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Wills, Letters & Legends

From Reminisces of a Long Life; by William R. Smith

The Medical Fraternity

pages 158-160

Dr. William A. Leland

came to Tuskaloosa from Virginia (in 1836), his native State.  Though an educated man and a graduated physician, he spent several years of his life in Alabama before he engaged exclusively in the practice of medicine.  (Note: He did not receive his medical degree until 1843, from Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.)  He was possessed of a liberal share of worldly means, and was somewhat giddily devoted to the pleasures of high life.  he took especial delight in fine horses.  he had a passion for fox-hunting, and entered into this charming (?) recreation with all the energy, vivacity, and delight of a youth.
    About -----(1844) Dr. Leland entered upon his professional career.  He wa not long in establishing a reputation, having become the favorite and trusted medical advisor of a large number of families.
    Dr. Leland was a man of peculiar habits.  he had an abstract and rather solitary look.  Austere to strangers, he seemed to keep all men at a distance, excepting his special friends; with these he was genial, communicative, and confiding.
    Dr. Leland was an original thinker.  he believed in the dogmas of the schools only so far as they are sustained by experience and practice.  he took nothing for granted simply upon authority, however highly esteemed; and he hesitated not to reject many time-honored professional theories.
    This independence of thought in a professional man is an element to be admired.  Incredulity leads to serious investigation, and it is not every theory that can stand the test of practice.  Only great minds make great discoveries.  Geometry may be invincible, but humanity is a problem ever mysterious, and ever challenging new solutions.
    Dr. Leland seems to have discovered in his long and successful practice that to cure is not the greatest duty of the medical fraternity; that there is another and higher duty, invaluable to humanity, which is, to prevent.  Now, there is nothing new in this theory, but the difficulty lies in putting it to practice.  A healthy person is not likely to think of the probability of becoming diseased, and it is not the healthy man that resorts to the physician.  It is only when the bones ache and the body shivers that the services of a medical man are required.  Nevertheless men may be taught to act and to think after a new fashion and the whole system of medical treatment may be changed.  If there is any truth in the vulgar old adage that " an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure," whoever may be so successful as to lead men to the general adoption of the preventive remedies will deserve the thanks of his generation.
    Dr. Leland professed to have discovered a specific preventive for yellow fever, and proposed to give the Faculty the benefit of this valuable discovery.  He visited Washington city and made an effort to induce the Government to take interest in the subject, so far as to aid him in testing his theory; but it is believed that the Government declined to take action.  Dr. Leland died soon after, and his theory, whatever it was, followed him to the grave. (Note:  This is a shame, as his grandson's wife & 2nd son were both claimed by this disease.)

An insight from the manuscript of J.A.C.Leland II

page 37-38

"William Archibald Leland, born in Northumberland Co. Virginia, April 29th, 1811, died June 3, 1878 at Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  He grew up at Cypress Farm.  He attended the University of Pennsylvania and lived the life of a young gentleman of Virginia of the period and there were gay times when he and some of his schoolmates spent their vacations on the Plantation.  I have seen one of his pair of muzzle loading dueling pistols but have not heard whether he ever used them.  When the family broke up in the early 1830's he went to Kentucky and later located at Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In March, 1843 he graduated at Jefferson Medical School, Philadelphia.  The subject of his thesis was "Yellow Fever" then prevalent in the South.  He practiced in Tuscaloosa till his death, June 3, 1878, except during the Civil War, when he was a surgeon in the Confederate Army (note: first the 41st  Ala Inf Reg, then transferred to the Army of the Tennessee.)  His great-grandaughter, Rebecca Leland (daughter of Henry H. & Julia Dubois Leland), told the writer that he insisted that his patients obey his orders and if they did not he would "whip" them.  He was a man who believed in absolute honesty; hated subterfuge in any form.  Was intolerant of ignorance in others.  Some years after he located in Tuscaloosa, some slave dealers came through with a gang of slaves which they had purchased in Virginia.  Among them were two from the old Leland plantation.  On seeing Uncle William they cried out, "Massa Will, save us!  Massa Will, save us!"  William bought them and kept them for the rest of their lives."

Note:  Like the "kerchief", I wonder where that dueling pistol is?  It is interesting to note that W.A.L.'s father, Baldwin Mathews Leland, was at the time of his death, intent on freeing his slaves and moving to Cinncinati, Ohio.  I guess if we as a family had to begin as slave owners, we weren't pleased with the institution, and when confronted with it we conducted ourselves honorably under the circumstances.
                                                                          R.M. Leland III

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