Seven manuscript volumes and four photographs comprise the papers of physician Matthias Washington Mabry (1821-1902), who lived in the South Carolina counties of Union and Abbeville, later removing to Augusta, Ga., where he continued his medical practice and operated a general store during the final years of his life.
Mabry maintained a diary for many years in which he recorded information about patients visited, weather observations, and his daily activities. Themes that run consistently through these volumes are concerns typical of the country doctor of his day, including discussion of the treatment of free and enslaved members of the local community and the difficulties encountered in collecting payments due him.
Topics more specific to Mabry include many expressions of grief and depression at deaths of two of his older brothers, each of which merited comment for years afterward on the anniversary of their deaths; his disapproval of his parents’ lack of support for some of his siblings; and his unhappiness with his situation in Union County while living on property owned by his father-in-law.
The two earliest volumes, both dating from 1842, consist of Mabry’s student notes from his medical studies while enrolled at the University of Virginia. Recognizing that a doctor may be among the first persons to visit the victim or the scene of a crime, it appears that Mabry’s instructors included discussion of the attendant legal concerns of their profession, for lectures recorded by Mabry discuss such issues as rape, infanticide, life insurance, persons found dead, and personal identity.
In 1844 Mabry began his medical practice in Union District, boarding at various places including the home of Rueben Gilliams. His earliest diary volume, dated 30 April 1843 - 2 October 1850, to which genealogical notes were later added, discusses the beginning of his medical practice and his social activities in Union County and vicinity.
Regular entries cover the period from 30 April 1843 to September 1844, after which the diarist added occasional entries several times per year, chiefly on his birthday or on dates commemorating significant events. Social and religious activities include a brief entry, 23 March 1844, noting his plans to attend a temperance meeting and a 14 April 1844 entry concerning Mabry’s attendance at a church service led by the Rev. Mr. John Glynn at the “Fishdam meeting house.” Mabry expressed his embarrassment at his poor delivery of a prayer—“at the close of the meeting I was rather unexpectedly called on to pray. I did not deny but it was a miserable weak prayer.” In an entry from several years later he showed no such reticence to speak publicly, however, as evidenced by the text of a twenty-three-page oration in celebration of Independence Day titled “Address Delivered at Creek Cane Church, July 4th, 1847, Union District of So. Ca.”
The diary chiefly talks about local and personal news, but several entries note events of national significance. A 16 July 1844 entry mentions Mabry’s meeting with the cousin of a patient—“he is just [arrived] from Texas and says that the Texans would like to be annexed to this country [and] that they are still willing if the U.S. will receive them.” Another entry dating from March 1850 discusses the significance of the death of John C. Calhoun.
Many entries suggest the challenges faced by this young physician as he began his career. References to criminal activities include an entry dated 2 January 1844 in which Mabry recorded that he and a friend “went to G. Horry’s but not finding him at home we could not go into the business of examining the Negros charged with stealing my clothes.” Several months later, 16 July 1844, while spending the night at a friend’s home, a bottle of medicine was found outside on the ground that was identical to the medicine Mabry prescribed. “I went to bed with great apprehension that my office had been robbed,” he lamented.
By 1848 Mabry had wed Mary B. Farr (1827-1914) of Union County and they lived at “Mulligan’s Old Fields,” a property owned by his father-in-law, Titus Greene Farr. This was a less than ideal arrangement, Mabry confided to his diary on 21 September 1848—“I have lived here this year as I did in 1846 in indescribable suffering both mentally and physically and all on account of the miserable perversency and damned rascality of this old man.”
Several months later his situation improved, as noted in an entry dated 3 March 1849, when Mabry reported that he had been invited to reside and practice medicine for the year on the plantation of his friend Col. J.C. Martin. Mabry also recorded Martin’s lengthy advice regarding friendship, hospitality, marriage, the importance of children, and the practice of medicine. In later entries, the diarist discusses his great happiness in leaving Union for Abbeville, which he refers to as “my native district.”
The diary frequently comments on Mabry’s grief over the death of two of his brothers, particularly that of Stephen Tompkins Mabry (1819-1843). Entries added after ca. September 1844 discuss his brother’s passing and continue for several years after on the anniversary of his death. Mabry first wrote of his brother’s death in one of his 1842 school notebooks, which includes the poem “Death of my Brother,” along with a discussion of his brother’s medical care during the final weeks of his life.
Persons mentioned from the Union area include Capt. J. Moffett, William Richardson, James Stackburn, Allen Shields, Frank Tompkins, James Blackbrown, and others, including Mabry’s cousin, the Rev. George Washington Brooks (b. 1812), a Baptist minister and one of the founders of Furman University. The diary includes undated entries listing Mabry’s books, medical equipment, and medicines in stock.
Five pocket diaries, 1855-1898, constitute an additional record of activities through brief entries. The first, 1 January - 23 December 1855, 1856, 1857, continues Mabry’s record of patients treated. Entries that begin on 20 April 1857 describe a trip from Abbeville Court House through the mountains of northern Georgia. They depict the scenery, list miles traveled, and record expenses of accommodations while passing through Franklin and Habersham counties, crossing the Chattahoochee River, and journeying through the mountains to “Gilmour” [Gilmer] County in northern Georgia.
Two later pocket volumes, 1 January - 31 December 1868 and 1 January - 24 September 1869, continue the record of Mabry’s activities in Abbeville and discuss life during Reconstruction, including weather conditions and house calls. Two other pocket diaries consist of a volume, 1883-1884, 1891, 1897-1898, including medical notes and entries recorded over several weeks, 18 August - 14 September 1897, written in nineteenth-century shorthand, and an 1887 address book.
The collection includes four photographs—a sixth-plate ambrotype of Dr. Matthias Washington Mabry; a ninth-plate daguerreotype of Mary B. Farr Mabry; a ninth-plate daguerreotype in a union case by Littlefield, Parsons, and Co. of Amanda Katherine Farr Mabry; and a sixth-plate ambrotype of Amanda Katherine Mabry holding a baby.