One of Salem’s earliest known physicians was Samuel Fuller, who arrived in the area then known as Naumkeag in 1629. Captain Endicott took notice of the sickness facing the settlers in Salem, and wrote to the Governor William Bradford to request that a doctor be sent to Salem. Governor Bradford upon receipt of this request sent Dr. Samuel Fuller from Plymouth Colony to Salem in hopes that he would be able to help.
While in Salem, Dr. Fuller was tasked with providing medical care for a number of settlers who all appeared to be suffering from a similar illness. The settlers who had recently arrived in the colony found themselves even more prone to sickness due to their recent crossing from Europe. During these kinds of long voyages, colonists were often crammed into close and unsanitary quarters, with very limited access to foods containing ingredients that are necessary for good health, like Vitamin C.
One likely sickness the colonists experienced due to the lack of Vitamin C in their diets was scurvy, which brought on symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and soreness of the limbs. Those dealing with scurvy would find it extremely difficult to cope with the amount of physical labor that was required of them when arriving in the colony.
Though unrelated to his medical work, Captain Endicott noted that Dr. Samuel Fuller’s assistance in Salem allowed for a better understanding between Pilgrims and Puritans, who differed in their religious beliefs and reasoning for traveling to the colony. Puritans sought for a more rigid, “purified” version of the Church of England, while Pilgrims viewed themselves as separate from the Church altogether.
There is little record of Samuel Fuller that suggests why or how he became a physician, however we do know that he was eventually named the “official physician” of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After treating patients in Salem, Dr. Fuller was requested in Charlestown, where he assisted colonists there who were experiencing similar symptoms.
Today, one of Samuel Fuller’s descendants is still working in Salem. Samuel Fuller is a 12th great uncle to Tim Maguire Jr., who you may spot during your visit to Salem if you embark on a Salem Night Tour or visit Remember Salem at 127 Essex Street.
Another Notable Salem Doctor
In 1692 Dr. William Griggs was called upon to examine the girls who were believed to be afflicted with witchcraft. Upon reviewing their symptoms, he determined there was no medical explanation for what was happening, and that a more powerful entity, like witchcraft, was to blame for their behavior, thus beginning the Salem Witch Hysteria.