Fortune as he may have looked in life. Painted
by William Westwood, a medical illustrator, based on Fortune's skeleton.
Dr. Porter's "School for Anatomy"
Following Fortunes death in 1798, Dr. Preserved
Porter prepared Fortunes skeleton for anatomical
study, reportedly opening a School for Anatomy
in Waterbury, giving local doctors an opportunity to learn
from the bones. Medical skeletons were extremely rare;
Fortunes skeleton was studied by all of the Porter
doctors and, quite possibly, by many doctors in the region.
Waterburys first physician was Dr. Daniel Porter,
one of the early settlers of Waterbury and grandfather
of Dr. Preserved Porter. Daniel Porter had learned his
trade from his father, just as Preserved learned from
Beginning in 1714, Daniel Porter became the towns
bone setter, while Ephraim Warner was the
general practitioner. The Porter family produced several
generations of bone doctors and general physicians. Daniel
Porters grandsons, Timothy and Preserved, worked
as a general physician and a bone setter in Waterbury
during the last half of the eighteenth century.
Most medical practitioners in colonial Connecticut learned
their trade through apprenticeship. Medical books were
scarce; many doctors kept notebooks copied from published
works. Still other practitioners had no training whatsoever,
but promised to cure every disease, including cancer.
Connecticut passed several laws during the 18th century
banning the sale of drugs or other medicines by quacks.
The need for sound medical knowledge was of great concern
throughout the colony. Waterburys Rev. Mark Leavenworth
delivered a sermon to the General Assembly in 1772, urging
the legislature to bring to the art of healing
the same level of education found in mathematics or astronomy.
Leavenworth noted that the well-trained physician should
be able to penetrate into the human structure, to
learn wherein a healthy state consists and what is essential
to it...to learn the nature of medicine and of diseases...
and that a physicians lack of skill and experience
could prove fatal for his patients.
Early Medical Associations
The study of medicine in the late eighteenth century
was in transition from medieval practices (purging, bleeding,
vomits, and blistering) based in a belief that the body
was made up of humours (bile, phlegm, blood and the like)
to theories based on empirical study of the physical properties
of the body itself. In addition, the late eighteenth century
saw a movement to create medical associations and schools
to exchange scientific information and improve
the practices of the profession. Litchfield County physicians
organized the first medical society in Connecticut in
1766 in order to advance medical knowledge. The New Haven
County Medical Society was founded in 1784; Preserved
Porter joined the society in 1785.
The new interest in empirical study required bodies to
dissect and examine. It was illegal to practice dissection
in the United States before 1834, and remained illegal
in most states until the 1870s, although Massachusetts
permitted the dissection of an executed criminal for medical
study once every four years. Therefore, obtaining cadavers
for medical study was difficult. Grave robbing by medical
students led to riots in New York in the 1780s and in
New Haven in 1824; Connecticut officially prohibited grave
robbing for medical dissection in 1810. Throughout the
nineteenth century, cadavers for medical studies were
taken disproportionately from the less powerful members
of society: slaves, servants, the indigent and the imprisoned.