Bohun's Appointment as Physician General

Lawrence Bohun (d. 1621)

Lawrence Bohun was a member of the govenror's Council and physician general of the Virginia colony. Born probably in England, Bohun may have received his medical training at Leiden. He sailed to Virginia in 1610 as personal physician to the governor. Bohun returned to England and in 1612 was named as a shareholder in the third charter of the Virginia Company of London. While practicing medicine in London, he retained his interest in Virginia and may have been involved in an attempt to introduce silk culture there. Appointed physician general of the colony and a member of the Council in 1620, Bohun sailed for Virginia but was killed on March 19, 1621, when Spanish warships attacked his ship in the West Indies. MORE...

 

Bohun was born probably in England between 1575 and 1585. An acquaintance later wrote that Bohun had been "a long time brought up amongst the most learned Surgeons, and Physitions in Netherlands." Most likely he received his medical education at Leiden, but nothing of his youth or education is definitely known.

Bohun, whose surname contemporaries often spelled "Bohune" or "Boone," sailed for Virginia on April 1, 1610, as personal physician to the new governor, Thomas West, baron De La Warr. Within a month after they arrived in Jamestown on June 10, 1610, Bohun had treated the governor's fever with bloodletting, which De La Warr believed had saved his life. Bohun soon depleted his medical chest treating colonists' frequent illnesses, and during the nine and one-half months he was in the colony he experimented with indigenous native plants and minerals to ascertain their medicinal properties. He used sassafras to purge phlegm, employed a white clay to fight fevers, used the saps of gum trees and white poplar to make a balm for healing wounds, and compounded a medicine for dysentery from myrtle fruit.

Bohun left Virginia with De La Warr on March 28, 1611, bound for Nevis in the West Indies, where the governor hoped to recover from scurvy. The wind drove their ship instead to the Azores, where De La Warr decided to sail to England and recuperate fully before returning to the colony. Bohun found himself back in England a year after he had first arrived in Virginia.

On March 12, 1612, Bohun was one of 325 shareholders named in the third charter of the Virginia Company of London. During the next several years he probably practiced medicine among the court favorites and commercial leaders of London, and his marriage to Alice Barnes, widow of merchant William Barnes, of Lambeth, Surrey County, likely also occurred about this time. She had at least one son and two daughters before her marriage to Bohun, with whom she had one daughter.

Bohun continued his involvement in the affairs of the Virginia Company. In February 1620 he and James Swift were granted a tract of Virginia land for having transported 300 colonists and some cattle to Virginia. In November of that year the company approved Bohun's request that the grant be renewed in his name only, and about the same time he subscribed to a petition that a suitable gentleman of quality be sent to Virginia as governor. The surviving records of the Virginia Company include two veiled references to a "project" of Bohun, which "promised much benefitt but in the end came to nothinge." The scheme probably involved the cultivation of silkworms in Virginia. Bohun enjoyed a long friendship with members of the Ferrar family, who attempted to introduce silk culture in Virginia, and when Bohun sailed for Virginia the second time, he was on a ship transporting silkworm larvae, or "seed," to the colony.

On December 13, 1620, the Virginia Company appointed Bohun physician general of the colony, a position that carried with it an allotment of 500 acres and twenty tenants to work it. The company also appointed him to the Council. Bohun and his stepson, Edward Barnes, embarked on the Margaret and John, of which Bohun was part owner, near the end of January 1621. When the ship arrived in the West Indies to take on fresh water, two Spanish warships attacked it. During the two-day battle the English drove off the larger Spanish ships, but the silkworm larvae were destroyed, and ten Englishmen were killed or mortally wounded, including Bohun, who fell with his pistol in his hand on March 19, 1621.

Time Line

  • April 1, 1610 - Lawrence Bohun sails for Virginia as personal physician to the new governor, Thomas West, baron De La Warr.
  • June–July 1610 - Within a month of arriving at Jamestown, Lawrence Bohun treats the fever of Governor Thomas West, baron De La Warr, with bloodletting, which De La Warr believes saves his life.
  • June 10, 1610 - The Virginia colony's new governor, Sir Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr, arrives at Jamestown and hears a sermon delivered by Reverend Richard Bucke.
  • March 28, 1611 - Governor Thomas West, baron De La Warr, ill with malaria or scurvy, leaves Virginia on a ship piloted by Samuel Argall and bound for Nevis in the West Indies.
  • March 12, 1612 - Lawrence Bohun is one of 325 shareholders named in the third charter of the Virginia Company of London.
  • February 1620 - Lawrence Bohun and James Swift are granted a tract of Virginia land for transporting 300 colonists and some cattle to the colony.
  • November 1620 - The Virginia Company of London approves Lawrence Bohun's request that his land grant be renewed in his name only.
  • December 13, 1620 - The Virginia Company of London appoints Lawrence Bohun physician general of the Virginia colony, a position that carries with it an allotment of 500 acres and twenty tenants to work on it. The company also appoints him to the Council.
  • January 1621 - Lawrence Bohun and his stepson, Edward Barnes, embark on the Margaret and John, for Virginia. The ship is attacked by the Spanish in the West Indies.
  • March 19, 1621 - Lawrence Bohun dies, pistol in hand, in a fight with Spanish raiders while his ship, Margaret and John, takes on fresh water in the West Indies.

References

Further Reading
Gentry, Daphne. "Lawrence Bohun." In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss et al., 53–54. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
Wyndham B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century. Richmond: The William Byrd Press, 1930.
Avery E. Kolb. "The Feisty Voyagers of the Margaret and John." Virginia Cavalcade 28 (1979): 130–137.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Gentry, D., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Lawrence Bohun (d. 1621). (2013, July 16). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Bohun_Lawrence_d_1621.

  • MLA Citation:

    Gentry, Daphne and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Lawrence Bohun (d. 1621)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 16 Jul. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 23, 2011 | Last modified: July 16, 2013