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posted July 2006

An Account of an Extraordinary Cure by Sweating in Hot Turff; With a Description of the Indian Hot-Houses;
By the Honourable Paul Dudley, Esq; F. R. S.
Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), Vol. 33: 129-132. (1724 - 1725) The Royal Society.


II. An Account of an extraordinary Cure by Sweating in Hot Turff ; with a Description of the Indian Hot-Houses; by the Honourable Paul Dudley, Esq; F. R. S.

    IN the Year 1704. Peter Coffin, Esq, of Exeter in New England, being then seventy four Years of Age, had taken a great Surfeit, as 'twas thought, by drinking cold Water, in a very hot Day, and when he had heated himself in the Woods. This Surfeit settled principally in his right Side, but gave him a racking Pain all over his Body, and particularly depriv'd him of the Use of his right Arm : In this Condition he kept his House and Bed for nine Weeks, and his Recovery, considering his Age, was despaired of ; when a Son of his, from whom I had the Relation, making a Visit to his Father, proposed the Sweating of him in Turff: The Father readily agreed to it, having used many Medicines, from other Physicians, without any Effect. Immediately Orders were given to cut a large Oven full of Turff; the Pieces might be to eighteen Inches square. The Turff it self was of English Grass, and only the Swerd, or Top of the Earth, with the Grass. Before the Turff was put into the Oven, the Doctor rubb'd


the grassy Side of the Turff, with some Spirit, or Oyl, and then doubled the Grass-sides together, and so set them in. When they were well baked, which was in about two Hours, he took them out, and made a Bed of them upon the Floor, (the Place for the Head raised); as soon as that was done, he ordered his Father to be taken out of his Bed without his Shirt, but wrapped up in a Sheet, and laid upon the hot Turff, and then proceeded to cover him over with the rest of the Turff, more especially on his Side, where the Seat of his Pain was, but they laid none on his Breast or Head; then they cover'd him with Blankets to keep the Heat in : While the Father was in this Bath, the Son gave him warm Cordials, to prevent fainting, which he was in great Danger of ; after he had lain thus about three Quarters of an Hour, which was as long as he could bear it, he was put naked into the Bed very well warm'd, where, in a few Minutes, he fell asleep, and sweat to that Degree, that it run, thro' his Pillow and Bed, upon the Floor. After about two Hours Sleep they dry'd him, and put him on warm Cloaths, and the old Gentleman found himself much eased and refreshed: This was in the Morning; and before Night, he walked about the House comfortably, his Pain being in a manner all gone; the next Day the Doctor repeated his Cordials, and the fourth Day he sweat his Father a second Time, in the same manner as above; and the next, viz. the fifth Day, he went abroad about his Business, and lived eleven Years afterwards in perfect Health, and free from Pain. The Doctor tells me, great Care must be taken that the Patient do not lie too long in the Turff, and that even a Quarter of an Hour may be sufficient for some Persons, and when e'er the Patient begins to fetch his Breath short, or faint, he must be put to Bed immediately, and the Physician, or Operator, must by no


means omit his Cordials. I should have been glad to have made this Account yet more perfect, by acquainting you, what the Specifick was the Doctor put upon the Turff, before he set them into the Oven, but I could not possibly prevail upon him to tell me. As to the Matter of Fact, or Story of curing the old Gentleman, in this new and wonderful Manner, it was fam'd throughout the Country in the Day of it ; but the Particulars I lately had an Opportunity of having from the Son, who so happily made the Experiment.

    Houses, to sweat in, were common among the Aborigines, when the English first came into New England, tho' now but little used. A Gentleman of the Island of Nantucket, where the Indians sometimes practise it, even at this Day, or very lately, gives me the following Relation.

    The Cave was usually four Foot high, and to eight Foot Diameter:, the Roof supported with Sticks or Boards, covered with Earth, and they dug it in the Side of a Hill, and, as near as could be, to some River, Pond, or Place of Water: The Entrance into this Cave was small, and the Door (when any Person was sweating) was covered with a Blanket or Skin ; near the Cave they make a good large Fire, and heat a Parcel of Stones, to the Quantity of five hundred Weight, and roll them in red-hot, piling them up in the middle of the Cave ; when this is done, the Indians go in naked, and set round the heated Stones as many as please ; as soon as they begin to grow faint, which may be in a Quarter of an Hour, they come out, and plunge themselves all over in the Water for a Minute or two, and then in again, as long as they can well bear it, and so in the Water a second Time, and then dress themselves. This has been used with Success for Colds, Surfeits, Sciatica's, and Pains fixed in the Limbs ; and even the English


have many times found Relief by it. I don't understand, but that it may be practis'd at any Time of the Year, without Hazard or Inconvenience. The Indians often used it before, and after long Journies, Hunting or Voyages, to strengthen and refresh themselves.