Monthly Archives: January 2016

Georgia Slave Medicine

Georgia Slave Medicine

Slave Narratives are a collection of accounts taken by government workers assigned to go out in about the year 1937 and record the experiences of former slaves before they had all passed away. This work was done under the Work Projects Administration, an agency of the United States government, brought into being by President Roosevelt during his administration. There are many more states where this work was done and many more slave narratives but my research to date has only included South Carolina and Georgia. For a substantial collection of the slave narratives go to Gutenberg Project under Work Projects Administration for further accounts.

What follows are accounts by former slaves from Georgia describing in their own words their medicine as slaves. Keep in mind the accounts were based on memory and about 72 years had passed since they had had that experience. Of the broader list of slave narratives accounts (this list only includes interesting accounts from those who shared their stories about their experience) many could not remember the various things that had happened to them and some did not want to give their experience on various subjects.

“Miss, white folks jus’ had to be good to sick slaves, ’cause slaves was
property. For Old Marster to lose a slave, was losin’ money. Dere warn’t
so many doctors dem days and home-made medicines was all de go. Oil and
turpentine, camphor, assfiddy (asafetida), cherry bark, sweetgum bark;
all dem things was used to make teas for grown folks to take for deir
ailments. Red oak bark tea was give to chillun for stomach mis’ries.”

[Rachael Adams, Part I, Georgia]

“Health of slaves was very important to every slave owner for loss of
life meant loss of money to them. Consequently they would call in their
family doctor, if a slave became seriously ill. In minor cases of
illness home remedies were used. “In fact,” Mrs. Avery smilingly
remarked, “We used every thing for medicine that grew in the ground.”
One particular home remedy was known as “Cow foot oil” which was made by
boiling cow’s feet in water. Other medicines used were hoarhound tea,
catnip tea, and castor oil. Very often medicines and doctors failed to
save life; and whenever a slave died he was buried the same day. Mrs.
Avery remarked, “If he died before dinner the funeral and burial usually
took place immediately after dinner.”

[Celestia Avery, Part I, Georgia]

“Old Marster was powerful good to his Niggers when dey got sick. He had
’em seed atter soon as it was ‘ported to him dat dey was ailin’. Yessum,
dere warn’t nothin’ short ’bout our good Marsters, ‘deed dere warn’t!
Grandpa Stafford had a sore laig and Marse Lordnorth looked atter him
and had Uncle Jim dress dat pore old sore laig evvy day. Slaves didn’t
git sick as often as Niggers does now days. Mammy Mary had all sorts of
teas made up for us, ‘cordin’ to whatever ailment us had. Boneset tea
was for colds. De fust thing dey allus done for sore throat was give us
tea made of red oak bark wid alum. Scurvy grass tea cleant us out in the
springtime, and dey made us wear little sacks of assfiddy (asafetida)
’round our necks to keep off lots of sorts of miseries. Some folkses
hung de left hind foot of a mole on a string ’round deir babies necks to
make ’em teethe easier. I never done nothin’ lak dat to my babies ’cause
I never believed in no such foolishment. Some babies is jus’ natchelly
gwine to teethe easier dan others anyhow.”

[Georgia Baker, Part I, Georgia]

“Mr. Kilpatrick preached all de funerals too. It ‘pears lak a heap more
folks is a-dyin’ out dese days dan died den, and folks was a heap better
den to folks in trouble. Dey would go miles and miles den when dey
didn’t have no auto’biles, to help folks what was in trouble. Now, dey
won’t go next door when dere’s death in de house. Den, when anybody died
de fust thing dey done was to shroud ’em and lay ’em out on de coolin’
board ’til Old Marster’s cyarpenter could git de coffin made up. Dere
warn’t no embalmers dem days and us had to bury folks de next day atter
dey died. De coffins was jus’ de same for white folks and deir slaves.
On evvy plantation dere was a piece of ground fenced in for a graveyard
whar dey buried white folks and slaves too. My old Daddy is buried down
yonder on Marse Henry’s plantation right now.”

[Jasper Battle, Part I, Georgia]

“Aunt Arrie said the Doctor was always called in when they were sick,
“but we never sont fer him lesse’n somebody wuz real sick. De old folks
doctored us jest fer little ailments. Dey give us lye tea fer colds.
(This was made by taking a few clean ashes from the fire place, putting
them in a little thin bag and pouring boiling water over them and let
set for a few minutes. This had to be given very weak or else it would
be harmful, Aunt Arrie explained.) Garlic and whiskey, and den, dar
ain’t nothin’ better fer the pneumony dan splinter tea. I’ve cured bad
cases with it.” (That is made by pouring boiling water over lightwood

[Arrie Binns, Part I, Georgia]

“A doctor was employed regularly by Mr. Coxton to minister to the needs
of the slaves in time of illness. “We also had our own medicine,” says
Mr. Bland. At different times excursions were made to the woods where
“yarbs” (herbs) were gathered. Various kinds of teas and medicines were
made by boiling these roots in water. The usual causes of illness on
this plantation were colds, fevers, and constipation. Castor oil and
salts were also used to a great extent. If an individual was too ill to
work an older slave had to nurse this person.”

[Henry Bland, Part I, Georgia]

“We saved a heap of bark from wild cherry and poplar and black haw and
slippery ellum trees and we dried out mullein leaves. They was all mixed
and brewed to make bitters. Whensomever a nigger got sick, them bitters
was good for–well ma’am, they was good for what ailed ’em! We tuk ’em
for rheumatiz, for fever, and for the misery in the stummick and for
most all sorts of sickness. Red oak bark tea was good for sore throat.”

[James Bolton, Part I, Georgia]

“Yes Ma’am, dere wuz one thing dey wuz good ’bout. When de Niggers got
sick dey sont for de doctor. I heered ’em say dey biled jimson weeds an’
made tea for colds, an’ rhubarb tea wuz to cure worms in chillun. I wuz
too young to be bothered ’bout witches an’ charms, Rawhead an’ Bloody
Bones an’ sich. I didn’t take it in.”

[Alec Bostwick, Part I, Georgia]

“As a precaution against disease, a tonic was given each slave every
spring. Three were also, every spring, taken from the field each day
until every one had been given a dose of calomel and salts. Mr. Ross
once bought two slaves who became ill with smallpox soon after their
arrival. They were isolated in a small house located in the center of a
field, while one other slave was sent there to nurse them. All three
were burned to death when their hut was destroyed by fire.”

[Della Briscoe, Part I, Georgia]

“Doctors wuzn’t so plentiful then. They’d go ’round in buggies and on
hosses. Them that rode on a hoss had saddle pockets jest filled with
little bottles and lots of them. He’d try one medicine and if it didn’t
do not [TR: no?] good he’d try another until it did do good and when the
doctor went to see a sick pusson he’d stay rat there until he wuz
better. He didn’t jest come in and write a ‘scription fur somebody to
take to a drug store. We used herbs a lots in them days. When a body had
dropsy we’d set him in a tepid bath made of mullein leaves. There wuz a
jimson weed we’d use fur rheumatism, and fur asthma we’d use tea made of
chestnut leaves. We’d git the chestnut leaves, dry them in the sun jest
lak tea leaves, and we wouldn’t let them leaves git wet fur nothin’ in
the world while they wuz dryin’. We’d take poke salad roots, boil them
and then take sugar and make a syrup. This wuz the best thing fur
asthma. It was known to cure it too. Fur colds and sich we used
ho’hound; made candy out’n it with brown sugar. We used a lots of rock
candy and whiskey fur colds too. They had a remedy that they used fur
consumption–take dry cow manure, make a tea of this and flavor it with
mint and give it to the sick pusson. We didn’t need many doctors then
fur we didn’t have so much sickness in them days, and nachelly they
didn’t die so fast; folks lived a long time then. They used a lot of
peachtree leaves too for fever, and when the stomach got upsot we’d
crush the leaves, pour water over them and wouldn’t let them drink any
other kind of water ’till they wuz better. Ah still believes in them ole
ho’made medicines too and ah don’t believe in so many doctors.”

[Julia Brown, Part I, Georgia]

“We Niggers were a healthy lot. If we wuz really sick Marse Frank would
send for Doctor Fielding Ficklin of Washington. If jus’ a small cold de
nigger would go to de woods and git catnip and roots and sich things. If
tummy ache–dere was de Castor oil–de white folks say children cry for
it–I done my cryin’ afterwards. For sore throat dere was alum.
Everybody made their own soap–if hand was burned would use soap as a
poultice and place it on hand. Soap was made out of grease, potash and
water and boiled in a big iron pot. If yo’ cut your finger use kerozene
wid a rag around it. Turpentine was for sprains and bad cuts. For
constipation use tea made from sheep droppings and if away from home de
speed of de feet do not match de speed of this remedy.”

[Marshal Butler, Part I, Georgia]

“Medical care was promptly given a slave when he became ill. Special care
was always given them for the Willis family had a personal interest in
their slaves. “On one occasion,” remarked Mrs. Calloway, “the scarlet
fever broke out among the slaves and to protect the well ones it became
necessary to build houses in a field for those who were sick. This
little settlement later became know as “Shant Field.” Food was carried
to a hill and left so that the sick persons could get it without coming
in contact with the others. To kill the fever, sticks of fat pine were
dipped in tar and set on fire and then placed all over the field.”

[Mariah Callaway, Part I, Georgia]

“Sunday afternoons were quietly spent, visiting being the only means of
recreation. One of the favorite stay at home pastimes was the inspection
of heads. The pediculous condition made frequent treatment necessary for
comfort. The young white men liked to visit the “quarters” and have the
slaves search their heads. They would stretch full length upon the cabin
floors and rest their heads upon a pillow. Usually they offered a gift
of some sort if many of the tiny parasites were destroyed, so the clever
picker who found a barren head simply reached into his own and produced
a goodly number. There existed on this plantation an antagonistic
feeling toward children (born of slave parents) with a beautiful suit of
hair, and this type of hair was kept cropped very short.

Medical care was also free. Excellent physicians were maintained. It was
not considered necessary to call a physician until home
remedies–usually teas made of roots–had had no effect. Women in
childbirth were cared for by grannies,–Old women whose knowledge was
broad by experience, acted as practical nurses.”

[Pierce Cody, Part I, Georgia]

“When his slaves were taken sick, Marse John always called in a doctor.
An old woman, who was known as ‘Aunt Fannie,’ was set aside to nurse
sick slaves. Dr. Joe Carlton was Marse John’s doctor. What I am going to
tell you is no fairy tale. Once I was so sick that Marse John called in
Dr. Carlton, Dr. Richard M. Smith, Dr. Crawford Long, and Dr. James
Long, before they found out what was wrong with me. I had inflammatory
rheumatism and I wore out two and a half pairs of crutches before I
could walk good again. Now, Dr. Crawford Long is a great and famous man
in history, but it is sure true that he doctored on this old Negro many
years ago.

“Honey, don’t flatter me. Don’t you know a little girl 10 years old
can’t remember everything that went on that far back. A few things they
dosed the slaves with when they were sick was horehound tea, garlic
mixed with whiskey, and the worm-few (vermifuge?) tea that they gave to
Negro children for worms. That worm-few dose was given in April.
Asafetida was used on us at all times and sage tea was considered a
splendid medicine.”

[Mary Colbert, Part I, Georgia]

“When us was sick, dey give us herbs and things of dat sort. In de
springtime, dey give us jerusalem oak seed in syrup for nine mornin’s
and by den us was allus rid of de worms. Dey ‘tended to slave chillun so
good and dutiful dat dere warn’t many of ’em died, and I don’t never
‘member no doctor comin’ to my Mamma’s house.”

[Julia Cole, Part I, Georgia]

“When folkses got sick, Marse Billie had ’em looked atter. Mist’ess
would come every day to see ’bout ’em, and if she thought dey wuz bad
off, she sont atter Dr. Davenport. Dr. Davenport come dar so much ’til
he courted and married Marse Billie’s daughter, Miss Martha Glenn. I wuz
named for Miss Martha. Dey sho’ did take special good keer of de mammies
and de babies. Dey had a separate house for ’em, and a granny ‘oman who
didn’t have nothin’ else to do but look atter colored babies and
mammies. De granny ‘oman took de place of a doctor when de babies wuz
born, but if she found a mammy in a bad fix she would ax Mist’ess to
send for Dr. Davenport.”

[Martha Colquitt, Part I, Georgia]

“Marse John was grand to sick slaves. He always sent for Dr. Moore, who
would make his examination and write out his prescription. When he left
his parting word was usually ‘Give him a sound thrashing and he will get
better.’ Of course he didn’t mean that; it was his little joke. Dr.
Holt, Dr. Crawford Long, and Dr. Jones Long were sometimes called in for
consultation on particularly serious cases. We didn’t like Dr. Moore and
usually begged for one of the other doctors. I don’t think my white
folks used teas made of herbs, leaves or roots; they may have, but I
don’t remember it. However, I do know that we wore little sacks of
asafetida around our necks to keep off diseases, and the white folks
wore it too.”

[Minnie Davis, Part I, Georgia]

“There was little if any sickness but Colonel Davis employed a doctor who
visited the plantation each week. On other occasions the overseer
administered such remedies as castor oil, turpentine, etc., and the
slaves had remedies of their own. For stomach ache they used a tea made
of Jimson weeds. Another medicine was heart leaf tea. Manual and
religious training were the only types allowed on the plantation. Trades
like carpentry, blacksmithing, etc. were learned from the white
mechanics sometimes employed by Colonel Davis. All slaves were required
to attend church and a special building was known as “Davis’ Chapel.” A
Negro preacher officiated and no white people were present. Uncle Mose
doesn’t know what was preached as he and Manning always slipped into
town on Sundays to see the girls. Uncle Mose says he and Manning were
together so much that occasionally they even slept in the same
bed,–sometimes in Manning’s house and sometimes at his own house.”

[Mose Davis, Part I, Georgia]

“These old women were also responsible for the care of the sick. When
asked if a doctor was employed, Mr. Eason replied that one had to be
mighty sick to have the services of a doctor. The usual treatment for
sick slaves was castor oil, which was given in large doses, salts and a
type of pill known as “hippocat.” (ipecac)”

[George Eason, Part I, Georgia]

“Our white folks was good as dey knowed how to be when us got sick. I
don’t ‘member dat dey ever had a doctor for de slaves, but dey give us
all kinds of home-brewed teas. Pinetops, mullein and fat light’ood
splinters was biled together and de tea was our cure for diff’unt
ailments. Scurvy grass tea mixed wid honey was good for stomach
troubles, but you sho’ couldn’t take much of it at a time. It was de
movin’est medicine! Round our necks us wore asafetida sacks tied on
strings soaked in turpentine. Dat was to keep diseases off of us.”

[Callie Elder, Part I, Georgia]

“Whenever any of the slaves were sick the doctor was called if
conditions warranted it, otherwise a dose of castor oil was prescribed.
Mr. Favors stated that after freedom was declared the white people for
whom they worked gave them hog-feet oil and sometimes beef-oil both of
which had the same effect as castor oil. If any were too ill to work in
the field one of the others was required to remain at the cabin or at
some other convenient place so as to be able to attend to the wants of
these so indisposed.”

[Lewis Favor, Part I, Georgia]

“Marster had mighty good keer tuk of his slaves when dey got sick. Dere
warn’t many doctors dem days. Dey jus’ used home-made medicines, mostly
teas made out of yarbs (herbs). I jus’ can’t git up no ricollection of
what yarbs dey did put in dem teas. I does ‘member dat chillun had to
live wid bags of assfiddy (asafetida) ’round deir necks to keep off
ailments. Ma give me and Bob, each one, a block of dat assfiddy for good
luck. I throwed my block ‘way a few years ago, and I ain’t had nothin’
but bad luck ever since.”

[Anderson Furr, Part I, Georgia]

“Old Marster put evvy foot forward to take care of his slaves when dey
tuk sick, ’cause dey was his own property. Dey poured asafiddy
(asafetida) and pinetop tea down us, and made us take tea of some sort
or another for ‘most all of de ailments dere was dem days. Slaves wore a
nickel or a copper on strings ’round deir necks to keep off sickness.
Some few of ’em wore a dime; but dimes was hard to git.”

[Elisha Doc Garey, Part II, Georgia]

“Dey tuk mighty good care of slaves when dey got sick. Dey had to,
’cause slaves was propity and to let a slave die was to lose money. Ole
Miss, she looked atter de ‘omans and Ole Marster, he had de doctor for
de mens. I done forgot most of what dey made us take. I know dey made us
wear assfiddy (asafetida) sacks ’round our necks, and eat gumgoo wax.
Dey rubbed our heads wid camphor what was mixed wid whiskey. Old folks
used to conjure folks when dey got mad at ’em. Dey went in de woods and
got certain kinds of roots and biled ’em wid spider webs, and give ’em
de tea to drink.”

[Alice Green, Part II, Georgia]

“Slaves did not lack medical treatment and were given the best of
attention by the owner’s family doctor. Sometimes slaves would pretend
illness to escape work in the field. A quick examination, however,
revealed the truth. Home remedies such as turpentine, castor oil, etc.,
were always kept on hand for minor ailments.”

[Isaiah Green, Part II, Georgia]

“Wheeler said that the Doctor who lived near by was always called in when
the negroes were sick and they had the best of care; their owners saw to
that. Of course there were simple home remedies like mullein tea for
colds, Jerusalem Oak seed crushed up and mixed with syrup, given to them
in the Springtime, and always that terrible “garlic warter” they so
despised to take.”

[Wheeler Gresham, Part II, Georgia]

“Our master was too mean to let us have frolics,” remarked Mr. Griffin;
“we never knew anything, but work. Of course when we got sick we were
given the best medical care possible. People didn’t die, they always got
well.” Home remedies made from various roots were used for minor

[Heard Griffin, Part II, Georgia]

“When we got sick we were not allowed to suffer through negligence on
the part of our owner”, remarked Mr. Hammond. Family doctors of the
white families attended the slaves and through them they were well cared
for. Castor oil was the favorite home remedy used in those days and it
could always be found on the family shelf.”

[Milton Hammond, Part II, Georgia]

“Old Mist’ess was mighty special good to her slaves when dey was sick.
Fust thing she done was send for de doctor. I kin see him now. He rid
horseback and carried his medicine in saddlebags. He used to put some
kind of powders in a glass of water and give it to de sick ones. Dere
was three old ‘omans what Old Mist’ess kept to look atter sick slave
‘omans. Dem old granny nurses knowed a heap about yarbs (herbs). May
apple and blacksnake roots, king of de meadow, (meadow rue) wild asthma
(aster) and red shank, dese was biled and deir tea give to de slaves for
diffunt ailments.” Asked to describe king of the meadow, she continued:
“Honey, ain’t you never seed none? Well, it’s such a hard tough weed dat
you have to use a axe to chop it up, and its so strong and pow’ful dat
nothin’ else kin grow nigh ’round it. Back in dem days folks wore tare
(tar) sacks ’round deir necks and rubbed turpentine under deir noses.
When deir ailments got too hot, lak when Mammy died, dey made ’em
swallow two or three draps of turpentine.”

[Dosia Harris, Part II, Georgia]

“Miss Annie doctored us. In summer, she made us pull up certain roots
and dry special leafs for to make her teas out of. Horehoun’, boneset,
and yellow root was de main things she used. She made a sort of sody out
of de white ashes f’um de top of a hick’ry fire and mixed it wid vinegar
for headaches. De black ashes, left on de bottom of de hick’ry fire, was
leached for lye, what was biled wid grease to make our soap.”

[Tom Hawkins, Part II, Georgia]

“Slaves were given treatment by the doctor when they became ill, but if
the doctor stated that the slave was well enough to work, they had to go
to the fields. Sick babies were left at home while the parents were at
work in the field. No matter what sickness the child suffered, castor
oil was the only remedy ever given.”

[Emmaline Heard, Part II, Georgia]

“Slave owners guarded carefully against illness among their slaves. Home
remedies such as certain oil, turpentine, teas of all sorts were used.
If these did no good the doctor was called in; he usually brought along
all varieties of medicine in his saddle bags and gave what was needed.
Benjamin Henderson considers that people were much healthier in those
days and did not need doctors often.”

[Benjamin Henderson, Part II, Georgia]

“When slaves got sick Marse Robert was good enough to ’em; he treated
’em right, and allus sont for a doctor, ‘specially when chillun was
borned. Oil, turpentine, and salts was the medicines the doctors give
the most of to slaves. ‘Fore they was sick enough to send for the
doctor the homefolks often give sick folks boneset and life-everlastin’
teas, and ‘most evvybody wore a little sack of asafetida ’round their
necks to protect ’em from diseases.”

[Jefferson Henry, Part II, Georgia]

“The master regarded his slaves as [HW: deleted: a] valuable [HW:
deleted: piece of] property and they received treatment as such. When
they were ill the doctor would be sent for or “Old Mistis” would come to
the cabins bringing her basket of oil, pills, and linament.”

[Robert Henry, Part II, Georgia]

“Marse Elbert and Miss Sallie was sho’ moughty good when deir Niggers
tuk sick. Castor oil and turpentine was what dey give ’em most of de
time. Horehound tea was for colds, and elderberry tea was to help babies
teethe easier. Yessum, us wore beads, but dey was just to look pretty.”

[Carrie Hudson, Part II, Georgia]

“Marse David and Miss Betsey tuk moughty good keer of deir Niggers,
‘specially when dey was sick. Dr. Bynam Bell, deir oldest son, was a
doctor but Miss Betsey was a powerful good hand at doctoring herself.
She looked atter all da slave ‘omans. For medicines dey give us asafiddy
(asafetida), calomel, and castor oil more dan anything else for our
diff’unt ailments.”

[Charlie Hudson, Part II, Georgia]

“Marse Jabe was mighty good to his slaves when dey got sick. I seed
Mammy sick once. Dr. Lumpkin Landon was sont atter. De slaves would git
fever weeds and sweetgum bark, bile ’em together, and take de tea for
colds, coughs, and fever. Dey wore little sacks of assfidity
(assafoetida) ’round dey necks to keep off disease, and strung hollow
treadsass (treadsalve) roots on strings lak necklaces and hung ’em
’round de babies’ necks to make ’em teethe easy.”

[Easter Huff, Part II, Georgia]

“Honey, there wuz one time when them white folks wuz good to us slaves,”
said Aunt Emma, “an’ that wuz when we wuz sick. They would give us
homemade remedies like tansy tea, comfort root tea, life everlasting
tea, boneset tea, garlic water an’ sich, ‘cordin’ ter what ailed us.
Then if we didn’t git better they sont fer the doctor. If we had a
misery anywhere they would make poultices of tansy leaves scalded, or
beat up garlic an’ put on us. Them folks wuz sho’ ‘cerned ’bout us when
we wuz sick, ’cause they didn’t want us ter die.”

[Emma Hurley, Part II, Georgia]

“Hardly anybody ever got sick on de plantation. When dey wuz sick de
white lady would come out once in a while to see how you wuz gittin’
‘long. If anybody wuz very sick de doctor would come on his horse an’
bring his medicine wid ‘im when he come. When you wuz sick like dis
somebody from de fiel’ would stay in an’ do de nursin’. All de medicine
I ‘members is big blue mass pills an’ salts–dey would give you des fer
anything. When you wuz too sick to go to de fiel’ an’ not sick enuff to
be in bed you had to report to de white lady at de house–she could tell
pretty much if you wuz sick an’ she would work on you–if you did’nt git
better den she would send fer de doctor.”

[Amanda Jackson, Part II, Georgia]

“When there was serious illness the slaves had the attention of Dr.
Ferrel. On other occasions the old remedy of castor oil and turpentine
was administered. There was very little sickness then according to Mr.
Lewis. Most every family kept a large pot of “Bitters” (a mixture of
whiskey and tree barks) and each morning every member of the family took
a drink from this bucket. This supposedly prevented illness.”

[George Lewis, Part III, Georgia]

“When slaves got sick, our white folks was mighty good ’bout havin’ ’em
keered for. Dey dosed ’em up wid oil and turpentine and give ’em teas
made out of hoarhound for some mis’ries and bone-set for other troubles.
Most all the slaves wore a sack of assfiddy (asafetida) ’round deir
necks all de time to keep ’em from gittin’ sick.”

[Ed McCree, Part III, Georgia]

“According to Mrs. McDaniel all the serious illnesses were handled by a
doctor who was called in at such times. At other times Mr. or Mrs. Hale
gave them either castor oil or salts. Sometimes they were given a type
of oil called “lobelia oil.” At the beginning of the spring season they
drank various teas made out of the roots that they gathered in the
surrounding woods. The only one that Mrs. McDaniel remembers is that
which was made from sassafras roots. “This was good to clean the
system,” says Mrs. McDaniel. Whenever they were sick they did not have
to report to the master’s house each day as was the case on some of the
other plantations. There were never any pretended illnesses to avoid
work as far as Mrs. McDaniel knows.”

[Amanda McDaniel, Part III, Georgia]

“Oh! Yes, Ma’am, Marse Billy was good to his slaves, when they got sick.
He called in Dr. Jones Long, Dr. Harden, and Dr. Lumpkin when they was
real sick. There was lots of typhoid fever then. I don’t know nothing
about no herbs, they used for diseases; only boneset and hoarhound tea
for colds and croup. They put penrile (pennyroyal) in the house to keep
out flies and fleas, and if there was a flea in the house he would shoo
from that place right then and there.”

“The old folks put little bags of assfiddy (assafoetida) around their
chillun’s necks to keep off measles and chickenpox, and they used
turpentine and castor oil on chillun’s gums to make ’em teethe easy.
When I was living on Milledge Avenue, I had Dr. Crawford W. Long to see
about one of my babies, and he slit that baby’s gums so the teeth could
come through. That looked might bad to me, but they don’t believe in old
ways no more.”

[Susan McIntosh, Part III, Georgia]

“Home remedies for illness were used much more extensively than any
doctor’s medicine. Teas, compounded from sage, boneset, tansy, and
mullen, usually sufficed for any minor sickness, and serious illness was

[Matilda McKinney, Part III, Georgia]

“Marse Joe tuk mighty good keer of sick slaves. He allus called in a
doctor for ’em, and kept plenty of castor ile, turpentine, and de lak on
hand to dose ’em wid. Miss Emily made teas out of a heap of sorts of
leaves, barks, and roots, sich as butterfly root, pine tops, mullein,
catnip and mint leaves, feverfew grass, red oak bark, slippery ellum
bark, and black gum chips. Most evvybody had to wear little sacks of
papaw seeds or of assyfizzy (asafetida) ’round deir necks to keep off

[William McWhorter, Part III, Georgia]

“Hoar-hound and penny-royal were used for minor ailments, and “varnish”
was put on cuts by the “ole Miss”. Mollie doesn’t remember ever seeing a
doctor, other than a mid-wife, on the plantation. Home made remedies for
“palpitation of the heart” was to wear tied around the neck a piece of
lead, pounded into the shape of the heart, and punched with nine holes,
or to get some one “not kin to you”, to tie some salt in a small bag and
wear it over your heart. Toothache was cured by smoking a pipe of “life
everlasting”, commonly called “rabbit tobacco”. Headaches were stopped
by beating the whites of an egg stiff, adding soda and putting on a
cloth, then tying around the head.”

[Mollie Malone, Part III, Georgia]

“Didn’t nobody hardly have a doctor in dem days.
De white folks used yarbs an’ ole ‘omans to he’p ’em at dat time. Mammy
had er ole ‘oman whut lived on de place evvy time she had a little ‘un.
She had one evvy year too. She lost one. Dat chile run aroun’ ’til she
wuz one year ole an’ den died wid de disentery.”

[Aunt Carrie Mason, Part III, Georgia]

“Yes Ma’am, dey took mighty good care of us effen us got sick. Ole
Marster would call in Doctor Moore or Doctor Carleton and have us looked
atter. De ‘omans had extra good care when dey chilluns comed. ‘Til
freedom come, I wuz too little to know much ’bout dat myself, but Ma
allus said dat Negro ‘omans and babies wuz looked atter better ‘fore
freedom come dan dey ever wuz anymo’.”

[Anna Parkes, Part III, Georgia]

“Loss of life among slaves was a calamity and if a doctor earned a
reputation for losing his patients, he might as well seek a new
community. Often his downfall would begin by some such comment as, “Dr.
Brown lost old man Ingram’s nigger John. He’s no good and I don’t intend
to use him.”

[G W Pattillo, Part III, Georgia]

“Oh! No Ma’am, I don’t ‘member nothin’ ’bout what us played when I wuz a
little chap, and if I ever knowed anything ’bout Rawhead and Bloody
Bones and sich lak I done plumb forgot it now. But I do know Old Marster
and Old Mist’ess sho’ wuz powerful good when dey Niggers got sick. Dey
put a messenger boy on a mule and sont ‘im for Dr. Hudson quick, ’cause
to lose a Nigger wuz losin’ a good piece of property. Some Niggers wore
some sort of beads ’round deir necks to keep sickness away and dat’s all
I calls to mind ’bout dat charm business.”

[Alec Pope, Part III, Georgia]

“A doctor was employed to attend to those persons who were sick. However
he never got chance to practice on the Kennon premises as there was
never any serious illness. Minor cases of sickness were usually treated
by giving the patient a dose of castor oil or several doses of some form
of home made medicine which the slaves made themselves from roots that
they gathered in the woods. In order to help keep his slaves in good
health Mr. Kennon required them to keep the cabins they occupied and
their surroundings clean at all times.”

[Annie Price, Part III, Georgia]

“A doctor was only called when a person had almost reached the last
stages of illness. Illness was often an excuse to remain away from the
field. “Blue mass pills”, castor oil, etc. were kept for minor aches and
pains. When a slave died he was buried as quickly as a box could be
nailed together.”

[Charlie Pye, Part III, Georgia]

“Course dey had doctors in dem days, but we used mostly home-made
medicines. I don’t believe in doctors much now. We used sage tea, ginger
tea, rosemary tea–all good for colds and other ail-ments, too.”

“We had men and women midwives. Dr. Cicero Gibson was wid me when my
fus’ baby come. I was twenty-five years old den. My baby chile
seventy-five now.”

[Ferebe Rogers, Part III, Georgia]

“There was very little illness on the plantation where Mrs. Rush lived.
Practically the only medicine ever used was castor oil and turpentine.
Some of the slaves went to the woods and gathered roots and herbs from
which they made their own tonics and medicines.”

[Julia Rush, Part III, Georgia]

“When slaves got sick, dey didn’t have no doctor dat I knowed ’bout.
Miss Carrie done de doctorin’ herself. Snake root tea was good for colds
and stomach mis’ries. Dey biled rabbit tobacco, pine tops, and mullein
together; tuk de tea and mixed it wid ‘lasses; and give it to us for
diffunt ailments. If dey done dat now, folkses would live longer. Ma put
asafiddy (asafetida) sacks ’round our necks to keep off sickness.”

[Will Sheets, Part III, Georgia]

“Old Marster an’ Mist’ess looked atter deir Niggers mighty well. When
dey got sick, de doctor wuz sont for straight away. Yes Ma’am, dey
looked atter ’em mighty well. Holly leaves an’ holly root biled together
wuz good for indigestion, an’ blackgum an’ blackhaw roots biled together
an’ strained out an’ mixed wid whiskey wuz good for diffunt mis’ries.
Some of de Niggers wore little tar sacks ‘roun’ dey necks to keep de
fever ‘way.”

[Tom Singleton, Part III, Georgia]

“Mistus b’lieved in lookin’ atter her niggers w’en dey was sick. She would give ’em medicine at home. Candy an’ tea, made wid ho’e houn’ an’ butterfly root tea was good for worms; dewberry wine, lak’wise dewberry root tea was good for de stomach ache; samson snake root an’ poplar bark tea was good medicine for coles an’ so’e th’oats, an’ w’en you was in pain, de red pepper bag would sho’ help lots sometimes. If de homemade medicine diden’ cyore ’em, den Mistus sont for de doctor.”

[Georgia Smith, Part III, Georgia]

“When we wuz sick de white folks seed dat wewuz ‘tended to. Dey use ter mak Jerusalem Oak candy an’ give us. Dey took de leaves of dat bush an’ boiled ’em an’ den use dat water dey wuz boiled in an’ put sugar ‘nough in hit ter mak candy. An dey used plenty of turpentine on us too–plenty ov hit, an’ I believes in dat terday, hit’s er good medicine.”

[Jane Toombs, Part IV, Georgia]

The health problem was not acute as these people were provided with everything necessary for a contented mind and a robust body. [TR: original line: The health problem was not a very acute one as these people were provided with everything conducive to a contented mind which plays a large part in maintaining a robust body.] However, a Doctor who lived nearby cared for the sick. Two fees were set–the larger one being charged if the patient recovered. Home remedies were used for minor ills–catnip tea for thrash, tea from Samson Snakeroot for cramps, redwood and dogwood bark tea [HW: and horehound candy] for worms, [HW: many] root teas used [HW: medicinally] by this generation. Peach brandy was given to anyone suspected of having pneumonia,–if the patient coughed, it was certain that he was a victim of the disease.”

[Phil Towns, Part IV, Georgia]

“Folkses warn’t sick much in dem days lak dey is now, but now us don’t eat strong victuals no more. Us raked out hot ashes den and cooked good old ashcakes what was a heap better for us dan dis bread us buys from de stores now. Marster fed us plenty ashcake, fresh meat, and ash roasted ‘taters, and dere warn’t nobody what could out wuk us.”

[Neal Upson, Part IV, Georgia]

“We learned to use lots of herbs and other home-made remedies during the war when medicine was scarce at the stores, and some old folks still use these simple teas and poultices. Comfrey was a herb used much for poultices on risings, boils, and the like, and tea made from it is said to be soothing to the nerves. Garlic tea was much used for worms, but it was also counted a good pneumonia remedy, and garlic poultices helped folks to breathe when they had grippe or pneumonia. Boneset tea was for colds. Goldenrod was used leaf, stem, blossom, and all in various ways, chiefly for fever and coughs. Black snake root was a good cure for childbed fever, and it saved the life of my second wife after her last child was born. Slippery ellum was used for poultices to heal burns, bruises, and any abrasions, and we gargled slippery ellum tea to heal sore throats, but red oak bark tea was our best sore throat remedy. For indigestion and shortness of the breath we chewed calamus root or drank tea made from it. In fact, we still think it is mighty useful for those purposes.”

[John Van Hook, Part IV, Georgia]

“Old Marster was mighty good to his Niggers,” she said. When any of ’em got sick Old Miss sont to town for him, and he allus come right out and fetched a doctor. Old Miss done her very best for Pappy when he was tuk sick, but he died out jus’ de same. Pappy used to drive a oxcart and, when he was bad off sick and out of his haid, he hollered out: ‘Scotch dat wheel! Scotch dat wheel!’ In his mind, he was deep in de bad place den, and didn’t know how to pray. Old Miss, she would say: ‘Pray, Pete, Pray.’ Old Miss made a heap of teas from diff’unt things lak pennyroyal, algaroba wood,  assafras, flat tobacco, and mullein. Us wore rabbits foots, little bags of asfiddy (asafetida), and garlic tabs ’round our necks to keep off mis’ries. I wishes I had a garlic tab to wear ’round my neck now.”

[Addie Vinson, Part IV, Georgia]

“Serious illnesses were not frequent and home remedies compounded of roots and herbes usually sufficed. Queensy’s light root, butterfly roots, scurry root, red shank root, bull tongue root were all found in the woods and the teas made from their use were “cures” for many ailments. Whenever an illness necessitated the services of a physician, he was called. One difference in the old family doctor and those of today was the method of treatment. The former always carried his medicine with him, the latter writes prescriptions. The fee was also much smaller in olden times.”

[Rhoda Walton, Part IV, Georgia]

“When any of the slaves were bad sick Old Boss called in his own family doctor, Dr. Joe Bradbury. His plantation hit up against ours. The main things they gave for medicine them days was oil and turpentine. Sometimes folks got black snakeroot from the woods, biled it, and gave the tea to sick folks; that was to clean off the stomach. Everybody wore buckeyes ’round their necks to keep off diseases for we never knowed nothing about asefetida them days; that came later.”

[Green WIllbanks, Part IV, Georgia]

“White folks was mighty good and kind when deir slaves got sick. Old Marster sont for Dr. ‘Pree (DuPree) and when he couldn’t git him, he got Dr. Brown. He made us swallow bitter tastin’ powders what he had done mixed up in water. Miss Polly made us drink tea made out of Jerusalem oak weeds. She biled dem weeds and sweetened de tea wid syrup. Dat was good for stomach trouble, and us wore elder roots strung ’round our necks to keep off ailments.”

[Frances Willingham, Part IV, Georgia]

“Aunt Adeline was surprised when asked if the Doctor ever was called in to see her or any of the slaves when they were sick back in slavery days–in fact she was a bit indignant as she answered; “_No mam_, I was born, growed up, married, had sixteen children and never had no Doctor with me ’til here since I got so old”. She went on to say that her white folks looked after their Negroes when they were sick.

They were given tonics and things to keep them well so sickness among them was rare. No “store-bought” medicines, but good old home-made remedies were used. For instance, at the first sniffle they were called in and given a drink of fat lightwood tea, made by pouring boiling water over finely split kindling–“that” explained Aunt Adeline, “was cause lightwood got turpentine in it”. In the Springtime there was a mixture of anvil dust (gathered up from around the anvil in the blacksmith’s shop) and mixed with syrup, and a teaspoon full given every morning or so to each little piccaninny as they were called up in the “white folks’ yard”. Sometimes instead of this mixture they were given a dose of garlic and whisky–all to keep them healthy and well.”

[Adeline Willis, Part IV, Georgia]

“Most of the sickness on the Womble plantation was due to colds and fever. For the treatment of either of these ailments the master always kept a large can filled with a mixture of turpentine and caster oil. When anyone complained of a cold a dose of this oil was prescribed. The master gave this dose from a very large spoon that always hung from the can. The slaves also had their own home made remedies for the treatment of different ailments. Yellow root tea and black-hall tea were used in the treatment of colds while willow tea was used in the treatment of fever. Another tea made from the droppings of sheep was used as a remedy for the measles. A doctor was always called when anyone was seriously ill. He was always called to attend those cases of childbirth. Unless a slave was too sick to walk he was required to go to the field and work like the others. If, however, he was confined to his bed a nurse was provided to attend to his needs.”

[George Womble, Part IV, Georgia]

“Besides having to take care of the young children, these older slaves were required to care for those slaves who were ill. Mr. House employed a doctor to attend his slaves when their cases seemed to warrant it. If the illness was of a minor nature he gave them castor oil, salts or pills himself. Then, too, the slaves had their own home remedies. Among these were different tonics made from “yarbs” (herbs), plasters made from mustard, and whisky, etc. Most illnesses were caused by colds and fevers. Mr. Wright says that his two brothers and his sister, all of whom were younger than he, died as a result of typhoid fever.”

[Henry Wright, Part IV, Georgia]