Brother John Lining

By: Ill. Bro. McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33°

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”                                                                                               Mark Twain

 Almost 272 years ago there immigrated to this country a Scottish youth of twenty-two named John Lining. He was born in Lanarkshire, the son of Thomas Lining, a minister, and Anne Hamilton. In 1730 when Dr. Lining arrived in Charles Town it was known as “The Royal Colony” since it was a British settlement at the time. 

Between 1697 and 1728 his native shire produced four of the leading figures of British medicine William Smellie, William Cullen, William Hunter, and John Hunter. Given this fertile environment, it is not surprising that John Lining turned to medicine as a career. 

He was blessed with scientific zeal that only research could satisfy. Lining arrived in Charles Town in America when he was 22 and soon was concerned with epidemics, which he noted, “came regularly at their stated Seasons like a good clock.”

In its early days, Charles Town, though one of the important cities of the country was confined within the narrow limits of Water to Cumberland Streets and Bay to Meeting.

Dr. Lining was primarily a conventional general practitioner with a consuming problem: 8he could not be content unless he probed deeply into medical science. When he began his practice, he asked only to be a good doctor.

With the deepening of his studies, Dr. Lining began to shuck off some of the conventional medical practices of his contemporaries. He began, for instance, to let light, sunshine and fresh air into the rooms of his patients where the common practice of the day dictated the close darkness and stale air of a sick room. With his encouragement, the more healthful attitude of the sick began to take shape.

Without proper sanitation facilities Charles Town was plagued with fevers and diseases. John Lining conceived it to be his professional duty to devote practically every waking moment to the study and cure of those dreaded illnesses.

In an effort to understand how the weather might effect a human Dr. Lining began to study weather conditions and as a result of this was the first in America to carry out systematic weather observations with scientific instruments he invented himself.

In a letter to the Royal Society of London dated January 22, 1741, Dr. Lining explained why he had embarked on a tedious service of observations, with himself as the guinea pig and a slatted box of instruments located in an upstairs window as his constant companion:

“What first induced me,” he says, “ to enter upon this course, was that I might experimentally discover the influences of our different seasons upon the human body; by which I might arrive at some more certain knowledge of the causes of our epidemic diseases. Which as regularly return at their stated season, as a good clock strikes twelve when the sun is in the meridian; and therefore must precede from some general cause operating uniformly in the returning different seasons.”

Solomon’s Lodge is the oldest Masonic Body in South Carolina, having received its charter from Lord Weymouth, the Grand Master of the Mason’s of England in 1734, and recorded on the register of that Grand Lodge as No. 45, but on the Provincial register as No.1.

Brother John Lining was a member of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 in Charles Town. The date he became a Mason is not known. On the anniversary meeting of Solomon’s Lodge on December 28, 1738 the South Carolina Gazette paper printed in part the following,

“The day was ushered in with firing of guns at sunrise from several ships in the Harbour, with all their colors flying. At 9 o'clock all the members of Solomon’s Lodge, belonging to the Ancient and Honorable Order of Free and Accepted Masons, met at the house of Honorable James Crokatt, Esq., Master of the said Lodge. At 10, proceeded from thence, properly clothed with the Ensigns of their Order, and Music before them, to the house of the Provincial Grand Master, James Graeme, Esq., where a Grand Lodge was held.  At 11 o’clock, the Lodge went in procession to Church to attend Divine Service, and in the same order returned to the house of Mr. Charles Shepheard, where, in the Court-Room, to a numerous assembly of ladies and gentlemen, the newly elected Provincial Grand Master made a very eloquent speech of the usefulness of Societies, and the benefit arising therefrom to mankind. The assembly having been dismissed, Solomon’s Lodge proceeded to the election of their officers for the ensuing year, when Mr. John Houghton was chosen Master; Dr. John Lining, Senior Warden; Mr. David McClellan, Junior Warden; Mr. Arthur Strahan, Secretary, and Mr. Alexander Murrary, Treasurer. After an elegant dinner, Capt. Thomas White invited all brethren on board the Hope. There several loyal health’s were drank, and at their coming on board and return to shore, they were saluted by the discharge of 39 guns, being the same number observed in each of the different salutes of this day, so that in all there were about 250 guns fired. The evening was concluded with a ball and entertainment for the ladies, and the whole was performed with much grandeur and decorum.”

On June 28, 1739 Dr. John Lining married Sarah Hill, daughter of Elizabeth Godfrey and Charles Hill, a former Chief Justice of the Province, by the Rev. William Guy at the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew’s Parish married them.

The latter was a merchant of the Dutch and Irish parentage who acquired through marriage and purchase large property on the Ashley River, which he named “Hillsboro Plantation.” This plantation is located approximately 10 miles from Charleston along with a town house located on the corner of Broad and King Streets. 

During 1740 Dr. Lining made measurements of his own metabolism. These measurements being made in a regular fashion every day for an entire year. In later years Dr. David Ramsay a prominent doctor of Charleston in 1858 wrote about Dr. Lining’s experiment in his book, “History of South Carolina, From It’s First Settlement in 1670 To The Year 1808.” 

Dr. Ramsay calculated from Dr. Lining records that in the course of the one year he had taken in nourishment and drunk 42,443 ounces of liquid, and, that in the same time had discharged by perspiration 19,721 ounces, by urine 21,217 ounces, and by stool 1,428 ounces. 

In a letter written to Dr. Cromwell Mortimer at the Royal Society at London concerning his observations of the temperature on September 30, 1746, Dr. Lining wrote:

“In summer the heat of the shaded air about 2 or 3 in the afternoon is frequently between 90 and 95 degrees, and the 14th, 15th, and 16th of June 1738 at 3PM it was 98 degrees, a heat equal to the greatest heat of the human body in health. The thermometer when buried in the sands of the streets when the heat of the shaded air was 88 degrees roses in 5 minutes to 108 degrees, tho there was at the same time a moderate wind.

In closing his letter Dr. Lining wrote the following remark to Dr. Mortimer:  “The contrary I beg you will be good enough to exam this long list and believe that it comes from one who has a sincere regard to the improvement of natural knowledge and one who is your most humble servant."

In 1753 Dr. John Lining wrote a treatise, “A Description of the American Yellow Fever,” in a letter to Dr. Robert Whytt at Edinburgh. This letter was the first American account of the true yellow fever. It was a competent clinical account of the progress of the disease tied to a detailed weather report for comparative uses.

The treatise was published posthumously in the Edinburgh “Essays and Observations.”  Dr. Lining’s contributions to medicine, especially with regard to relationships between climatic conditions and health, were imaginative, accurately done, useful, and the first fruits of the scientific community taking shape in Charles Town. This is his definition of the disease:

“That fever, which continues two or three days, and terminates without any critical discharge of sweat, urine, stool, etc. leaving the patient excessively weak, with a small pulse, easily depressible by very little motion, or by an erect posture; and which is soon succeeded with an lictertious colour in the white of the eyes and the skin, vomiting, hemorrhages, etc. and these without being accompanied with any degree of a febrile pulse and heart, is called in America, the Yellow Fever. From this, that almost all the nurses cached it and died of it, but likewise, as soon as it appeared in town, it soon invaded newcomers, those who never had the disease before, and the country people when they came to town, while those who remained in the country escaped it, as likewise did those who had formerly felt its dire effects. Though they walked about the town, visited the sick in all the different stadia of the disease, and attended the funeral of those who died of it. Lastly whenever the disease appeared here it was easily traced to some person who had lately arrived from some of the Indian Islands where it was epidemically.”

Believing from experience that Yellow Fever was an imported disease, the General Assembly in 1747 again took up the subject of the quarantine regulations and made still more stringent provisions in regard to them.

No vessel coming from any part of America in which the commander of Fort Johnson had information that there existed any plague, malignant fever, smallpox, or other contagious distemper. If the master of the ship refused to answer questions under oath as to the health of those on board he was not permitted to pass Fort Johnson until one of the physicians named in the act should visit the vessel and certified to the commander of the fort that all persons on board were in good health. The physicians named in this act were Dr. John Lining, Dr. David Caw, and Dr. William Rind.

On April 9, 1753 Dr. Lining wrote another letter to the Royal Society as he had done in previous years. This time he sent a table of the quantity of rain which fell in Charles Town for fifteen years, which, he wrote, “If continued for half a century, might be of use in discovering to us, the changes made in a climate by clearing the land of its woods.” This table continued through February 1753, which is the last date in evidence that Lining made observations although his influence upon others continued for several years. 

His interest in meteorology did not stop at that time, A letter from the ingenious Dr. Lining dated May 15, 1753, and published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in September, shows he, like many others, had taken up Benjamin Franklin’s electrical experiments for the serious investigation.

I have several times this season, when there was an appearance of a thunderstorm, succeeded in making Mr. Franklin’s experiment with a kite, for drawing the lightning from the clouds and last Monday repeated the same remarkable success, before many spectators. The flow of the electrical fluid, or the matter of lightning, was so rapid and copious down the line, near 700 feet long, to the key appended at the lower end of the line, that from thence I obtained sparks of lightning as thick and as long as the first two joints of a man’s little finger, and these as I could bring the loop of wire, which I used for that purpose within about two inches of the key. The snapping from the key was so smart and loud, that they were heard at a distance of at least 200 yards. A ten ounce phial coated was then properly suspended by the key; that it might be charged, but the flux of the electric matter down the line, was so copious, that the phial was charged almost as soon as it was hung to the key, and surcharge continued flying off for a considerable time, from the end of the phial’s hook, making a very loud hissing noise. I then endeavored, without taking the phial off the key to discharge it in the normal manner; but as soon as I brought the loop of wire towards the coating of the phial, I received such a shock up to my shoulder, that I failed in the attempt, and before I could be furnished with a longer wire to discharge the phial, without receiving a shock, all the electrical fluid, or lightning in the air, with a hissing noise from the extremity of the phial’s hook. A greater degree of serenity soon succeeded, and no more of the awful noise of thunder, before expected, was heard.

The interest in electricity was quite general among Charlestonians, and was stimulated by itinerant lecturers as well as by articles in the local Gazettes. In 1748 Samuel Domain of Transylvania advertised that he would perform “wonderful Experiments in Electricity” during his stay in Charles Town.

Lewis Evans in 1752 gave a course of thirteen lectures on natural philosophy and mechanics in which he discussed the late discoveries in electricity and how they had made it possible to explain the nature of attraction and repulsion, a course so popular that it was immediately repeated.  

Many people in Charles Town adopted Franklin’s and Lining’s idea of lighting rods as a protection, but others, the “Anti-Electricians,” regarded their use as a presumptuous “meddling with heaven’s artillery.” Soon Charlestonians houses started putting lighting rods on their houses to protect them in thunderstorms from the damage and death caused by it.

In 1748 “The Charleston Library Society” was founded by William Burrows who was one of “a group of seventeen aspiring young intellectuals,” who agreed to raise a fund of ten pounds sterling and import recent magazines and pamphlets from London.

These seventeen men held together by the bond of reading habit, including a school master, two planters, a peruke maker, a doctor, a printer, two lawyers, and nine merchants. The library Society soon was supported with rules and organization. In 1750 the eminent Dr. John Lining became its president. The membership was comprised of the leaders of the province and numbered 129 at this time.

Dr. Lining’s first love was botany as seen in a letter writing to Dr. Charles Alston at Edinburgh in 1754. In the letter Dr. Lining stated that he was “so much taken up with the practice of medicine that this interest was neglected. In some of the letters he sent specimens of sugar cane, pineapple, and seeds of the sensitive plant, plus various other plants and seeds and a sample of the rootbark of the magnolia for him to look at.

The last he used for treatment of intermittent fevers in place of the Peruvian bark. For guanaco he substituted dogwood; and for the treatment of the “lues venerea” (a somewhat inclusive term) he advocated a preparation of the seeds of a plant obtained from the Indians.

Sometime during 1755 Dr. Lining retired from practice to nurse his gout and oversee an Indigo Plantation he had acquired. He made a few experiments with vegetables dyes. In 1757 Dr. Alexander Garden reported that Dr. John Lining was “taken with trifling observations, and does not pursue them, as he turned planter now altogether, and seems quite done with his practice.”

Planted in April and May, this native of India matured at different times during the summer months, resulting in several cuttings. Stem perhaps three feet long, together with leaves, then were steeped in a vat and allowed to ferment. The pulpy mass was subsequently dissolved, beaten, and drained before being dried, cut into squares, and placed in casks. It was a messy smelly job, a task that attracted flies and mosquitoes.

John and Sarah Lining had a total of eleven children during their lifetime. Of the eleven children four died at an early age: Sarah, Mary, Charles Hill, and James. The Linings were more fortunate in their last seven children. John, Elizabeth, Anne, Sarah, Mary, Charles, Thomas, and Robert survived Dr. Lining. Mrs. Lining lived until 1789, surviving all of her children except Charles, who died August 18, 1836.

The Gazette of September 27, 1760 contains a notice announcing the death of Dr. John Lining:

"On Sunday last [September 21] died, very much lamented John Lining, Esq. a gentleman eminent for his application and Experience in discovering the causes, nature and cure of the disorders Incident to this province, where he had practiced physic upwards of Twenty years; and who possessed all the good qualifications that could Render his loss great, as a physician, husband, father, master, friend, Neighbor, companion, etc.”

Dr. John Lining is worthy of recognition as one of the earliest scientific investigators of the country who worked under difficulties that to the ordinary individual would have been well-nigh insurmountable.

Any and all material herein is protected by Copyright © 1992 – 2014 The Sinclair Group, Inc.  All Rights Reserved. Nothing from this website may be copied or reproduced, in part or whole, or in any manner, without the express written approval of the owner of this website or the author of the particular work.  This includes, but is not limited to, all photos, stories, graphics, and information on this website.