Medical Practices

There were bona fide physicians in the Midway District and Saint Johns Parish. But there were also those persons who called themselves medical doctors who, in fact, had never completed their medical training, or had no such training at all. But even those persons with their limited knowledge were welcome in the home of a sick person.


If it became necessary to amputate a person’s leg or arm, the chances were that more than 50 percent of such persons died during the operation. There was no ether or chloroform and the best the patient could be offered to bear the pain of the operation was alcohol or opium.


Some of the “cures” for illnesses in Saint Johns Parish were brought from England. Others derived from Indian practices. Roots of the sassafras tree when brewed in a tea were supposed to have medical value, but such a tea was only a mild aromatic stimulant. Sassafras trees were native to New England. Roots of the trees were exported by the Puritans of Massachusetts as medicine. Roots of the trees were brought by settlers from Massachusetts to South Carolina, and then on to Saint Johns Parish. Sassafras roots was one of the earliest exports of Saint Johns Parish.


Wide use was made of “teas” brewed from the bark of certain trees native to Saint Johns Parish, or imported from abroad. Peruvian bark, for instance, contained quinine and was effective in the treatment of “ague,” the fever that often meant malaria. Willow bark, which contained a form of aspirin, was used in a “tea” and was given to a person suffer­ing any illness. It did not, of course, cure anything except possibly a headache or common cold.


The residents of Saint Johns Parish had calomel, contain­ing mercury, which they used to treat venereal diseases. They also used it to treat malaria fever. It was not effective in either case. The harmful effects of calomel on the nervous system and teeth were made known to the medical profession many years later by John M.B. Hardin, a Riceboro physician.”


A favorite home remedy in Saint Johns Parish to reduce fever was a “tea” made of the ripened fruit of the rosebud. Bleeding was also considered a cure for malaria fever. Another treatment for fever was borrowed from the Indians. A fever­ish person was placed in a small tent in which tobacco was burned. The heat caused the patient to sweat and lowered his body temperature, but it was thought that the tobacco smoke cured the patient.


If an illness was not too severe, the patient probably im­agined that he had been cured by a certain remedy when he would have recovered with no treatment at all. “Fever powders” were imported and sold at Sunbury and may have contained a property helpful to a person suffering from malaria fever.