunatics also required that the township's overseers of the poor (the indigent and the insane both being township charges) make and file an inventory of the insane person's estate, real and personal. This the overseers of the poor for Montgomery Township, Samuel Barr and Andrew Backus, carried out on July 10, 1834.

Meanwhile, Edmiston's family made preparations for sending him to an institution that could give him proper care. It would not be the state asylum at Cincinnati, that much was certain. Dr. Edmiston's peers held several out-of-state asylums in high regard: Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, Bloomingdale Asylum at White Plains, New York, the Hartford, Connecticut, Retreat, and Friends' Asylum near Philadelphia.67 Several factors favored Friends' Asylum. It was somewhat nearer than the rest, Eli Gwynne (not to mention John Edmiston himself) was familiar with Philadelphia, having made numerous business trips there, and the rural Quaker retreat was justly renowned for its emphasis on what it called the "moral treatment" of fellow human beings "deprived of the use of their reason."68 The family resolved to take him there.

Stagecoach reservations were made, and the appointed day, in late June 1834, arrived. The desperately ill doctor, not only mentally deranged but physically debilitated by his bowel ailment, was helped up into the carriage by Ebenezer Barcus and Eli Gwynne, both of whom made the journey with him. Matilda's heart surely wrenched as the coach and horses pulled away.69 At that time the stagecoach trip from Columbus to

insane persons in Ohio "supported at the public expense," 94 of whom were "in confinement."
65. A Centennial Biographical History of the City of Columbus and Franklin County Ohio (Chicago, 1901), 223; Greenlawn Cemetery records at OHS, FLM 292, roll 7 of 20.
66. For example, he attended William Collins for seven days "in his last sickness" in September 1833 (estate account No. 0912, microfilm GR3768, OHS); Dr. Peter Eberle (who lived less than a year after setting up practice in Columbus) for three days in November 1834 (estate account No. 1008, microfilm GR3768, OHS); and Hector Kilbourne for "say 58 days," during the fall of 1837 (estate account No. 1210, microfilm GR3770, OHS).
67. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, Twenty-Ninth General Assembly, XXIX, 41; Report of the Directors of the Lunatic Asylum of Ohio, to the Thirty- Fourth General Assembly (Columbus, December 10, 1835), 3.
68. Carol Benenson Perloff, The Asylum: The History of Friends Hospital and the Quaker Contribution to Psychiatry (Philadelphia, 1994), 7, 20-31.
69. Just how distraught Matilda was at the time may be inferred from a brief comment her

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Philadelphia took five days,70 counting the overnight stops at inns along the way-famously foul and bedbug-infested inns,71 one might add. The ordeal surely exhausted all three men to the bone.

Dr. Edmiston was brought to Friends' Asylum on the evening of July 4, Superintendent John C. Redmond noted in his journal.72 Special permission was needed-and granted-so that he could be admitted, presumably because he was not a Quaker (although it was sometime that very year that the Asylum officially decided to open its doors to non-Quakers as well).73 Sadly, the new patient was undoubtedly too agitated to appreciate his ride up the tree-shaded roadway to the porch of the handsome stuccoed building, or his room with its airy view onto the front lawn.

Excerpts from Superintendent Redmond's journal for the next three weeks continue the story:
Saturday, July 5th: ... Dr. Edmiston has been considerably excited
[=agitated], his Brother in law E. W. Gwynne, came out this
afternoon, to enquire after him & to meet the Managers.
Sunday, July 6th: ... Dr. Edmiston is at times noisy, J- M- has been
removed from the adjoining Room into the Wing to prevent his
being disturbed by the Dr.
Monday, July 14th: ... Dr. Edmiston had Blisters applied to his andes,
and to Day has slept the most of the Day.
Tuesday, July 15th: ... This Morning Dr. Edmiston had something like
an Epil[e]ptic attack, he had been verry restive last night, and tore
up some of his Bed Cloths with other damage.
Wednesday, July 16th:.. . Dr. Edmiston was attacked this Morning
similarly to yesterday, he is under great Mental excitement, . . . also
Laboring Under... Bodily disease.
Thursday, July 17th: ... Dr. Edmiston was similarly affected this
Morning to the two preceding ones, he continues much excited.
Sunday, July 20th:.. . Dr. Edmiston appears rather better to Day.
Tuesday, July 22nd: ... Dr. Edmiston had a verry poor Night last Night,
and has been very feeble to Day, his present situation is considered
a critical one.
Wednesday, July 23rd: ... Dr. Edmiston had again poor Night, he slept
none, his Bowels have been verry relaxed, this Morning he was
verry feeble, at about 10 0 Clock he had a fit, after which he
appeard to be Sinking. In the afternoon Drs. Morton & Evans

brother Eli made in a letter four and a half months after the doctor's death. "She is now quite cheerful," he wrote to their brother David on December 9, 1834 (Box 1, No. 193, Gwynne Family Papers, CHS).
70. Joel Buttles Diaries (March 9, 1835), VOL 1205, OHS.
71. Larkin, 161.
72. Superintendents' Journals, Friends Asylum, V [1832-1836], July 4, 1834. In the Quaker Collection, Haverford College.
73. Norman Dam, Concepts of Insanity in the US, 1789-1865 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1964),32.

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came out from the City, and continued with him till 8 O Clock in
the Evening, when they found there was no prospect of his
continuing long, and at a little before 10 O Clock in the Evening,
he quietly departed this life.
Thursday, July 24th: This Morning a Messenger was dispatched to the
City to convey to the Friends there the decease of Dr. Edmiston,
but it was found that the person to whom I was requested to apply
in any case of emergency had left the City and would not likely
return in several Days, it was concluded therefore, to have the Body
interd at the usual place in Frankford to morrow Morning.
Friday, July 25th: This Morning at the time appointed, the Funural of
Dr. J. M. Edmiston took place, the Body was conveyd to Frankford
and there interd in Friends Burrying Ground, the Carriage belonging
to the Institution, with my own Family, Dr. Trimble [the asylum's
resident physician & Eli Palmer following the Corpse to the
Burrying Ground, there was no other attended.74

The Friends Asylum Managers, in their regular meeting August 11, 1834, recorded that Dr. Edmiston "had for 2 Years past suffered from attacks of Epileptic convulsions this disease together with inflamation of the bowels caused his death on the 23rd ulti . . ."75

When word of his death reached Columbus, the Ohio State Journal published this simple and circumspect obituary: "In the city of Philadelphia, on the 21st ult. Dr. JOHN M. EDMISTON, of this city, aged about 45. He had been a resident of Columbus for upwards of twenty years; and has left a numerous family and many friends to mourn his loss" (August 16, 1834).

The occasional reference at the time—a shopkeeper's "if the Deceased had been living and in his right mind,"76 or Evan's "he died with an apoplectic fit at the City of Philladelpha"—indicates that the truth was well known at first. But eventually the facts became obscured. So it is no wonder that the twentieth-century descendants of his widow's family, the Gwynnes, had no idea about John Edmiston's fate: they were told he had been sent to Philadelphia to help combat the cholera and while there had fallen victim to it himself.77
74. Superintendents' Journals, July 5-25, 1834.
75. Managers' Minutes, Friends Asylum, stated meeting August 11, 1834,111 (1834-1850), 8. In the Quaker Collection, Haverford College.
76. Columbus grocer and dry goods merchant John Greenwood, vouching for the accuracy of his December 9, 1834, bill to Dr. Edmiston's estate, includes a credit "for medicine and attendance . . . which is an amount believed to be full as much as would have been charged if the Deceased etc." In Dr. Edmiston's estate account.
77. Susan Gwynne Custis, great-great-granddaughter of Eli Gwynne, in a 1997 conversation with the author.

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The Ohio Lunatic Asylum, from The Story of Columbus: Past, Present, and Future of the Metropolis of Central Ohio, 1900. (Ohio Historical Society Collections.)

 * * * * *

In his autobiography Evan wrote, of his lamented father: ". . . it is my intention if I ever get able to Rais a monument over his bones that Lie in the Earth but I hope th[at] his soul is in heaven the inscription will be short but worthy it is this The trumpet Shall Sound & the dead Shall Arise[.]" Evan never got to raise such a monument to his father, nor would one have been permitted in the simple Quaker graveyard at Frankford. But a worthy monument of a different sort did get raised.

In June 1834, the same month that Dr. Edmiston was adjudged insane and carted far across the mountains to Philadelphia for treatment, his fellow Columbus doctor, William M. Awl, issued an impassioned call to the physicians of Ohio to assemble in Columbus on January 5, 1835, for a medical convention.78 Dr. Awl had long been cognizant of the lack of decent facilities for Ohio's insane. So, chief among the several actions the convention took that January was to set the legislative wheels in motion toward construction of a new asylum, in Columbus. Columbus's Dr. Robert Thompson reported to the convention, and then, in its name, to the state's General Assembly, as follows:
78. Journal of the Proceedings of a Convention of Physicians of Ohio, Held in the City of Columbus, on the Fifth day of January, A. D. 1835 (Cincinnati, 1835), 4.

Columbus's Pioneer Doctor John M. Edmiston
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It is known to the Legislature that an institution exists in the city of Cincinnati, bearing the appellation of a Lunatic Asylum... [but] being in fact nothing more than a prison. . . . no member of our profession can advise that the insane in his vicinity be sent to Cincinnati, and consequently Asylums in other States are recommended. . . .

There are now in [Ohio] not less than 600 to 1,000 insane persons, entirely destitute of the proper means of recovery. . . . [We urge] such legislation as the pressing importance of the subject demands.

[We] recommend . . . the "Friends' Asylum," near Philadelphia, and a similar institution at Hartford, Connecticut, as suitable models.79
Dr. Edmiston's colleagues were clearly influenced by the memory of his great woe.

When the Ohio Lunatic Asylum opened in Columbus in November 1838, with the dedicated Dr. Awl himself as superintendent, it was welcomed as a beneficent retreat for Ohio's mental patients—if too late for some, then in good time for others.80
79. Ibid., 25-27.
80. For a discussion of Dr. Awl's years as superintendent of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum (1838-1850) and his views on the nature, causes, and treatment of insanity, see Emil R. Pinta, "Samuel M. Smith, 'Dr. Cure-Awl's' Assistant at the Ohio Lunatic Asylum: His 1841 Case-Reports on Insanity," Ohio History, CVII (Winter-Spring, 1998), 58-75.