Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Visit to an 1805 Doctor's Office

Typical brick house construction in Salem.
My January post introduced you to the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina, along with some of its unique history. One of the buildings on the living history tour I was most excited to visit on my research trip for my novel, The Witness Tree (coming this September), was the doctor’s house and apothecary. Because my parents restored and run an 1840s apothecary here in Georgia, my mom, who traveled with me, shared my eagerness.

We spent a long time at the Vierling House, flipping through medical recipes and examining fascinating displays that took me right to the period of my novel, c. 1805.

Dr. Samuel Benjamin Vierling was born in Germany in 1765 and became Salem’s most renowned physician. A skilled surgeon, he performed cancer, cataract, and brain surgery. He also inoculated residents against smallpox at the turn of the nineteenth century, introducing puss from a cow under the skin of healthy people.

Dr. Vierling and his growing family moved into their fine brick residence in 1802. He ran his apothecary out of the lower front room. We know that his ailing in-laws joined them in residence there in 1805, when a peek into his books shows us the town of 1,388 people conducted ninety-four infant baptisms and twenty-nine funerals. In addition to the smallpox scare, the town sustained an influenza epidemic. Dr. Vierling asked “again” for a hospital, and noted that severe weather and the poor harvest of the year before resulted in a shortage of food.

Common uses of herbs and medicines included antimony and anise for coughs; arsenic for cancer and yellow fever; powdered cloves for toothaches; foxglove for mania; mercury for rabies and venereal disease; and coffee for consumption and kidney stones. I’ll take the coffee treatment, please!

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s the managing editor of Smitten Historical Romance of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here: 
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  1. I love this post! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  2. Thank you, Connie. I love research trips!

  3. I enjoyed reading this post. I remember some of the out dated items a physician had his uncle had used in his practice.

    1. Thanks so much, Marilyn! Going to the doctor is worrisome enough for us. I can't imagine how nervous they felt in those days. :)