Drapetomania is a conjectural mental illness. It is a term derived in the slave days and was used to describe the disease in which the symptoms were a slave that was addicted to escaping slavery.
It is also described as the overwhelming urge to run away from either a bad situation or responsibilities.
In 1851, an American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright hypothesized it as the cause of enslaved Africans fleeing captivity, since then it has since been debunked as pseudoscience and part of the edifice of scientific racism.
The worxy was derived from the Greek terms, δραπέτης (drapetes, “a runaway [slave]”) and μανία (mania, “madness, frenzy”).
However, in late1914, the third edition of Thomas Lathrop Stedman’s Practical Medical Dictionary included an entry for drapetomania and defined it as “Vagabondage, dromomania; an uncontrollable or insane impulsion to wander.”
Cartwright described the disorder as “unknown to our medical authorities”. Although its diagnostic symptom is absconding from service.
The Pyhysician stated that the malady was a consequence of masters who “made themselves too familiar with slaves by treating them as equals”.
He stressed that if the slaves were treated kindly, well-fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night; if they are separated into families with each family having its own house and not permitted to run about at night to visit their neighbors, to receive visitors or use intoxicating liquors; and not overworked or exposed too much to the weather; if the slaves are easily governed more so than any other people in the world or they are treated like children; it would prevent and cure them from running away.
PREVENTION AND REMEDY
In addition to his discovery of drapetomania, Cartwright prescribed a remedy. He felt that with “proper medical advice and if followed strictly, the bothersome practice that several Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented.
However, as a remedy for the “disease”, doctors made running a physical impossibility by prescribing the removal of both big toes in the case of slaves “sulky and dissatisfied without cause”, a warning sign of imminent flight Cartwright prescribed as “whipping the devil out of them” as a “preventative measure”.
While Cartwright’s article was reprinted in the South, it was widely mocked in the northern parts of the United States. In 1856, a renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, observed that it has become a usual attitude for white indentured servants to flee as well, so he sarcastically hypothesized that the supposed disease was truly of white European origin, and had been introduced to Africa by traders.