, Derry, New Hampshire


September 6, 2012

Column:Old-time cures are no match for modern medicine

Again, I go into my miscellaneous file to find snippets of local history that will never make it into a full story. It’s kind of like the fabled desk drawer in the elderly man’s house marked “pieces of string too small to save.”

In my files is a copy of the Exeter Newsletter from June 1770. I saved it because it told of a murder in Derry/Londonderry. On that same page, it was mentioned that Mr. Campbell fell to his death while erecting the frame of the First Parish Church in East Derry. There was also an article about how Boston would no longer trade with Portsmouth because they had to decline taking part in their Non-Importation Agreement to boycott all trade with mother England. There was also a piece on curing whooping cough.

I immediately thought that the latter article would make a good story as I heard on the TV news this morning that whooping cough was being diagnosed at epidemic levels in America. So far in 2012, there have been nearly 18,000 cases. Officially, the disease is called pertussis and usually recognized by the loud, persistent cough. To find out the diagnosis and treatment of whooping cough go to the March of Dimes website at I am told I had it as an infant. In my family it was called “hooping” cough but others I know call it “whooping” cough. I’m told that both pronunciations are acceptable.

Now, we can fight disease by vaccination and antibiotics. Back in 1770, that was not the case. Most doctors back then believed that a suitable cure-all was to make an incision into a sick person’s flesh and bleed him to get rid of the bad humors. Too many of the sick were killed by the cure. George Washington died in 1799 after being bled.

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