Medicine and Slavery at William & Mary

Posted on
May 25, 2016

The records of the Office of the Bursar contain an array of financial information dating back to the 18th century. One of the more interesting aspects of these records that has recently come to light pertains to William and Mary's involvement in the slave trade. Many of the documents contain references to enslaved people who were held by the university as well as payments to slaveholders for the hire of their slaves. These references shed light on the use of enslaved people in the everyday functioning of the university.

One of the most interesting documents in the collection relates to the medical treatment of enslaved people at William & Mary. At first glance the document appears to be an invoice from Dr. James Carter to the university for medical treatment rendered to various people, including "Negroes." This is not incorrect, but when this information is cross-referenced with other records in the collection, it seems almost certain that all of the people treated were enslaved by the university.



Bursar's Office Records (University Archives)
Bursar's Office Records (University Archives)


This rare find provides insight into the recorded medical treatment of enslaved people for the year of May 1766 - April 1767. Of particular note are the references to the use of plaster, which may have been used as a treatment for injuries suffered through whipping. There is also a notable distinction between who among the enslaved people was referred to by name -- first name only following the customs of enslavement -- and who was not.