Dr. John Minson Galt and the Williamsburg Asylum

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Dr. John Minson Galt and the Williamsburg Asylum



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P. G. Hamlin's description of the life and character of Dr. John M. Galt II, as written in the Virginia Medical Monthly in 1941 and based on Galt's own writings. Hamlin describes the Galt family's connection to Williamsburg and the Eastern State Asylum, lists important medical figures in the Galt family and their education and achievements. Hamlin outlines the values and theories that underlay Galt's psychiatric practice and notes Galt's occupational achievements and contribution, as well has his good character and scientific approach. The piece ends with Galt's death in 1862 and mention of his burial site.





Virginia Medical Monthly, Vol. 68, Pages 502-506, September, 1941.

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P.G. Hamlin, M.D.,
Williamsburg, Virginia. 

Graven in stone over the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance of the Archives Building in the City of Washington, D.C., are these words: "The past is prologue; study the past."

Some of you perhaps visit Virginia for the first time; many are old acquaintances. No doubt a few have a concept of the Virginian as a pleasant fellow of good manners, genteel breeding, rather well-satisfied with himself, mayhap a trifle provincial. Doubtless not a few of you are acquainted with the story of the Virginian who visited Rome. According to the congenial custom, he called on the Pope. The Holy Father politely inquired "And what part of America do you come from, sir?" "Fauquier County, suh," said the true son of the Old Dominion, without batting an eye.

But today I wish to tell you of a Virginian to whom the adjective provincial could never be applied, of one who had all our virtues, such as they 

*Read May 7, 1941, at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Richmond, Va., and released for publication by the American Journal of Psychiatry
Dr. Hamlin is now serving in the Medical Corps of the Army, with the rank of Major and is stationed at Hoff General Hospital, Santa Barbara, California. 
Reprinted from Virginia Medical Monthly, Vol. 68, Pages 502-506, September, 1941. 

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are, and none of our vices, such as they are. I wish to tell you of a Virginia doctor, of a Virginia psychiatrist who looked far beyond the confines of his own hospital, of his own State, to the mentally handicapped, wherever they were to be found. He had an intellectual-interest as ubiquitous as the printed page and a humanity as far-flung as the races of the earth.

The storied town of Williamsburg became the little capital of Virginia in 1699 while its name was still Middle Plantation. Less than three-quarters of a century after that, the first hospital exclusively for the mentally ill in the western world was opened there. And on the opening day, October 12, 1773, James Galt, Keeper, was on hand to receive the first patients. He was the son of Samuel Galt of Ayrshire, Scotland, of a Covenanter family, which had settled first at Strawberry Banks, near Old Point Comfort, Virginia, and then moved to Williamsburg. From the opening day until May 18, 1862, some member of the Galt family in unbroken line, was connected in an official capacity with the Williamsburg mental hospital. 

James Galt's younger brother, Dr. John Minson Galt, I, became attending physician to the hospital in 1792. He was educated at William and Mary and studied medicine in Edinburgh and Paris during 1765, '66 and '67. After completing his medical studies he returned to America and for a short while was with the Hudson Bay Company. From Canada he came back to Williamsburg and was a well-known surgeon in the Revolutionary Forces - surgeon to the Fifteenth Virginia Regiment, and later in charge of the military hospital at Williamsburg. He served the Lunatic Hospital from 1795 until his 

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death in 1808, and was a vestryman of Old Bruton Parish Church. 

His son, Dr. Alexander Dickie Galt, served the mental hospital at Williamsburg for over forty years until his death, November 20, 1840. Excellent indeed were both his academic and medical education. From William and Mary he went to Oxford and from Oxford up to London, where, in the wards of Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals, he was a pupil of the renowned Sir Astley Cooper. There he studied the medical art during the years 1792, '93 and '94. From London he returned to Williamsburg where he soon acquired an enormous practice in the town and several surrounding counties. He was known throughout the countryside for his prodigious energy, his tireless devotion to his work and his kindness to the poor. It is said that he once refused half of the largest fortune in Virginia to remain all night at the bedside of an old, poor, half-drunken, sick negro. 

One might well be justified in assuming that for Dr. John Minson Galt, II, who was the son of Dr. Alexander Dickie Galt, the genes for medical aptitude were auspiciously arranged in the chromosomes. And so indeed it proved to be. 

John Minson Galt, II, was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, March 19, 1819. His mother was Mary Dorothea (Polly) Galt of Richmond, the daughter of Gabriel Galt and a third cousin of his father. At an early age he showed an ardent love of reading, and he excelled as an athlete, a combination 

*I am indeed indebted to Miss Mary Meares Galt of New Windsor, Md., and to the late Miss Annie Galt of Williamsburg, Va., for many details of family history. 

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considered somewhat more rare nowadays. Botany soon became and remained one of his life's chief interests. He read widely and wrote in that field. In the realm of literature, he read all the principal works within his reach, in English, French, Latin and Greek, and when he reached maturity he needed no translator for any European work other than Russian or Turkish. Hebrew, likewise, he mastered, and turning his face toward the East, read the Koran in the original Arabic. 

Like his father and his father's father before him, he frequented the academic hall planned by Sir Christopher Wren. William and Mary's A.B. was his in 1838. Next came Philadelphia and medicine. He walked the wards of Old Blockley, wards which have echoed the tread of Gerhard, the DaCostas, Crawford Long, Agnew, Osler, the Grosses and other true followers of Aesculapius. In 1841 the University of Pennsylvania gave him its M.D. degree and he came home to Williamsburg. 

Meanwhile, at the Eastern Lunatic Asylum at Williamsburg, the office of Medical Superindentent had been created by an Act of the Legislature in February, 1841. To this office he was called in July, 1841, at the age of twenty-two, called because his family had served the institution since the day it opened its doors; called because his father and grandfather had been on its medical staff; called because he had already demonstrated unusual promise of medical abilities useful to the citizens of his State. Never was there a more apt instance in which the job sought the man. 

Shortly after he took over the hospital housing 

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one hundred and twenty-five patients, his reports began to show his interset, his enthusiasm, his grasp of the work. His mastery of European langauges, especially French, gave him ready access to the very best current thought in psychiatric literature. The teachings of Pinel, Esquirol, Leuret, and numerous others were made immediately accessible to the officials of his board and citizens and officers of his State. Always he was teaching and admonishing for the good of the mentally ill. So deep an impression did his character make on those in public life that a decade or two later, John Tyler, Jr., in writing of him to Jefferson Davis, spoke of him "as one of the purset men of one of the purest families on earth".

The student of his writings is impressed alike by their breadth and profundity. His attention was arrested by things that go back to time immemorial, yet he was thoroughly conversant with the very latest viewpoint given in the mental journals of England, France, Italy, the United States. "The primary effort in Europe made in favor of the insane was due to a French monk, St. Vincent de Paul. Many years afterwards, however, this cause received its first real effort from Pinel and Tuke in 1792." Hippocrates, he demonstrates, classified insanity into mania and melancholia, but it remained for Pinel to point out the fact that "there were cases of insanity in which there were perversions of the feelings without lesions of the understanding. To these he gave the name 'manie sans delire' and 'folie raisonmantle.'"

He repeatedly emphasizes his belief "that the medical and surgical procedures in a mental hospital should be subordinated to the psychiatric". 

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Kindness, to him, was the keystone of the arch . . . "This, and this alone" he says, "tends fully to dispel the vague ideas often present in the insane that those around them are enemies . . ." 

Many of us, I suppose, are accustomed to think of occupational therapy, recreational therapy, biblio-therapy and musico-therapy as being of rather recent origin. This, however, is far from the truth. G. Alder Blumer, in writing of Dr. Galt, shows how he quotes Shelley to show the effect of music in quieting mania. As far as occupational therapy is concerned, he quotes Sir Francis Bacon to testify as to its value "For this distinguished philosopher has quaintlyh said 'In the theater of man's life only God and the angels should be lookers on.'"

"In all cases we seize every opportunity to induce occupation of some sort except in the infirm and in those highly excited . . . ." In 1843 he had for the employment of his patients at Williamsburg a carpenter shop, a shoemaker's shop, a leather goods shop, a broom-making department, and a sewing room. 

For recreational games he had cards, drafts, dominoes. These and occupation and music he speaks of as "revulsives of utility in turning away the mind preoccupied by phantasy.'"

Anent books he writes in 1843, "A few months back, I purchased two handsome book cases and, in compliance with the Board vesting in me the power, shall shortly procure the requisite number of volumes to form a library, other arrangements will also be made so as to render this a valuable and regular additional agent in the moral treatment."

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One can easiliy visualize his love of and appreciation for the beauty of the printed page throughout the ages. "Books which have softened the hard lot of the prisoner and added new charms to the life of the free in all its forms . . ." He then adds that the books for a mental hospital library should be chiefly, perhaps, travel, biography, history. He quotes the British Commissioners of Lunacy: "No asylum should be without a library."

Schools, regular classes for instruction of the patients, he preached, were an essential part of every well-regulated asylum. In his 1843 report he quotes Dr. Kirkbride's latest report. Dr. Kirkbride reported with interest that instruction in langauges had been given to patients at the Pennsylvania Asylum. At Hanwell Asylum near London, patients who were unable to read were taught to do so. At the Bicetre, near Paris, there were schools with between two and three hundred patients as scholars. "In the exertion of the various mental faculties thus attained, there is doubtlessly a moral means of great power."

Eighteen hundred and forty-four was the golden year of American psychiatry. In the month of May, Dr. Amariah Brigham projected his American Journal of Insanity, the first number appearing in July. In October of the same year, thirteen medical superintendents of asylums met in Jones' Hotel, Philadelphia, to found the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, which later became the American Medico-Psychological Association, which in turn became the American Psychiatric Association. Next to their enthusiasm and energy, the most extraordinary thing about this group was their youth. The average age of the 

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ten, whose age is given, was 33.1 years. Galt was twenty-two when made a Superintendent, and only three were over forty-five. 

Dr. Galt had the most youthful expression of any of the members, with a very full face, medium forehead, large head, and pleasant countenance. He was of medium height, rather stoutly built, with a pleasant manner, easy expression and full flow of words.

He moved easily and agreeably among his colleagues at this meeting in Philadelphia, meeting them as intellectual and professional equals on the common ground of their humanitarian labors. He won them all by the sincerity of his nature, the gracious charm of his manner, the brilliance of his mind, the depth of his learning, and the cordiality of his greeting. Openminded, scholarly, alert, he found a welcome place at the council table. He was made a member of the following committees: On the Council of Hospitals for the Insane and a Manual for Attendants; On Post Mortem Examinations. The ties formed in the Association were drawn closer still in the committee room. His writings teem with cordial and affectionate terms for his colleagues. His youth and scholarship saved him from the bizarre manifestations of the Jehovah complex. In his official reports published separately and as a part of the Virginia documents, we read time and time again such phrases as "My excellent friend, Dr. Kirkbride". The "distinguished and able writer, Dr. Ray". "The able and accomplished Dr. Bell of McLean Asylum"; "Dr. Awl, the able physician of the Ohio State Asylum". There were these and many others. Obvi-

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ously, there was no attempt on his part to pose locally as the source and fountainhead of all psychiatric knowledge. He was much too great a scholar for anything of that sort. He knew that intellect has no geographical limitations and that culture is not a matter of climate. 

His literary output began in earnest in 1843 and was continuous afterwards. In that year he brought out a book: "Practical Medicine, Illustrated by Cases of the Most Important Diseases". This is in reality a publication of selected case notes of his father's very extensive practice. One is amazed at the energy and interest of this busy doctor, his father, who took the time to note the symptoms and progress of his cases. One might almost be tempted to observe that it is instinctive with a good doctor to keep notes. 

The very year of its founding, 1844, by his friend, Dr. Amariah Brigham, he began to contribute to the American Journal of Insanity. In the October number he had an article "Fragments on Insanity". Here he quotes Shelley's poem on the effect of music in the Venetian Madhouse, and gives the reports of thirty cases from the asylum at Williamsburg, with treatment at length. 

In 1846 his book on the "Treatment of Insanity" appeared and at the time was the acknowledged authority on treatment in this country and Europe. He makes no claim to originality in this work, but freely admits it was compiled from notes made when reading for his own benefit. His work in translating the French authors quoted in the book, making their views which were the fons et origo of this sub-

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ject in Europe available to English and American students, was of utmost value. The book was most highly valuable in its time and is still full of interest to the student of psychiatric history. 

Most erudite indeed are the annual reports that issued from the Williamsburg institution during his incumbency. He envisioned the mental hospital as a place of research into the nature and causes of mental illness and conduct disturbance. Tables of anthropological and physiological data accumulated on the patients and on attendants as controls are included in these reports. Likewise, the various atmospheric deviations as recorded on the thermometer, barometer and other instruments were carefully recorded. He saw these things clearly in their proper relation, not as the latest, therefore the greatest discovery, but, in his own words "For here as elsewhere, the confirmation of an abstract truth often leads eventually to important practical deductions". 

On the keeping of recordsm he insisted, because "In the present age (1850), nothing is more strikingly characteristic than the progress which is made in every department of human effort by the influence of association and inter-communication of ideas. Whatsoever of the new is developed in art or science in any region of the earth, thus soon becomes common property in every civilized community. Hence, there is a general cooperation of an immense body of workers all looking to the same end of advancement. This is very auspicious with regard to the hospitals for the insane."

A modern military writer in speaking of a successful general in the War between the States, said 

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"He was a great general because he saw deeply into the heart of things." This can be paraphrased somewhat to apply most aptly to Dr. Galt. He was a great psychiatrist because he saw deeply into the heart of things. Much more deeply steeped in the lore of the past than the average man, he was as modern as the steam railway and the telegraph, both of which came into being in his lifetime. He recognized the inevitablity of change, the desirability of change. There is no indication that he was concerned with the preservation of the status quo, and he realized clearly that hostility to new ideas is a defense reaction. He was too close to the revolutionary theories and practice of Pinel, the Tukes, Connolly and others to be content to practice punishment and repression instead of recreation, occupation and other revulsives. He speaks of the conservative in medicine as "one who looks with suspicion or at once reject a new proposition as in his judgement untenable".

There is little room for doubt as to his opinion of those who are mentally unable to adjust to the march of medical progress. He quotes with apparent approval the remark of the biographer of Descartes, "The last crime which is forgiven is the announcement of new truths."

His own attitide toward these things is splendidly conceived and beautifully expressed: "The examination of all things by reason and experience and afar from the disturbing forces of prepossession". 

G. Alder Blumer, T. O. Powell, John Curwen, Robert J. Preston and otehr Presidents of this Association have paid merited tribute to his influence 

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on American psychiatry in their presidential addresses and elsewhere. Dr. Blumer particularly calls attention to his insight as to the evils implicit in political control of State hospitals. 

Dr. Galt indeed was aware of the dangers of political appointees in public hospitals. He quotes the preamble and resolution of this Association adopted at its annual meeting in New York in 1848, foreshadowing such dangers. This read: "Resolved that any attempt in any part of the country to select such officers through political bias be deprecated by the Association as a dangerous departure from that sound rule. . . ."

Again in a gem of delicate satire he lampoons the political gentry: "In the British parliament, I have seen it stated that when an old joke is frequently repeated, it is the custom to put down the nuisance by the cry of 'Joe Miller'. But in Virginia, there seems to be a want of knowledge on this point that wit loses its effect when the same old jest is repeated over and over again ad nauseum."

And finally, one can almost see the kind mouth curling perhaps just a trifle contemptuously in this portrait of a Virginia politician. "I once heard a rabid politician from the city of Richmond say of an admirable production in relation to political economy written by a learned gentleman in this section of the country 'It should be torn up and its leaves pasted on the walls of your bedlam'". 

The frenzied breast-beating of the political spell-binder and the stale jokes of the ward heeler disturbed him but little. He was too busy about his service to the mentally ill. Many times he refused 

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to have his salary raised and often fed the patients from his own table. His wants were few and simple, books his chief, perhaps his only, extravagence. These he had in abundance: Voltaire, Bacon, Shelley, Byron, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Boswell and others in many languages. Among the psychiatrists there were Pinel, Esquirol, Prichard, Connolly, Haslam, Sir William Ellis, Ray, Rush, Cullen, Calmeil. Dunglison's Practice of Medicine was there, and Forbes Winslow's "The Anatomy of Suicide", and countless other volumes. 

He never married but was quite content in his work, his books, his friends, and in the brotherly companionship of his cousin and assistant at the Asylum, Dr. John Galt Williamson. 

The inquisitive student will find that his "Lecture on Idiocy" well repays the reading. It has symetry of form and wealth of content. He recalls that an Ecclesiastical Council held in Paris in 1212 defended the bishops for having about their persons "fools to make them laugh". It is not difficult to sense his outraged feelings in his description of the French soldiers and the cretins. "It is said indeed that when the French soldiers first met with these wretched objects, they were so cruel that in their horror or disgust, they actually had the brutality to attack the poor creatures with their bayonets." 

The question of restraint or non-restraint he discusses at considerable length, particularly with reference to the splendid institution at Lincoln, England. "We cannot conclude this sketch without expressing our admiration, not for the system generally (abolition of restraint) to which we have given due 

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credit, not for particular measures adopted at Lincoln, many of which are of great practical importance; not so much for these as for a spirit of progress which lies as it were beyond them at their basis . . . We should not consider a single iota in this respect (the care and management of mental hospitals) a settled manner, but should always be ready to scrutinize every particular with minute attention and should deem all measures, views and arrangements as constantly open to discussion and improvement." 

What could be more intelligent, more sane, more reasonable than these words written in 1853. They are not the utterance of an enthusiast fresh from the medical school and hospital; they are the pronouncement of an earnest scholar and careful observer, whose theoretical concepts had even then been distilled through the experience of twelve years as the responsible head of a well-known hospital. 

More and more his writings showed the increasing maturity of his concepts in the light of increasing experience and ever wider reading. It is not to be supposed, either, that he neglected the physical side of his craft. He investigated the current chemical therapies. Chloroform and ether inhalations were tried in mania, with no particularly good results. He essayed two drugs newly recommended for epileptic insanity, one cotyledon umbilicus from England, the other musk root or sumbul from Asia. His conclusions are summed up thus: "Considerable trial was made with these medicines in several cases, but no apparent benefit ensued."

His writings manifest clear insight into the epileptic character. "The paroxysms are usually vio-

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lent beyond those of any other mental affliction and some of the most dreadful deeds have been committed by persons laboring under this form of cerebral derangement. A patient in this asylum prior to his admission, besides attempting to destroy himself, decapitated an individual with an axe. In two instances of those who have been inmates in this asylum during the last few years and whose violence has been extreme in conjunction with the very peculiar excitement appertaining to this disease, there were evinced generally a very striking display of actions and words referable to religious ideas."

The importance of pathological examinations in mental hospitals he fully appreciated. He describes in detail an autopsy which he performed on an epileptic boy at the request of his family. The whole subject of obtaining permission for autopsies he discusses in his 1850 report and makes a recommendation which the passage of ninety years has not been enough to see adopted, at any rate in his own State. "With regard to pathological investigations as pursued in asylums for the insane, there are several points deserving particular notice. In the first place it is manifest that the interest of science demands such investigations. But the great obstacle on the other hand is that the friends of the patient might object to this course. However, if any such obstacle exists, we think it ought not to be disregarded; on the contrary we are clearly of the opinion that no examination should be made unless the friends give their full consent." 

He then analyzes the points of divergence between the process of getting permission in metropolitan 

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hospitals and those serving large and scattered rural communities. The difficulty of communication with the friends or families of patients in the latter category he points out clearly and suggests the solution as follows: "The only mode perhaps in which the difficulties of this subject could be overcome would consist inmaking it a matter of legal inquiry, the answer being sent to the asylum along with the other papers accompanying the patient." 

To the age-old question of the effect of the moon upon mental aberration, he has an answer: "We find", he says, "the word lunatic to have synonyms in various languages, both ancient and modern, derived from the same idea." 

He points out that mental patients are light sleepers, and the rest of us sleep more lightly in bright light than in darkness. The bright light of the moon tends, therefore, to lessen sleep and rest. Then he quotes Burrows to support his theory of the effect of the moon: "Undoubtedly", observes Burrows, "many diseases observe a certain periodicity, and it is not improbable that the paroxysms of violence among lunatics confined in large asylums are actually increased at the period of the full moon; but even if so, this is susceptible to a natural explanation. Maniacs are light sleepers, therefore, like the dog which 'bays the moon' and many other animals, when it is at the full, are distracted by the flitting shadows of clouds which are reflected on the earth and the surrounding objects. Thus the lunatic converts shadows into images of terror and equally with all 'whom reason lights not' is filled with alarm and becomes distressed and noisy. I believe that the moon in no other way affects the insane." 

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In his annual report of 1853, Dr. Galt advocated making it a provision of the Virginia law - which so far as I can learn has not yet been done - that "whenever a female patient is conducted to the hospital under the mittimus of three magistrates, in all such cases a female guard should be made one of the stipulations of the saw. The propriety of this suggestion is sufficiently obvious . . ."

Careful classification he recognized as the basis to proper grouping in hospital, separation of acute from chronic, noisy from disturbed, vicious from amiable. A keen appreciation of the values implicit in proper classification and grouping he has shown in his comments on the community of Gheel, and in his beautiful little essay on the Farm of St. Anne. He speaks with pleasure of the freedom allowed the patients at Gheel and contrasts this with the turmoil of large hospital wards. In the Farm of St. Anne, he foreshadowed, as Blumer points out, the cottage plan type of care. 

One cannot read his various contributions to psychiatric literature, particularly his annual reports, without being impressed by his scientific approach to psychiatric problems. Nowhere is this more evident than in his excellent discussion of the medico-legal aspects of mental illness. He was not content to babble obscure legal phraseology or to permit a legal or judicial point of view to muddle his knowledge of human behavior and some of its causes. He knew the absurdity of the legal attempts to apply some right or wrong test or other legal measuring rod to the question of responsibility. The answers of the judges to the questions propounded by the House of

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Lords in the McNaughten case he had studied, and saw their obvious defects from the standpoint of determining responsibility in crime. This, he discusses, as follows: "The result of these legal hypotheses in the vain search after an imaginary standard has been in the first place executions in which the criminals were insane persons where the decisions were in direct opposition to the interpretation given the law. Thus it was in the very case of McNaughten. The prisoner was acquitted, though it was an incontrovertible fact that he understood the nature of right and wrong as to the act for which he was tried. In nature, in reality, there is no test that will establish how far an insane individual is responsible for his acts . . . an end be put to the floundering of our courts and their functionaries after the test or standard or criterion which would at once decide the degree of insanity which would preclude responsibility. The standard does not exist in nature." 

Examination and repeated observation, preferably in a mental hospital, he feels, is the only rational way to determine the degree of responsibility. "Even then it is admittedly difficult to be certain . . . But even allowing it to be so, how different is such a process from that of legal investigation in the courts of law and how easily might the slight tinge of delusion be overlooked when the general rationality of the individual was so apparent." 

The Briggs Act of Massachusetts passed by the legislature in 1844 at the insistance of Governor Briggs seemed to attract his approval. This Act provided for the examination of criminals believed to be insane by the prison doctor, the Superintendent 

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of the Massachusetts Lunatic Asylum (Worcester) and the Superintendent of McLean Asylum.

The case of Bellingham in England aroused his horror. "Hadfield, who fired at the King of England in the year 1800, and the Earl of Oxrford also, was blaced in Bethlehem Hospital for life. A similar destination in this country was determined for the individual who fired at President Jackson. Of Bellingham who killed Mr. Percival, a former Prime Minister, Lord Brougham remarks: 'He never attempted to escape, but was taken, committed, tried, condemned, executed, and dissected, all within one week from the time he fired the shot.' So great an outrage in justice was never witnessed in modern times; for the application to delay the trial until evidence of insanity could be brought from Liverpool was refused."

The situation as regards the Virginia courts, of course, concerned him more directly. He discussed the difficulty of obtaining an acquittal on the grounds of "moral insanity" although all medical men of mental hospital experience readily recognize its occurrence. "It appears that one reason for such opposition and denial is that it is feared that the admission of its being a true form of disease would lead to the plea of insanity more frequently than now occurs. According to our experience, however, with respect to the State of Virginia, the danger of imposition as to this subject is not the probability of the individual being acquitted on the grounds of moral insanity, but the danger of his feigning mania or general insanity. If a criminal attempts to escape punishment by assuming the appearance of insanity, he would be but little likely to adopt the quiet demeanor which 

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is attendant on moral insanity as compared with the violence of one laboring under mania. We have no hesitation in asserting our belief that the number of individuals condemned yearly for crimes, who are really insane, is doubled or treble that of those who are acquitted on the grounds of insanity, particularly 'moral insanity' . . . Moreover, we believe that for an individual to feign moral insanity is a rare circumstance and that in most instances of feigned insanity, it is the appearance of mania or downright madness that is assumed. The reason is evident; if the jury perceived but little or no evidence of mental alienation in the conversation of a person under trial, they are not apt to believe him insane; from their preconceived notions from those commonly in vogue. They expect to see a person laboring under this species of disease wild and incoherent talking, violent gesticulation and perhaps a variety of antics. Criminals know this very well and if insanity is feigned, it is almost sure to be this sort. In relation to this subject, therefore, that which juries and examining courts have to apprehend in criminal cases is not the plea of moral insanity, but the danger of individuals feigning mania. As things are at present, it is somewhat difficult to acquit persons laboring under moral insanity on this plea for deeds which they have committed through the influence of mental disease, while at the same time persons who would otherwise be condemned for their commission of crimes sometimes escape by feigning general insanity." 

The wisdom and penetration in these words is obvious, but in 1853 he writes somewht dejectedly: " . . . We have no room to pursue this topic further, 

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but we would remark in addition that the whole question of criminal insanity appears in Virginia to be hedged with doubt and difficulty."

This portrait of Dr. Galt as a psychiatrist I have drawn for you largely from his own writings. He was the product of the golden age of American psychiatry, the friend and colleague of Pliny Earle and Kirkbride, both schooled at the Friends Asylum, Frankford, where they learned the gentle Quaker attitude to the insane; others of that group were scholarly Ray, dynamic Bell, energetic Awl, capable Stribling, literary Brigham, active Butler and others. He was the friend of Dorothea Lyne Dix. These are names to conjure with, psychiatrically, and Galt takes his place freely and easily among them. In close association with them, he wrought not only for his patients at Williamsburg, but with his prolific and facile pen, he labored for the mentally ill everywhere.

On May 6, 1862, Federal troops occupied the ancient city of Williamsburg. They put an Army doctor in his place, and a soldier with a fixed bayonet denied him entrance to his own hospital grounds. His anxiety for his patients knew no bounds, and he died on May 18, 1862, possibly of angina. 

You are planning to visit the scene of his labors. In the twentieth century tempo you will view the somewhat synthetic glories of the eighteenth. Amid the gradeur of the Restoration, pause for a moment in the original churchyard of Bruton Parish. There, close to the door entering the main aisle of the little church, under the shade of a small magnolia, is a burial plot. In it rest three doctors, father, son and 

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grandson. Pause a brief moment in tribute to teh grandson; he was a great scholar, a kind and generous man, a distinguished psychiatrist, the peer of you all.

1. American Journal of Insanity, January, 1845. 
2. American Medical Biographies, Kelly and Burbage. 
3. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1842. 
4. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1843-44. 
5. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1845-46. 
6. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1849. 
7. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1850. 
8. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1851. 
9. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1853. 
10. Annual Report, Eastern Lunatic Asylum, 1859. 
12. Galt, John M., II: Essays on Asylum Persons of Unsound Mind, Series I. 
13. Galt, John M., II: Essays on Asylum Persons of Unsound Mind, Series II. 
14. Galt, John M., II: Lectures on Idiocy. 
15. Galt, John M., II: The Farm of St. Anne; American Journal of Insanity, Vol. XI, pages 352-57. 
16. Galt, Samuel: Descendants of: Chart by Rogers Harrison Galt and Mary Meares Galt, Virginia State Library. 
17. Hennings Statutes at Large, Vol. 8, page 378. 
18. Official Records, Union and Confederate, Armie Series II, Vol. I. 
19. Powell, T. O., M. D.: Presidential Address, Proc. American Medico-Psych. Association, 1897. 
20. Proc. American Medico-Psychological Association, 1894. 
21. Proc. American Medico-Psychological Association, 1897, p. 82. 
22. The Mentally Ill in America, Albert Deutsch, Double-day, Doran & Company, New York.

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23. William and Mary Quarterly, Series I, Vol. 8, p. 259. 
24. Overholser, Dr. Winfred: Personal Communication. 

(Galt) Practical Medicine; illustrated by cases of the most important diseases, 328 pp. Roy 80. Philadelphia, Barrington & Haswell, 1843. 
Essay on asylums for persons of unsound mind; 22 pp. 80. Richmond, H. K. Ellyson, 1850. 
The same: 2. s. 44 pp. 80. Richmond, Virginia, 1859. 
Report on the organization of asylums for the insane. Am. J. Insan., Utica, N. Y. 1854-55 xi, 356-357. 
The treatment of insanity, viii, 579 pp. 80. New York, Harper & Bro. 1846. 
Insanity in Italy, 19 pp. 80. Utica, 1854. Repr. from Am. J. Insan., October, 1844. pp. 122-133. 
Annual Reports of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum for the years 1843-1861. 
J. M. Galt, Stethoscope and Virginia Medical Gazette, 1851. 
J. M. Galt, Stethoscope and Virginia Medical Gazette, 1852. 



Hamlin, Percy Gatling, 1894-1976, “Dr. John Minson Galt and the Williamsburg Asylum,” Special Collections, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accessed November 28, 2022, https://cwfjdrlsc.omeka.net/items/show/619.

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