Elixir of Death


Patent medicine being poured into a measuring spoon.

In 1886, when Berrien County desperado Ben Furlong overdosed on laudanum  some thought it was accidental, others thought intentional. By the time of Furlong’s death, the dangerous potency of patent medicine narcotics was well known.  In Georgia newspapers and elsewhere overdose deaths of adults were frequently reported as suicides.

But many victims were infants and children fatally overdosed with mislabeled narcotic patent medicines by their well-meaning parents. “Hints to Mothers,” in 1865 observed that “three-fourths of all the deaths that take place from opium occur in children under five years of age, and it has been alleged  that thousands of babies died from patent medicines which were eventually identified by the medical community as “baby-killers.”

For centuries parents had been told teething was a particularly dangerous period of childhood development, perhaps because teething  coincided with infant mortality from causes which were not at all understood.    Doctors routinely reported teething on mortality schedules as a cause of infant death. The anguish of teething infants was met with anxiety by 19th century parents. Marketers of patent medicine teething elixirs  preyed on the fears of parents and offered the promise of science and medicine to protect the lives of their children.

In the 1880 Berrien County  mortality schedule deaths of two white infants were attributed to “dentition” and “teething” by attending physician Dr. H. M. Talley.  Cause of death for a black infant attended by Dr. James A. Fogle appears to have been initially recorded as “Elixir of Joseph Bain,” but that notation was crossed out and replaced with “poisoned.” Elixir of Joseph Bain, one of the first cocaine-based patent medicines, was introduced after the Civil War. Cocaine drops were used in the treatment of dental pain.  Three children in Lowndes died of teething, two in Brooks County.

Among the most notorious of “baby-killer” patent medicines was “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” for teething infants.

From its introduction in 1849, Mrs. Winslow’s advertisements and testimonials appeared almost continuously in Georgia newspapers and elsewhere.  One 1880 testimonial published in the Columbus, GA Daily Enquirer claimed “Vast quantities of the Soothing Syrup are daily sold and used here [New York]. We think Mrs. Winslow has immortalized her name by this invaluable article, and we sincerely believe thousands of children have been saved from an early grave by its timely use and that millions yet unborn will share its benefits, and unite in calling her blessed. No mother has discharged her duty to her suffering little ones, in our opinion, until she has given the benefit of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Mrs. Winslow’s claimed to contain “no narcotics, nor harmful ingredients of any kind.” But, like laudanum, Mother Winslow’s was in fact opium-based.

Mrs, Winslow's Soothing Syrup

Mrs, Winslow’s Soothing Syrup


Elixirs were made of all kinds of narcotics. Patent medicines eventually recognized as “baby-killers” included concoctions like:

  • Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Sirup – Alcohol, chloroform, and morphine
  • Hodnett’s Gem Soothing Sirup – opium
  • Dr. Winchell’s Teething Sirup – morphine
  • Children’s Comfort – morphine sulfate
  • Dr. Fehy’s Pepsin Anodyne Compound – morphine sulfate
  • Dr. Fowlers Strawberry and Peppermint Mixture – morphine
  • Dr. Grove’s Anodyne for Infants – morphine sulfate
  • Hoopers Anadyne, Infant’s Brand – morphine hydrochloride
  • Jadway’s Elixer for Infants – codeine
  • Dr. James Soothing Syrup – heroin
  • Koepp’s Baby’s Friend – morphine sulfate
  • Dr. Miller’s Anodyne for Babies – morphine sulfate and chloral hydrate
    Dr. Moffet’s Teethina Teething Powders – powdered opium
  • Victor Infant Relief – chloroform and marijuana


Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was available for teething and colicky babies. The company claimed that this product would greatly facilitate the process of teething, allay all pain and spasmodic action, regulate the bowels, and “give rest to mothers and relief and health to infants.” However, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup contained morphine and alcohol, and caused coma, addiction and death in infants.  – Food and Drug Administration


These were the days before the Food and Drug Administration. There were no laws regulating the sale of narcotics and medicines were not required to disclose what they contained…The children’s deaths did not go unnoticed. By the 1880s, doctors and journalists were starting to crusade against Winslow’s and its contemporaries…. In 1911, the American Medical Association added Winslow’s to its list of “baby killer” patent medicines.  A 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article called the era, “America’s first opioid epidemic.” In his 1998 book, “The Excruciating History of Dentistry,” James Wynbrandt called those days, “The golden age of drug abuse.” Fueled by doctors and journalists like Adams, Congress finally passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. It required medicine labels to clearly disclose what they contained. Opiates weren’t actually regulated until the Harrison Act of 1914.- Baby-Killer Drug Invented in Maine

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Death of Ben Furlong ~ Was it Suicide?

Ben Furlong (circa 1854-1886), Desperado of Berrien County, GA

As Halloween approaches we revisit the scene of Ben Furlong, who was perhaps  most famous ghost ever to haunt Berrien County.

After the 1886 death of Ben Furlong some said his ghost still haunted the scene of his final, heinous crime. In life, Ben Furlong may have been Berrien County’s  most notorious outlaw.  Furlong, a sawmill man when he wasn’t on the bottle, frequented the communities along the tracks of the Brunswick & Western Railroad – Alapaha, Vanceville and Sniff.   He was a wife beater and a murderer wanted for dozens of criminal charges. His infamous deeds were published around the globe.

Furlong died on Friday, September 24, 1886 from an overdose of laudanum, also known as tincture of opium. The compound was commonly available in the drug stores of Berrien County and elsewhere for just five cents a bottle.

Laudanum bottle

Laudanum bottle

Certainly by  the time of Furlong’s death, the dangerous potency of opioids was well known. Still, some thought Furlong’s laudanum overdose was accidental.

The prevailing opinion in Alapaha, GA, the community that perhaps knew Furlong best, was that he intended to take his own life, either out of a guilty conscience or to escape the hangman.

The October 2, 1886 edition of the Alapaha Star examined the question:


Alapaha Star, October 2, 1886 questions death of Ben Furlong

Alapaha Star, October 2, 1886 questions death of Ben Furlong

Alapaha Star
October 2, 1886

Was it Suicide?

    There is a difference of opinion as to whether B. W. Furlong committed suicide, but the preponderating belief is that he did. The murder of the colored man, the closing of his mill by his creditors and the effects of a severe spell of drinking were amply sufficient to —- —– —-perate step of his life – that of self-destruction.
    It is reported that he drank two bottles of laudanum Thursday night, about twenty hours before he died, and that when he sank into the last sleep, his breathing indicated poisoning. Every effort was made to arouse him. He was walked about, slapped and rubbed vigorously, but the seal of death was upon him, and he breathed his last about four hours after he fell asleep.
    We are satisfied that Furlong while temporarily insane from the causes we have mentioned, took his own life.

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Alapaha Star Reports 1886 Demise of Ben Furlong

Ben Furlong (circa 1854-1886),
Desperado of Berrien County, GA

Ben Furlong was perhaps the most notorious outlaw ever known in Berrien County, GA. Furlong, a sawmill man when he wasn’t on the bottle, frequented the communities along the tracks of the Brunswick & Western Railroad – Sniff, Willacoochee, Alapaha, Enigma and Vanceville.


The Brunswick & Western Railroad linked the communities of northern Berrien County with Brunswick, GA to the east and Albany GA to the west, and connected with the larger Plant Railway.

Furlong was a philandererwife beater and a killer, wanted for dozens of criminal charges including the shooting of B&W engineer Chuck Brock and passenger Will Harrell, and cutting the throat of another passenger.  It was said he committed his first murder at the age of 15. Some said after his demise his ghost haunted the scene of his final, heinous crime.

After his September 24, 1886 death  Furlong’s infamy was literally told around the world. But the most detailed accounting of  Furlong’s final days was published in the Alapaha Star, Berrien County’s own “splendid newspaper” edited by Irishman J. W. Hanlon (Hanlon had previously served as editor of the Berrien County News,  Albany Medium, and later edited the Quitman Sun and wrote humorous works under the pen name Bob Wick).



Alapaha Star

October 2, 1886


A Negro and — the Body In His Stock Lot – Suicide —- The Negroe’s Body Found —- —- – Inquest – A Horrified —- Etc.

Friday evening of last week [September 24, 1886], after the Star had gone to press news reached town that B. W. Furlong, who has been conducting a saw mill at sniff in this county, was dead, from the effects of a dose of laudanum, taken with suicidal intent. Before going to his room about twelve o’clock he asked his wife to forgive him for all he had ever done, and told her that he would go away from there in a few days and begin a new life. He called his children to him and spoke kindly to them and asked them not to disturb him, as he wanted to take a long sleep. He then went to his room, closed the door and, it is supposed, took the fatal dose. Later in the afternoon some one entered the —m, on hearing a strange —– — —– — dead.

Mr. Furlong had been drinking heavily for some weeks, and his creditors, knowing his business to be in a shaky condition, a day or two before his death had his property attached. Mr. Silas O’Quin, of this place, went down Friday morning to levy on some of his property, and found him rational, but wild-looking. He informed Mr. O’Quin that he had shot a negro about two weeks previous to that time and it was supposed that he was dead. This conversation occured about 11 a. m.

Mr. Furlong’s body was taken to Waresboro Sunday morning [September 26, 1886] for interment.

Immediately after his death rumors of the killing of the negro began to circulate, and on Friday evening [September 24, 1886], for the first time, they reached Alapaha. It seems that Furlong had been short of hands for several weeks.  A negro boarded the B. & W. R. R. at some point and stated that he was hunting work, and that he had no1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-2a money. The conductor, knowing that Furlong needed hands, took the negro to Sniff and turned him over to —- was taking to Furlong got off —-Willachoochee,
where he had work. The negro objected strenuously to being put off, and refused to work. Shortly after the train left, the negro walked off in the direction of Willacoochee, but was soon discovered by Furlong, who brought him back, handling him pretty rough in doing so.

Furlong then handcuffed him. That evening, after dark, according to report, the negro slipped out of the commissary and had gone some distance out on the tram-road when he was missed. He was still handcuffed. Lofton, a white man, in Furlong’s employ, discovered the fleeing negro and showed Furlong the direction he had taken. Furlong pursued him with a double-barreled gun, and in a short time the report of the gun was heard. Furlong returned without the negro. Before he reached the mill he met a mulatto who was a trusted employe, who had started after Furlong, hoping to prevent him from shooting the negro. Furlong told him that he had shot the negro and that if he divulged it, he, Furlong, had men there who would swear that he, the mulatto, did the shooting. Later in the night Lofton and the mulatto were sent by Furlong to the wounded man —- — ——— –. — ——- was shot through the neck and was completely paralyzed, except his tongue. When he saw Lofton he said: “if it hadn’t been for you Mr. Furlong would not have shot me.” This mulatto says he carried the wounded man something to eat later in the night. This was Tuesday night. It is reported that the negro lay there until Thursday night, when he disappeared. That night Furlong ordered out three mules, one for a wagon and two to be saddled. Where they went is not known, but the supposition is that the mission was to take the body to some deep water, weight it and sink it out of sight.

Lofton has fled, and his whereabouts are unknown. It is said that he is well connected in Atlanta. The mulatto is named Jim Simmons and is here.

Last Sunday [September 26, 1886] a crowd of whites and blacks went down to the Alapaha river and dragged for the body of the missing 1886-0ct-2-alapaha-star-ben-furlong-3anegro at the bridge at Moore’s old mill, but without success.

It is now rumored that the —- was concealed in a branch — of the mill.

But those rumors would turn out to be wrong, the mill branch concealed no body. An inquest into the fate of Jesse Webb was about to uncover the ultimate cause of death and the true location of the body.


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