March 29, 1851



March 29 Sat  Have a very bad cold and cough some

but it has not increased with my cold which is unusual

Have taken Wisters Balsam  This afternoon mother

Orinthia & self called awhile in the other part of the 

house  Abby came here about four & stoped one

hour or two, but did not stay to tea  I finished Mr

Ames bleached shirt and Orinthia finished a

coarse shirt for him  Pleasant and fine traveling

Evelina caught a “very bad cold,” her second one since the start of the year.  The first cold she treated by concocting a time-honored home remedy of which her Puritan ancestors would have approved. It included honey, a little horehound from her own garden, and more. The new cold, however, she dosed with a commercial product, Wistar’s Balsam. This bottle of patent medicine was something she purchased “over-the-counter,” as we would say today, with the expectation that a commercial product offered an improvement over what she might have made for herself.  Such a transition from home-made to manufactured goods was very much part of the mid-19th century world in which she lived.

Dr. Wistar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was the most popular of many patent medicines available in the marketplace for the self-treatment of various ailments. With its “heady melange of cherry bark, alcohol and opiates,” it claimed to have “‘effected some of the most astonishing cures ever recorded in the History of Medicine!'”* With no regulatory oversight or standards to adhere to, it and other nostrums could and did claim curative powers over everything from colds to consumption. A consumer like Evelina could be completely taken in.

How Wistar’s Balsam helped Evelina’s cold is uncertain, but she temporarily felt better for the drugs she imbibed. She was able to sit up with her mother, Orinthia and Sarah Witherell, visit with her niece Abby Torrey, and finish sewing a fine shirt for her husband.




2 thoughts on “March 29, 1851

  1. Some OTC drugs today contain alcohol enough to drown out the suffering, same idea.
    This reminded me of Sozodont, an oral hygiene product from the later part of the 19th century. The name was painted on Reed’s Rock in Wyoming from which the Ames Monument was quarried. It was the practice along the trails that pioneers followed westward (Oregon, Overland, Mormon) to advertise products by painting or carving the names on rocks along the trails. I wonder if Wistar’s Balsam might have been one of those. Back to Sozodont, it was later proven to turn teeth yellow.

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