John Sevier's miracle elixir cures what ales you...

John Sevier was a man of many talents.  In addition to being an Indian fighter, a frontiersman, a war hero, and a statesman, John Sevier was also quite the medicine man.

Sevier's diary is full of references to home remedies that purported to cure a wide variety of ailments.  His medical advice even includes a cure for cancer that involved boiling something called "Turkey figs" in new milk. Here are a few more of John Sevier's unorthodox remedies excerpted from his diary...

  • January, 1803. To cure the pluricy & fluenzy when the pain and fever Begins you must take three spoonfuls of honey and as much alloycospane (?) as will lie on the point of case knife twice, and half that quantity of Indian turnips and as much allum as the size of a large pea & half as much fresh Butter as honey, Stew them on hot embers then every night take one table spoonful, very warm keep takeing that until the abscess breaks Make a small cake of Ry meal then split the Cake and put tar on it and lay it on the pain & follow the pain with a new Cake every four hours. take Garlic & pound it put it on hogs lard and keep that to the soals of the feet & blead moderately every three day & regularly & sweat every three Days with Sinicar snake root & keep body open with castor oil. . . .
  • Cure for gravel half pint of common plantain seeds, boiled in one Quart of new milk down to one pint — take a spoonful morning & evening of the decoction.
  • Cuckceld bur leaves boiled in new milk good for a snake bite. The gaul of the earth bruised and infused in new milk good.
  • Blue Vitriol with half its Quantity of allum burnt into a powder put to a Cancer wart is good to eat it out, must be changed every six hours.
  • December, 1804. Memo. A method of preserving wheat from the weevil. When the wheat is stacked, every three or four layers sprinkle some flour of sulphur over the wheat or after it is thrashed throw a few pieces of brimstone into the cask or granary &c.
  • April, 1806. Memo. Take chery tree and dog wood barks, & poplar root bark make a tea of the same, is good for a pain in the back — red precipitate as much as will lie on the point of a pin knife rolled up in butter is the best thing for botts in horses. When rolled up must be put down the horses throat as far as possible. . . .
  • Sat. 2 . . . Memo. Take a handfull of the inside bark of prickly ash 6 Inches long the same quantity of red earth worms and about the same quantity of both those articles of the oil of hogs feet, & stew all slowly together until the worms are dissolved: strain out the sediment and anoint with the oil for the Rheumatism.
  • Sun. 10 Memo. Stew red pepper in hogs lard and anoint for the Rheumatism, is thought to be efficacious, and afterwards bathe in water wherein oats in the straw have been boiled, & wrap the straw around the parts affected when as warm as can be bourn. . . .
  • November, 1806. Sun. 7 Recipe for the cure of the dropsy, put into a stone, or earthen Jug, a gallon of stale Senna (?) Cyder, together with a double handful of parsley roots & hops cut fine; a handful of scraped horse radish; two table spoonfuls of bruised mustard seed; half an ounce oxymell of squills and an ounce of Juniper berries. The liquor to be keeped warm by the fire, twenty-four hours; to be often agitated and then strained for use. dose for a adult, half a wine glass full three times a day, on a empty stomach. The dose may be encreased if necessary. After the water shall be discharged the patient should use moderate exercise. Subsist on dry nourishing diet & abstain from all liquors as much as possible. (A proved cure).
  • May, 1807. Memo. Take horse radish and Garlic of each a handful!º stew it down in three pints to one of water:— bottle it up close — take two spoonfuls of the Liquid either night or morning. If this quantity does not effect a cure, — make use of the 2 & 3d bottle — a sure cure for the Gravel.
  • December, 1807. Sat. 12 . . . Memo. Boil Cammomile in new milk, to a strong decoction, bathe with it as warm as can be born, three or four times a day good for inflamed sore eyes. . . .
  • Wed. 16 Memo. (Cure for the Rheumatism) Take as much flour of sulphur as will lay on the point of a case knife mix with honey, for nine mornings running — on the 7th bleed in both feet on the inside after taking the sulphur & honey, infuse the bigness of your thumb of senaca snake root, in one quart of brandy or whisky, drink a glass every night or morning as you may choose — take care not to catch cold. . . .
  • Mon. 28 . . . Memo. Take 1 oz. of mercurial ointment, boil the same in one gallon of Water, skim off the Grease and mix the horses food twice a day for three or four days — then make a decoction of dogwood and poplar root bark, or rattle weed, mix the food with the decoction — when the horses tongue & mouth begins to become moist &º you may forbear giving the mercury.  The above is a cure for the yellow water which only a fever in the horse. . . .
  • May, 1808. Fry. 13 . . . Memo. A handful of white shoemake roots. Two spoonfuls of tarr, three spoonfuls of honey, add one quart of new milk, boil it down to one pint with which drench your horse, a good cure for botts.
  • Jan. 1811. Sat. 12 . . . Memo. Take three small balls of spiders webb for three mornings running in Lyquor or Tea is a sure cure for fever & ague or dumb ague. . . .
  • December, 1811. Thurs. 5 . . . Memo. (Gravel) Take three drachms of powdered niter and dissolve in a quart of cold water and take half this quantity in the course of a day and the painful complaint will be dislodged. It may be taken at any hour, but it is best after a meal. The greatest martyrs to this disorder have been cured by this simple medicine — (It is the Gravel).
  • January, 1812. Memo. Oil of turpentine taken in small doses have recently been discovered to destroy the tape worm.
  • February, 1812. Bohea Tea Recipe for cure of the Dropsy — about two large cupfuls of the tea is to be infused in a quart of water, & during the day the decoction is to be drank, & the leaves eaten at short intervals — a speedy & quick cure.
  • March, 1812. Cure for cancer. Boil west Turkey figs in new milk which will thicken in boiling, — apply them broken or whole to the effected part which must be washed every time dressed with some milk. Use a fresh poultice nixt & morning & oncst in the middle of the day, & drink one gill of the milk the figs are boiled in twice in 24 hours.
  • November, 1812. Sun. 22 . . . Memo. A cure for the slobers in horses, occasioned by clover — rub underneath the tongue the under Jaw well with mention salt onst or twice the disorder is in the tongue in the under jaw.
  • June, 1814. Wed. 1 . . . Memo. The sirute of antonmy from 8 to 12 grains taken at night in a little honey or sugar observing not to drink for two hours after you have take the sirute is good for diarrhea — about 1 spoonful of sweet oil to the yolks of four eggs well beaten up together in form of plaster & renewed is an excellent cure for bad burns. — Tea made out of the May apple root 1 wine glass 3 times per day is excellent for diarhea or to half appetite.
  • July, 1814. Tues. 12 . . . Memo. Boil milch directly from the Cow, add one oz. sheep suet, 2 ditto of loaves sugar a handfull of alspice, & one of lew (?) mallows to the quart — live up on it — previous to taking the boiled milch observe to take a good purge of Castor oil.
  • January, 1815. Fry. 6 . . . Memo. Scrape off an ivory comb a teaspoonful & mix it in a table spoonful of honey take its fasting 3 mornings running & the cure will be affected.
  • Memo. Beef tea a certain cure for vomiting &c.
  • Mecury [sic] taken till the mouth turns sore a sure cure for the yellow or other fevers. — lay fresh meat, sausages &c. up in hogs laird as it becomes cold, will keep sweet & fresh long the lard will keep so. — it must be always covered with the lard. It must be laid in as the lard becomes coagulated.

If politics, land speculation, and Indian warfare hadn't consumed his time, John Sevier could have been quite a snake oil salesman.

Gordon Belt is the Director of Public Services for the Tennessee State Library & Archives, and past president of the Society of Tennessee Archivists. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee. His book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory.