In 1734, Dr. John Tennent published his Every Man His Own Doctor; Or, The Poor Planter's Physician. PreScriring Plain & Easy Means For Persons To Cure Themselves Of All, Or Most Of The Distempers Incident to this Climate, With Very Little Charge, The Medicines Being Chiefly Of The Growth & Production of This Country. Printed & Sold By Will(iam) Parks, At His Printing Offices In Williamsburg & Annapolis. in 1734 & 1736.
Benjamin Franklin reprinted & sold Tennent's book in Philadelphia, in 1734 & 1736, third & fourth editions of this work, & in 1737. Another edition appeared from Franklin's press. reprinted Every Man his own Doctor in The American Instructor (Philadelphia, 1748), & a German translation was published by Franklin & Johann Boehm in 1749. (For Tennent’s later publications, most of which emphasized his crusade for snakeroot see Wyndham B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Eighteenth Century Richmond, Va., 1931).
John Tennent (c 1700–1748), a physician, was born to James Tennent(1679-1730) and his wife Mary Boydzeys(1683-1730) in Cadder, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He sailed for Virginia about 1725. Tennent, (or Tennant) practicing in Spotsylvania & Caroline County in Virginia, became a prominent physician in the Chesapeake colonies, who married Dorothy Paul in Spotsylvania, June 27, 1730. They reportedly had a son John in 1731 who died in 1794, in Caroline County, Virginia. The elder John gained considerable note by his advocacy of the virtues of the Seneca Rattle Snake Root as a specific for many diseases; but especially for pleurisy. The Virginia Gazette, 1736-40, contains many references to him. He appears from a letter in the Virginia Gazette to have commenced the practice of medicine in Virginia about 1725, & to have visited England about 1735.
There Tennent worked with distinguished physicians as Mead & Monro. English physician Dr. Richard Mead(1673-1754) wrote on the prevention and treatment of plague, smallpox, measles, and scurvy. His Mechanical Account of Poisons (1702) includes original observations on the action of snake venom. Dr Alexander Monro (1697-1767) was a Scottish surgeon & professor. These gentlemen authorized Tennent's credentials for a formal doctor's degree at Edinburgh.
In 1736, Tennent published An Essay on the Pleurisy. In the Virginia Gazette of October 1-8, 1736, is a letter dated Williamsburg, October 1, 1736, to Sir Richard Mead, M. D., giving an account of his success in the use of Rattlesnake Root in cases of gout & pleurisy.
In the Virginia Gazette of January 30, & July 7, 1738, & succeeding dates, appears a lengthy advertisement by John Tennent, giving proposals for printing by subscription A Treatise on the Diseases of Virginia & The Neighboring Colonies. His ideas in regard to the Rattlesnake Root gained popular favor (and some disapproval) in the Virginia Assembly, which resolved on December 22, 1738, "That the Sum of One Hundred Pounds, be paid to Mr. John Tennant, for publishing his Discovery of the Use of Seneca Rattle-Snake Root." He actually received no monetary benefit from this resolve. Returning to London in 1737, he began to prepare a book on the diseases of Virginia. His proposals for printing it, issued when he returned to America, 1738, appeared in Pennsylvania Gazette, August 3, 1738, & later; but subscriptions for the proposed publication fell short of the required 1,000, & it did not appear. Tennent sailed to Jamaica in 1740. but soon returned to England, where he died October 27, 1748.
The majority of Tennant’s medicines are botanical. Of these, the wild, Native plant varieties outnumber the domestic herbs, vegetables, & fruits. Several “new drugs” introduced to the readers in this book include mistletoe, prickly pear & ash-root. Tennant notes that “The Remedies I have presrib’d, are amost all of our own Grown, there being no more than 5 or 6 foreign Medicines; & they so very cheap, that if I happen not to cure my Patient, I am sure I shan’t ruin him.” He recommends the patients not be “crammed” with Physick. He makes use of prescriptions which are not single remedies. He avoids the use of foreign Opium, Ipecac, & Peruvian bark. His final mention of his choice of drugs discourages the use of the drugs being imported: “Neither do I ransack the Universe for such outlandish Drugs, which must waste & decay in long Voyages; not import the Sweepings of the Shops, which I am sure are decay’d; but am content to do all my Execution with the Weapons of our own Country.”
His Essay on the Pleurisy (Williamsburg, Va., 1736), advocating seneca rattlesnake root, excited lively controversy in America & abroad. He is known for his popularization of the Native American remedy Indian Rattlesnake Root (Virginia serpentaria) through his medical & social writings.
I publish this Treatise to lead the Poorer Sort into the pleasant Paths of Health, & when they have the Misfortune to be sick, to show them the cheapest & easiest Ways of getting well again.
OUR Country is unhappily subject to several very sharp Distempers [diseases/conditions]. The Multitude of Marshes, Swamps, & great Waters send forth so many Fogs & Exhalations that the Air is continually damp with them
This, in Spite of all our Precautions, is apt to shut up the Pores at once & hinder insensible Perspiration. From hence proceed FEVERS, COUGHS, QUINSIES, PLEURISIES, & CONSUMPTIONS, with a dismal Train of other Diseases, which make as fatal Havoc here, in Proportion to our Number, as the PLAGUE does in the Eastern Parts of the World.
IN the mean Time, this is a cruel Check of the Growth of an Infant Colony, which otherwise, by the Fruitfulness of our Women & the great Number of Recruits sent from our Mother Country, would, in a few Years, grow populous & consequently considerable.
IT is impossible to see these Calamities return every Year without the tenderest Commiseration. Certainly nothing can be more melancholy than to have so many poor People [erish, purely for want of using timely Means for their Preservation. They neglect to take any Remedy ’til their Case is grown desperate & Death begins to glare them in the Face. They consider not that a moderate Skill may recover a Patient in the Beginning of a Distemper while he has Strength to go through all the necessary Operations [procedures], when the whole College would not be able to save him after his Spirits are sunk & all the Principles of Life near extinguished.
THIS unhappy Temper occasions a great deal of Mortality: & what makes the Misfortune the greater is that it falls heaviest on the Younger Sort who are the most liable to hurrying Distempers. Indeed, some would be glad of Assistance if they did not think the Remedy near as bad as the Disease, for our Doctors are commonly so exorbitant in their Fees, whether they kill or cure, that the Patient had rather trust his Constitution [body] than run the Risk of beggaring [impoverishing] his Family.
THESE considerations made me account it a Work of great Charity & Public Spirit to communicate to the poor Inhabitants of this Colony [Virginia] a safe Method of curing themselves when they shall be so unhappy as to fall into any of our common Maladies. & for their greater Encouragement, the Remedies I shall prescribe may be procured with little Trouble & Expense, being, for the most Part, such as grow at their own Doors, or may be easily propagated.
BUT notwithstanding this well-meaning Essay has really no other View than the Love of Mankind, yet it could not escape being grossly attack’d by some FISTS of the Faculty. However, like Æsop’s Viper, while they endeavoured to make a venomous Impression on the File, they only broke their own Teeth. In the mean Time, whatever my Obligations may be to ’em for their Scurrility, the honest Printer has Reason to thank them, because nothing contributes so certainly to the quick Sale of any Performance as a stupid Answer to it...
I SHALL begin with a COUGH, which is the Foundation of many bad Distempers & therefore should be taken Care of as soon as possible. It may be cured in the Beginning with riding moderately on Horseback every Day, & only taking a little Ground Ivy Tea sweeten’d with Syrup of Horehound at Night when you go to Bed. But in case it be violent, it will be proper to bleed Eight Ounces & be constant in the Use of the other Remedies. In the mean while, you must use a spare & cooling Diet, without either Flesh or strong Drink. Nor should you stove yourself up in a warm Room, but breathe as much as possible in the open Air. & to prevent this Mischief, don’t make yourself tender [“soft”], but wash every Day in cold Water, & very often your Feet...(Recommends riding on Horseback to experience the “Change of Air” & allow “Nature to throw off the Evil.” Calming the blood, opening of the pores, & promoting perspiration were considered healthy processes. To clean the chest of bad humours capable of causing consumption to ensue, it was felt the armpits must be shaved. Impostumes or Boils, & Poutlices, were two other ways to treat this condition during its early stages.) ...
PALSY comes suddenly upon us with dreadful Symptoms, not easy to be mistaken. We are bereft of Sense & Motion, either in one or more Parts of the Body; or at least we find them numb’d & disabled: & where the Disease is extreme, one Side is taken quite motionless & insensible. At the first Appearance of these melancholic Tokens, purge [vomit] with Indian Physic every other Day, for 3 times. The Mornings you don’t purge, cause yourself to be plung’d over Head & Ears into cold Water; & this should be repeated thrice every Week for 3 Months together. You are also to mix equal Quantities of Spirit of Scurvy-grass, & Hungary Water, & dipping a stiff Comb-brush therein, cause your Head, being close-shav’d, to be well brush’d with it several Times a Day; Likewise let the Palms of your Hands, the Soles of your Feet, & Nape of your Neck, be often rubb’d with the same Mixture. After this has put some Sense & Motion into your Limbs, beat Rosemary in a Mortar & make a little Ball of it, which you must roll & work about in your Hands, continually renewing the same every Day. Now & then, too, put Tobacco up your Nostrils, letting it lie there for some Time, in order to drive the clammy Phlegm from your Brain. These easy Remedies will, by the Grace of GOD, do great Good in the Beginnings of the Disease by restoring the Nerves to their natural Tone, & giving new Vigour to the Animal Spirits, which have been clogg’d & obstructed. . . . To prevent this Distemper, feed seldom on salt or high-season’d Dishes, nor eat much Milk or other phlegmatic Food. Never sleep in the dangerous Dew or on the moist Ground, or continue long in a Cellar or other damp Situation. Use much Exercise & let your Motion be always nimble, in order to quicken the Circulation & frisk your sluggish Spirits.. . . Bleeding, or releasing a specified amount of blood from the body, had been a standard medical treatment for centuries. A perennial herb, known as Bowman’s root & other names, used as an emetic to induce vomiting...
THERE’s no Disease puzzles Physicians more than the VAPOURS, & HYSTERIC FITS. These Complaints are produced by so many Causes & appear in so many various Shapes that ’tis no easy Matter to describe them. However, some of the Symptoms are a Thumping at the Heart, a Croaking of the Guts, & a Fullness of the Stomach, which the Patient endeavours to ease as much as she can by Belching. Every now & then, too, something seems to rise up to her Throat that almost stops her Breath. She has, moreover, a great Heaviness & Dejection of Spirit, & a Cloud seems to hang upon all her Senses. In one word, she has no Relish for anything, but is continually out of Humour, she knows not why, & out of Order, she knows not where. THIS is certainly a miserable Condition, & the more so because the Weakness of the Nerves makes the Cure exceeding difficult. BECAUSE the Stomach is suspected to be much in Fault, I would have That cleansed in the first Place with a Vomit of Indian Physic. The next Day purify the Bowels by a Purge of the same, which must be repeated two Days after. [The regimen continues with herbal medicines, diet restrictions, & the plunging in cold water several times weekly, which will “brace the Nerves & rouse the sluggish Spirits surprisingly.”] . . . TO escape this Disorder, she must suffer none of the idle Disturbances or Disappointments of an empty World, to prey upon her Mind or ruffle her sweet Temper. Let he use just Exercise enough to give a gentle Spring to her Spirits, without wasting them, & let her be cheerful in Spite of a churlish Husband, or cloudy Weather. ( “Vapours & hysteric fits” were considered a woman’s malady. Many of the symptoms are consistent with depression. THE best Way to prevent this impure Distemper is for those that have it never to marry, nor so worse, that they may not transmit their Misfortunes to Posterity...)
Stone HEAVEN be prais’d there is little Occasion to say anything of the STONE IN THE BLADDER, in the there being few Instances of it in this Colony. Among the Gentry [wealthy landowners] the Bladder Madeira Wine, which has but little Tartar in it, & the Molasses Beer, being soft & cleansing, are happy Defenses against this Scourge of Luxury & Laziness. & then, for the common Planters [land-owning farmers], their Pone & other Preparations of Indian Corn, being smooth & slippery, are likewise excellent Preservatives...
Gravel NEVERTHELESS, some few of us, by sitting too long either at our Book, or our Bottle, have now & then some Touches of the GRAVEL, OR STONE IN THE KIDNEYS. This makes itself known by a Pain across the Loins, by Urine ting’d with Blood & mix’d with Sand & jagged little Stones. The Stomach too is sometimes affected & inclin’d to vomit. WHEN you find these concurring Symptoms, drink 3 or 4 Quarts of Whey as fast as you can, wherein the Root of Prickly Pear has been boil’d. When that has all passed, squeeze the Juice of Wild Garlic into clean sound Cider, & drink a moderate Glass of it Night & Morning, for 6 or 7 Days. . . . & the Way to ward off this painful Disease is to be temperate in all your Enjoyments, to eat a great deal of Milk, & Meats made of Indian Corn; but above all Things, be cautious of sittingstill too much...
King’s THE KING’s EVIL [tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck] proceeds from a foul & Evil obstinate Humour in the Body that breaks into Swellings & Sores & if often derived from our Parents. FOR this great Misfortune, take a clean Sponge & dry it well in an Earthen Pot, & having reduced it to a fine Powder, take as much as will lie upon a Shilling, Morning & Evening, in warm Ass’s Milk. This must be continued for Three Months to complete the Cure. In the mean Time, Care should be taken never to scorch the Sponge. While this Remedy is taking inwardly, apply a Poultice of Sassafras to the Sores that are broke, which will both draw & heal them...
Bite FOR the BITE OF A MAD DOG, which may be reckon’d among the greatest of Calamities, Dr. of a Mead has communicated the following Remedy to the World, which had tried on more than 500 Mad Persons with great & constant Success. The patient, as soon as possible after his Misfortune, Dog should bleed about 10 Ounces. Then let him take of Ash-colour’d Ground Liver Wort, dry’d & powder’d, Half an Ounce, which grows on moist Sandy Barren Soils. He must mix with this Two Drachms [one drachm=1/8 oz.] of powder’d black Pepper. Divide Those into Four Doses, & let him take One every Morning fasting, in Half a Pint of warm Milk. After This, the Patient must be Plung’d over Head & Ears in very cold Water every Morning Fasting, for a Month together, never staying longer than Half a Minute at a Time. When he has bath’d in this Manner so long, ne need go in more than Three Times week for a Fortnight [14 days] longer, by which Time the Cure, by the Grace of GOD, will be happily completed...
IN case a FILM shou’d grow over the Sight of the Eye, occasioned by a Blow, a sharp Humour, or other Accident, you may take it off with this easy & cheap Remedy. Dry Human Dung in the Sun that is Yellow & of a good Consistence, & having reduced it to a very fine Powder, blow it through a Quill Two or Three Times a Day into the Eye, & your Sight will be happily restored in a short Time...
Tennant ended his book Every Man His Own Doctor; Or, The Poor Planter's Physician. writing:
THUS I have run through most of the common Complaints, to which the Inhabitants of this Colony are subject; & prescribed such innicent Cures, as will generally succeed, if timely made Use of; yet am far from pretending, that any of them are infallible; We all known, that Death strikes so home in some Cases, that all Physick will be vain. There are many Instances too, where the Diseases of the Pox, the Scurvy, or the Gout; & then they need a RATCLIFF, or a FRIEND, to get the better of them.
IN the mean Time, it may seem strange, that, among the Remedies I have prescribed, no Mention is made of Mercury, Opium, or the Peruvian Bark, which have almost obtain’d the Reputation of Specificks. I acknowledge the powerful Effects of these Medicines; but am perswaded, they ought to be administered with the greatest Skill, & Discernment. &, as I wrote only for the Service of the Poor, who are wholly lost to judge for themselves, I was fearful of putting such dangerous Weapons into their Hands.”
IF those of better Circumstances find any Thing here, that may be in any Manner deserve their Attention, I should be exceedingly glad; Tho’ I own, these Directions were not designed for such as are in Condition to purchase more learned Advice. It was only to those whom Fortune has placed below the Regard of our Doctors, that I address this short Essay: & if one single Person shall be recovered thereby, or receive the least Relief, I shall account my Pains happily bestow’d.”
IN the mean Time, there is no Question, but some of my Brother Quacks will make themselves merry with these Prescriptions. Let them shoot their harmless Bolts. I by no means envy those Gentlemen the only Way they have of appearing wiser that their Neighbours. Tho’ after all, it is not impossible, but they may do by some of these, just as good People of England do by the French Fashions, laugh at the first, & then have the Humility to follow them.
Bite of a Rattle Snake
Bite of a Mad Dog
Bleeding at the Nose
Epilepsy, or Falling Sickness
Fever, with violent Purging & vomiting
Fever, Pain in the Head, Eye, or Ear
Film on the Eyes
Flux immoderate of the Courses
Gleet, or Running of the Reins
Pissing of Blood
Spitting of Blood
Stone in the Bladder
Stone in the Kidneys
Suppression of the Courses
Suppression of Urine
Swelling to break
Swelling to discuss
Vapours, or Hysteric Fits
Vomiting & purging
The “Distempers” in Every Man His Own Doctor include:
Ague. Fever & chills; malarial fever when severe.
Bloody flux. Bloody stools.
Bloody piles. Hemorrhoids.
Cachexy. Malnutrition, weight loss, weakness.
Dropsy. Swelling, edema, especially when related to heart or kidney disease.
Dry Gripes. Severe “lead colic” - intestinal affliction, including constipation, due to lead poisoning.
Flooding. Excessive uterine bleeding.
Gleet. Discharge from a wound, especially related to chronic gonorrhea.
Gravel. Calcified matter in the kidneys (stones)
Green Wound. Infected wound, with pus.
Griping. Gripes. Colic; sharp bowel pains.
King’s Evil. Tuberculosis of the lymph glands in the neck.
Looseness. “Summer complaint”: diarrhea occurring in the summer.
Suppression of the Courses. Cessation of menstruation, due to pregnancy, ill health, or other causes.
Vapours, or Hysteric Fits. Emotional affliction, “nervousness,” with symptoms similar to clinical depression.
Worm Fever. Physical discomforts from intestinal worms.
Ground Ivy, or Aloff
Highland-flagg, or Bellyache root
James town weed
Pepper aciac [Jamaica]
Pelletary of Spain
Most Commonly Mentioned in Tennent's book:
Ground Ivy or Aloff
Highland-flagg or Bellyache root
James town weed
Pelletary of Spain
Pepper aciac [Jamaica]
Scurvy Grass 22
Snake Root 19
Spanish Oak 50