Course Unit | Session 1: Earliest black health practitioners in colonial America

Session 1: Earliest black health practitioners in colonial America


This session focuses on the early Black health practitioners, including those who functioned as nurses, physicians, dentists and herbalists. Some Blacks who were brought to the Americas from Africa through the slave trade had extensive information about the use of herbs and plants for healing purposes and other medical uses. Black African women were skilled in birthing and also in the treatment of illnesses and some functioned as nurses before the era of formal training. Most of the early black practitioners were not formally trained, but some were through formal and informal systems of apprenticeship. Some early advances in medical treatment, such as inoculation for prevention of smallpox originated from Black health practitioners.


  1. List the various roles blacks served as health practitioners in the Old World and upon coming to America
  2. List three major contributions to modern medical and dental practices that historians attribute to black health practitioners
  3. Describe the training black practitioners received and the general outcomes of the care they provided, especially with regard to birthing
  4. Name some of the pioneering women who functioned as nurses and their contributions to this nation