Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Elizabeth Jones "The Doctor of Madisonville"

In 1976, Mary Frances Morgan wrote the story of Elizabeth Jones, who had become known during the 1800's as "The Doctor of Madisonville." The News-Banner article was one in a series compiled by the Covington Business & Professional Women's Club on the pioneer women of St. Tammany who helped make the parish what it is today.

The article told of the early days of St. Tammany Parish, as families new to the area were meeting the original inhabitants, the several Indian tribes who already populated the area, and learning of their legends, traditions and customs.

One woman stood out in those times, the great grandmother of Doris Holden, who was a resident of Covington. Her great grandmother was commended for standing out and making a mark for herself with no formal education,training or opportunity, simply by tapping her natural resources and a willingness to learn how to help others.

She became known as "The Doctor of Madisonville" during the middle of the 19th century. 

Life Was Grueling

"In 1822 life in Washington Parish was primitive and grueling," Ms. Morgan wrote. "It was on September 22 of that year that a daughter named Elizabeth Jane was born to Jane Richardson of Georgia and George Washington Jones of Virginia. Her parents had traveled to Washington Parish to homestead and try to create the best life possible for themselves and their children."

The family's several children attended what schools were available, and they all learned to read and write and master elementary arithmetic. Elizabeth Jane stood out among her brothers and sisters, however, especially her talent for ministering to the sick. She probably would have become a doctor if the opportunity for the training had been available to her.

At a young age, she married a professor of languages at Centenary University, Phillip Martin, with the wedding taking place at the Bogue Chitta community in Washington Parish on July 4, 1838. They eventually settled in Madisonville in 1841.

Reaching Out

"As soon as they were settled down, Elizabeth Jane found herself reaching out for friends and began to mingle with her neighboring Indians," Ms. Morgan wrote. "The children were friendly from the start, and she taught them the games that American children play."

As time went on, Elizabeth met and became friends with the parents of the Indian children, and started to learn the customs of the tribe. She was "intrigued" by their way of life and by the "surprising effectiveness" of the Medicine Men who would make strange, rhythmic intonations as they treated the sick.

She became friends with the family of one of the Medicine Men, and began helping them to gather the herbs along the banks of the Tchefuncte River. She learned the recipes for many of the medicines used by the Indians, as well as the manner in which they were applied.

Her notebooks were filled with a variety of ways in which particular herbs and plants were used to alleviate particular ailments. There were salves for preventing itching, liquids for thinning the blood, and poultices for dressing cuts and bruises.

Variety of Illnesses

Her knowledge expanded as she learned how to treat cuts and overcome illnesses. There was even a "sweating" cure for certain diseases, and that involved wrapping the sick in blankets and having them drink hot liquids until they "sweated" out the disease.

There was a tea for use as a tonic for "kidney ills," another for sore throats and stomach problems. "Hot resin from the gum tree was brewed for sores, cuts, insect bites and body pains."

Elizabeth Jane soon figured out that such "concoctions" were remarkably satisfactory and the more effective ones gradually evolved into some patent medicines still in use, Ms. Morgan stated.

"As her skill became known in Madisonville, Elizabeth Jane was called upon to treat the sick who often had no access to a medical doctor," she went on to write. "She came to be known as 'the doctor of Madisonville.' During the Civil War she and her daughters were kept busy, often around the clock, caring for the sick while the men were away fighting."

Her youngest son, Lewis Oliver Martin, was a sailor on a freighter and he often came in at night and would find Indians sleeping in the yard. If it was raining, they would sleep on the porch. He would walk around them and would often find his mother caring for the sick ones in the house. 

Her Legacy Carries On

"So when Elizabeth Jane Martin finally passed away on April 23, 1882, she was sadly missed by the Indians as well as by many residents of Madisonville," Ms. Morgan concluded. "But she left most of her secrets to her daughters. Sarah Jane Martin eventually  followed in her mother's footsteps.

Sarah Jane and her husband ran a store and the post office in Enon, and she was frequently called upon to take care of the sick. Her familiarity with the Indian potions used by her mother led her to select patent medicines that were based upon them. As a result, she enjoyed a reputation similar to that of her mother.

The legacy continues. Today Sarah's daughters and granddaughters work as nurses at hospitals across the country. The caring and search for knowledge sought by Elizabeth Jane has spread over the years to bring relief, health and healing to thousands.