The Apothecary

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What we can learn from our medical past

At times like these, it is as important to return to the past as it is to look towards the future. In the 1859 Apothecary on the grounds of the Historic Site, there is a show globe that was used in early Colonial America, with red indicating that the town had some kind of illness or quarantine, as a warning to travelers. As we are self-quarantined right now, it is red. Hopefully we can change it to green soon, which represents a healthy welcome to our visitors.

This small apothecary shop was the forerunner of the modern drug store. Patent medicines weren’t available until after 1876. Before this, many of the remedies often failed to heal the patient, many even causing great pain or even death. Cures included bleeding, vomiting and blistering to bring the sick body back into balance. Many of the medicines were homemade and included herb ground with a mortar and pestle. The bark from the wild cherry tree was used to make cough medicine, comfrey leaves were used to heal broken bones, dandelion root eaten raw was used to prevent amnesia. Laudanum (opium) and alcohol were added to other ingredients to make many early medicines. One of the more famous medicines of the day was Lydia F. Pickham’s vegetable compound, a mixture of 18% alcohol. 

The apothecary in Beaufort was the workplace of Doctor Ben Davis and his son Dr. George Davis who practiced here until the 1930s. Both men were not only physicians but apothecaries who could also provide needed medications much like today’s druggist. The Apothecary is filled with an amazing collection of medical books of the day, as well as fascinating instruments and medicine bottles.