By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
My 19-year-old daughter Abigail, who uses a wheelchair, lately has been doing a great deal of genealogical research, mainly because she enjoys learning about people. And what she has learned speaks volumes about the grit of people with disabilities from 200 years ago.
She learned about Judah (sometimes Judas) Levi, a direct descendent of ours, who was born a Jew in England, sentenced to seven years in America for stealing a handkerchief at age 12, and eventually served in the American Revolutionary War on our side.
Levi was one of 53 American soldiers taken prisoner after the 1780 Waxhaw Massacre, of South Carolina, in which British forces slaughtered hundreds of Americans who were under a white surrender flag. After a year of British medical care, Levi was allowed to return home under the condition he not fight again. He promptly broke that promise and eventually served under Revolutionary War General Lafayette.
In 1789, an American doctor noted: “Judah Levi...had several wounds on the head and face, one of which has penetrated through the skull...the wound on the face has totally destroyed the left eye ball which has disappeared...there is a constant discharge from the socket. He has likewise a wound in the thigh which appears to have been done with a bayonet and which must do him considerable injury in walking...his disability to support himself by his labour only is certainly great and his sufferings have been extreme.”
In 1820, when he was renewing his military pension, a Kentucky physician noted Levi's wounds were “a total disability of the first degree.”
Levi went through much of life with one eye, one leg (the other, a peg leg), a horribly scarred face, and so much pain his only relief was alcohol. He died in Maysville, Kentucky, in 1829, at 69, after having served as county tobacco inspector. If in Maysville today, you can visit (I've been told) an Ohio River flood wall mural showing an aging Judah Levi and others greeting Lafayette in 1824.
Levi lived in a place and age that didn't have accessible bathrooms, automobiles for travel, pain relievers other than alcohol, antibiotics, decent prosthetics, wheelchairs, health insurance, modern surgery, elevators, oxygen tanks, concrete sidewalks, MRIs, sanitary hospitals, x-ray machines, ambulances, ramps, glass eyes, and central heating and air conditioning.
Most people with disabilities 200 years ago had rough lives. We have much to be thankful for today.
Facebook: Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance. [Sponsored by Blue Valley Sod and Palmer Bus Service.]