Leonard Trask

Leonard Trask: The Wonderful Invalid
The First American Description of Ankylosing Spondylitis


June 30, 1805 – April 13, 1861


I have waited a long time to add this Face to the website, 6 years, 2 months and 24 days to be exact.

The reason I chose this number to honor him is because in 1858 a book titled A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask The Wonderful Invalid was printed and published by David Tucker. It eventually became the official first written documented case of Ankylosing Spondylitis in the United States of America.
In my research about Ankylosing Spondylitis many years ago I came across the information about Mr. Trask who was called the Wonderful Invalid.

I ordered his book and read it within an hour, a lifetime of suffering and devastation documented in 48 pages, it was both inspiring and heartbreaking to me.

This is a small part taken from the original book:

In 1858, David Tucker published a small booklet which clearly described a patient by the name of Leonard Trask who suffered from severe spinal deformity subsequent to AS.$[10]$ In 1833 Trask fell from horse exacerbating the condition and resulting in severe deformity. Tucker reported that “it was not until he [Trask] had exercised for some time that he could perform any labor” and that “his neck and back have continued to curve drawing his head downward on his breast”, evidence of inflammatory disease characteristics of AS, and the hallmark of deforming injury in AS. This account became the first documented case of AS in the United States.

I want to share a poem that Mr. Leonard wrote that was included in the book.


To My Patrons

Ye favored thousands of our happy land,
Who, blest with health with peace and competence,
Before your fellows hale, erect can stand,
Enjoying all the sweets of ever sense.

While your fair brows, you heavenward raise with ease,
Beholding all the bustling scenes around,
And me, unshapely, bow’d with dire disease,
My vision stinted, all my frame unsound.

With thankfulness, with gratitude and praise
To Him, whose watchful eye is over all,
Your hearts, your mind, your voice to Heaven raise,
That my misfortune did you not befall.

And while your limbs are hale and fee from pain,
Health blooming, your companion, night and day,
At poverty repine not, nor complain,
Though gold and riches lie not in your way.

Would you, who thirst for wealth or power desire,
When you my uncouth form and sufferings see,
Your longing to gratify, retire
From the hale circle, and exchange with me?

Would all the gold, which California yields,
Tempt you to take my form, and aching head?
Or all the wealth that reaped on India’s field?
If not, reflect, how poor I am, indeed!

Would you, whose coffers gold and silver fill,
Whose income yearly, hundred thousand tell,
Choose rather, if the choice were at your will,
Become like me, or all your wealth expel?

If you all wealth would banish from your sight…
Would health and form preserve, what e’er they cost;
By this crierian, exercised aright,
You may appreciate what I have lost.

I would not, friends, excite your mirth or glee,
Nor down your cheeks induce the tears to roll,
Unless those tears again could gathered be,
To the calm fountain of the tranquil soul;

And there excite the peaceful, quiet mind
To resignation, placid, sweet content,
And gratitude to heaven, good and kind,
Who, to your lot, has better fortune sent.

Yet, think not, while affliction’s cruel hand
Presses me down, and holds unyielding sway,
That I, a human, living wonder stand,
Stoic in soul, with heart as cold as clay:

With joy, I often look to the heaven above,
Thank God for mercies and benignant care,
Rejoice, that through his kind and tender love,
I, still so many earthly blessings share.

I thank Him that the hearts of men are kind,
That while I live and wander here below,
So many sympathizing friends I find,
Such friendly treatment, too, where’er I go.

I’m thankful, too, that woman’s angel heart,
The same in every clime, in every land,
In sorrow’s vestry, always acts its part,
To raise the object with a tender hand.

Though gay and sportive, as a fairy queen,
How soon she melts at the scenes of bitter woe!
Down her fair cheeks, my eyes have often seen,
The crystal fountain of hear heart, so flow.

I’ve seen her in the village—in the town,
In crowded streets, and marked the silent tear.
I’ve met her sigh, but ne’er her haughty frown,
Her words unpleasant, never greet my ear.

In towns or cities, little children kind,
Treat not the cripple scornfully nor rude;
Among them, many precious friends I find,
With minds and hearts, like little angels good.

They look with wonder, pity and surprise,
Nor insult, to my sorrows, ever add;
From them, no shouts of ridicule arise;
Their kindness, too, has oft my heart made glad.

Through many a seeming long, and tedious year,
Such torture racked my mortal, shattered frame.
That grateful, thankful—even joy sincere
I feel, at relaxation of my pain.

In resignation there is joy and peace,
Whate’er my lot, whata’er my form may be;
Faith, Hope, and Charity those joys increase,
And soothe my mind in dark adversity.

In that celestial bright and happy land,
Beyond the vale of sorrow, pain and tears,
Where I, erect in glory, hope to stand,
In faith and hope, the future bright appears.

I thank you kindly, sympathizing friends—
Your favors, your kind patronage implore;
On these alone, my earthly weal depends—
Farewell: — and peace be with you evermore.

Leonard Trask

(Please excuse any mistakes you may find, I did my best to type it correctly word per word)

Leonard Trask was born on June 20, 1805, in Hartford, Maine, the son of Osborn Trask, a prosperous farmer who taught his children to work diligently. Leonard learned his lessons well.

As a teenager, Leonard worked on his father’s farm, but as a young adult he began his industrious activities. He moved to Carthage to make bricks at $11.50 a month. He returned to Hartford to build a stone wall 100 rods long in eight weeks for $100. With his earnings he bought a pair of oxen for $50 and sold them for $55. He went to Byron, Maine to work as a logger for $12 a month for 2 1/2 months, then on to Massachusetts where he worked as a logger for $13 a month for one year and $18 a month for the next year, always increasing his wages.

Upon returning to Maine the next year, he bought a parcel of land on the west side of Worthley Pond in the town of Peru. He contracted someone to build him a barn one year and a house the following summer, where he and his bride, Eunice Knight, whom he married in 1830, settled down to raise a family.

They lived well, enjoying prosperity and their children until 1833. One day when he was riding horseback, he encountered a hog that became frightened and rushed directly under the horse’s hoofs. The horse stumbled and plunged, throwing Mr. Trask directly over its head. Mr.Trask was thrown onto the ground, landing forcefully on his neck and shoulders. It was at least two months before he was able to do light work, and then only in great pain. He could work no more than an hour at a time before he needed to rest.

The next year he improved, but his cattle suffered from a disease known as murrain, and his stock dwindled considerably. He was now no longer a prosperous farmer and needed to return to the hard labor of logging.

The next winter he went with a crew of men to work at a location twelve miles into the woods from the nearest dwelling. They traveled through four feet of snow, but could not find the camp. They spent the next two nights out in the open around a campfire. They spent the third night on cots made from bows under a low shelter of trees before they found the camp.

Because of this adventure, his spinal problems increased. He could not get off his bunk without the use of a rope to pull himself up. He ate his meals walking around a stump.

Before his accident, Mr. Trask stood 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighed 199 pounds. By 1835, two years after his accident, his neck and shoulders began curving forward. In 1840, he fell from a load of hay, breaking his collar bone and four ribs, which brought on a fever and further curving of his spine.

One day a loud snapping noise came from his upper spine, caused by the separation of his neck and back, therefore causing further curving of his head forward and downward. In 1857, he measured 4 feet 10 1/2 inches tall at the highest point of his shoulders, and weighed 134 pounds.

By this time the curvature of his spine was so pronounced that he was looking directly at his chest and could see no more than two or three feet in front of him without leaning back.


Item Contributed by
Peru Historical Society
Over the years he saw 21 physicians who dealt with all kinds of specialties. He endured all types of horrendous treatments, including blood-letting with blood suckers, and trying to stretch his body. He tried selling some of his homemade products, but gave it up because his appearance was so startling that he frightened women and children. Showmen wanted to hire him as a curiosity at their shows, but he refused. Even then he refused to become a pauper of the town.

A historian, Sumner R. Newell, Esq., wrote a short book titled, A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid. Trask went with his biographer to New York where they sold the booklets for fifteen cents each. The sight of Mr. Trask caused much curiosity, and they sold many of the booklets, but not enough to pay their expenses or produce much of a profit.

According to Mr. Newell’s short biography of Mr. Trask, in 1858, while traveling by a coach that cornered too sharply, Leonard and his traveling companions were thrown about very roughly. He hit his head on a broken iron projection on the coach door, opening a five inch gash, with a piece of iron penetrating his skull. This further deformed his spine, pushing his chin into his chest, causing breathing problems.

He was bedridden the last two weeks of his life and died in 1861.

In 2011 one of the members of the Peru Historical Society received a telephone call from David Caldwell-Evans of London, requesting information about Leonard Trask. This information was sent to him. In February of 2013 a letter was received from Mr. Caldwell-Evans explaining his interest.

Leonard Trask (June 30, 1805 – April 13, 1861)[1] [2]  was an American who suffered from a “contortion of neck and spine” during his late 20s after an accident while horse riding, which led to Trask becoming a medical curiosity. After numerous attempts at a cure, several further accidents resulting from his condition, and a loss of employment and mobility, Trask (by then earning small amounts of money as a curiosity) published an account of his condition which further increased his renown. His condition remained unsolved upon his death, but he was subsequently diagnosed post mortem with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).[1] [3]



Early life and injuries




He was once an athletic and muscular man—symmetrical in person—broad chest and shoulders—erect in form, and stately in his movements, presenting to the eye a picture of health and strength. That symmetry has now departed, those once powerful muscles have become feeble—that agile step falters—and a mere wreck is all that remains of the physical man! His extraordinary sufferings—his accidental deformity—his rigid spine, and bowed head—the result of injury and disease.[4]

An account of Trask’s condition, from the 1860 account in A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid.

Trask was born in June 1805 in Hartford, Maine. In 1833, while in his late 20s—having spent his life thus far as a farm hand—he was involved in an accident in which a pig ran under the hooves of his horse, causing it to buck and throw Trask to the ground. Landing on his neck, Trask was severely injured, and spent “several days” crawling back to his home.[1]  Over subsequent years, despite great pain and spending months confined to his bed, Trask continued to work. During this time, his spine “began to curve, and he began to bow forward.”[1]  By 1858, Trask had seen up to 22 doctors regarding a cure, with various attempts all ending in failure. David Tucker published that year a small booklet which described Trask as suffering from severe spinal deformity.[5]  The 1833 fall from a horse exacerbated the condition and resulted in severe deformity. Tucker reported:


“ It was not until he [Trask] had exercised for some time that he could perform any labor […, and that] his neck and back have continued to curve drawing his head downward on his breast. ”


Trask’s injury had further been exacerbated in 1840 when he fell into a load of hay, and in 1853 when he was thrown from his wagon, breaking his collar bone and four of his ribs.[1]  On May 24, 1858, he was involved in a third incident, where, while traveling in a coach which took a corner too sharply, he and a number of other passengers were thrown to the ground. Trask’s head impacted with an iron projection on the coach door, opening a wound “which parted the scalp, opening a gash in his head five inches long, and penetrating to the skull bone.”[6]  Despite the severity of the injury, which further deformed his spine, pushing his chin into his chest to the extent that it hampered breathing, and despite being told he would be dead by morning, Trask recovered and was able to walk again.[7]


Career as the Invalid




I thank you kindly, sympathizing friends- Your favours, your kind patronage implore; On these alone my earthly weal depends- Farewell—and peace be with you evermore.[8]

Trask’s final message in his account, in the form of a poem address to the reader of A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid.

Trask was now severely disabled. His wife nursed him, as he was unable to navigate—not being able to see more than a short distance in front of him without leaning backwards.[1]  Trask thus sought to earn a living from his disability in order to sustain his wife and seven children.[1]  This included the production and sale of numerous documents and items which survive for historical analysis,[1]  including the self-published A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid in 1860, for which Trask had traveled to Maine’s District Court to produce.[9]  It contains numerous accounts of Trask’s activities, such as “Mr. Trask in Pursuit of Fuel” and “Mr Trask at the Circus”.[10]  During all Trask is referred to as ‘Mr. T.’ His account became the first documented case of AS in the United States.





  1. “Leonard Trask: “The Wonderful Invalid””. Show History. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  2. http://allthingsmaine.blogspot.com/2009/09/leonard-trask-wonderful-invalid.html
  3. Jayson MI (March 2003). “Leonard Trask: the wonderful invalid: the first American description of ankylosing spondylitis”. Rheumatology. British Society for Rheumatology. 48 (3): 612–613. doi:10.1002/art.10875. PMID 12632411.
  4. Trask, p. 4-5.
  5. “Life and sufferings of Leonard Trask” (PDF). Ankylosing Spondylitis Information Matrix.
  6. Trask, p. 46-47.
  7. Trask, p. 48.
  8. Trask, p. 45.
  9. Trask, p. 1-2.
  10. Trask, 38-41.



  • Curtis, Heather D. (2007). Faith in the Great Physician. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8686-4. OCLC 85899018.
  • Trask, Leonard (1858). A Brief Historical Sketch of the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Trask, the Wonderful Invalid. Portland, Maine: Tucker. OCLC 271223702.
  • Williamson, Joseph (1896). A Bibliography of the State of Maine from the Earliest Period to 1891. Maine Historical Society. Portland, Maine: Thurston. OCLC 1720036.

Gravetone of Leonard Trask in Oldham Cemetery in Peru, Oxford County, Maine.



One Response to “Leonard Trask”

  1. Thank you for being such an amazing testament of courage and grace in dealing with such a horrific disease during a time that allowed you no relief but pure determination to continue on. You are indeed a Wonderful Example… May you rest in peace.

    With admiration, appreciation and respect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: