John Summerland was the son of Joseph and Hannah Summerland. He was born in Uttoxeter in May 1767. He has entered historical consciousness through Michael Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation in which Foucault describes Summerland’s treatment at the Quaker Retreat in York for mental illness. Using William Tuke’s description of John Summerland as a being a man of Herculean size and strength, restrained by chains upon arrival and subsequently rehabilitated through Tuke’s treatment, the case is often present as a pivotal moment in the treatment of mental illness. In 2015, however, Jon Mitchell used the archives of the Retreat to present a different image of the ‘wild’ John Summerland, as a man prone to periods of instability, but also a man capable of reasoned thought, contemplation and conversation.
From the correspondence between the Summerland family and the Retreat, it is evident that his father Joseph, his brother William, and his uncle Samuel Botham, all took an active interest in John’s progress organising his admission, funding his stay and hoping that he could gain useful employment as a gardener. Moreover, in his father’s will provision was made for John’s inheritance to be placed in trust. In the correspondence of Samuel Botham it is revealed that John had recently returned to Uttoxeter from America and whilst both in Uttoxeter and in America he had attended Quaker meetings on a regular basis.
Borthwick Institute, University of York, Retreat Archives, RET 1/5/1/7 Correspondence.
Michael Foucault, Madness and Civilisation.
Staffordshire Record Office, BC/11, Will of Joseph Summerland, 29 April 1808; B/C 11, Letters of Administration for William Summerland, Uttoxeter, 13 January 1835.
Jon Mitchell www.blog.wellcomelibrary.org/2015/03/setting-the-record-straight-mania-or-sick-man? accessed 10/07/2016.
www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/92 accessed 11/07/2016.
N.B. This is a work in progress, subject to change as new research is conducted.