In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson described Virginia's medicinal springs in Query VI, "Productions Mineral, Vegetable and Animal."1 Of the several springs in Virginia, he notes primarily two in Augusta County, the "Warm Spring"and the "Hot Spring."
Jefferson cites the temperature of the warm spring as 96 degrees and that of the hot spring as 112 degrees and comments that "They relieve rheumatisms" and that "Other complaints also of very different natures have been removed or lessened by them."2 He notes that the smell would indicate the water to be "sulphureous, as also does the circumstance of its turning silver black."3
Primary Source References
1787 March 28. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "My journey hitherto has been a very pleasing one. It was undertaken with the hope that the mineral waters of this place might restore strength to my wrist."4
1818 August 7. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "[A]n attack of rheumatism in the knee yesterday, without retarding my journey, affects my walking. I have tried once to-day the delicious bath & shall do it twice a day hereafter."5
1818 August 14. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I wrote to you by our last mail of the 8th having been now here a week & continued to bathe 3 times a day, a quarter of an hour at a time, I continue well, as I was when I came. having no symptom to judge by at what time I may presume the seeds of my rheumatism eradicated, and desirous to prevent the necessity of ever coming here a 2d time, I believe I shall yeild to the general advice of a three weeks course."6
1818 August 21. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I do not know what may be the effect of this course of bathing, on my constitution; but I am under great threats that it will work it’s effect thro’ a system of boils. a large swelling on my seat,increasing for several days past in size and hardness disables me from sitting but on the corner of a chair. another swelling begins to manifest itself to-day1 on the other seat. it happens fortunately that Capt Harris is here in a carriage alone, and proposes to set out on the same day I had intended. he offers me a seat which I shall gladly accept. ... perhaps these swellings may yet disappear, but I have little hope of that."7
1818 September 11. (Jefferson toFrancis Wayles Eppes). "I am lately returned from the warm springs with my health entirely prostrated by the use of the waters. They produced an imposthume and eruptions which with the torment of the journey back reduced me to the last state of weakness and exhaustion. I am getting better, but still obliged to lie night and day in the same reclined posture which renders writing painful."8
1819 July 5. (Jefferson to Henry Dearborn). "I recieved yesterday your favor of June 24. and am very sensible of the interest you so kindly take in my health. the eruptive complaint which came upon me in Aug. last was unquestionably produced by the bath of the warm springs, which I tried on account of rheumatism[.] the cause of the eruption was mistaken, and it was treated with severe unctions of mercury & sulphur. these reduced me to death's door; and on ceasing to use them I recovered immediately, and consider my health as now perfectly re-established, except some small effect on the bowels produced by these remedies and nearly, altho' not entirely, worn off."9
The springs that Thomas Jefferson used at Hot Springs remain active today. The Homestead Resort is located near those springs in Bath County, Virginia.