This Day in History: A Medical Miracle at Mackinac

On this day, 191 years ago, the accidental discharge of a musket in the American Fur Company Store on Mackinac Island left a voyageur severely wounded, with little hope of survival.

Oil Sketch Dean Cornewell, 1938 Donated by Paul Douglas Withington This is a preliminary oil sketch of the complete painting. In 1938, Wyeth Laboratories commissioned a series of paintings entitled "Pioneers of American Medicine."  Fort Mackinac's post surgeon Dr. William Beaumont's studies of the stomach of Alexis St. Martin were the subject of one of the paintings. Beaumont's 1820s landmark investigations were among the earliest American medical research recognized internationally and the foundation for the human digestive study. The original painting is still owned by Wyeth, although it was a loan and exhibited at the Mackinac Island State Park Commission's Beaumont Museum for several decades. This oil sketch was given by Dean Cornwell to the donor's father, Douglas John Withington, who worked for Wyeth for forty-two years.

Oil Sketch
Dean Cornewell, 1938
Donated by Paul Douglas Withington
This is a preliminary oil sketch of the complete painting. In 1938, Wyeth Laboratories commissioned a series of paintings entitled “Pioneers of American Medicine.” Fort Mackinac’s post surgeon Dr. William Beaumont’s studies of the stomach of Alexis St. Martin were the subject of one of the paintings. Beaumont’s 1820s landmark investigations were among the earliest American medical research recognized internationally and the foundation for the human digestive study.

But, with the help of Dr. William Beaumont, the Post Surgeon at nearby Fort Mackinac, Alexis St. Martin not only survived the night, but went on to make a full recovery… well, mostly.

Dr. William Beaumont treated St. Martin’s wound with meticulous care.  The hole leading into his stomach never completely healed over, leaving a virtual pathway into the science of the digestive process. With St. Martin’s continuing permission and support, Dr. Beaumont studied the digestive process for many years through the wound.

The research resulted in the basis of our modern understanding of the digestive system.

For more information on planning your visit to the American Fur Company Store/Dr. Beaumont Museum, go to mackinacparks.com/historic-downtown

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