Dr. Sappington’s anti-fever pills

Elizabeth Davis
Boonville Daily News

Today, doctors and scientists are working around the clock to stop the spread of a deadly virus, to find a cure for those already infected, and to develop a vaccine to eradicate the virus completely.

Less than 175 years ago doctors knew little of germs, basic sanitation, or good hygiene. The simple act of washing hands could have saved thousands of lives as our ancestors settled this vast nation.

Fevers and infections often were treated by “blood letting.” Doctors would cut a patient and allow him to bleed in order to get rid of the “bad blood” in his system. This never helped and many times the patient bled to death.

But thanks to doctors like John Sappington, medical advancements have been made.

Sappington was born on May 15, 1776, the third of seven children to Dr. Mark and Rebecca Boyce Sappington. John was nine when his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked on the farm and attended school. As they got older, John and his brothers studied medicine with their father.

When he was ready to start his own practice, Sappington moved to Franklin, Tennessee. He married Jane Breathitt in1804 and together they had nine children: seven girls and two boys. While in Franklin, Sappington met Thomas Hart Benton who was an up and coming lawyer and politician. At Benton’s urging, Sappington moved to the Boonslick region of the Missouri Territory where he bought several thousand acres of land near Arrow Rock.

Besides his medical practice, Sappington imported and exported cotton and medicine. He had stores in Napton and Arrow Rock that supplied goods to families heading west. Sappington also began to experiment with quinine, a substance derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.

Years later, Sappington discovered quinine was an effective preventative treatment for malaria. He started making “Dr. Sappington’s Anti-Fever Pills” which also worked well against scarlet fever, yellow fever, and influenza. Even with all its success, many doctors refused to use quinine and continued blood-letting.

In 1844, Dr. Sappington was responsible for the first medical book written west of the Mississippi River, “Theory and Treatment of Fevers.”

In 1853, Dr. Sappington established the Sappington School Fund because underprivileged children on the western frontier could not afford to attend subscription schools.

Dr. John Sappington died in Saline County on Sept. 7, 1856.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News since April 2008, She has covered the War Between the States, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she syndicated her column statewide in September 2018 and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com