Thomsonianism did not begin as a medical philosophy designed for trappers, mountainmen or residents of the forts placed around the country.  But parts of Thomsonianism did become parts of the philosophy of popular doctors with a history of at least part of this lifestyle by the 1840s.  As evidence for this we have William Dain of Oregon Territory in the 1840s.  

Dain claimed to be affiliated with Fort Vancouver, Washington, which was operated by the Northwest Fur Trade company then, and had regular doctors employed on its staff.  Therefore, Dain was not serving as a physician, and more than likely was there to assist in whatever tasks had to be done for the fort, such as securing supplies and provisions, serving as a scout leading people to and fro, or tending to the needs and security of local pioneers residing just outside the fort.  By 1840, we know that Dain is married to an American Indian women, but whether or not she was purebred is uncertain (more than likely she is, but this is uncertain).  We know about this marriage due to some records kept on boating excursions the women sometimes engaged in together, with William Dain’s wife noted along with several others returning from some travels.  

The first time any details are provided about Dain and his medical knowledge is when he is asked by Solomon Tetherow to serve as a scout and guide. Tetherow’s team was preparing to make their way to California, not for gold (it’s too early), simply for the pleasure of it all. 

While preparing for the journey, William Dain provided Tetherow with a number of recipes for medicines and instructions on how these recipes should be prepared and used and for what for specific ailments.  Again, there are several things that are unusual about Dain’s recipes. Tetherow’s team consisted of just men, young men for the most part. Dain’s recipes included formulas for wives, expecting mothers and children. Perhaps the plan was for settlers to make their way west and then mail back instructions to their family as to how to make their way across. Whatever the case, Dain’s recipes included some of the medicinal plants we’d expect to see employed had he considered himself a trapper practicing Indian medicine or being some sort of ‘Indian Doctor.’ But this does not seem to be the case. Along with simple herb descriptions and instructions, and some obvious Indian formulas (of the “Indian Root Doctor type”), we find his recipes to include several Thomsonian-related herbal medicine formulas and practices, in particular some of Thomson’s pre-manufactures compositions formulas. These items are peculiar to authentic trappers based upon what I have reviewed so far, and suggest that Dain also had received some education in Thomsonianism, which between 1825 and 1840 had developed a significant following, and between 1835 and 1845 had resulted in the opening of several schools in the New England and Bible Belt area. The closest Thomsonian-like philosophy to be preached to midwestern families near the Jump Off sites for overland migration was the Thomsonianism preached and practiced by individual associated with Alva Curtis, who operated such a school in Columbus, Ohio followed by Cincinnati. Other overlanders learned medicine from these schools and some were affiliated with at least one of the members of Tetherow’s team–Elijah Bristow.

Elias Bristow’s son, John Kennedy Bristow, and his wife Susannah Gabbert’s brother Michael, were both somehow related to the medical profession. John Kennedy would undergo an apprenticeship to become a doctor in 1849, learning under Edmund G. Browning, who learned from one of the schools in Cincinnati just one or two years earlier. He would later become a minister and circuit rider in Oregon once he reached the country and made his land claim. John’s uncle Michael Gabbert was affiliated with a school trying to initiate classes in Memphis, Tennessee, a school which underwent several politically motivated changes in its curriculum, possible splitting into two schools tying to claim the same title to opening a school provided to Memphis a few years before by the State Courts. Most certainly a regular school operated in Memphis although it seemed to have no graduates to boast about. The satellite group that separated from the allopaths did however go on to include their training sessions, at least according to an item published in the 1850 Eclectic Medical Journal July issue.

From all of this we know that medicine was now in a very unstable state of flux and change both philosophically and politically. Throughout these years, Dain practices medicine, having witnessed several periods of change in the medical profession and having witnessed plenty of strange examples of the new forms of medicine being practiced at the Fort Vancouver setting at the Oregon-Washington border. When he was hired by Tetherow, he had probably already witnessed some of Dr. John McLoughlin’s antics at the Fort, including McLoughlin’s fascination with orbism and the new way of performing hypnotism. McLoughlin used this technique to assist in the diseases of the mind that his patients experienced, especially some of the younger Native Americans residing next to the fort, have to adapt to the new governmentally-recommended cultural way of being–residing in a mostly permanent village.

So William Dain had to make up his mind what kind of doctor he was going to be and what kind of philosophy he was going to adhere to. Based on retrospection about Dain’s practice, now nearly twenty years into this research project I developed, it seems safe to say that Dain was Christian in religion, strongly devoted to nature and God (natural philosophers of sorts), abiding by the same beliefs many trappers did regarding this part of life, perhaps wearing animal charms and amulets as he got older along with his Indian wife, adapting his behaviors in the best way possible to remain linked to the local government, as a servant of the fort and then state government, living in the rural parts of the heavily inhabited Willamette Valley.

By the time the Civil War was over, Dain was still alive and practicing medicine, but by 1865 he was known as an “Indian Doctor.” How much of the Thomsonian philosophy, how many Indian traditions, how much better he knew the Pacific Northwest by this time we do not know. But most certainly he must have known the local plants better by the 1860s. His role in local history was still being told by the 1860s, as evidenced by a copy of his Root recipe contained in the recipe book penned by John Kennedy Bristow over the years. Dr. Bristow knew a little about Dain’s wisdom and philosophy, but like any Christian stood firm with his adherence to church laws regarding disease and God’s Law. Both Dain and Bristow did practice a fairly religious sanative form of healing, with the exception that Bristow’s God was still found within the Church, and Dain’s God found at home and in the woods.

A number of observations about Dain’s recipes showing us that most of the plants they require are from the Midwest and East coast tell us a lot about his philosophy and knowledge base when he was younger.  Many of the plants that we might expect to see as part of some West Coast trapper’s philosophy or the philosophy of others learned in West Coast medicine are simply not there.  The most important Pacific Northwest plants during the mid-19th century are Grindelia, Oregon Grape, and Cascara sagrada, to which we might add some spanish-mexican herbal medicines like the yerba mansa and yerba buena. Dain makes no mention of these.

This does not mean Dain did not know the west coast plants, it just suggests that he wasn’t using them that much, or perhaps the possibility that he though they wouldn’t be present along the Overland route.  Whatever the case, there are a few western species, possibly along the trail, that Dain that did include however.  The most important herbal medicine according to Dain was Polemonium repens, a relative of the European favorite Jacob’s Ladder. 

This particular observation related to Dain’s notes to Tetherow is important.  This single plant has a folklore that in fact reveals much about the philosophy at the time in general, including Dain’s personal philosophy.   Like traditional herbalists, Dain had a natural philosophy he was adhering to.  This natural philosophy was perhaps his own substitute for religion and going to church.  It was not an American Indian philosophy taken on as some way of worshipping or respecting God or the Creator in the wild, it was another way he could remain a Christian, and not receive that much disrespect from local church leaders and strongly devoted families and mothers.  He could still be of some service to the community, and not have to go to church.

Polemonium caeruleum

Dain’s most important herb, Polemonium reptans, is a Bible herb–the local equivalent of Jacob’s Ladder.  It is not the species of Polemonium that is the true Bible herb found growing in Europe (Polemonium caeruleum, Greek Valerian), but it is the local equivalent of this meaningful plant.  Important enough for Dain to produce a drawing of this plant for Tetherow and others to memorize and keep in the back of their minds.  Since Dain made the extra effort to draw this plant in Tetherow’s journal,  we can assume that plant was along the trail somewhere and is an example of a plant native to the region which Dain did learn about.

This piece of Overland Trail history happened in the midst of a transcendental movement taking place.  So this fact alone also helps to explain a little better how to use the Polemonium note produced by Dain to read into the philosophy for the time a little bit more.  This transcendentalism also impacted the way people interpreted the presence of several other herbs in the Pacific Northwest.  Like the colonists of the 1600s, settling for the first time along the east coast of the United States,  interpreting local herbs in some sort of symbolic as if they were left there by God to tell them they were in the right place doing the right thing, Overlanders also had these natural philosophy symbols and messages out there to decipher, plants that revealed to them that they were in the right place.


One of the most symbolic Bible plants found in the Pacific Northwest is the cascara sagara (Rhamnus sp.).  The local name for this plant is chittem bark, named after the chittem of the Old Testament.  The common names for this plant, cascara sagrada, chittem bark and sacred bark, all refer to its Bible-related meaning.  Historically, in the Bible, Chittim or Kittim is a coastline city.  Daniel prophesized about the coast of Chittim as the place where ships would come in.  In Isaiah 23:1, 12, Jericho 2:10 and Ezekiel 27:6 this place is where numerous people resided in small communities situated along the shorelines of the Mediterranean.  In the Pacific Northwest, before the forts were built, one could travel the coastline from Alaska to California  and pass by Russian and Sitka villages–this was probably the Chittim that this name referred to.

There is another natural history of this plant that is worth mentioning briefly.  The following is an excerpt of the description of this plant found in Wikipedia:

The much more pertinent name chitticum means “shit come” in Chinook Jargon; chittam comes from the Chinook Jargon phrase chittam stick = “laxative tree” which is similarly from the English word “shit”.

The problem with the logic implied in this description is which came first?  Was the term “shit” really invented by Chinooks as well?  How about the recognition of the bark for its laxative properties?   Which discovery came first, the laxative properties of this plant or the European word “shit”?  [This should be removed.]  More than likely the Chinook term “chitticum” was invented after meeting with European or Russian explorers or settlers (if not by some writer).   For more see the Oxford English Dictionary, which defined Old English and Old German origins.

It also is important to note that Chittim is a term applied to other plants as well in the United States, and it is an ancient word during the Old Testament era as well, long before its pseudo-homonym was ever invented in English language.  In a more scientific sense, based on Lyon’s Dictionary of Plant Names, Chittam-wood is a name applied to Cotinus cotinoides, American Smoke-tree.  This plant was first documented by Nuttall in 1838, and is closely related to the Cotinus cotinus of Europe. 

Even earlier in plant taxonomy history is the documentation of the European Bumelia in 1788 and two species of the American versions of this in the Carolinas area separately by Linne and Michaux.  Bumelia [Sideroxylon] lanuginosa (Michx.) Pers. and Bumelia [Sideroxylon] lycioides (L.) Gaertn. f..  The latter is also called Chittim-wood.  German Botanist Karl F. von Gaertner (1772-1850) documented this work of Linnaeus. 

Sideroxylon (Bumelia) lycioides 

Interestingly, there were no Chinook Indians living in the Carolinas region at this time when they discovered their own “Chittim”.  So it seems quite likely that the Pacific Northwest name Chittim for Cascara sagrada is more of Carolinas-Kentucky origin than Chinook origin.   More than likely, and unfortunately, the Chinook story noted above is simple folklore.  It is an amusing story, but quite inaccurate and most likely has a fairly recent history.

Eastern and Western Coltsfoots

A comparison of East and West Chittem provides us with one more important insight into early explorers, pioneers, trappers, and mountainmen.  There is this rule in herbal medicine about how plants are named and how they come to be used.  “Similars” are herbs that resemble a classic plant, usually of European origin, and therefore often given the same name or a local variation of it, and at times is assigned the same use in herbal medicine.   The best example of this is the European Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), which has its west coast equivalent (Petasites albus, sibiricus and other species).  These two plants flower very early, and produces a flower before the leaf base begin to appear.  To Russian explorers of the Sitka area, the wild valerian relatives native to mountain settings were their equivalents to the very unrelated “ginseng” or “Russian Ginseng”.

The west coast version of chittem is so named due to this resemblance with the east coast species introduced during the colonial years.  Chittem-wood and chittem-bark share this same plant form feature, but only in appearance and growth habits, not in use.

East and West Chittem/Chittim species.

Regarding William Dain, the reason for this last plant review is that it adds support to my suspicion that William Dain is a hired scout, but for some reason doesn’t know much of the Pacific Northwest herbal medicine philosophy, at least enough to mention it in Tetherow’s notes before his overland expedition.  Another part of this story to keep in mind is that Dain was employed by someone in or around Fort Vancouver.  He lived in Oregon and is on the list of early inhabitants made around 1842.  But for the 1845 overland journey involving Tetherow’s team, the people enlisted for this travel, mostly men, were apparently headed to California.  Dain probably also had little knowledge of California flora along the trail, as well as California medical herb uses.  This again supports his fairly short history of work in the field as a trapper or mountain man of the Far West. 

There are other botanists new to the California region at the time, some government sponsored explorers such as William Kellogg, who documented some of the local medicines, and fairly inaccurately for quite some time.  (His first note on Cascara noted its berries for use; he did not even know it was a laxative!)  So Dain is not really that different from these government professionals hired for the same type of work.  This is not so much a criticism on Dain’s medicine as it is an observation of Dain’s knowledge base, philosophy, and perhaps origins as a pioneer from the mid-Atlantic region near Carolinas and Kentucky, places where some of his herbs are found growing as native plants to the region.

Other plants we might expect a Native of the region to know include the local species for Lomatium, Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape), Berberis repens (creeping barberry, this one is even of the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains area), Grindelia (local tarweed), Myrica, and perhaps even the local version of Ginseng according to Russian explorers, Oplopanax horridum.   If he were in contact with the natives and native-hispanics from Old Mexico and southern California, Dain would also be familiar with the beachfront plant yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) and the locally popular yerba buena (Clinopodium douglasii). 


Putting all of this into perspective . . . Thomsonianism and trapper medicine evolved about the same time as alternatives to regular medical practice.  If we include traditional true-life trapper history, the trapper-mountainman medicine precedes Thomsonianism by at least 10 years, with a type of medicine referred to as Indian Root doctoring developing following the documentation of non-Indian individual practicing this form of healing as trappers and mountainmen who were sometimes referred to as metis.  An easy way to think about Thomsonianism compared with trapper medicine is that trapper medicine is a necessity in life from 1800 to 1820, Thomsonianism is a popular culture way of healing, not a necessity of life so much as the trapper practices were.

So for the first half of trapper history from about 1800 to 1820, trapper medicine was probably what logic and convenience dictated it to be.  It is probably a blending of Indian culture and traditions with the traditional European traditions of obtaining medicine from the fort’s quartermaster or company store.  The early trappers were neither an Indian Doctor nor a Thomsonian, they were a tradition multiethnic trapper.  It is the later trappers who served as agents, scouts, and the like during the 1840s who had the opportunity to learn the new forms of medicine being promoted outside the official allopathic setting.  The latecomers to the trapping profession were the initiators of a new form of medicine.  This popularized form of Indian Root doctoring, in association with the imaginations of people aspiring to become trappers, is what made this profession take the strong hold that it did in rural to completely virgin territories.

The following are some of the Thomsonian principles that Thomsonians practiced.  For the most part, many of these will be different from the popular forms of medicine practiced by trappers and Indian Root Doctors.   Some will become a part of the popualr culture perspective of trapper and mountainman medicine promoted from about 1840 onward, especially about the time of the Civil War and immediately thereafter.  Evidence for this latter claim is seen with William Dain’s later years of medical practice  in Oregon.  His name and practice appear in advertisements published in the local newspapers of the Willamette Valley.


Dain’s Thomsonian Side

So what part of William Dain’s practice is Thomsonian?

We can recognize Thomsonian medicine by just a few indicators.

  • Thomson’s formulas are used, in particular No. 1, No 2 and No. 6 (be careful though, some other doctor’s books used the numbering system to define their formulas, such as Peter Smith, Indian Doctor)
  • Thomson’s protocols are used, in particular puke (lobelia), purge, and sweat with a vapor bath, and the patient is not bled, and the patient is not prescribed an opiate, laudanum, mercury, arsenic, or other strong mineral remedy (Thomson had a few basic mineral remedies that were fairly non-toxic)
  • The person is noted to be a Thomsonian representative who paid into this program (got the certification)
  • The person is noted to have attended classes at a Thomsonian school (ca. 1837-1857, the location of these schools is noted later)
  • The person advertises as a Thomsonian
  • The name of the periodical the person is reading, citing or distributing (i.e. Thomsonian Recorder)
  • The place where the person is actively practicing (Thomsonianism had its specific regions defined historically and culturally) 
  • The person is not openly admitting he or she is using another medical philosophy, such as Botanic Medicine or Eclectics

In general all of the Thomsonian recipes are sanative healing in nature.


The following timeline on Thomsonianism will help delineate the possibility of Thomsonian use based on the period in which the practice took place:

1800-1820s–The Jeffersonian Period

1804–Licensure of physicians  starts to become a state requirement.

1809–Thomson invented his philosophy.  Puke, Purge and Bleed is the common regimen for the time.  The majority of patent medicines that are popular out there are British inventions.  The first American patent “medicine” is produced–Tuscarora Rice (from the western NY Tuscarora Indians).  The most popular domestic medicine guide is William Buchan’s book.  Rev. Joseph Townsend writes his own vade mecum and domestic remedy guide that is published in Boston and distributed about this time (maybe a little earlier).

Samuel Thomson’s method questioned by court; a patient of Dr. French, Ezra Lovett, died due to an over-administration of Lobelia.  French was acquitted due to expert witness’s misidentification of Marsh Rosemary (Limonium sp.) as Lobelia.  For more on this  (and if you have the journal access for these rare documents) see:

Thomson’s Legal Trial articles:   “Thomson’s Trial.” Physiomedical Recorder, v. 24 no. 4, April 1859. p. 131-132; “Thomson and his “Crudities.””  ibid.  v. 24, no. 5, May 1859, p. 163-164; “Trial of S. Thomson for the Murder of Ezra Lovett.  Criminal Court of Massachusetts, 1809.  Judge Parson’s Official Report.”  v. 24, no. 6, June 1859.  pp. 165-168;  ibid. “Dr. Thomson’s Narrative of the Trial.” pp. 168-175.; ibid. pp. 175-177. “Letter from Dr. Waterhouse.” to Samuel Thomson, Boston, from Cambridge, Dec. 11, 1835; including letter from Dudley A. Tyng, E.G. House, Esq., Boston, Newburyport, October 17, 1825; Ibid, no. 7. August 1859. pp. 259-260. “Communication from Dr. Thomson.

ca. 1810

Thomson patents his various treatments, and sells a certificate along with copies of his related texts and medications to aspiring physicians for $20.00.

1811–Thomson’s philosophy was solidified by the court case and his philosophy gets more public acceptance.   

In 1811, in Eastport, Maine, he held his first meeting to establish a society consisting of his followers. 

1812–The following year, a circular on his healing sect was published, and in 1813, he applied for a patent of his healing system.   Another eleven years would pass before his pamphlet was improved enough to be printed as a book.  Beginning 1822, his Guide to Health went through the publishing of thirteen editions, with one in German to satisfy the Germans residing in Pennsylvania.

1815–Thomsonian possibly becomes a locally well-known “doctor” and his philosophy gets spread around the Vermont-New Hampshire-Connecticut-Massachusetts region [Its competitors in Ohio and Kentucky, and perhaps Indiana are Indian Doctors]

1817–first “reformed school” attempts to open in Ohio (see medical history in Ohio books for this; it is not mentioned in any medical directories or the standard history of medical school books).   This school had a very short lifespan (1 or 2 classes at most, with classes usually just 4 to 6 weeks in length).

1820/21–followers of Samuel Thomson publish their own books; many of these books are quite obviously plagiarized.  Example:  Isaiah Smith, Buffalo region of NY.

1820/1–The first meeting is held and the group is called Friends of Thomsonianism.

1822–Thomson’s work is published as a book.  Indian Doctoring is now very popular as well.

1825-1850–The Jacksonian Period

1825–the first followers outside the Vermont-New York-Connecticut-Massachusetts  region, in particular further west and south, become influential. 

One of the most influential members of the allopathy profession, and a very important botanical medicine expert, supports Thomsonianism and its claims in a courtroom.  This is a temporary political blow to regular physicians.

1827–Dr. Wooster Beach, NY, formed Eclectic or Reformed System of Botanic Medicine.  Dr. Beech would be an ally of Thomson’s for several years.

1830s–some attempts are made by state to stop Thomsonism from being legally practiced; most of these attempts fail.  There is some evidence that herbalism and the sales of herbal goods is becoming an important piece of Shaker history as well (this may have been initiated some time between 1820 and 1825); they begin aggressively farming these herbs and produced some of the dried herbal products.

1832–A publication called the Thomsonian Recorder is established; it soon becomes a very popular periodical; this periodical’s articles are cited by several of the most popular Christian periodicals then in circulation.  A link between Christian Sanative philosophy and Thomsonianis is solidified, without much promotion of this interpretation made active by Thomson himself.   Thomsonianism has some of its strongest followers along the Bible Belt and the more active Christian communities (many Southern Baptist), as evidenced by letters to the editor of professional magazines for both Thomsonianism and Christian teachings and living practices.

1832, September 15   Dr. Thomas Hersey begins publishing the Thomsonian Recorder. [Wilder, 488]

1832, December    17    First United States   Thomsonian Convention meets in Columbus, Ohio.   Attended by Dr. Alva Curtis, of Richmond, VA.  [Wilder, 489]

      Second Convention: October 1833, Pittsburg, PA [Wilder, 490]

      Third Convention: Baltimore, MD, 13 October 1834, 4 days.  Events included passage of a “Test Resolution”:  Guide to Health reaccepted by the national committee. [Wilder, 492]


Dr. S. Thomson began his work in an Infirmary in Boston, MA  [Wilder, 491].  Other participants to meet at these conferences were:

  •       Dr. Tatem of Norfolk, VA
  •       Dr. Gregory, Montreal, Canada
  •       Dr. Alva Curtis, Columbus, Ohio
  •       Dr. Hiram Platt, Hartford, CT
  •       Dr. John Thomson, Albany, NY
  •       Dr. Thomas Lapham, Poughkeepsie, NY
  •       Dr. Abiel Gardner, Hudson, NY
  •       Dr. E.J. Mattocks, Troy, NY
  •       Dr. Samuel Tuthill, Kingston, NY
  •       Dr. William Jones, Haverstraw, NY


1833–Second Convention.  October 1833, Pittsburgh.  Attempted to create a permanent organization.  Tried initiating the “National Thomsonian Infirmary” in Boston. [Wilder, 490]

1834–Botanic Medicine initiated as an offshoot of traditional Thomsonianism.  Founder: Alva Curtis; school is opened in Chillicothe, Columbus and finally Cincinnatti, Ohio.   The Thomsonian Recorder he published gets renamed Botanico-Medical Recorder. 

1835–Other writers begin to officially publish Thomsonianism, defining this philosophy in a more complicated manner.

1837–Sylvester Graham becomes less supporting of Thomsonianism for some reason (readying to start his own alterantive healing faith).

1837  Dr. Frost brought to court on manslaughter charges for work done as a Thomsonian-Physio-medical doctor; considered “the first great legal test of the harmless nature of Lobelia.”. [“Editorial Miscellany.  Frost’s Trial.”  Physiomedical Recorder, v. 24 (4) April 1859. p. 131].  Dr. Frost is imprisoned for killing one of his patients using Thomsonianism.  [The Sweat or Vapor bath was often the cause for these horrible deaths; as the vapor baths became patented items for one to use, this problem became even more prevalent.]

1845–Albany hearing regarding Thomsonism.  Samuel’s son defines significant parts of the Thomsonian philosophy and provides some of the most important insights into the popular culture nature of the medical fad.  The Concentrated Plant Extract is invented by King, and perhaps simultaneously by Parke and Sons (precursor to Parke, Davis & Co.).

1849-1856–Documents provide insights into Thomsonianism as a popular philosophy of the past.  Oregon Trail history writings refer to Thomsonism as a practice of the Jacksonian era, primarily still being practiced by grand parents and older aunts and uncles.  This defined the 1820s and perhaps early 1830s as the period of its most active following.  Its continuation appears to persist mostly due to old schools still operating, some sanative healing teaching facilities (some even schooled at church, i.e. Illinois, 1842), and those of the Reformed or Eclectic Medical profession either reminiscing on this fad (1845 on), or still supporting some of its original claims about the unsafe mineral remedies and use of certain botanicals.


1860–Thomsonian popularity is once again at a low.  The Civil War years did much to increase the repuation of regular medicine, in particular from a military angle, but also at the scientific level as well.

1864–Indian Doctoring is once again popular

1875–Eclecticism retains its popularity; Thomsonianism only remains because it is integrated into parts of the Eclectic School teachings.   Lister’s formula is tested for sanitizing the surgery equipement, surgeon and patient.

1880-1885–many states initiate a State medical licensure group meant to oversee licensure and the rights to practice medicine; nearly all states have at least one physician on the state board for each practice: regular, homeopathic and eclectic.  Many states have 2 regular MDs for each Eclectic MD and Homeopath.  There are no board representatives allowed for botanico-medicine, physiomedicine and its related fields, Indian Doctors, water cure or hydropathy physicians, osteopaths, chiropods (early podiatrists) or chiropractors.  Requirements are established for proving a bacterium is the cause for a specific disease.

1885-1895–a revival in Thomsonianism is seen in the old-time Thomsonian states.  Eclectic medicine reacts to bacterial theory for disease; produced a new breed of Eclectic physicians who for  a very short while call themselves the New Eclectics (1885).  The basic beliefs popular to the Thomsonian and Eclectic alternatives  remain sanative in nature; most practitioners of the new Thomsonianism and new Eclectics fields of study contest the recently popularized and nearly proven bacterial theory for disease.   Books on this are published around 1890.  Early 1890s–regular medical societies are facing a problem with the old-timers who have poorly documented training and lack of the required certifications.



 The Thomsonian Schools

Thomsonianism at first was not supposed to be a profession learned in the school setting.  Its found Samuel Thomson completely lacked any form schooling, and the purpose of his writings and methods by which it became popular were meant to cater to the averge family household and not the educated person.  Thomson’s formulas, his writing style and the overall simplicity of his manners of treatment made this work fairly easy for nearly every household to have at least one person in the family who could understand this healing faith.  If we needed some single feature about Thomsonianism to blame for its success that would be difficult to define.  This method was successful due to its simplistic theory, its cadence, the relative brevity of this book compared with Buchans and other domestic remedy guides, and its local origins. 

There were a number of philosophies out there at the time Thomson wrote and distributed his philosophy, medicines and book.  The most important part of his work for this period in American history was its local origins.  For decades, one of the most popular books was William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine.  As I have reviewed several times in other sections (mostly early post-colonial), Buchan was popular, and his writings for some reason liked by many an American housewife or husband, but Buchan was not at all patriotic with his work.  Buchan was from Great Britain after all, and several times the British have not been on the Patriotic side of US citizens.  We at first don’t see this part of Buchan’s work when we first go through it, and for those of use who didn’t want to see these clues back during the early 19th century, we simply skimmed over his numerous anti-patriotic inferences we find on and off throughout the book.   Take for example the discovery of an American herb, especially one that was promoted for use as a substitute for a British import.  Buchan makes references to these plants and on occasion is fairly crude about what he states for the new American herbal medicine discovery.  He notes the Bear’s Foot for example as a Bastard substitute for another highly promoted British herb –Mandrake (Mandragora officinalis).  The two are not at all alike clinically or physiologically. 

Similarly, when it came to the promotion of certain healing springs or waters, Buchan never adds a discussion of the local American-bred springs and artesian wells to his discussion.  It was as if he felt British or European water was always going to be far better than American water.  So, all in all, Buchan was not on America’s side when it came to discovering medicines of valuable use.  To Buchan, the medicines we need must come from a better more reliable source, if we are to receive the best care available to us.  This is not away to maintain your popularity amongst Americans as a whole.  Whereas some local physicians tried to modify Buchan’s work slightly to sell it with their local updates, these attempts were never fully successful in taming the anger some people had at this kind support for the near-extinct practice of loyalism. Many were probably thinking–that even the French could do better perhaps. 

This anti-British culture in American resulted in the moderately paced change from the use of imported plant medicines to native plant medicines took place in the regular medical community between 1785 and 1810. After this period of time, the testing and use of local plants had become acepted, but was by then being replaced with the increasingly popualr mineral drugs and extracted plant products–the poisons–that regular doctors were coming up with.  There are several post- Revolutionary War doctors who in the 1780s and 1790s documented the local plants uses.  [This is covered in exquisite detail elsewhere.]  But the most important writings dod not come about until perhaps the development of the more pharmacopoeial like of approach to this way of documenting medicine.   By the time this latter process was underway, local plants were being replaced whenever possible by mineral remedies.  There were of course exceptions to this, but for the most part, only certain standard local plants became the long-lasting herbal remedies to be included for decades to come.  Examples of these include the replacement for Ipecac– Euphorbia ipecacuanha, the replacement for foreign worm remedies–Carolina Pink (Spigelia carolinense), and several replacements for several imported laxative plants.  Many of the American herbs were studied and documented; few were retained for that long as a part of the traditional allopathic doctor’s bag.  It was easier to carry sn=mall containers of pills and mineral drugs than large shoulder bags and sachels filled with dried herbs and dried herb mixes.

The following Thomsonian schools are noted in American history.

Samuel Thomson,   Botanic Family Physician.  Boston, 1820.

pp. 70-

Directions for Preparing and using Vegetable Medicine

No. 1.–Emetic Herb

Three different ways of preparing the Lobelia are given by Thomson:

“1.  The powdered leaves and pods.  This is the common form of using it; and from half to a tea-spoonful may be taken in warm water sweetened; or the same quantity may be put into either of the other numbers when taken; to cleanse the stomach, overpower the cold and promote a free perspiration.”

“2.  A tincture made from the green herb in spirit.  This is used to counteract the effects of poison; to be either internally or externally used; and for asthma, and other complaints of the lungs.  For a dose take a tea-spoonful, adding about the same quantity of No. 2, in half a tea-cup full of warm water sweetened, and in all cases of nervous affection add half a tea-spoonful of nerve powder.  For the external effects of poison, take the above dose, and bathe the parts affected with the tincture, repeating it till cured.”

“3.  The seeds reduced to a fine powder and mixed with Nos. 2 and 6.  This is for the most violent attacks of spasms and other complaints, such as lock-jaw, bite of mad dog, fits, drowned persons, and all cases of suspended animation, where the vital spark is nearly extinct.  For a dose give a tea-spoonful, and repeat it till relief is obtained; then follow with a tea of No. 2, for canker.”

Doses for children are calculated according to age.  The very young are given a dose of the powder either in a half teaspoonful of water, or in raspberry leaves steeped in water and then strained and sweetened, “repeating the dose every ten minutes, till it operates; and give some pennyroyal or some other herb tea for drink.”

                                                      [pp. 70-71]


Materia Medica

1.    Lobelia/Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), the powdered      leaves and pods.

      “…to cleanse the stomach, overpower the cold and    promote a free perspiration.”

2.    green herb (Lobelia) in spirit. 

      No. 2

            Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum)

      warm water sweetened

      nerve powder.

      A tincture made from the green herb in spirit…used to     counteract the effects of poison…for asthma, and      other complaints of the lungs…all cases of nervous       affection…”

      “For the external effects of poison…bathe the parts       affected”

3.  seeds (Lobelia), reduced to a fine powder

      No. 2

            Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum)

      No. 6

            gum Myrrh pounded fine, spirits of turpentine, gum          camphor, good fourth proof brandy or high wines.

      treatments include “all cases of suspended animation,       where the vital spark is nearly extinct.” 

      “follow with a tea of No. 2, for canker.”

“No. 2.–Cayenne

      “This is a medicine of safe value in the practice, and may be safely used in all cases of disease, to raise and retain the internal vital heat of the system, cause a free perspiration, and keep the determining powers to the surface.  The only preparation is to have it reduced to a fine powder.  For a dose take from half to a tea-spoonful, in hot water, or a tea of No. 3, sweetened to a tea-spoonful, in hot water, or a tea of No. 3, sweetened; or the same quantity may be mixed with a dose of either the other numbers when taken.  The dose should be repeated every ten to fifteen minutes till the desired object is effected, and continued occasionally till health is restored.  When this number is given, the patient should be kept warm, by sitting by the fire, covered with a blanket, or in a warm bed.”


Materia Medica

Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum),

      reduced to a fine powder.

hot water

No. 3 tea, sweetened

      “No. 3” for cankers? or Lobelia recipe no. 3?

either [of] the other numbers

      Nos. 1-6, or 1-3 of Lobelia?

“the patient should be kept warm, by sitting by the fire, covered with a blanket, or in a warm bed.”

“No. 3.–For Canker

      “Take Bayberry root bark, white Pond Lily root, and the inner bark of Hemlock, equal parts of each pounded and well mixed together; steep one ounce of the powder in a pint of boiling water, and give for a dose a common wine glass full, sweetened.

      “If the above cannot be had, take as a substitute sumach bark, leaves or berries, red-raspberry or witch-hazle leaves, marsh rosemary, or either of the other articles described under the head of No. 3; they are all good for canker, and may be used together or separate.

      “When the violence of the disease requires a course of medicines, steep one ounce of the above mentioned powder, No. 3, in a pint of boiling water, strain off a wine glass full while hot, and add a tea-spoonful of No. 2, and the same quantity  of sugar; when cool enough to take, add a tea-spoonful of No. 1, and half that quantity of nerve powder.  Let this dose be given three times, at intervals of fifteen minutes; and let the same compound be given by injection, and if the case requires it again repeated.  If mortification is apprehended a tea-spoonful of No. 6, may be added to each dose and to the injections.”



Materia Medica

Bayberry root bark

      (Myrica cerifera?)

white Pond Lily root   

      (Nymphaea alba)

Hemlock, inner bark of  

      (Tsuga canadensis, also other Tsuga spp.)

sumach, bark, leaves or berries,

      (Rhus typhina, other Rhus sp.)

red-raspberry leaves

      (Rubus sp.)

witch-hazle leaves

      (Hamamaelis sp.)

marsh rosemary

      (Limotium sp.)

“No. 4.–Bitters.

      “Take the Bitter Herb, or Balmony, Barberry and Poplar bark, equal parts, pulverised, one ounce of the powder to a pint of hot water and half a pint of spirit.  For a dose take half a wine glass full.  For hot bitters add a tea-spoonful of No. 2.

      “This preparation is calculated to correct the bile and create an appetite by restoring the digestive powers; and may be freely used both as a restorative and to prevent disease.

      “When the above articles cannot be had, either of those that have been before described under No. 4, which are all good for the same purpose, may be used as a substitute.”

                                                      [Ibid, p. 73]


Materia Medica

Bitter Herb

      (Rumex sp?)



      (Berberis sp.)

Poplar bark

      (Populus sp.)

hot water


“No. 5.–Syrup.

      “Take Poplar bark and bark of the root of Bayberry, one pound each, and boil them in two gallons of water, strain off and add seven pounds of good sugar; then scald and skim it, and add half a pound of peach-meats; or the same quantity of cherry-stone meats pounded fine.  When cool add a gallon of good brandy; and keep it in bottles for use.  Take half a wine glass full two or three times a day.”

      “Any other quantity may be prepared by observing the same proportion of the different articles.”

      “This syrup is very good to strengthen the stomach and bowels, and to restore weak patients; and is particularly useful in the dysentery, which leaves the stomach and bowels in a sore state.  In a relax or the first stages of the dysentery, by using a tea of No. 3, freely, and giving this syrup, it will generally cure it, and will also prevent those exposed from getting the disease.”

                                          [Reference to cholera???]

                                                        [Ibid, p. 73]


Materia Medica

Poplar bark

      (Populus sp.)

Bayberry, bark of the root

      (Myrica cerifera?)


      (Prunus sp.)

cherry-stone meats pounded fine

      (Prunus sp.)


good sugar

good brandy 

No. 6.–Rheumatic Drops.

      “Take one gallon of good fourth proof brandy, or any kind of high wines, one pound of gum Myrrh pounded fine, one ounce of No. 2, and put them in a stone jug and boil it a few minutes in a kettle of water, leaving the jug unstopped.  When settled, bottle it up for use.  It may be prepared without boiling, by letting it stand in the jug for five or six days, shaking it well every day, when it be fit for use.

      “These drops are to remove pain and prevent mortification, to be taken, or applied externally, or to be put into the injections.  One or two tea-spoonfuls of these drops may be given alone, or the same quantity may be put into a dose of either of the medicines before mentioned; and may be also used to bathe with in all cases of external swellings or pains.  It is an excellent remedy for rheumatism, by taking a dose and bathing the parts affected with it.  In the head-ach (sic) by taking a swallow, and bathing the head, and snuffing a little up the nose, it will remove the pain.  It is good for bruises, sprains, swelled joints, and old sores; as it will allay the inflammation, bring down swelling, ease pain and produce a tendency to heal–in fact there is hardly a complaint, in which this useful medicine cannot be used to advantage.  It is the best preservative against mortification of any thing I have ever found.

      “For bathing, in rheumatism, itch, or other humours, or in any swelling or external pain, add one quarter part of spirits of turpentine; and for sprains and bruises, a little gum camphor may be added.”

                                                      [pp. 73-74]


Materia Medica

gum Myrrh pounded fine

turpentine, spirits of

gum camphor

good fourth proof brandy

high wines

stone jug

“Nerve Powder

      “This is the American Valerian, or Umbil, and the preparation has been sufficiently described, for which see page 58.  This powder is a valuable and safe medicine and may be used in all cases without danger; and when there are nervous symptoms, it must never be dispensed with.  For a dose take half a tea-spoonful in hot water sweetened; or the same quantity should be put into a dose of either of the other medicine, and also into the injections, in all nervous cases.”

                                                            [p. 74]

From p. 68-69:

American Valeria[n], or Ladies’ Slipper, sometimes called Umbil, or Male and Female Nervine

There are four species of this valuable vegetable, one male and three female; the male is called yellow umbil, and grows in swamps and wet land; has a large cluster of fibrous roots matted together, joined to a solid root, which puts forth several stalks that grow about two feet high; it has leaves something resembling the poke leaf. The female kinds are distinguished by the color of the blossoms, which are red and white.  The red has but two leaves, which grow out of the ground and lean over to the right and left, between which a single stalk shoots up to the height of from eight to ten inches, bearing on its top a red blossom of a very singular form, that gives the name of female umbil.  This kind is found on high ledges and in swamps,  The red and white, and white umbil, grows only in swamps, and is in larger clusters of roots than the yellow, but in a similar form; its top is similar to the red, except the color of the blossom.  The yellow and red are the best for medicines; the roots should be dug in the fall when done growing, or in the spring before the top puts forth. ….When the roots are dug, they should be washed clean, carefully dried, and pounded or ground to a fine powder…This powder is the best nervine known…”

Thomson recommends this nervine powder for “all cases of nervous affection, and in hysterical symptoms.”  He considers this the substitute for opium “which is generally given in cases of spasmodic affection, and which only deadens the feelings and releives pain only by destroying sensibility, without doing any good.”  Regular doctors consider the American Valerian to have a narcotic nature, “but this is a mistake” Thomson writes.  By purportedly quieting the nerves, it causes the patient to go to sleep during which time Nature will “recover the natural tone of the system.” 

For a recipe, Thomson gives “Half a hot water sweetened, and the dose repeated if neccessary.”  It may be combined with any of the other numbers. 


Materia Medica

American Valerian, or [American] Umbil

hot water sweetened

“Composition, or Vegetable Powder

      “Take two pounds of the Bayberry root bark, one pound of the inner bark of Hemlock, one pound of ginger, two ounces of Cayenne, two ounces of Cloves, all pounded fine, sifted through a fine sieve, and well mixed together.  For a dose take a tea-spoonful of this powder, with an equal quantity of sugar, and put to it half a tea-cupful of boiling water; to be taken as soon as sufficiently cool, the patients being in bed, or by the fire covered with a blanket.

      “This composition is calculated for the first stages and in less violent attacks of disease.  It is a medicine of much value, and may be safely used in all complaints of male and female, and for children.  It is good for relax, dysentery, pain in the stomach, and bowels, and to remove all obstructions caused by cold, or loss of inward heat; by taking a dose on going to bed and putting a hot stone to the feet, wrapped in wet cloths, it will cure a bad cold, and will generally throw off a disease in its first stages if repeated two or three times.  If the symptoms are violent, with much pain, add to each dose a tea-spoonful of No. 6, and half a tea-spoonful of No. 1; and in nervous symptoms add half a tea-spoonful of nerve powder; at the same time give an injection of the same.  If these should not answer the purpose, the patient must be carried through a regular course of the medicine, as has been before described.”


Materia Medica

Bayberry root bark

      (Myrica cerifera?)

Hemlock, inner bark of

      (Tsuga sp.)


      (Zingiber officinalis)


      (Capsicum annuum)


      (Eugena sp.)

Cough Powder

      “Take four tea-spoonfuls of Skunk Cabbage, two of Hoarhound, one of Wake-robin, one of No. 1, one of No. 2, one of Bayberry bark, one of Bitter root, and one of nerve powder, all made fine and well mixed together.  When taken, to be mixed with molasses.  Take half a tea-spoonful of the powder on going to bed; keep warm and continue it till relief is obtained, particularly on going to bed.

      “When the cough has been of long standing, it will be best while taking this prescription, to go through a regular course of the medicine, and repeat it if necessary.”

                                                            [p. 75]


Materia Medica

Skunk Cabbage



No. 1

      Lobelia/Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)

No. 2

      Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum spp., esp. C. annuum)

Bayberry bark

Bitter root

nerve powder

      American Valerian, or [American] Umbil

Cancer Plaster

      Take the heads of red clover and fill a brass kettle, and boil them in water for one hour; then take them out and fill the kettle again with fresh ones and boil them as before in the same liquor.  Strain it off and press the heads to get out all the juice; the simmer it over a slow fire till it is about the consistence of tar, when it is fit for use.  Be careful not to let it burn.  When used it should be spread on a piece of bladder, split and made soft.  It is good to cure cancers, sore lips, and old sores.”

                                                            [p. 75]


Materia Medica

red clover, heads of

brass kettle


      “Take one pound of Bees wax, one do. of salt Butter, one abd a half do. of Turpentine, twelve ounces of Balsom-fir (sic); melt and simmer them together; then strain it off into a bason (sic), and keep it for use.  It may be used to heal fresh woulnds, burns, scalds and all bad sores, after the inflammation is allayed, and wound cleansed.”

[p. 75-76]


Materia Medica

Bees wax

salt Butter


Balsom-fir (sic)

bason (sic)

Strengthening Plaster

      “Take Burdock leaves and Mullen leaves, bruise them and put them in a kettle, with a sufficient quantity of water, and boil them well; then strain off the liquor, press, or squeeze the leaves and boil it down till about half as thick as molasses; then add three parts of Rosin and one of Turpentine, and simmer well together, until the water is evaporated; then pour it off into cold water and work it with the hands like shoemaker’s wax; if too hard put in more turpentine, when it will be fit for use.  It should be spread on soft leather and applied to the part affected; and it is good to strengthen weakness in the back and other parts of the body.”

[p. 76]


Materia Medica

Burdock leaves

Mullen (sic) leaves



Volatile Salts

      “Take crude Sal Amoniac (sic) one ounce, Pearlash two ounces, and one pound each by itself, mix them well together, and keep it close stopped in a bottle for use.  By damping it with spirit or essence will increase the strength.  This applied to the nose is good for faintness and to remove pain in the head; and is much better than what is generally sold by apothecaries.”

[p. 76]


Materia Medica

crude Sal Amoniac (sic)


Nerve Ointment

Take the bark of the root of Bitter-sweet two parts; of wormwood and chamomile each equal, one part, when green or if dry moiston (sic) it with hot water; which put into horse or porpoise oil, or any kind of soft animal oil, and simmer them over a slow fire for twelve hours; then strain off; and add one ounce of spirits of Turpentine to each pound of ointment.  To be used for a bruise, sprain, callus, swelling, or for corns.”

[p. 76]


Materia Medica

Bitter-sweet, bark of the root of

wormwood, green or dry

chamomile, green or dry

horse oil

porpoise oil

soft animal oil

Turpentine, spirits of


      “Make a strong tea of Raspberry leaves, or of No. 3; take a cracker pounded fine and slippery Elm bark pulverised, with Ginger, and make a poultice of the same[.]   This is good for old sores, whitlows, felons, and for bad burns, scalds, and parts frozen.  Apply this poultice and renew it, at least as often as every twelve or twenty-four hours, and wash with soap suds at every renewal; wetting it in the interim with cold water, or a tea of Raspberry leaves, till it discharges; then apply the salve till a cure is effected.”


Materia Medica

Raspberry leaves, strong tea

cracker, pounded fine

slippery Elm bark, pulverised


soap suds, wash

cold water

Raspberry leaves, tea


No. 3, strong tea

No. 3.–For Canker

Bayberry root bark (Myrica cerifera?); white Pond Lily root (Nymphaea alba); Hemlock, inner bark of     (Tsuga canadensis, also other Tsuga spp.); sumach, bark, leaves or berries, (Rhus typhina, other Rhus sp.); red-raspberry leaves (Rubus sp.); witch-hazle leaves (Hamamaelis sp.); marsh rosemary (Limotium sp.); sugar

See separate description above.

Injections, or Clysters

      “This manner of administering medicine is of the greatest importance to the sick; it will frequently give relief when all other applications fail.  It is supposed that the use of them is of great antiquity; wether this be true or not, the using them to relieve the sick, was certainly a very valuable discovery; and no doubt thousands of lives have been saved by it.  The doctors have long been in the practice of directing injections to be given to their patients, but they seem to have no other object in administering them, than to cause a movement in the bowels; therefore it was immaterial what they were made of.

      “According to the plan which I have adopted, there are certain important objects aimed at in the administration of medicine to remove disease, viz. to raise the internal heat, promote perspiration, remove the canker, guard against mortification, and restore the digestion.  To accomplish these objects the medicine necessary to remove the complaint, must be applied to that part where the disease is seated; if in the stomach only, by taking the medicine it may be removed; but if in the bowels, the same compound must be administered by injection…the grand object is to warm the bowels, and remove the canker….

      “The common preparation for an Injection or Clyster, is to take a tea-cupful of strong tea made of No. 3, strain it off when hot, and add half a tea-spoonful of No. 2, and a tea-spoonful of No. 6; and when cool enough to give, add half a tea-spoonful of No. 1, and the same quantity of nerve powder.  Let it be given with a large syringe made for that purpose, or where this cannot be had, a bladder and pipe may be used.”

[pp. 77-78]


Materia Medica

strong tea made of No. 3

No. 2

No. 6

No. 1

nerve powder.

given with a large syringe or bladder and pipe

Stock of Medicine for a Family

1 oz. of the Emetic Herb,

2 ozs. of Cayenne

1-2 lb. Bayberry root bark, in powder,

1 lb. of Poplar bark

1 lb. of Ginger,

1 pint of the Rheumatic Drops

      “This stock will be sufficient for a family for one year, and with such articles as they can easily procure themselves when wanted, will enable them to cure any disease, which a family of common size may be afflicted with during that time.  The expense will be small, and much better than to emply a doctor and have his extravagant bill to pay.”


Materia Medica

Emetic Herb/Lobelia/Indian Tobacco

      (Lobelia inflata)


      (Capsicum annuum)

Bayberry root bark, in powder,

      (Myrica cerifera?)

Poplar bark

      (Populus sp.)


      (Zingiber officinalis)

Rheumatic Drops

      gum Myrrh pounded fine

      turpentine, spirits of

      gum camphor

Fluids to base infusions/decoctions on:



      good fourth proof brandy

      high wines


good sugar

kettle, brass


animal oil?

[p. 78]

Other herbs discussed separately [pp. 59-69]:

Spearmint               (Mentha spicata)

Peppermint        (Mentha piperita)

Pennyroyal        (Mentha pulegioides)

Burdock                 (Arctium lappa)

Skunk Cabbage     (Symplocarpus foetidus) East coast species.

Wake-Robin        (Trillium sp.)

Thoroughwort            (Eupatorium sp. esp. E. perforatum)

Featherfew        (

Clivers                 (Galium sp.)

Black Birch Bark  (Betula lenta)

Evan Root               (Geum sp.)

Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus rubra)

Balsam Fir        (Picea sp.)

Genseng                 (Panax ginseng?)

Snakeroot               (Asarum canadense? Serpentaria?)

Mustard                 (

Horseradish       (

Balm of Gilead          (Populus sp.?)

Butternut               (Carya sp.?)

Blue and White Vervine  (Verbena sp.)

Pipsisway or Rheumatic Weed   (Chimaphila umbellata)_

Godlenrod               (Solidago spp.)

Meadow Fern       (Pteris sp.?)

Yellow Dock       (Rumex crispus?)

Prickly Ash       (Zanthoxylum spp.)

Bitter Thistle          (Cirsium spp.?)

Archangel               (?)