Georgia Fever Bark

Fever in the Wiregrass

In the days when pioneers of Ray City, Georgia  fought with Indians, panthers and wolves  they also fought with fever.  Whether it was malaria, typhoid fever, or “intermittent” fever, the real causes were little known and the effective treatments were few.

One pioneer fever remedy was Georgia Fever Bark.

“In bottom lands the soil is richer and colored almost black by decayed leaves and other vegetation, and the growth is poplar, cypress, and titi, with some pine and “fever tree” or “Georgia fever bark.” It was valued in the South throughout the Civil War and afterwards remained in the pharmacopeia of local doctors.  Later, in the Spanish-American War, Georgia men were recruited into special units, called the Immunes, to fight in Cuba because they were thought to be immune to malaria.

Pinckneya pubens

Pinckneya pubens

In 1833 in The dispensatory of the United States of America , Dr. George B. Wood and Dr. Franklin Bache of Philadelphia wrote about the use of the Georgia Fever Bark, Pinckneya Pubens, to treat intermittent fever.

PINCKNEYA PUBENS. Michaux. A large shrub or small tree, growing in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, in low and moist places along the sea coast. It is closely allied, in botanical characters, to the Cinchone, with which it was formerly ranked by some botanists. The bark is bitter, and has been used with advantage in intermittent fever. Dr. Law, of Georgia, cured six out of seven cases in which he administered it. The dose and mode of preparation are the same with those of cinchona. The chemical composition and medical properties of this bark deserve a fuller investigation than they have yet received.

John C. Gifford related a story on the use of Georgia Bark, also known as Florida Quinine, during the Civil War.

“Intermittent fevers were common throughout the South, and  among many bitter barks the Florida-quinine, or Georgia-fever-bark, was a common household remedy. The bark was soaked in rum, and at regular intervals the family and slaves lined up for their proper doses. Down on the Keys prince-wood bark was used. Both belong to the quinine family and have been almost exhausted. Dr. Perrine introduced the first powdered quinine into this country from France. Without this quinine exploration of the tropics would have been much delayed. It is still necessary in many places. During the Civil War the supply of quinine and other drugs was short in the South, and my friend, Dr. Charles Mohr of Mobile,  now dead, was delegated to find substitutes in our own fields and woods. In this line he was very successful, and we have many things  now  not used, quite as good as articles imported from foreign parts. We need to study what the Indians and early settlers knew before it is too late.

Five Plants Essential to the Indians
and Early Settlers of Florida
 by JOHN C. GIFFORD

Florida-quinine.
Bitter barks have been used for many years in all parts of the tropics for the control of intermittent fevers. For this purpose the plants belonging to the madder family have long been famous. Various forms of malaria constitute our worst tropical diseases, and according to recent reports are actually on the increase. There is general agreement as to the efficiency of quinine, but we must bear in mind that manufacturers will insist that there is no substitute for it, although in time past it was criminally adulterated by many dealers. Some doctors in self-defense used the crude powdered Peruvian bark. The first powdered quinine was introduced into this country from France about a century ago by Dr. Henry Perrine of Florida fame. In fact, it was poor quinine that had much to do with the passage of the Pure Drugs Law. Quinine has always been scarce in wartime. This same feeling existed during the Civil War in this country when importations from foreign parts were seriously curtailed. My old friend Dr. Charles Mohr, a druggist in Mobile, worked for a long time for suitable native substitutes for imported drugs during the Civil War and for quinine he used the bark of the Georgia-fever-tree. The tree long famous for this purpose was Pinckneya pubens, Georgia-bark, fever-bark, maiden’s-blushes, or Florida-quinine. The tree was named for Charles C. Pinckney, the revolutionary patriot of South Carolina. Pubens means hairy and it is sometimes referred to as the pubescent Pinckneya. It has showy flowers, white, tinted with red. It is a little tree growing in the swamps, but now very scarce. Professors Coker and Totten in their excellent book on the trees of the Southeastern United States say that “Pinckneya is a close relative of the cinchona tree of South America that furnishes the quinine of commerce and probably contains the same curative element, as its effectiveness in curing malaria has been repeatedly proved.”

Years ago at regular intervals the slaves on the plantation were lined up and required to take their dose of fever-bark soaked in rum.

The writer is certain from experience that not only quinine but several other bitter barks are excellent preventatives of malarias of various kinds.  The amoebae that cause them do not flourish in the body of a person saturated with these bitter drugs.

 

According to David H. Rembert, author of The Botanical Explorations of William Bartram in the Southeast, it was during the spring and summer of 1773 when William Bartram was travelling through Georgia making observations and collecting plant specimens that   Bartram made a painting, now lost, of the plant Pinckneya pubens

Also at the same time William Bartram identified Franklinia in the Altamaha River Valley of Georgia, he discovered a plant that he placed in the genus Bignonia. This plant today is known as the Georgia Fever Tree or the Feverbark tree and was correctly identified by Andre Michaux in his publication in 1803. Michaux named the plant Pinckneya for Charles Coatsworth Pinckney of Charleston. This plant was a very important species during the Civil War and it was used as a substitute for quinine, being very closely related to the Chinchona tree of Peru. It is from this Peruvian species that we get the extract quinine for the treatment of malaria.”

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John Thomas Clower, Doctor of Ray’s Mill

As mentioned in the previous post, Witchy Women and Wiregrass Medicine, John Thomas Clower was one of the early Medical Men of Ray’s Mill, GA (now Ray City). He practiced medicine in the Ray’s Mill community from  about 1870 until 1887.

John T. Clower was born May 13, 1830 in Gwinnett County, GA, the first born child of Daniel Pentacost Clower and Parthenia Carter Brandon. His grandfather, Daniel Clower, “was born in Germany, July 18, 1762, immigrated to America as a youth, and fought with the colonists in their struggle for independence.” Both his parents died in 1845; he and his siblings were raised by an uncle, Joseph Brandon. Some time before 1860, he came to Berrien County, GA and was enumerated in the household of another uncle William Brandon, where he worked as an overseer.  In 1861 he attended Atlanta Medical College, graduating in 1862.

In December, 1869 about the time he returned to Rays Mill, he married “Delusky Ann Brogdon, who was born in Gwinnett county, Georgia, on March 7, 1849, a daughter of Hope J. Brogdon.”  The 1870 Census of the Ray’s Mill District shows that he was a physician with $125 in real estate and $425 in personal property. His neighbors were Thomas J. Brantley and William R. Brandon.

The community of Ray’s Mill proper, such as it was at the time, was situated on Land Lot 424, 10th Land District,  a block of 490 acres. The Berrien county property tax digest for 1878 shows Dr. Clower owned 12 acres in the  Rays Mill  community on Land Lot 424, valued at $125, and $150 in household belongings, $235 in livestock, and $20 in books and tools. His “town” neighbors on Lot 424 included Jonathan D. Knight and  John G. Knight. Additional portions of Lot 424 were held in the estate of Thomas M. Ray.

 

John T. Clower is listed in the 1886 Medical and Surgical Directory of the United States as the physician in Rays Mill, GA.

 Harden, William. 1913. A history of Savannah and south Georgia, Volume II, Illustrated. Chicago and New York. p. 937-939

 “John Thomas Clower, M. D., the eldest child of the household, was born in Gwinnett county, in Georgia, May 13, 1830. He availed himself of every opportunity afforded him for the acquiring of an education while young, and subsequently went to Bartow county, Georgia, as an overseer on the plantation of his uncle, Thomas Brandon. Then, after working at the carpenter trade for a short time, he entered the Atlanta Medical College, from which he was graduated just as the war between the states was declared. Immediately enlisting as a soldier, he was made second lieutenant of his company, which was attached to Major Laden’s Battalion, in the Ninth Georgia Regiment, and with his command joined the Western army. Later Dr. Clower was appointed surgeon, and was with the army in its many campaigns and battles until the last of the conflict.”

 “Locating in Gwinnett county when he returned to Georgia, Dr. Clower was there engaged in the practice of medicine until 1870. The next seventeen years he practiced at Rays Mill, Berrien county, Georgia, from there coming to Brooks county in 1887. Buying a plantation in the Morven district, he carried on farming in connection with his professional work, becoming noted both as an agriculturist, and as a physician of skill and ability, and continuing thus until his death, March 12, 1893.”

“Dr. Clower was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal church South, to which Mrs. Clower also belongs, and for a number of years served as a member of the county school board. Mrs. Clower has never forgotten the art of spinning and weaving which she learned as a girl, but occasionally gets out her wheel and spins the yarn which she later knits into stockings. The doctor and Mrs. Clower reared three sons, namely: John P., R. Jackson and W. L. Pierce Clower.”

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Witchy Women and Wiregrass Medicine

Among the earliest trained medical men at Ray’s Mill was John Thomas Clower (1830-1893), the son of a Revolutionary Soldier who immigrated from Germany to fight for American independence. A graduate of Atlanta Medical College, John Thomas Clower, served as a military surgeon during the Civil War. Afterwards he came to Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), GA where he practiced medicine in this community from 1870 until 1887.

There were the Medical Men of Ray’s Mill, and there were the home remedies. Ray City had its faith healers, too. In the 1930, one such healer was Stella Wright ~ Seeress of Ray City, GA.

In the earliest pioneer days of Wiregrass Georgia, medical science was little known, and the people depended more on home remedies and faith than doctors.  In 1922, Warren Preston Ward, of Douglas, GA wrote a series of sketches of early Wiregrass Georgia, and among these was a narrative on medical practices of the early pioneers:

Another thing that entered very largely in the economic life of the people was the question of sickness, medicine and the doctor.  There were no doctors in this section of Georgia when it was first settled, for the reason that there were not enough people to support a doctor; but in every neighborhood there was always someone who knew how to give such medicine and plain remedies as were used at that time.  Among the common remedies then in use were oil and turpentine, for colds; red oak bark as an astringent; elderberry bark as a purgative and an astringent.  The wise ones said scrape the bark down for a purgative and scrape the bark up for an astringent.  For cuts and to stop blood, use cobweb; that is spider webs hanging about the walls covered with smut.  Sweet gum and mullen was used for fevers, pepper tea was used for colds; for sprains, use a mixture of clay and vinegar; for stings, use tobacco; for snake bite, use whisky or poultice made of salt, tobacco and onions; for pneumonia, bleed the person during the first stages; for burns, use the white of an egg mixed with flour;  many people thought that fire could be talked out and there were always many old witchy women ready to talk it out; warts, moles and cancers were conjured (whatever that means). Sage, thyme and rosemary were given by nearly all the people and were used for teas.  Another peculiar remedy was for the hives; the remedy was for any person who had never seen their father to blow their breath in the child’s face and the hives would leave right now, so it was said.
     In these good old days old Uncle Stafford Davis was a celebrated cancer doctor of the conjure kind.  People came to see him for hundreds of miles.  They also wrote him letters for his absent treatment.  Many people thought he was gifted from God.  The old man did not charge anything for his services, if you had anything to give him he accepted it with thanks.  He lived to be 106 years old and died soon after the civil war.  Before his death he undertook to transfer his gift of healing to his grandson, Joseph Ward.  Some of the first doctors to practice in this section [Appling] of Georgia were Doctors Rambo and Smith; old man William Ward also done a little homespun practice.  Dr. C.G.B.W. Parker did a large practice, but people relied mainly upon their home remedies and upon advice of the men and women in the neighborhood who had experience in giving medicine and in nursing the sick.

About 1815 calomel came into general use among the common people.  Many persons got salivated and were afraid to use it.  But sure as you called a doctor he used calomel.  If it salivated, so much the better in some cases. During this time of hot discussion, pro and con, some one expressed his disgust at the use of calomel in these lines-

“Mr. Wade was taken sick,
Go, call a doctor and be quick,
The doctor comes and remembers well
To bring a bottle of calomel.

“He turns to the patient’s wife,
Have you a clean paper and a knife?
I think your husband would do well
To take a dose of calomel.

“The patient grows worse quite fast indeed,
Go call a council and make speed:
The council comes, and remembers well
To double the dose of calomel.

“The patient says to his weeping wife:
This nasty thing has got my life.
I bid you all a long farewell,
Let me do so without the use of calomel.”

    One of the sad features of sickness and death in these old days was that each family often had to doctor and nurse their own sick, and when they died they had to make their own pine-board coffin and put them away in their last resting place, often with no friend to offer a word of sympathy, or a minister of the gospel to offer a word of prayer or to point sad hearts to the better day and better time when they should all meet again in the morning of the resurrection.

During the “Age of Heroic Medicine” (1780–1850), educated professional physicians practiced aggressive techniques including bloodletting, intestinal purging (calomel), vomiting (tartar emetic), profuse sweating (diaphoretics) and blistering, stressing already weakened bodies.  Heroic medicine was strongly advocated by Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), trained in medicine at Edinburgh University and one of the “fathers” of American medicine, who also signed the American Declaration of Independence.  While well-intentioned, and often well-accepted by the medical community, these treatments were actually harmful to the patient.

Calomel, a compound of Mercurous Chloride, became a popular remedy for a variety of physical and mental ailments during the age of “heroic medicine.” It was used by doctors in America throughout the 18th century, and during the revolution, to remove “impurities” from the body. Calomel was given to patients as a purgative or cathartic and was often administered to patients in such great quantities that their hair and teeth fell out, along with other horrific side effects.  One characteristic effect appeared in the well-known phenomenon of mercurial salivation –  a profuse flow of saliva in the body’s effort to rid itself of the deadly a poison.  For many patients the cure of Calomel was suffering and death resulting from mercurial poisoning.

According to Steve Spakov, Loyola University, “It is toxic and its toxicity is compounded because mercury accumulates as a poison. It acts as a purgative and kills bacteria (and also does irreversible damage to their human hosts). Some treatments are of historical interest. The three physicians atttending Gen. Washington’s final hours administered calomel to the dying President. Lewis and Clark carried it on their expedition and used it to treat their men’s STD’s. Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) suffered from its effects.

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