1812 Era - Medical Treatments - civilian
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Author:  pud [ Sun Sep 03, 2006 7:45 pm ]
Post subject:  1812 Era - Medical Treatments - civilian

**from the proceedings of the Sixth Annual Niagara Peninsula History Conference, held at Brock University in April, 1984. The topic was: UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS in the NIAGARA PENINSULA.


"Efficacious therapy for serious disease was possible only infrequently in Upper Canada, just as was the case elsewhere. In general medical theory was based upon ideas that were becoming increasingly difficult to uphold, ideas that would be shown to be largely erroneous later in the 19th century. Whether treatment was provided by a family member, a quack or a medical practitioner, it was chiefly empirical. Perhaps the only specific agent was Peruvian Bark, unquestionably effective in controlling attacks of malaria. In Upper Canada, it was the chief disease included under the label of "fever and ague". Therapy was still based on the humoral system and was predicted on the theory that disease was a consequence of the body having either too much or too little of one of the four humours -- blood, phlegm, yellow bile, or black bile. The principal of treatment was to replace the humour that was absent or to reduce the humour present in excess. Most common diseases were thought to represent an excess of humours; so, therapy was commonly depleted: remove blood by bleeding and administer emetics and purgatives. A related theory was that a counter-irritation, whereby an internal disorder was thought to be amenable to either distraction or removal by applying an irritant to the skin; an instance of this sort of treatment was mentioned in the quotation about Smith's son being "tortured with the Cantharides". This substance is more commonly known as Spanish Fly and is extremely irritating, being used to raise a blister on a patient."

"The search for remedies was endless. Every plant was seen as a potential therapeutic agent and a very large number proved to have vigorous, though not necessarily curative, effects upon the human body. The Indians possessed a rich lore of active botanic remedies and these were used regularly by the early Upper Canadians. Elizabeth Simcoe frequently mentions such agents as the Cardinal Flower, which, she had been told, the Indians used medicinally. On one occasion, she writes, when her husband was sick, "Captain Brant's sister [an Indian woman] prescribed a Root---I believe it is Calamus-- which really relieved his Cough in a very short time"."

"Households would attempt to keep a supply of the common necessaries for medicinal purposes since pharmacies and apothecaries were uncommon in the early days. We have some idea of what substances were thought appropriate from a letter Hannah Jarvis wrote to her father, requesting him to bring her: Bark in Substance and Tincture--- Rhubarb Turkey and India, in the Root--- Castor Oil—Sulfur—Magnesia-- James' Powders-- Camomile Flowers—Senna-- Tincture of Rhubarb—Antimonial Wine-- Camphoric Spirits of Wine-- prepared Lint would be very useful-- these are things that come very high here and what cannot be done without, in such a sickly country… do not spare in getting the above articles-- and let them be of the Best Quality…"

But much of what was used to combat disease came from local sources. A lengthy list could be compiled but some examples should suffice. In Detroit, in 1814, something known as "Sopyknit Root” was stated to have cured a crushed foot "which surprised all the Doctors". The top of the Buttonwood Tree was recommended for bowel complaints. Elizabeth Simcoe, while exploring in the Story Creek area, found a veritable pharmacopoeia of remedies: I gathered a great many plants, Mr. Green gave them all names, and I stopped at his house to write them down. Ginseng, a Root which the Merchants tell me they send to England and in some years has sold at a guinea at pound, Sarsaparilla-- Golden Thread-- the roots look like gold thread. When steeped in brandy they make a fine aromatic tincture and liquorice plant; consumption vine, a pretty Creeper. Green's daughter was cured of a consumption by drinking tea made of it. Poison vine in appearance much like the former but differs in the number of leaves, one has five, the other seven, Madder, toothache plant, a beautiful species of fern, Sort Throat weed, Dragon's blood, Adam and Eve or Ivy Blade, very large, which heals Cuts or Burns, droppings of beach, enchanter's nightshade, Dewberrys, Wild Turnip which cures a cough-- it is like an Arum."

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