Like other English colonies, colonial South Carolina dosed itself primarily with patented remedies imported from Great Britain. Home-manufactured remedies occasionally made an appearance as well—for example, the nostrum advertised by the “Dutch Ladies” in Charleston in 1743, which claimed to be a “Choice Cure for the Flux, Fevers, Worms, bad Stomach [and] Pains in the Head.” Other imported medicines, such as British Oil and Dalby’s Carminative, were pirated by Charleston manufacturers and produced well into the twentieth century.
Nationalism spurred by the Revolution increased the number of American-made nostrums, although few originated in South Carolina or the South. During the Civil War, Confederate nationalism prompted the Charleston druggists Van Schaack and Grierson to advertise “southern preparations!” and listed ten patent medicines produced within Confederate boundaries, ranging from the “Cherokee Remedy” to “McLean’s Volcanic Oil Liniment.”
South Carolinians became great patent-medicine users after the war, but the market was dominated by northern-produced goods. A Columbia editor complained in 1866 that the southern press sold cut-rate advertising to Yankee “patent blood-suckers.” Before 1865 ended, a Charleston druggist resumed shipping southern botanicals for packaged remedies made in Massachusetts. Countless southern barns were painted with ads for northern nostrums. Patent medicines were made in the South, but most developed only regional or local markets. When pellagra was identified at the beginning of the twentieth century, Spartanburg contributed Pellagracide and Ez-X- Ba to the sure-cure category. The latter was made by Ezxba W. Dedmond, an uneducated field hand who claimed that its secret had been imparted to him by God. An African American from Orangeburg, William F. Edwards, concocted Dy-O-Fe, promoted mainly to blacks as a virtual panacea.
Notices of judgment for cases settled under the Food and Drugs Act of 1906 during its early decades reveal more instances of nostrums shipped into South Carolina. Regulators in Charleston seized products made in Georgia, North Carolina, and Maryland. A 1929 case, however, dealt with Owen’s Oil, made in Union and promoted with extravagant curative claims for numerous severe ailments. Seized in Charleston, the case came to trial and no claimant appeared, so the court ordered that the nostrum be destroyed. Another patent medicine, Dr. Neuffer’s Lung Tonic, marketed by the Abbeville physician G. A. Neuffer during World War I, promised to combat influenza and prevent consumption. Neuffer’s tonic flourished until banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1975.
Neuffer, Irene. “The Passing of Dr. Neuffer’s Lung Tonic.” Sandlapper 8 (November 1975): 19–21.
Young, James Harvey. “Patent Medicines: An Element in Southern Distinctiveness?” In Disease and Distinctiveness in the American South, edited by Todd L. Savitt and James Harvey Young. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988.
———. “Self-Dosage.” In Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.