Bodleian Library, Oxford, England
An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases (1764): A Scholarly Introduction
By: David Medina
First published in 1764, James Grainger’s (c. 1721 – 1767) An Essay on the Common West-India Diseases; and the remedies which that country itself produces. To which are added, some hints on the management, &c. of Negroes concerns the "management" and medical treatment of slaves in the Caribbean. Grainger received his M.D. from Edinburgh University in 1753 and drew on his medical background in writing accounts of the medical treatment of slaves in the West Indies after moving to St. Kitts in 1759.
Grainger’s Essay argues that those responsible for the management of slaves should “treat them in a more scientific manner than has hitherto been generally practiced,” and outlines this philosophy throughout the four parts of the essay. Grainger contends that slaves were treated well in the Caribbean, and substantiates those claims by offering observations regarding the slaves’ healthy diets, clothing, housing, and medical treatments, including remedies that “no plantations ought ever to be without” (iv).
According to Thomas Krise, Grainger’s Essay became the standard reference work on West Indian diseases and treatment immediately after its publication. The same Edinburgh publishing house, Mundell & Son, printed the second edition of Grainger’s Essay in 1802, which contains the supplement, “Practical Notes, And a Linnaean Index” by William Wright. Scholars cite Grainger’s Essay as the first Anglophone work in the Caribbean devoted to the diseases of the West Indies, as well as one of the first works of literature to discuss the “management” of slaves. Grainger’s Essay has been cited by numerous scholars studying topics such as epidemiology, the history of plantation management and slave life, historical advocates of slavery, and ecology (see: Dumas 2013; Eugênio 2009; Kipple 2002; Le Texier 2013; Thomas 2006).A later 1802 version of An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases is also available in our archive.
Dumas, Paula. Defending the Slave Trade and Slavery in Britain in the Era of Abolition, 1783-1833, University of Edinburgh, 2013.
Eugênio, Alisson. "Enlightenment, slavery and slaves' health conditions in the New World." Varia Historia vol. 25 no. 41, 2009, pp. 227-244.
Kiple, Kenneth F. The Caribbean Slave: A Biological History. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Le Texier, Thibault. "The first systematized uses of the term ‘management’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries." Journal of Management History vol. 19 no. 2, 2013, pp. 189-224.
Krise, Thomas W. Ed. Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies, 1657-1777, 1999.
Thomas, Steven. "Doctoring Ideology: James Grainger's The Sugar Cane and the Bodies of Empire." Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal vol. 4 no. 1, 2006, pp. 78-111.Wright, William. “Practical Notes, And a Linnaean Index” in James Grainger, An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases: And the Remedies which that Country Itself Produces; to which are Added, Some Hints on the Management, &c. of Negroes. Mundell & Son, and Longman & Rees, 1802.
Goodwin, Gordon. “Grainger, James (1721x4–1766).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP, 2004.
Shields, David S. Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750, University of Chicago Press, 1990.
How to cite this scholarly introduction:
Medina, David. “An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases…(1764): A Scholarly Introduction.” The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service, 2016.