The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear Sir.

I have not heretofore had [the][B] opportunity of congratulating you on yr appointment, though I can scarcely perceive much room for it, as the giver has received more than the recipient. But to my business; & it is of serious importance, or I would not have had the assurance to trouble you whilst so completely engaged with the arduous duties you have assumed.
The reports of the case I have cut from the Balt Sun from which you can gather the histo[r]y of the assault & also what is expected of me.[2] With the exception of an excess of fluid about the parts of generation there was no evidence to my mind sufficient to prove the actual commission of rape. Now the whole point hinges upon an answer to this question. Was that fluid spermatic or not? The microscope must determine this.[3] If spermatozoa can be found in it, I am free to swear that it is spermatic fluid & that rape was committed. I have placed the fluid under a capital microscope but have not had sufficient Sun light to make an examination which is satisfactory to me. Now the object of this letter is to ascertain wether, if, I should send on part of the linen upon which I have placed a portion of the fluid you would do me the kindness to make an examination of it by the Solar. & Eye. microscopes[4] I am very anxious that this should be done as the life of a human being may probably depend upon it. It will also be another illustration of the powerful application of science & another nut for the anti-cui bono philosphers, to crack—
I would write more, but I do not wish to occupy too much of your valuable time.

With sentiments of respect & affection I remain your Disciple

F. S. Giger
PS. The trial will take place on the 2d of May next, although the examinations should be made next week—
Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] A former student of Henry's, Giger was practicing medicine in Baltimore. Henry Papers, 6:441n.
    [2] Giger was the attending physician in a case in which an African-American male, Horace Wright, was accused of raping Sarah Jane Allen, a teenaged white girl. On February 12, the badly beaten Allen was brought to Giger's office for treatment. Two days later, Wright was arrested. Initially, Wright was charged with assault and attempted rape, but on February 27 the latter charge was changed to rape, presumably on the evidence presented by Giger. On May 28, Wright was released from prison, having been found not guilty. There is no documentation of Henry becoming involved in the case. Baltimore Sun, February 15, 16, 17, March 1, 1847; Case Number 1108, Baltimore City and County Jail, City Criminal Docket, 1832–1853, Maryland State Archives.
    [3] Utilizing a microscope to identify spermatic stains on clothes was a relatively recent innovation. Alfred S. Taylor, Medical Jurisprudence, 4th American from 5th English ed. (Philadelphia, 1856), pp. 511–513.
    [4] A solar microscope projected a magnified image upon a white screen, using sunlight. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 8th ed., s.v. "Microscopes," p. 789. By "Eye. microscope," Giger was probably referring to observing the specimen directly rather than projecting an image.
    [A] Day altered from 19
    [B] Ink blot.