"Revolutionary America! 1763-1789 April 20-November 3, 2002


photo of exhibit section
In this photo:

PHARMACEUTICAL SHELFWARE, including Tincture bottles, porcelain jars, boxes of herbal concoctions (Skunk Cabbage Root, Bonset, Tansy, Dandelion Root, Motherwort, "Ayers Malaria and Ague Remedy")

MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS, including suction cups to drain bodily fluids, and fleems (bloodletting devices)
SCALES, WEIGHTS and MEASURES to measure ingredients
MORTARS and PESTLES to grind dried ingredients into a powder
HOG'S BLADDER filled with Scotch snuff, Philadelphia label
EARTHEN RETORT for distilling mercury
  On loan from the collection of:
    -- University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, Iowa City IA
MINIATURE PORTRAIT of George Washington that suggests the pockmarks that were on his face from a childhood bout with smallpox. Watercolor portrait attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer and painted on an ivory locket that encloses a lock of Washington's hair, c. 1800.
    --Claude and Jeanne Harkins

Our Filthy, Superstitious Ancestors

The streets of America were disgusting, although the rats, lice, filth and stench were no worse than in Europe. Poor nutrition and heavy drinking caused bad skin conditions, tooth decay, premature aging and death. People rarely bathed, so a lavish douse of perfume covered up bodily odors.

Unaware of the existence of germs or bacteria, colonists faced deadly disease epidemics. The most feared was smallpox - if a patient didn't die, he was disfigured with pockmarks for life. In painted portraiture, artists rendered pockmarks as rosier-than-normal cheeks. As an example, review the portraits of George Washington who suffered smallpox as a child.

The imbalance of "humors" (bodily fluids) was believed to cause illness. Medieval remedies to balance fluids included bleeding patients into a faint, purging, blistering or freezing - and accomplished through leeches, sharp metal instruments, laxatives, scalding water or ice-cold plunge baths! Other "cure-alls" could be purchased from the apothecary (drug store) such as balsams, tinctures, salts, elixirs, fever powders, bitters and cordials. Homemade cures were conjured from a polyglot of European traditions mixed with African or Native American folklore and superstition.


Who Were We? Sub-Sections
Three Georgraphic Regions
  Slave Chains
  Daniel Boone, Trailblazer to the West
Colonial Society
Health (You are here)
Faith and Literacy
The Taverns
  Wine Glasses of George and Martha Washington


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