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ISLAND HISTORY: 19th century Kaua‘i medical doctor James W. Smith

Dr. James W. Smith, Kaua‘i’s only medical doctor for much of the 19th century, was born in Connecticut in 1810, educated at the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, and sailed to Hawai‘i from Boston with the “Tenth Company” of American missionaries, arriving on Kaua‘i with his wife, Melicent, in 1842.

For many years afterward, Dr. Smith was Kaua‘i’s only doctor, on call day and night, and it was a familiar and reassuring sight to see him dressed in his distinctive black frock coat, riding his horse over rough trails on his way to treat the sick and injured at villages scattered to the farthest ends of the island.

At his office in Koloa, the shelves and cabinets were stocked with old-fashioned medicines like ipecac, elixir vitnol, tartar emetic, calomel, alum and camphor.

And, on the floor stood a big barrel of haueli, or Hawaiian salts, used to treat a variety of ailments and very popular with Hawaiians.

Dr. Smith may have been Kaua‘i’s only medical doctor, but he was not alone on Kaua‘i in preparing medicines and treating patients, for Hawaiian kahuna lapa‘au practiced their healing methods also, and their practices were sometimes superior to Smith’s.

Eric Knudsen, Kaua‘i’s “Teller of Tales,” said that when his father, Valdemar Knudsen, had broken his wrist at Waiawa, Smith told him that he could not set the bone for a day or two, until the swelling went down.

However, when an old Hawaiian man followed up by wrapping pounded koali roots around Valdemar’s wrist, the swelling subsided in only three hours and Smith was able to set the bone soon afterward.

While continuing his medical practice, Smith became the Rev. Dr. Smith in 1854, when he was ordained and installed as pastor of Koloa Church, with the Rev. Samuel Kaho‘okui, a blind preacher, assisting him in his clerical duties.

In 1859, Smith built a new church on Po‘ipu Road, where the Assembly of God Church is now situated.

Dr. and Mrs. Smith had nine children.

On Nov. 30, 1887, after a lifetime of service to others, Dr. Smith passed away.
Source: The Garden Island

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