John Linnaeus Edward Whitridge Shecut was born to Huguenot parents in Beaufort, 1770. His father, Abraham Shecut, and his mother, Marie (Barbary) Shecut, had fled the religious persecution of France to settle in Switzerland, only to be lured across the Atlantic by South Carolina's reputation as a safe haven for French Protestants. In 1779 they resettled again, perhaps prompted by the upheaval of American Revolution, to the capitol of Charles Town.
Little is known of Shecut's early years, other than that he was fortunate to have as a friend of the family one of that's era most celebrated physicians, Dr. David Ramsay. Under Ramsay's tutelage Shecut studied medicine. In his early adulthood he left Charleston to attend the College of Philadelphia. For unknown reasons Shecut returned back to Charleston at the age of 21, without having secured a degree.
The lack of an M.D. did not prevent his practice of medicine, and he was still referred to as Dr. Shecut. He was one of the first physicians in Charleston to experiment with the use of electricity in treatment of diseases, fevers, melancholy, and a host of other ailments. Shecut also dabbled as an apothecary; owning drug stores on King and Queen Street.
Most medical practitioners of that period expressed some level of interest in the field of botany. Shecut was no exception; botany developed into one of his most enduring passions. In 1806 his Flora Carolinaeenis, or a Historical, Medical, and Economical Display of the Vegetable Kingdom according to the Vegetable Kingdom according to the Linnaean or Sexual System of Botany was released. This was intended to be a comprehensive catalog of plants, which would also outline their medicinal properties, and would yet remain usable to the layman.
In 1819 Shecut reflected;
"In 1806, conceiving an era favorable to botany, the author complied andpublished ...a series of numbers on botany entitled 'Flora Carolinaeenis',in honor of his native state.This work was honored with a numerous patronage, and was continued to the completion of a volume of seven numbers; at which he was compelled to relinquish the undertaking with the loss of twenty months close devotion to its progress, and also, of 1800 dollars and upwards."
Shecut made have found a popular audience, but the professional reviews were less than kind. One acidic reviewer found Shecut's writing "ponderous." A later medical reviewer was much kinder. Dr. Gee, in the early 20th century, expressed admiration at the scope of Shecut's project, calling it one of the most extensive works on S.C. plant life ever published.
Shecut had a wide range of interest, including literature, history and geography. This is evident in a 1819 medical treatises, in which he opens with a systematic overview of Charleston, creating one of the first tour guides of the Holy City. He was also a driving force for the S.C. Homespun Society, an early but short-lived cotton plant along the Ashley River in Charleston. In 1813 Shecut helped to organize the influential Antiquarian Society of Charleston, later the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina; an organization dedicated the collection and preservation of natural history specimens.
Shecut died in Charleston in the year 1836. While the name John L.E.W. Shecut may be faintly remembered in the 21st century, his influence can been clearly seen in the successive generation of doctors, botanists and even tour guides who refer to and study his work.
Michael D. Coker is a Charleston native, published author, and licensed tour guide. He has worked in local museums for 15 years, and has developed a reputation for his extensive knowledge of history. You can reach Michael by email by clicking on the links above.