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Benoni Sweet, Bonesetter

December 21, 2014 1 Comment

My 7th great-grandfather had an inherited gift for bone setting.  Both he and my 6th great-grandfather relieved suffering by using manipulative medicine.  They had no degree in medicine but believed in their natural ability to pass this gift down to generations of Sweets.

“November 8th, 1724, Captain Benoni Sweet was baptised at St. Paul’s, in Narragasett, by the Rev. Mr. McSparran; and at the succeeding Easter, Captain Sweet was elected one of the Vestry.” [History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island, page 94.]
“James Sweet, the father of Benoni, emigrated from Wales [England] to this country, and purchased an estate at the foot of Ridge Hill, so called, in North Kingstown… Benoni had been a Captain in the British service–was well informed, and of polished manners. He was a natural bonesetter and the progenitor of the race in Rhode Island. He was styled Doctor Sweet, but he practised in restoring dislocations only. He was a regular communicant of the church, and officiated as a vestryman, until his death. ‘July 19th, 1751,’ says the record, ‘died Captain Benoni Sweet, of North Kingstown, in the ninetieth year of his age; Dr. McSparran preached his funeral sermon, and buried him in the cemetery of his ancestors.'” [History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island, page 94.]
“SWEET, Capt. Benoni, in 90th year, buried in his own family yard.” [Vital Record of Rhode Island, 1636-1850, v.10, page 384]

Benoni Sweet (1663 – 1751)
is my 7th great grandfather
Dr. James Sweet (1686 – 1751)
son of Benoni Sweet
Thomas Sweet (1732 – 1813)
son of Dr. James Sweet
Thomas Sweet (1759 – 1844)
son of Thomas Sweet
Valentine Sweet (1791 – 1858)
son of Thomas Sweet
Sarah LaVina Sweet (1840 – 1923)
daughter of Valentine Sweet
Jason A Morse (1862 – 1932)
son of Sarah LaVina Sweet
Ernest Abner Morse (1890 – 1965)
son of Jason A Morse
Richard Arden Morse (1920 – 2004)
son of Ernest Abner Morse
Pamela Morse
I am the daughter of Richard Arden Morse

The Bonesetter Sweets
Of South County, Rhode Island
By Martha R. McPartland

In colonial America, graduates of medical schools were few and far between. In Rhode Island there were only five medical school graduates practicing in 1800 and the first medical degree awarded in the state was a Brown University in 1814. Prior to that period, from its founding in 1636, Rhode Island had many men called “Doctor” with
little or no qualifications to back up their title. Some were the seventh son of a seventh son, and so believed to be endowed with special healing power; some were charlatans with a smattering of education and glib tongues, who took advantage of misfortune and ignorance; still others had a natural flair for caring for the sick and were able to relieve much suffering. In the last category was a remarkable family from the southern part of Rhode Island called, and still recalled, as the “Bonesetter Sweets.”

The Sweets were an old Rhode Island family whose progenitor, John Sweet, came to the state from Salem, Massachusetts in 1637. Of Welsh extraction, family tradition has it that their forbears in Wales had this innate facility for helping the sick. James Sweet , son of the immigrant, John, was the first of the American “Bonesetter Sweets.” He was born in 1622, came to Rhode Island with his parents, married Mary Greene and settled in what is commonly called South County, and more correctly named Washington County. Of the nine children of James and Mary Sweet, only Benoni , born in 1663, became a bonesetter. Traditionally, Benoni is said to have had a flowery and polished
manner—perhaps a forerunner of the bedside manner possessed by some of today’s medical men! He was called “Doctor” Sweet and his practice consisted of setting bones. He was a respected member of the community and a communicant of the historic Narragansett Church. When he died in 1751, Dr. James McSarren, rector of the
church, delivered a glowing eulogy.  The inherited ability to set bones was not regarded by the Sweets as a vocation, but rather as an avocation. They were artisans by calling—stonemasons, blacksmiths, wheel-wrights, and carpenters. Bone setting was a sideline, as is demonstrated by an advertisement in the Providence Journal of February 16, 1830 and printed at the top or the first page of this article.

The remarkable part of this family was the fact that they never exploited their natural ability. Not one of them sought fame or fortune through this medium. The father usually selected one or two of his sons, probably those who showed a tendency in that direction, and instructed them in bonesetting. The Sweets did not deem this a magical thing, but more of an inherited knowledge acquired from their elders. They handled fractures, sprains, and dislocations with a skill to be envied by an orthopedic physician. Their skill was in the manipulation of bones but they were known to use herbs, ointments, and skunk grease in massaging too. Their knack was thought uncanny, as they so often succeeded where others, more learned and “better trained,” had failed. Instances naming local doctors who failed to relieve suffering that was later relieved by one of the Sweets have become a part of South County folklore.

Dr. Benoni Sweet selected his son, James , to carry on the family art. James was born in 1688 and not too much is known of his successes, but it was Job Sweet, son of James, who gained national recognition and established their bonesetting reputation. Job was born in 1724 and married Jemima Sherman in 1750. He lived all his life in the South County section of Rhode Island.

Grapefruit Magic

July 3, 2014 3 Comments

Citrus pardisii

Citrus pardisii

My grapefruit tree is healthy and bears very well for months each winter. We enjoy fresh juice daily from January until about the end of March.  The intoxicating aroma of the blossoms fills the air for about a month in March.  The plant is ruled by the sun, like all citrus fruits. It has zingy, cooling and cleansing properties that are prized by health lovers.  The fruit and the juice are delightful, but the essential oil of grapefruit has very useful qualities.  Buy pure unadulterated oil and store it in the dark because it oxidizes quickly, therefore has  short shelf life.  Using it with a carrier oil, like jojoba, it can be very helpful to warm up and boost circulation.  The benefits of using grapefruit in a massage oil include:

  • ease join pain by stimulating muscles and joints
  • treat congested skin disorders like clogged pores and oily skin
  • diminish water retention and cellulite in specific areas

To use the oil for aromatherapy delivered by inhalation you can use a diffuser or use a few drops straight up on a handkerchief.  The subtle and immediate effects of the inhalation include:

  • headache relief
  • calm nervous tension and stress
  • uplifts the mood in depressing situations

I never get tired of the smell and the flavor of grapefruit.  It makes me happy and nourishes me.  Cocktails made with grapefruit juice are very high on my favorites list as well.  What is your favorite way to experience grapefruit?

Aroma in History

June 28, 2014 3 Comments



There is a long history of perfumes and incense used in ceremony and in popular culture. The Ancient Egyptians used many fragrant oils in the embalming process. It is said that when King Tut’s tomb was opened 3000 years after it had been sealed the urns still gave off the fragrance of frankincense and other spices.  Ancient Greeks called all the aromatic products they used aromata.  Athletes were anointed with scented oils before competing, and bay leaves were burned at Delphi to induce trance in the priestesses who foretold the future.  The Romans raised the popularity and awareness of aromatherapy to new heights.  Scented oil massage was the ritual ending at the communal baths in Julius Caesar’s time.  Many Roman holidays involved great quantities of scented materials. Rose petals were strewn before men of stature as they walked, and perfume was sprayed on spectators at games.  In China the herbal tradition is rich and deep, and it includes the use of oils extracted from plants.  They believed that the extraction of the oil liberated the soul of the plant.

Artemisia vulgaris is used in Chinese medicine for moxibustion.  In ancient China some people could afford a special room for childbirth. It was called the Artemisia room because the plant was burned during labor to attract kind spirits to the mother and child.  The first uses of romantic plants in Chinese healing practices date back to about 2000 BC in The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Chinese Medicine.  In Japan  incense and the formal art of burning it is taken seriously and used in religion.  Special schools, still in existence today, teach the art of Kodo, or perfumery.

Druids burned incense for ceremonial rites, and the Celtic people continued the use.  Juniper was used frequently to banish spirits for healing or magic.   In Britain monasteries grew medicinal herbs and shared knowledge of plants with other monks.  The Crusades brought new plants and remedies traveling back from the Holy Land with the Knights Templar and others.  The plague was a time when aromatic plants were used in amulets and strewn to deter fleas, the carriers of the dread disease.  The Renaissance brought even wider use of  perfumery and aromatic oils in healing.

Today we have many products and options available to us.  The availability of pure essential oils is much more widely enjoyed than it was 10 years ago.  Products for skin and hair that contain pure oils also abound.  Bath sachets, herbal teas, and hair rinses are easy water based ways to absorb botanicals through the skin.  Using oils can be simple too.  Simply place a few drops on a cotton ball or piece of cloth and take a whiff.  Here are a couple of common and inexpensive oils to try:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)  is uplifting and reviving.  It has antidepressant and antiseptic qualities.  Use when you need to focus, or to relive headache or flu symptoms. It is contraindicated for continual use, as it can then sometimes act as a depressant.  For occasional nervous tension or digestive problems basil has been shown effective.
  • Peppermint (Mentha peperita) is popular and easy to find.  It has antiseptic and cooling properties that make it perfect for using on the feet.  The oil is effective in treating a number of digestive problems, and when used in a steam inhaler can ease asthma and bronchial issues.  Travel sickness can sometimes be relieved with a few drops on a hanky used as an inhaler.  It is a stimulant so it wakes up the brain enhancing alertness and ability to concentrate.

Cocktails in History

April 11, 2014 6 Comments

The word cocktail originally meant a drink made with bitters and distilled spirits, but this has changed over time.  There are many versions of how the name was derived, including a drink that was served with a garnish of feathers from a rooster.  The bartender was more of a pharmacist, and the elements of the drinks were medicinal in the 1800’s.  Morphine and heroin were sold on the open market and included in patent medicines in the early 1900’s, so mixed spirits were hardly the most dangerous potions one could use at that time.  Bitters were concocted by bartender/pharmacists with the herbs and fruits they had on hand, with whatever knowledge they possessed about the healing qualities of those plants.

Today Angostura and Fee brothers are still producing bitters from ancient recipes while other new producers are entering the commercial market.  It is easy to make your own bitters with flavors that work for you. I made a citrus vanilla infusion using an Alice Waters recipe and our organic grapefruit and Meyer lemons this winter which is delightful and has inspired me to dabble in bitters.  The process is simple.  Add flavors to vodka which is stored in the dark and shaken regularly for two weeks.   Strain the herb/fruit/flower mixture and boil it in water to create a strong tea.  Store both the vodka infusion and the strong tea for another two weeks, shaking the herbal tea frequently. Combine the tea and vodka after removing the solids and you have bitters.  There are several mixtures  of flavoring and bittering agents that appeal to me.  I think I will make peach bitters when my peaches get ripe just to get started.  The bitters can be used in non alcoholic drinks as well as in cooking.  I often use Angostura bitters in food.  It adds depth of flavor with great subtlety.  I did not drink or make cocktails until about 3 years ago but I have become a student of the history and resurgence of the art of mixology.  I enjoy seasonal fresh ingredients and the creativity of trying new combinations.  What is your favorite cocktail, Gentle Reader?


April 5, 2013 1 Comment

Iris means rainbow in Greek, the name of a messenger goddess . The flower has been used in medicine and perfumery for many centuries.  The symbolic fleur-de-lis is a stylized iris used in many coats of arms, and by the New Orleans Saints. In healing the essence of iris is used for seeing. Notice that the iris can only look up.

Medicine of the Planets

March 14, 2013 3 Comments

Astrological Man

Astrological Man

organs and planets

planetary rulers of organs

Zodiacal man, 17th century engraving.
Woodcut from Felice Passera, Il nuova tresoro degli’arcana farmacologici galenici, Venice 1688-89.

In the history of medicine the planets and cosmos were the guiding clues that were used to discover treatments and cures.  All plants are ruled by planets as are parts of the body.  Before YouTube people studied the heavens and did lots of praying.  They reached a number of conclusions about cosmology of which most humans today are unaware.  Pharmacists, medical doctors and healers used astrology in practice as a matter of course.  Everything depended on seasons and the sun. Before we dug coal and oil from the ground civilizations rose and fell because of food supply.  Knowing how to make, prepare, gather, and preserve food for the seasons was a matter of life and death. It stands to reason that knowledge of farming and nature was also the only means to improve diet, hygiene and health. Plants are the medicine from which drugs are synthesized now.  Plants are the food from which processed foods are prepared today.

Plants were gathered and cultivated to be used as food and medicine.  The phases of the moon were and still are important in plant cultivation.  More detailed information about the meaning and use of plants was studied by the ancients.  In fact, in Basel, Switzerland, arguably the big pharma capital of the world, the botanical garden is smack dab in the middle of the medical school campus.  This was the same medical school from which my man Paracelsus was expelled for being a heretic.  We like to think we are all that today with our science.  I believe we have allowed a much narrower view of life to reign.  I think we are made whole and healthy by the cosmos.  Smaller, short term thinking is not all that healthy.  Taking drugs of unknown origin is the new normal.  You might look at these planet guys and think they are silly, but they would not pop pills without any rational reason.  We cannot return soon enough to growing, knowing, and using plants as food and medicine.  That is what nature intended, gentle readers.

Hermes and the Underworld

December 24, 2012 3 Comments

Hermes guides souls to the Underworld

Hermes guides souls to the Underworld

Zues has a son able to enter and leave underworld unharmed. His name is Hermes. He carries a staff with two snakes signifying his role in commerce and negotiation. The Caduceus with two snakes and wings is used by the AMA today as a symbol of medicine. It is a very apt symbol for the medical professionals tied to drug company profits. They used to get into the Hippocratic oath by swearing to Aesclepius that they would would first do no harm. Now they borrow the winged staff of Mercury and make a deal with pharmaceutical companies to produce as many ills as there are pills.

What harm could this little mix up do? If they forgot the meaning of the the symbol for medicine and both the healing and the negotiating staffs have snakes, what is the big deal? A snake is a snake, right? When they lurk in the tall grass of Medicare and Medicaid those snakes can and do major damage putting profit before wellness. Maybe we don’t have to be concerned that they no longer understand Latin. We are probably better off seeing only an assistant rather than the Wizard of Oz himself when we go to a doctor’s office. It costs significantly more to be harmed by a real doc, whose harm comes at a premium price. The intent from the get go is warped, so we are diagnosed at warp speed and matched with one or more drugs, faster than you can say Jack’s you’re uncle. They thought “Primum non nocerum. (First do no harm)” meant first push drugs. Hippocrates would plotz. They are an insult to Hermes as well. He protects shepherds, smugglers and thieves with cunning.

Hermes and Appollo's  staff

Hermes negotiates for staff

Drugs, Guns, and Risk

December 22, 2012 2 Comments

If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.-Nurse Ratched

The shadow America does not want to face is our mental health system.  Mental health treatment has been a barbaric system of emergency drug administration with no hope for cure.  My parents could afford the best available when they needed help in their last years.  The problem was finding any ethical and effective treatment for them.  Everyone was ready to charge big bucks, but nobody had any real therapy (or even care) for the patient.  They had unlimited access to all drugs, but no access to careful diagnosis or medical ethics.  When I volunteered for the VA my Vet was long-term suicidal, and there was no available help for him either.  I am sure there are some quality programs somewhere, but before going out and spending twice as much money  giving people twice as many drugs, why not evaluate the efficacy of the treatments used now? I am going out on a limb and say our neighborhood system of mental health treatment is damaging to all concerned.  Random pharmaceutical drug use is not healthy, mentally or physically.

In my neighborhood, here in central Tucson, where you can virtually buy drugs in the middle of the street and there is probably  a weapons concierge who will bring a selection of guns to your house for purchase, a 6-year-old was found with a loaded gun in has backpack at school.  His dad was arrested for an old felony charge so the kid who said he did not know how the gun got into his backpack is now probably a foster kid while his father serves time.  This is the reality for the youth here, and they may or may not know how the gun got there, but they know it will not be the last gun they will see.  This deep, sociological, complex problem will be resolved by government programs with an arsenal of pills.  Is that, in any way, believable?

We also have a very large mental health center available to the public and funded by Medicare.  It is close to a public bus stop with a convenience store on the corner.  People from all over the city can come, buy enough alcohol to be over the limit, and be admitted for the night to the mental health clinic.  If they are not at the limit, they simply walk back to the store and buy another pint of liquor. They will be given prescription drugs as a result of the entry to the clinic which they can sell right there in my neighborhood.  The clinic is supposed to make sure that the patients leave the area, but of course there is no way to enforce that rule.  So the patients are released to repeat the cycle.  Spending twice as much money on this will create at least twice the  insanity and grow creepy petty crime around here.  It is a risk to continue to pretend we are treating mental illness or Vet suicide.  Money spent on this denial while asking for more funding is running from the reality that systems profit from status quo, and not from change.  We need fundamental change, comprehensive.  Stopping the madness will involve stopping the flow of drugs as a substitute for therapy.  This is a war on drugs worth fighting and well within our power.

Restorative, the Yoga of Contentment

October 27, 2012 4 Comments

What does the word restore man to you? Do you think of groceries, batteries, credit, or your spirit? When stress exhausts your spontaneous zest for life, how do you recover ?  If bombed out cities can be restored, so can your severely wiped out spirit.  There are many methods available, but restorative yoga is an easy to learn, simple to use sequence that brings bliss to most people almost instantly.  A good class will introduce the props and the various poses.  The teacher can make sure the student is properly aligned and taking personal limitations graciously. This YouTube teacher gives a good guide to the uninitiated.

After some instruction one can decide which props to own.  This collection can grow over time, and none really wears out, so the bolsters and straps are good investments.  I also have learned how to deconstruct a hotel room to create the temporary props I want in the moment.  Folded blankets and pillows work well when they are all that is available.

The undisputed queen of restorative yoga is Judith Hanson Lasater.  She is a delight as a teacher.  If she comes to your town I highly recommend that you seek out her workshops.  She has that yogini presence that is precious in and of itself, but her compendium of knowledge is unique and powerful.  She is a physical therapist, was thrown out by Mr. Iyengar  (I always love the heretic) and a brilliant author.  Living her yoga, indeed, is her conduit for  teaching.  She is a shining example of balance between the active and the restorative parts of life.  If you are not lucky enough to see her in person, all of her books are excellent.

“[Let] go of your attachments: your attachment to being right, to having total control, or to living forever. This process of letting go is integral to the process of becoming whole.”
― Judith Hanson Lasater

Paracelsus, the Luther of Physicians

June 3, 2012

Paracelsus was born in 1493 Einsiedeln, Switzerland.  His father was the physician at Einsiedeln Abbey, a Benedictine baroque monastery with a grand history.  His father was his first teacher. When he arrived at University of Basel medical school he was familiar with alchemy from working with his father. He left Basel quickly after he was accused of heresy , and  became a wandering healer, traveling all over Europe.

Some of the contributions he made to the science of medicine are well known.  He is attributed for introducing opium into use as medicine.  He is credited with being the first physician to seriously consider dosage as well as the particular part of the medicinal plant being used.  His theories included science as well as natural magic, all part of the healing culture of his time. The Doctrine of Signatures is an important concept he used to explain and research how plants interact with humans. He expanded on the work of former herbalists as he taught and worked in different countries. His travels included a visit to China.

His practice included both magic and science. He understood and worked with elementals, which were a common belief in his time.  He took this concept farther when he posited that we have both a sidereal and an elementary body, linked while we are alive.  He was both controversial and well respected.  I learned about him when I traveled to Switzerland for the first time.  I adore the tiny mineral water spa town of Bad Ragaz, where he practiced for a time with the local Benedictine monks, who operated a healing center using the mineral water spring.  The Quelle Paracelsus is now a modern medical and therapy center of the highest quality.  I have been many times over the years and always enjoy walking up the Tamina Gorge to experience  the well preserved museum and springs.  There is a small chapel up there dedicated to Mary Magdalene that I love for it’s charm.

For his time Paracelsus was radical and disruptive.  His ideas about health and alchemy clashed with the medical schools, but accomplished many cures that were unusual for the time. The springs he recommended that I have visited, Bad Ragaz and  St.Moritz,  have enjoyed long healthy development around the mineral waters for centuries.  This dedication to “the cure” creates a magnet for the best therapists and medical professionals to be drawn to live and work in the beauty and the elegance of these special places.

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