This piece was written to explore the history and importance of the harbour system, manned by predominately minority communities and its historical contribution to the development of healthcare as a whole. As a current first-year medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he also formerly worked as a dockworker, I am passionate about exploring a relationship between medicine and the port system.
The gradual generation of commerce, immigration and pillars of civilization have historically stemmed from the convenience and generosity of the seas. As Sir William Osler himself stemmed from a familial line of seafarers and naval captains, he was no stranger to the charity of the port system. Born to a country that boldly mottos A mari usque ad mare (from sea to sea), he has been cited as crossing the Atlantic at least thirty-two times, many of these excursions as an effort to study and spread his ideals of international medical societies. One of these journeys included his befriending of the ship’s surgeon Francis Vernon, to establish the satirical North Atlantic Medical Society that authored Osler’s paper on “sea, sleep and obesity: a statistical inquiry” for submission to the volume of MedicoNautical Studies.
Before the ports, the original inhabitants of the southeast Texas coast are claimed to be the indigenous Karankawa hunter-gatherer tribe, noted for their impeccable dugout canoes and sea traveling abilities. It is theorized that the epidemic of smallpox swept across indigenous lands of Texas from its origin with the Karankawa tribe’s initial contact of the first recognized port of Galveston established in 1816 by French explorer Louis-Michel Aury. The introduction of disease through the harbours did not stop with smallpox, yellow fever followed in 1839 through the influx of immigration, followed by the bubonic plague of 1920 that led the city to declare war on rats brought from cargo, and most recently COVID-19 and its introduction through cruise terminals and commerce.
It is greatly in part of the ports that it was decided to build a medical institution on the island specializing in infectious diseases. Furthermore, the port-medical relationship has been seen extending beyond infectious disease, one example as the overturning of Roe v. Wade has sparked speculation of legal abortions outside federal waters. It is imperative to not neglect the trend of medical underlying in the history of the port system and examine how humanity will adapt upon its influence.