Privies and Parasites: The Archaeology of Health Conditions in Albany, New York

Abstract

Large numbers of parasites were identified in archaeological samples collected from privies and other features in excavations in Albany, New York. This information provides the largest database available for the study of parasite infections in historical period American cities. The greatest numbers of parasites were in contexts related to the expansion of the city in the late-18th century. Parasites remained, but their quantities decreased in the 19th century during another period of rapid population growth. The city was able to control parasite infection during this period through several means, including new techniques of privy construction, new water supply systems, and medical treatments. Use of medical treatments against parasites varied among residents of the city and was evident in the archaeological record.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Albany Centinel 1797 Dreadful Conflagration. Albany Centinel 8 August. Albany, NY.

  2. Albany, City of 1773 Laws and Ordinances of the Mayor, Recorder, Alderman and Commonalty of the City of Albany. Alexander and James Robertson, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Albany, City of 1829 Laws and Ordinances of the Common Council of the City of Albany. D. M’Glashan, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Albany, City of 1859 Minutes of August 9, City Common Council. Albany County Hall of Records, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Albany, City of 1860 Minutes of September 4, City Common Council. Albany County Hall of Records, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Albany, City of 1872 The Ordinances of the City of Albany. The Argus Company Printers, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Albany, City of 1874 Albany Directory for the Year 1874. Sampson, Davenport, & Co., Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Albany, City of 1876 Report to the Common Council of the City of Albany: Transmitting the Report of the Superintendent of the Water Works for the Year 1875. The Quackenbush Water Works Report-Events Leading to Quackenbush Station and Events After Quackenbush Pumping Station, compiled by Robert J. Dillon. Manuscript, Department of Water and Water Supply, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Albany, City of 1997 The Water was “Scarcely Drinkable.” Water for a City 2(2). City of Albany Department of Water and Water Supply, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Albany Gazette 1793 No title. Albany Gazette 19 November. Albany, NY.

  11. Arnason, John, Justin DiVirgilio, and Tracy Miller 2003 They That Have this Medicine Well-Made Need but Few Others. Paper presented at the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, Lowell, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bell, Edward L. 1987 A Preliminary Report on Health, Hygiene, and Sanitation at the Boott Mills Boardinghouse: An Historical and Archaeological Perspective. In Interdisciplinary Investigations of the Boott Mills, Lowell, Massachusetts. Volume I: Life at the Boarding Houses. Cultural Resource Management Study, No. 18, Division of Cultural Resources, North Atlantic Regional Office, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Boston, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Bielinski, Stefan 2002 Albany Population. The People of Colonial Albany Web Site. New York State Museum, Albany. <http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/welcome.html>.Accessed 27 Dec. 2004.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Buchan, William 1785 Domestic Medicine, 2nd ed. Scholar’s Showcase, Riverside, CA. Originally published in London by the Royal Society in 1769 <http://www.americanrevolution.org/medicine.html>. Accessed 27 Dec. 2004.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2006a Fact Sheet: Ascaris Infection. Division of Parasitic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Atlanta, GA <http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/ascaris/factsht_ascaris.htm>. Accessed 9 Mar.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2006b Taeniasis: PDPx-Lab Assistance. Division of Parasitic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Atlanta, GA <http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/Taeniasis.htm>. Accessed 9 Mar.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2006c Trichuriasis: PDPx-Lab Assistance. Division of Parasitic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Atlanta, GA <http://www.dpd.cdc.gov/dpdx/HTML/Trichuriasis.htm>. Accessed 9 Mar.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Crompton, D. W. T. 1994 Ascaris lumbricoides. In Parasitic and Infectious Diseases, Marilyn E. Scott and Gary Smith, editors, pp. 175–195. Academic Press, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Danckaerts, Jasper 1996 Journal of a Voyage to New York and a Tour in Several of the American Colonies in 1679–1680. In Mohawk Country, Early Narratives about a Native People, Dean R. Snow, Charles T. Gehring, and William A. Starna, editors, pp. 193–220. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Davis, Nancy 2003 The Cultural Landscape at the Site of the Lutheran Church Lot and Burial Ground. In People, Places, and Material Things: Historical Archaeology of Albany, New York, Charles L. Fisher, editor, pp. 71–81. New York State Museum Bulletin, No. 499, University of the State of New York, State Education Department, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Davis, Robert 1820 Citizens Rights and Free Trade. Robert Davis, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Duffy, John 1968 A History of Public Health in New York City, 1625–1866. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Duffy, John 1993 Health, Sanitation, and Foodways in Historical Archaeology: Commentary. Historical Archaeology 27(2):2–5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Emsley, John 1986 When the Empire Struck Lead. New Scientist 25(Dec./Jan.):64–67.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Fisher, Charles L. 2003 Trace Elements and Stable Isotope Analysis of the Human Remains from the Lutheran Church Lot. In People, Places and Material Things: Historical Archaeology of Albany, New York, Charles L. Fisher, editor, pp. 63–68. New York State Museum Bulletin, No. 499, University of the State of New York, State Education Department, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Fisher, Charles L. 2004 Draft Cultural Resources Survey Report for PIN 1753.58.121, Pearl Street Reconstruction Part I: Archaeological Mitigation Report, City of Albany, New York. Report to New York State Department of Transportation, Albany, from Cultural Resources Survey Program, New York State Museum, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Geismar, Joan H. 1993 Where is the Night Soil? Thoughts on an Urban Privy. Historical Archaeology 27(2):57–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gonçalves, Marcelo L., Adauto Araújo, R. Duarte, J. Pereira da Silva, Karl J. Reinhard, Françoise Bouchet, and Luiz Fernando Ferreira 2002 Detection of Giardia duodenalis Antigen in Coprolites Using a Commercially Available Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay. The Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 96(6):640–643.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gonçalves, Marcelo L., V. L. da Silva, C. M. de Andrade, Karl J. Reinhard, G. D. da Rocha, Mattieu Le Bailly, Françoise Bouchet, Luiz Fernando Ferreira, and Adauto Araújo 2004 Amoebiasis Distribution in the Past: First Steps Using an Immunoassay Technique. The Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 98(2): 88–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hackett, David G. 1991 Rude Hand of Innovation: Religion and Social Order in Albany, New York 1652–1836. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Hanson, James A. 2004 Bad Medicine: Medical Knowledge and Practice of the Upper Missouri Fur Trade. Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly 40(3):2–20.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Hartgen Archeological Associates, Inc. (HAA) 2002a At the River’s Edge: Two-Hundred-Fifty Years of Albany History. Data Retrieval, SUCF Parking Structure, Maiden Lane, Albany, New York. Report to State University Construction Fund, State University Plaza, Albany, NY, from Hartgen Archeological Associates, Rensselaer, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Hartgen Archeological Associates, Inc. (HAA) 2002b On the Outside Looking in: Four Centuries of Change at 625 Broadway, Archeology at the DEC Headquarters, 625 Broadway, Albany, New York. Report to The Picotte Companies, Corporate Woods Boulevard, Albany, NY, from Hartgen Archeological Associates, Rensselaer, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Hartgen Archeological Associates, Inc. (HAA) 2002c Phase IB/III Archeological Investigations Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge, Maiden Lane, City of Albany, Albany County, New York, Volume I: Archeology. Report to Harrison and Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Glenmont, NY, from Hartgen Archeological Associates, Rensselaer, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Howell, George R., and Jonathan Tenney (editors) 1886 History of the County of Albany, New York, from 1609 to 1886. W. W. Munsell & Co. Publishers, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Howson, Jean 1992–1993 The Archaeology of Nineteenth-Century Health and Hygiene at the Sullivan Street Site in New York City. Northeast Historical Archaeology 21–22:137–160.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Huey, Paul R. 1993 Early Albany: Buildings before 1790. In Albany Architecture: A Guide to the City, Diana S. Waite, editor, pp. 21–58. Mount Ida Press, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Huey, Paul R. 2003 Thirty Years of Historical Archaeology in the City of Albany, New York. In People, Places, and Material Things: Historical Archaeology of Albany, New York, Charles L. Fisher, editor, pp. 11–21. New York State Museum Bulletin, No. 499, University of the State of New York, State Education Department, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Johnson, Warren 1996 Journal of Warren Johnson, 1760. In Mohawk Country, Early Narratives about a Native People, Dean R. Snow, Charles T. Gehring, and William A. Starna, editors, pp. 250–273. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Kalm, Pehr [Peter] 1773 Travels into North America, 2nd edition. John Reinhold Forster, translator. Originally published in 2 volumes in 1773 by T. Lowndes, London, England. Online facsimile edition created in 2003 by Wisconsin Historical Society and National History Day, <http://www.americanjourneys.org/aj-032>. Accessed 27 Dec. 2004.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Kammen, Michael 1975 Colonial New York. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kellar, Jane Carpenter, Ellen Miller, and Paul Stambach (compilers and editors) 1986 Cure for Worms of Van Rensselaer, Elizabeth (1799–1835). On the Score of Hospitality, Selected Receipts of a Van Rensselaer Family Albany, New York 1785–1835, revised edition. Historic Cherry Hill, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Kelso, Gerald K. 1999 Report on Pollen Analysis of Soil Profiles at Howard Street and Norton Street, Pearl Street Reconstruction Project, Albany, NY. Manuscript, Cultural Resource Survey Program, New York State Museum, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Lain, Andrea, and Martin Solano 2003 The People of the Albany Almshouse. Paper presented at the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, Lowell, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Larkin, Jack 1988 The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790–1840. Harper & Row, New York, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Liebs, Chester 1971 A Documentary History of Early Waterworks and Water Supply Technology in the City of Albany, 1793–1850. Manuscript, New York State Library, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Lord, Philip, Jr. 2003 The Navigators: A Journal of Passage on the Inland Waterways of New York (1793). New York State Museum Bulletin, No. 498, University of the State of New York, State Education Department, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  48. LoRusso, Mark S., and Karen van Wagenen 1990 A Cultural Resource Survey Report of Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research, Summer Boiler Project and Virus Building Demolition, City of Albany, Albany County, for the New York State Office of General Services. Manuscript, Division of Research and Collections, New York State Museum, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Mahar, Louis J. 1981 Statistics for Microfossil Concentration Measurements Employing Samples Spiked with Marker Grains. Review of Paleobotany and Palynology 32(2–3): 153–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. McCarthy, John P., and Jeanne A. Ward 2000 Sanitation Practices, Depositional Processes, and Interpretive Contexts of Minneapolis Privies. Historical Archaeology 34(1):11–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Moore, P. D. 1981 Life Seen from a Medieval Latrine. Nature 294(17): 614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Mrozowski, Stephen A. 1993 The Dialectics of Historical Archaeology in a Post-Processual World. Historical Archaeology 27(2): 106–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Munsell, Joel 1858 Annals of Albany, Vol. 9. Munsell & Rowland, Printers, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Munsell, Joel 1871 Collections on the History of Albany, Vol. 4. Joel Munsell, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Munsell, Joel 1876 Men and Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago. Joel Munsell’s Sons, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Peña, Elizabeth S., and Jacqueline Denmon 2000 The Social Organization of a Boardinghouse: Archaeological Evidence from the Buffalo Waterfront. Historical Archaeology 34(1):79–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Phillips, Shawn 2003 Skeletal Analysis of the Human Remains from the Lutheran Church Lot, 1670–1816. In People, Places, and Material Things: Historical Archaeology of Albany, New York, Charles L. Fisher, editor, pp. 57–62. New York State Museum Bulletin, No. 499, The University of the State of New York, State Education Department, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Pike, A. W. 1975 Parasite Eggs: The Organic Content of Cesspit Soil from Southampton, and Their Significance for the Archaeologist and Biologist. In Excavation in Medieval Southampton 1953–1969, C. Platt and R. Colemen-Smith, editors, pp. 347–348. Leicester University Press, Leicester, England.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Reinhard, Karl J. 1990 Archaeoparasitology in North America. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 82(2):145–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Reinhard, Karl J. 1994 Sanitation and Parasitism at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Historical Archaeology 28(4):62–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Reinhard, Karl J. 2000a Archaeoparasitology of Features from the 40 Howard Street site, Albany, New York. Manuscript, Hartgen Archeological Associates, Troy, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Reinhard, Karl J. 2000b Archaeoparasitology of Features from the Picotte-DEC site, Albany, New York. Manuscript, Hartgen Archeological Associates, Troy, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Reinhard, Karl J. 2000c Archaeoparasitology of Features from the SUCF site, Albany, New York. Manuscript, Hartgen Archeological Associates, Troy, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Reinhard, Karl J. 2000d Parasitic Disease at Five Points: Parasitological Analysis of Sediments from the Courthouse Block. In Tales of Five Points: Working-Class Life in Nineteenth-Century New York, Volume II, An Interpretive Approach to Understanding Working-Class Life, Rebecca Yamin, editor, pp. 391–404. John Milner Associates, West Chester, PA.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Reinhard, Karl J. 2001 Archaeoparasitological Analysis of Sediments from the Pearl Street Excavations, Albany, New York. Manuscript, Cultural Resource Survey Program, New York State Museum, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Reinhard, Karl J. 2002a Archaeoparasite Analysis of Sediments from the Albany River Walk, Albany, New York. In Phase IB/III Archeological Investigations Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge, Maiden Lane, City of Albany, Albany County, New York, Volume I: Archeology. Appendix 4. Report to Harrison and Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Glenmont, NY, from Hartgen Archeological Associates, Rensselaer, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Reinhard, Karl J. 2002b Archaeoparasite Analysis of Sediments from the Niagara-Mohawk Power Corporations State Street Site, the Quackenbush Square Parking Garage Site, and the Court of Appeals Site. Manuscript, Hartgen Archeological Associates, Troy, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Reinhard, Karl J., Adauto Araújo, Luiz Fernando Ferriera, and Bernd Herrmann 1986 Recovery of Parasite Remains from Coprolites and Latrines: Aspects of Paleoparasitological Technique. Homo 37(4):217–239.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Reinhard, Karl J., Stephen A. Mrozowski, and K. A. Orloski 1986 Privies, Pollen, Parasites and Seeds: A Biological Nexus in Historic Archaeology. MASCA Journal 4(1):31–36.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Roberts, Daniel G., and David Barrett 1984 Nightsoil Practices of the Nineteenth Century and the Origin of Artifacts in Plowzone Proveniences. Historical Archaeology 18(1):108–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Rómer, Colonel Wolfgang W. 1698 Plan of the City of Albany. New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Rosenswig, Robert M. 1999 Nineteenth-Century Urbanism and Public Health: The Evidence of Twelve Privies in Albany, New York. Northeastern Anthropology 58:27–45.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Shafer, Levi 1849 Entezoa: Intestinal Worms. Candidate for Degree of Doctor of Medicine, Albany Medical College, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Sidell, Nancy Asch 1999 Report of Seed Analysis from the Privy and Pit Features Found at Howard Street, Pearl Street Reconstruction Project, Albany, New York. Manuscript, Cultural Resources Survey Program, New York State Museum, Albany, NY.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Stephenson, Lani S. 1980 The Contribution of Ascaris Lumbricoides to Malnutrition in Children. Parasitology 81:221–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Stephenson, Lani S. 1987 The Impact of Helminth Infections on Human Nutrition, Schistosomes and Soil-Transmitted Helminths. Taylor & Francis, London, England.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Stephenson, Lani S. 1994 Helminth Parasites, a Major Factor in Malnutrition. World Health Forum 15:169–172.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Tarr, Joel A., J. McCurley III, F. C. McMichael, and T. Yosie 1984 Water and Wastes: A Retrospective of Wastewater Technology in the United States, 1800–1932. Technology and Culture 25(2):226–263.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Veit, Richard 1996 “A Ray of Sunshine in the Sickroom”:Archaeological Insights into Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Medicine and Anesthesia. Northeast Historical Archaeology 25:33–50.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Warnock, P., and Karl J. Reinhard 1992 Methods of Extracting Pollen and Parasite Eggs from Latrine Soils. Journal of Archaeological Science 19(3): 261–264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Yamin, Rebecca (editor) 2000 Tales of Five Points: Working-Class Life in Nineteenth-Century New York, Volume II. An Interpretive Approach to Understanding Working-Class Life. John Milner Associates, West Chester, PA.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Young, James Harvey 1961 The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 2002, Quackwatch by Stephen Barrett, MD <http://www.quackwatch.org/13Hx/TM00.html>.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Charles L. Fisher.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fisher, C.L., Reinhard, K.J., Kirk, M. et al. Privies and Parasites: The Archaeology of Health Conditions in Albany, New York. Hist Arch 41, 172–197 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03377301

Download citation