This letter was written by Dr. Edward Bernadou (1820-1850) to his father, John B. Bernardou — a merchant in Philadelphia. Edward graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1845 and practiced medicine in New Orleans afterward. He is listed in the 1846 New Orleans City Directory at 125 Julia Street. Mortality records, however, reveal that he died of pleurisy at age 30 in Brownville, Pennsylvania on March 5, 1850, one year after this letter was written.
[Addressed to John B. Bernadou, Esq., Merchant, Philadelphia]
March 15th 1849
I arrived here about eight days ago, after a tedious and disagreeable trip up the River of 17 days. The heavy rise and the large quantities of ice, and the dense fogs, impeded to no small extent our utmost endeavours to make a short trip up. Add to this, a large number of our deck passengers (principally Irish and Dutch) were taken down with the Cholera, Measles, and Ship Fever. My kind and sympathizing heart would not allow me to remain idle, so I at once set to work and used my utmost skill to save them from the scythe which menaced them. Useless to say, I lost no one. I have not been able to kill a single patient since I am practising, but my own health seems to be menaced continually.
The day before our arrival here, I was taken sick and actually thought that I was going to Davey Jones’ Locker. The day we arrived here I was covered with the measles, and could proceed no farther. In fact, the Captain of the Steam Boat requested me as a favor that I would land as all his passengers (over 100 in number) were going to leave if I persisted in remaining on board. I do not blame either him or they, as none had ever had — or pretended not to have had – the measles. I was in what might be called, a sweet fix, for at two Boarding Houses, and 3 or 4 Hotels, they refused on account of the [other] boarders to receive me. So I had to wait on board until night and then at a late hour arrive at a Hotel without saying I had any thing the matter with me, for had I even said I was unwell and coming from New Orleans, they would at once have imagined that I had the Cholera. The Cincinattians are the damdest fools I ever met with.
The next morning being worse, I sent for a woman to nurse me. This was an additional expense as I had to pay her and her board. However, thank God, I am once more about my whole body skinning and scaling off like a snake when he sheds his skin. But unfortunately, it has rammed me back no little and (I am sincerely ashamed) I have not the means to proceed further without your assistance. Had I some powerful acquaintances here, I might procure some patients, but I am an utter stranger. I had one patient – an individual who wore a tumor on his neck. I removed it for him and charged him $5. He said he would be d___’d if he would pay any such price, and he threw me down $2 and departed.
To what a state has the medical profession arrived! For my part, I am so utterly disgusted with it, that I believe I will turn to and sow potatoes or corn upon my arrival home. If I ever marry – which will not in all probability be soon – I will give my children a good education, and then a trade. Mr. [Alex] De Toqueville, in his remarkable work on the U. States says very truly; There are but two classes of Aristocracy in this country, viz: The Mechanic and the Farmer. My boys shall belong to this Aristocracy, for if hard labour had only been wanted to acquire a fortune, I should have been independent long ago.
The hundred dollars you sent me in December last would have sufficed me for to pay my debts and pay my way home, had not this misfortune befallen me. But some how or another some cursed luck seems to pursue me every where and in every thing I undertake. It must, however, soon change. To cap the climax too, I have a large sore just above the heel immediately on the tendon. So much does it pain me that I can neither walk nor wear a shoe.
I hope, dear father and mother, that we shall yet (and that shortly) enjoy that quiet and happiness which your years and virtues entitle you to. Adieu once more. I embrace you tenderly, and remain ever your affectionate son, — E. Bernadou
Address: Care of Messrs Clemmer & Maguire, Produce Merchants, Cincinatti