Mary Johnson Could Cure ‘Cancer’ in Colonial Virginia

Dateline: Virginia, 3 and 9 December 1748: She had testimonials of her cures. Doctors of the day were baffled. She appeared before the House of Burgesses to prove her claims. What did the Burgesses think?

Committeeman Mr. Ludwell petitioned the House in behalf of Ms. Mary Johnson to hear her remarkable claims. Ms. Johnson is called the petitioner in this hearing..

The date is Saturday 3 December 1748.

Modern transcription begins:

Mr. Ludwell, from the Committee to whom the petition of MARY JOHNSON, offering to communicate to the public her method for curing cancers for a reward, was committed, reported:

That the Committee had examined into and heard several persons upon the matter thereof:

Whereupon it appeared that one WILLIAM BURRUS had been fourteen years afflicted with an ulcer, which according to his description thereof was a cancer; that he applied to one DR. COMRIE to cure the same, who could not effect it;

And that DR. ABNEY afterwards attempted it with as little success;

That sometimes afterwards DR. WHARTON of King William [County] took him under his care and kept him ne year, but could not do him any service;

That DR. SEYMOUR of Gloucester [County] confessed that he thought the cancer was incurable;

That sometimes afterwards in the month of April the said BURRUS applied to and put himself under the management of the petitioner with whom he remained until October following and in that time the said cancer was completely eradicated, and he perfectly cured it.

That one MARY PRICE, having a cancer on her knee, applied to the petitioner, and after being with her about seven or eight months was likewise healed;

And that several others persons effected with the same malady have been attended with the like success and had come to a Resolution thereupon;

Which he read in his place and then delivered in at the Table where the same was again read and agreed to by the House as follows:

Resolved, that the said petitioner ought to be rewarded if she will communicate to the public her method of curing cancers

A motion being made,

Resolved, that the sum of one hundred pounds be paid out of the public money in the hands of the treasurer to Mary Johnson as a reward for discovering her method of curing cancers, upon her producing a certificate from under the hands of PHILIP LUDWELL, RICHARD BLAND, AND ANTHONY WALKE, Gent., or any two of them, who are by this House appointed to make an experiment of the efficacy of the medicine that shall be by the said MARY JOHNSON to them communicated of their approbation thereof.

Ordered that Mr. Ludwell do carry the Resolve to the Council for their concurrence.

Transcription ends.

Then the House decided on the matter on Friday 9 December 1748.

Transcription begins:

The House proceeded to the consideration of the Amendment proposed by the Council to the Resolve for paying MARY JOHNSON 100£ for the discovery of the method of curing cancers; and the same was read and agreed to by the House.

Ordered, that Mr. Ludwell do go up with a message to the Council and acquaint them that this House have agreed to the Amendment by them proposed to the said Resolve.

Transcription ends.

It is clear that the Virginians back then broadened the definition of cancer to an ulcer and probably rashes that the doctors of that time said were incurable.

Apparently the Gentlemen appointed by the House investigated her claim and approved of the results. But how did she cure the “cancer”? A salve or ointment? Made of what?

Regardless of the missing details, home and natural remedies are not to be laughed at, until they get thoroughly checked and confirmed or disconfirmed.


Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia 1742-1747, 1748-1749, edited by H. R. McIlwaine (Richmond, 1909).

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