Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dr. John S. Sappington - Part I - Sappington's Anti-Fever Pills

"He prescribed blue pills, oil and other nauseating doses, and though they relieved me some, the chief cure was "Dctr. Sappington's Pills," which I must ever eulogize as a medicine of fine qualities. One box of them administered by mi alma cured me or at least broke the fever. After great prostration of body I am again creeping out." - Diary, Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-47

A couple weekends ago I had the great pleasure of visiting the Arrow Rock State Historic Site in Missouri. Having never been there before - and with two or three specific destinations in mind - I had little idea of what the site had to offer.

What a wonderful place it is! I can't wait to go back and enjoy more! The entire locale of Arrow Rock (Est. 1829) is on the National Register of Historic Places, with about 1/3 privately owned, 1/3 owned by the state, and another 1/3 owned by an active preservation organization, The Friends of Arrow Rock.

A summary of the site can be found on the official state parks page:

Stroll through the history of a once-bustling river town that’s now the serene village of Arrow Rock.  You’ll walk streets lined with the architecture of the historic “Boone’s Lick Country.” At Arrow Rock State Historic Site, you may wander into the historic Old Tavern, which dates back to 1834 and provides a dining experience in a period setting or see displays of old-time wares at the Huston Store. You can learn about it all through exhibits in the visitor center. The historic site is part of the larger Village of Arrow Rock, which features quaint stores and a bevy of antique shops.

One destination I did have is dedicated to one of Arrow Rock's foremost citizens: Dr. John S. Sappington (1776-1856)

Sappington is of great interest to me for several reasons:
  •  He was the force behind an early American proprietary/patent medicine: Sappington's Anti-Fever Pills, a medicine popular in the Midwest and South in the 1830s-40s
  • He was the author of the first medical treatise published west of the Mississippi
  • His (and his family's) papers are located at the state historical society branch here in Columbia
  • His extended family had powerful political influence in the mid-19th century (two of his sons-in-law were Missouri governors)

So, in this series of blog posts, I'll share some of what I've seen and learned about this man, his business, and his family.

You can learn about Dr. John S. Sappington by visiting the  "Historic Missourians" website of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Arrow Rock is the home of the Dr. John Sappington Museum, which I happily visited to learn more about his Anti-Fever Pills.

Logansport (IN) Telegraph July 27, 1839
The history of the pills is briefly presented in his online biography:

Financially successful, Sappington continued to practice medicine. He began to experiment with quinine, a substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, a species native to South America. Sappington began importing cinchona bark as early as 1820, but it was only years later that he discovered its most promising medicinal use as a preventative against malarial fever. Dr. Sappington's Anti-Fever Pills.

Malaria, an infectious disease passed from mosquitoes to humans, ravaged much of early America. People who lived near bodies of water or in areas of swampy, poorly drained land were among those most likely to contract the disease. Once infected, an individual suffered from high fever, chills, vomiting, and joint pain. Missourians who lived along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were often susceptible to malaria.

In 1832, using quinine taken from cinchona bark, Sappington developed a pill to cure a variety of fevers, such as scarlet fever, yellow fever, and influenza. He sold “Dr. Sappington's Anti-Fever Pills” across Missouri. Demand became so great that within three years Dr. Sappington founded a new company known as Sappington and Sons to sell his anti-fever pills nationwide. The anti-fever pills were popular in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
[Note: Unfortunately, many enthusiastic biographers declare that Sappington "discovered" cinchona bark (and quinine's) efficicay in treating malaria.In fact it had long been used by natives in Peru, from where the bark was imported to the United States, and had appeared in some European medicines in the mid-1600s.]

A better picture of Sappington and his pills can be found in these articles:

T. Findley, "Sappington's anti-fever pills and the Westward migration," Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 1968; 79: 34–44. (Full text as PDF here)

Morrow, Lynn. “Dr. John Sappington: Southern Patriarch in the New West.” Missouri Historical Review, v. 90, no. 1 (October 1995), pp. 38-60. (here)

The next parts of this blog post will feature:

Part II - Sappington's 1844 medical treatise: "The Theory and Treatment of Fevers"
Part III - The interesting Sappington Papers at the State Historical Society of Missouri
Part IV - The Sappington Family Cemetery State Historic Site - final resting place of Dr. John S. Sappington and two Missouri governors: both of them his sons-in-law
Part V- The Sappington Negro Cemetery - Dr. John S. Sappington was a slaveholder, and slavery is an important aspect of Arrow Rock's history

The Sappington Museum is small but tells the story very ably and has some terrific artifacts on display for persons interested in 19th-century medicine, as seen my photos below.

Sappington began his investigations with cinchona bark but then bought hundreds - if not thousands - of pounds of purified quinine from wholesale druggists in Philadelphia

Medical Text, c. 1770s, belonged to Sappington’s father, also a physician

Reproduction of a typical Sappington's Pills Broadside

Bark of the Cinchona Tree

Ledger Book for Sale of the Pills in Tennessee and Alabama, 1849-50

1 comment:

Sam said...

Excellent! Thanks!