Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
He was born in Alstead, Cheshire Co., New Hampshire, the son of John Thomson (1744-1820) and his wife, formerly Hannah Cobb.
He married Susanna Allen on July 7, 1790 in Keene. They had eight children. After conventional heroic medicine came close to killing his wife, Thomson brought her to a herbalist, who treated his wife and taught Thomson some of her methods.
Eventually, Thomson came to believe that cold was an important cause of illness and who treated disease by restoring the body's natural heat; his methods for doing this included steam baths , cayenne pepper, and causing emesis by administration of Lobelia. After practicing this form of medicine for about ten years, Thomson wrote his New Guide to Health; or Botanic Family Physician in 1822, and sold "patents" to use his system of medicine to any family for $20. He sold over 100,000 patents by 1840.
His system of medicine appealed to the egalitarian anti-elitist sentiments of Jacksonian America, and families far from established towns came to rely on it. It was part of an overall movement away from the harmful and ineffective (but prevalent) treatments of bleeding and purging. Licensed doctors, along with many other professionals, came under intense scrutiny during this period, and Thomson's system appealed in that it allowed each individual to administer his or her own treatment.
Licensed doctors, however, came to resent Thomson's popularity, as well as his criticisms of their techniques. In 1809, a physician named French accused Thomson of killing a patient through the administration of excessive amounts of lobelia. The charge was ironic, as patients subjected to bleeding frequently died at the hands of licensed doctors. Thomson claimed his patient died (after being cured) when he unwisely ventured into the cold instead of recuperating in his warm home. The prosecution claimed excessive vomiting (brought on by Thomson) was to blame. Eventually, Thomson was acquitted when the defense demonstrated that one of the prosecution's exhibits, labeled "lobelia", was in fact rosemary.
Despite Thomson's acquittal, many states passed Black Laws , prohibiting the sale of lobelia and similar patent medicines. The laws were of small practical effect and were mostly repealed by the 1820s.
Thomson took great care to guard his patented cures. Despite the anti-authoritarian, pro-individual tenure of the movement, Thomson was not above making use of legal authority to safeguard his own profit. Indeed, he was happy to sell his lobelia pills to any takers, but those who manufactured their own were jealously attacked.
A breakaway movement by Alva Curtis (who created the "Independent Thomsonian Medical Society", training practitioners and breaking Thomson's monopoly) helped spread the system; Curtis dubbed his followers "physio-medical" or "physio-pathic" practitioners. These practitioners in turn gave rise to the "Eclectic Medicine" movement.
Thomson died in Boston, Massachusetts.
See also: Alternative Medicine
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