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‘Catch the Itch’: Three Newly Digitized Works from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

Posted on 02/07/2017

The January release of Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a 17th-century report on the British territories across the Atlantic, an 18th-century essay on diseases of the West Indies and their remedies, and a 19th-century collection of casually racist drawings.


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The Present State of His Majesties Isles and Territories in America (1687)

By Richard Blome

Richard Blome (1635-1705) was an English author and cartographer. His report on the American Territories is accompanied by maps, astronomical charts, and “a table by which, at any time of the day or night here in England, you may know what hour it is in any of those parts.”

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In addition to charts and tables, Blome’s book contains thrilling descriptions of the natural world of the Caribbean. Here’s his account of dangers beneath the surface of the seas around Antigua.

This Isle doth abound with fish of all sorts, amongst which the Shark-fish deserves remark; it is a kind of Sea-Wolf, or Sea-Dog, the most devouring of all fishes, and the most greedy of mans-flesh, and therefore exceeding dangerous to those that swim; he lives altogether on prey, and generally follows ships, to feed on the fish cast out of them into the sea. These monsters seem yellow in the water; some of them are able to cut a man in two at one bite; their skin so rough, that they polish wood with it, instead of files; their heads are flat, and the opening of their mouths is under their snout, so that they are forced to turn their bellies almost upward when they seize their prey; their teeth are very sharp and broad, jagged like a saw, some having three or four ranks in each jaw-bone, they lye within their gums, but sufficiently appear when there is occasion.

Bloom continues, now describing barracuda:

There is likewise found another ravenous sea-monster, called the Becune, a dreadful enemy to man-kind, in shape like a pike, being about seven or eight foot long; he lives by prey, and furiously fastens, like a blood-hound, on the men he perceives in the water. He carries away whatsoever he once fastens on, and his teeth are so venomous, that the least touch of them becomes mortal, if some sovereign antidote not immediately applied, to divert and abate the poison.


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An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases (1764)

By James Grainger

James Grainger (c. 1721-1766) was a Scottish doctor, poet, and translator. Writing as “A Physician in the West-Indies,” Grainger describes diseases afflicting Africans enslaved in the Caribbean. The remedies Grainger offers, while sincere, appear dubious:

Of the Itch. Negroes of every age and sex are apt to catch the Itch. This disease requires no description.

Sulphur made into an ointment, with salt butter and green pepper, will cure it: A no less effectual remedy is tobacco steeped in urine, and bathing in the sea.

There is a species of Itch which Negroes from Guinea often bring with them to the West-Indies. This they call the Crakras. It chiefly infects the ankles, and often, if scratched or neglected, produces inveterate ulcers.

This disorder is not to be cured by external means only: It requires smart purging with salt water, and bathing therein. If these do not remove the eruption, the patient should be dosed every third day, with pills made of the juice of Semprevive (Aloes) and Chonch-shells [sic Conch-shells] finely pounded, with about one grain of sweet Mercury to each half drachm of the composition.

The best external application is weak mercurial ointment, with mixture of Sulphur.

For coughs Grainger suggests, “A sweat, with an infusion of wild sage, is also efficacious: But the medicine most to be depended upon, is half an ounce of gum elemi, dissolved in four pints of good rum. Of this a large spoonful should be given three times a day to adults, and so in proportion.”

Grainger concludes with a list of medicinal items he suggests every estate owner have sent annually from England, followed by this note, with no apparent sense of irony:

In the above list I have recommended no empirical compositions. Creoles are but too fond of Quackery.


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Our Artist in Cuba: Fifty Drawings on Wood (1865)

By George Washington Carleton

George Washington Carleton (1832-1901) was an illustrator who published several collections of sketches. In addition to this assemblage of casually racist cartoons and caricatures, he published Our Artist in Peru. Leaves from The Sketch-Book of a Traveler during the Winter of 1865-1866.

For more information about Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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