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This biography is from ANNALS of the Medical Society of the County of Albany, 1806-1851, by Sylvester D. Willard, M. D.

Wilhelmus Mancius

In two of the New England states, as also in New Jersey, laws were enacted at an early period for the organization of medical societies. There were many evils that these laws were designed to suppress, and there was much good they were intended to incite. The evils were such as had grown since the early settlement of the country from the need of well educated students in medicine, and the low degree to which the art of healing had as a consequence fallen. There was no restriction to prevent the grossest imposition of pretenders in assuming the responsibilities that pertains to the care of the sick and the management of disease; and there was but little to aid the legitimate students in diligent research, and knowledge of true medical science. The laws which should therefore give distinctive features to the medical profession may be presumed to have found warm advocates in the physicians resident of the State Capitol, seeing, as they could do, the great necessity for its existence, and anxious as they doubtless were for the establishment of some professional landmarks. The law creating a State and County Medical Societies was passed on the 4th day of April, 1806. It was planned and matured with the wisdom and far sightedness of those able and gifted statesmen, Van Ness, Clinton and Kent, who at that time were members of the legislature, in connection with the speaker of the assembly, Dr. Alexander Sheldon, of Montgomery county, a gentleman of broad and liberal sentiments, occupying an honorable position in his profession, as also in the counsels of state. It is due to the memory of these men to say that after the lapse of nearly sixty years, the law stands with but a single amendment precisely as they originated it; exerting in its operation a powerful influence, through forty or fifty institutions, upon the profession through the entire state. In its comparison with similar laws in other states, judging by what it has accomplished, an enlightened opinion will award it the best, and it promises as much in the future as it has achieved in the present, for the good of the profession and the enlightened wisdom of its framers.

The first meeting for the organization of the MedicalSociety of the county of Albany took place on the firstTuesday in July, 1806, but it was adjourned to meet on the 29th instant for that purpose. The day arrived, and there assembled at the old City Hall, in the city of Albany, the following gentlemen: Wilhelmus Mancius, Hunloke, Woodruff, William McClelland, John G. Knauff, Caleb Gauff, Augustus Harris, Joseph W. Hageman, Cornelius Vrooman, Jr., Alexander G. Fonda, and Charles D. Townsend. The event was one of importance; it was to organize an institution which was to continue, they knew not how many years or through how many generations. By the precedence of years, the position of presiding ofiicer fell upon Wilhelmus Mancius, a position that his venerable and dignified appearance was well suited to maintain. Dr. Mancius was elected to assume the chair, and to announce the meeting ready for organization.

Wilhelmus Mancius was born in Ulster county, New York, in September, 1738. His father was George Wilhelmus Mancius, a native of Holland, who had emigrated to America and was a minister in the Reformed Dutch Church in America, and who combined with his gospel ministrations what was not then uncommon, some knowledge of the healing art, which he practiced among the people of his charge. Wilhelmus probably studied the classics under the care of his father, as he did also his medical profession. The Dutch language was his mother tongue, though he spoke the German fluently, and the English with at least a strong Dutch accent. He must have begun the study of medicine about the year 1758, when he was twenty years of age. It is impossible now to define just what might then have been regarded as a medical education; and in comparison with the present, a just estimate can scarcely be made. There were no medical schools in the country, and for a student in a retired town no possible facility for acquiring any practical knowledge of anatomy. A student could therefore have no adequate idea of the vital organs in health, or as changed by the process of disease. Diseases of the heart and lungs could not be distinguished by either auscultation or percussion. Nothing was known of the normal or diseased sounds of these organs. The pharmacy was as rude as the means of diagnosis. What might have been observed of the medicinal properties of a few indigenous plants comprised for the most part all that was available in the materia medica. To watch therefore the progress of disease, and to administer a few comparatively harmeless remedies must have constituted the office of the physician; and he became skillful and renowned only as he exercised the shrewdness of observation, and made his experience his guide. Surgery was rude and simpie. There was not the necessity for the high degree of surgical art that now exists. There were no terrible railroad disasters to mutilate human bodies, no steam engines to explode, or complicated machinery to tear into shreds and crush human limbs. And the art of war had not created implements of the present intense refinement of destruction and mutilation, which the healing and mechanical arts have come forth so nobly, with equal genius and skill to repair.

Dr. Mancius removed to Albany where he eventually enjoyed a large and remunerative practice. His office was on North Market street (now Broadway) near what is now the Delavan House. He was a man of social, genial nature, of eccentric habits, but withal agreeable in manners, and a possessor of a fund of good humor which gave him great popularity. In 1806, he had taken as partner Dr. Hunloke Woodruff, a gentleman of experience and learning, younger than himself. Dr. Mancius, by careful observation, had obtained considerable skill, and stood an oracle not to be disputed on medical topics. He frequently fell into discussion with his more learned and accomplished partner, in which he of course was the weaker party ; but he habitually closed these arguments with an air of triumph, exclaiming, "Ah de cure, Hunloke; de cure is de great ting—I cure!" His opinion of his partner's skill may be inferred. A mention of his business habits may be made as perhaps suited to the times, but which would scarcely add dignity to a member of our profession at this day. The doctor, it is said, attended many of the wealthy farmers surrounding the city, and never scrupled to draw liberally upon their well supplied stores. He was punctual to settle these accounts, but always found out. first the amount of them before presenting his own bill. It was a strange circumstance that no matter how large the amounts were, "it was exactly the amount of his bill." Shoe bills, and others were settled in the same manner. We are told that on one occasion, Richard Smith, a rich farmer, who had settled with the doctor in this way before, made out his bill: it was found on comparison that the doctor's " just matched it." He then recollected that he had omitted certain items which could not escape the doctor's memory when mentioned. The result was a balance in his favor, and the doctor promptly paid it over.

Dr. Mancius was in advanced years when the first meeting of the Society was held; his career had embraced the period of the revolutionary war. and the institution, through him as its oldest member, now dates back a century and a quarter. He was never again present at the meetings, for his life terminated soon after on the 22d of October, 1808, at the age of seventy years. Dr. Mancius was a man of strong mind, and he left the impress of a favorable reputation that has survived the changes of more than half a century.

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