by HARRY D. PIERCY, M.D.*
When I began the study of this aspect of SHAKER industry, I was
soon impressed with the large volume of material available. As I
read I became more and more interested, because I found here the
reflection of the therapeutic means and methods used to heal the
sick in the remote past. In the famous Papyrus Ebers, dating about
1552 B.c., are found the names of many herbs and mineral products
that have been used by physicians from that early day down to
our own time. It cannot be said that any revolutionary change
occurred in the methods and materials of therapeutics until the
advent of the twentieth century.
This paper deals with herbal MEDICINES in general use in the
nineteenth century. The vast number of vegetable products-root,
stem, bark, leaf, blossom, and fruit-with relatively few exceptions
owed their virtues more to traditional use than to proven therapeutic
effectiveness. The extraction and assay of the active principles of
these herbs awaited the day of the physiological laboratory and the
development of analytical and synthetic chemistry, conspicuous con-
tributions to the healing art of the twentieth century.
I have lived long enough to have had touch with the nineteenth
century, and having been, so to speak, raised in a drug store, I
became familiar with herbs, fluid extracts, and the bladder filled
with crude opium, at a very early age. This experience of my early
youth permits a somewhat nostalgic approach to this subject, but
the miracle drugs and the improved diagnostic methods of the
present day give no occasion to regret the passing of empiric
medicine and the coming of the day when the sick of each generation
are better treated than those of the one just past.
The SHAKERs were a remarkable people. No other social-religious
experiment has left so large a volume of records of all sorts-day
by day diaries, letters, pamphlets, and books. No other social-
* Harry D. Piercy is a physician of Cleveland. His article was given as a paper at
the seventeenth annual meeting of the Ohio Academy of Medical History at the Ohio
State Museum, May 1, 1954.
Shaker Medicines 337
economic experiment, of which there were some sixty during the
first quarter of the nineteenth century, was so successful in spreading
over so wide an area, or gaining more in property, or producing
more in goods. No other exerted so great an influence on agri-
culture, animal husbandry, and household arts, or set more lofty
ideals of industry, thrift, honesty, sobriety, and integrity before the
young nation in the troublesome years after the Revolutionary War.
It is necessary to recall, briefly, the origin and growth of the
Shaker movement. About 1766 a small group of English Quakers
aspired to seek perfection in a new mode of worship and a new
way of life. So intense were their feelings of worship that they
shook and trembled and danced, sometimes for hours, so that in
derision they were called the Shakers.
Ann Lee, considered by her followers as the feminine component
of the Godhead, was the head and spiritual leader of this group.
Accompanied by seven of her followers, she sailed from Liverpool
on the ship Mariah on May 10, 1774. The ship docked in New York
harbor, August 6, 1774, a stormy passage requiring three months.
Arriving in this new country just before the start of the
Revolutionary War, their peculiar habits of worship and strange
way of life caused them to be regarded with suspicion, and during
the years of the war, charges of espionage and treachery were
brought, but not proven, against them. It was not until 1780 that
the society was brought into some form and converts began to
The first colony was established in Watervliet, New York, in
1787. Time does not permit the portrayal of the persecutions, trials,
and sufferings of Ann and her followers up to this point, but it
must be stated that her zeal and strength of spirit and that of
James Whittaker, who had been subject to Ann's influence since
early youth, and who was an inspiring and forceful speaker, made
a gathering force that attracted hundreds of seekers after the saving
grace the Shakers offered.
What was the cross these followers were asked to bear? It con-
sisted in denial of all lusts of the flesh; confession of sins to the
elders and those in authority; loving all mankind as they loved each
338 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
other; renunciation of all private property; and personal dedication
of the best and truest labors of the individual for the benefit and
good of the whole community. In the words of Mother Ann, it
meant "Hands to Work and Hearts to God."
Marriage was forbidden. Mother Ann said to Jonathan Slosson,
who was in love with a certain young woman, "The marriage of the
flesh is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell."1
Certainly austere and to us forbidding conditions for salvation!
We must remember this gathering of converts was at a time of
great and bitter doctrinal disputes, causing general spiritual unrest
and intense religious emotionalism throughout the eastern states.
Certain of these troubled souls found in the renunciation, humility,
and useful way of life of the Shakers the means to peace of mind
and a sure sense of salvation. To these the price seemed not too high.
Ann Lee died at Watervliet, September 8, 1784. News of the
passing of the "Mother of Zion" was published in the Albany
Gazette and carried to the surrounding country by messengers. A
great assembly of believers and unbelievers attended her funeral,
and Father James Whittaker said to the world, "This that we so
much esteem, and so much adore, is a treasure worth laboring for:
it is the only means of salvation that will ever be offered to sinners;
it is the last display of God's grace to a lost world."2 James
Whittaker, worn out by his labors in spreading the faith, survived
Mother Ann less than two years. He died at the age of thirty-six.
His funeral was held July 21, 1786. He was the last of those
faithful ministers who brought this gospel to this land.
Now the remarkable thing is that this little band started a social-
economic religious order that grew and prospered in the years ahead.
It attracted to its fold substantial and influential people of all walks
of life, individuals of great native ability and great integrity. By
1794 there were eleven communities scattered through New England,
and by 1826 there were nineteen communities extending westward
into Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. The order comprised a total
1 Edward Deming Andrews, The People Called Shakers (New York, 1953), 22.
2 Ibid., 50.
Shaker Medicines 339
membership over the years of more than 16,000 persons. Three
communities are still struggling on with a total membership of less
than fifty. The fire and enthusiasm of the early days are gone, and
we now view the dying embers of the inspirational flame that for
more than a hundred years was fed by the consecrated devotion of
hundreds of men and women.
These communities consisted of from one hundred to six hundred
or eight hundred people, divided into families containing not more
than one hundred, and known in the community as the gathering
family, the mill family, the church family, and so forth. Each
community owned from one thousand to six thousand or more
acres of land, on which they grew their crops and pastured their
herds of fine cattle and flocks of sheep. Huge barns were built to
house the animals and provide storage for grain and fodder. Mills
were built to grind the corn and wheat and to saw up the huge
virgin growth of timber for buildings, for cabinets, tables, and
chairs, and for the many needs which wood served.
Spinning shops were established, and here the wool and linen
threads were woven into the homespun which clothed the brethren
and sisters. In the cobblers' shops carefully lasted shoes were made
from their own tanned leather. Their industry and skill of pro-
duction produced articles of exceptional quality for the community,
and their surplus found ready takers among the people of the
Among these industries was the cultivation, gathering, and
packaging of numerous medicinal herbs. This was a natural out-
growth of the Shakers' skill in gardening and an example of their
ability to see the economic advantage in supplying a country-wide
demand. It is to be remembered that in that early day, in both the
Old and the New World, there was great faith in the curative
features of herbs. When the demand was for some herb not readily
grown at home, they imported such from Europe and South
America. This industry was claimed by the Shakers to have been
started at New Lebanon, New York, about 1800 and to have been
the first mass production of herbs in this country. This statement is
340 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
substantiated by an interview between Edward Fowler of the New
Lebanon society and a representative of the American Journal of
Pharmacy in 1852. Fowler is quoted as saying:
It is about fifty years since our Society first originated as a trade in this
country the business of cultivating and preparing medicinal plants for the
supply and convenience of apothecaries and druggists and for about twenty
years conducted it on a limited scale. [About 1820] Drs. E. Harlow and
G. K. Lawrence, of our society, the latter an excellent botanist, gave their
attention to the business, and induced a more systematic arrangement, and
scientific manner of conducting it, especially as to the seasons for collection,
varieties, and methods of preparation.
There are now occupied as physic gardens in the different branches of
our Society nearly two hundred acres, of which about fifty acres are at our
village. Hyoscyamus, belladonna, taraxacum, aconite, poppies, lettuce, sage,
summer savory, marjoram, dock, burdock, valerian and horehound occupy
a large portion of the ground and about fifty minor varieties are cultivated
in addition. We collect about two hundred varieties of indigenous plants
and purchase from the South, West and Europe some thirty or forty others,
many of which are not recognized in the pharmacopoeia or the dispensa-
tories, but which are called for in domestic practice and abundantly used.
At this time the New Lebanon society had three double presses
in constant operation and occasionally used two others. Each of
these was capable of pressing one hundred pounds daily. Mr. Fowler
informed the reporter that this plant manufactured a total amount
of dried extracts of about six to eight thousand pounds per annum.
The greatest demand was for extract of taraxacum (dandelion),
thirty-seven hundred pounds having been produced over the pre-
vious year. The reporter thought the Shakers had a very well-
equipped and well-managed laboratory and regretted his visit could
not have been more prolonged that he might avail himself of the
hospitality proffered by the society.3
Time does not permit the detailed naming of the many and varied
3American Journal of Pharmacy, XVIII (1852), 88.
Shaker Medicines 341
herbs, roots and barks, and berries cleaned and carefully packaged
by the Shakers. Extensive herb gardens were maintained at New
Lebanon, New York; Enfield, New Hampshire; Union Village near
Lebanon, Ohio; Harvard, Massachusetts; South Union in Kentucky;
and other Shaker settlements. In addition to the herbs they had large
gardens of red roses, from which they distilled rose water for
flavoring their apple pies and soothing fevered brows. At New
Lebanon there were large poppy gardens, and in the early morning
the white-capped sisters could be seen carefully slitting the pods
from which the crimson petals had just fallen. In the evening they
returned with little knives to scrape off the dried juice. This crude
opium was sold at a high price and was one of the most profitable
products of the gardens.4
Records are available which reveal the rapid growth of the herb
business. The New Lebanon records show shipments in 1831 of a
box of herbs valued at $30.68 to Paris; and thirteen boxes of
medicinal herbs valued at $895.65 were sent to Charles Whitlaw,
"Botanist of London, England." During the year 1831 four thousand
pounds of roots and herbs were sent to the market. By 1836 the
production was six thousand pounds and rose to sixteen thousand,
five hundred in 1849.5
The Harvard community herb business grew to such proportions
that in 1848 they were obliged to construct a large building to
provide for the preparation and storage of the herbs gathered from
their gardens and from the surrounding fields and forests. In that
year they distilled 165 gallons of peach water, made 134 pounds
of ointment and 49 gallons of buckthorn syrup. From February
1849 to February 1850 they pressed 10,152 pounds of herbs, roots
and barks, and berries. The income amounted to $4,021.31. In 1851
the sales amounted to $5,653.44; in 1852, $8,300.00. They shipped
packaged herbs, peach water, and other products to Boston and
New York City and to Wilson, Fairbanks and Company in Cali-
fornia. A diary note dated February 24, 1853, reads, "Press 250
4 Good Housekeeping, XLIII (1906), 37.
5 Edward Deming Andrews, The Community Industries of the Shakers (New York
State Museum Handbook 15, Albany, 1932), 91.
342 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
pounds and pack 79 different varieties of two pounds each to go to
About 1830 they began the manufacture of alcoholic extracts of
herbs and roots. A catalog of "Shaker Fluid Extracts" prepared by
the Society of Shakers, Mt. Lebanon, New York, is available. It
is not dated but probably was published about 1875. It bears the
In presenting you a new edition of our catalog we would call especial
notice to our inspissated juices and superior fluid extracts prepared in vacuo.
Our particular attention has been directed to this branch of business for
some years past, and we have procured very perfect and expensive apparatus
and the instructions and assistance of some of the best chemists and phar-
maceutists. We have been able to produce extracts which we confidently
believe are not inferior to any, and for which we have received high
encomiums from many of the medical faculty and some of our principal
Our Society having been actively engaged in the business of manufacturing
extracts for over forty years we claim the advantage of experience and the
rapidly increasing demands for Shaker herbs and extracts with their botanic
preparations is [sic] satisfactory evidence of public approval and esteem.
We pledge ourselves to furnish articles of superior excellence and are
determined not to be surpassed in the quality and the neatness of our
The catalog contained nearly two hundred different extracts of
herbs, barks, roots, and berries. Also advertised were pearls of
ether, chloroform, and turpentine. These were gelatin capsules.7
The production of fluid extracts was a great advance in thera-
peutics. They were much more convenient and of more dependable
strength than the infusions and teas made with the herbs. They also
gave impetus to the patent medicine industry in the United States.
The Shakers devised a number of preparations which were widely
accepted by laymen and by members of the medical profession both
in this country and abroad.
6 Clara Endicott Sears, Gleanings from Old Shaker Journals (Boston and New York,
7 This catalog and other pamphlets and papers referred to hereafter are in the
library of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland.
Shaker Medicines 343
We find that David Parker, trustee of the Shaker village at
Enfield, New Hampshire, was awarded medals from the Massa-
chusetts Charitable Mechanic's Association for two Shaker prepara-
tions: Corbett's Shaker Compound and Concentrated Syrup of
Sarsaparilla, and Brown's Shaker Fluid Extract of English Valerian.
These medals were given at an exhibition held in Boston in 1850.
Their extract of veratrum viride was widely used. This does not
lack interest when we are aware of the recent renewed popularity
of this drug evidenced by numerous clinical studies published in
medical journals from coast to coast and the samples left in our
offices. In a paper advertising this extract published by Dr. Wesley
C. Norwood in Albany, New York, and dated 1858, the following
Having frequently visited the laboratory and botanical gardens at New
Lebanon, Columbia County, New York, I can unhesitatingly recommend
their preparations as the most pure and reliable Medicines manufactured in
this country, as they spare no pains in doing their work on the most
scientific and pharmaceutical principles. Just such articles as the Practitioner
wants to insure his success in his professional treatment; and as such I
recommend them to the Medical Faculty.
The statement is signed, "W. C. Norwood, M.D., Cokesberry,
South Carolina." It is followed by testimonials from many doctors
located in New York, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Another leaflet is an advertising pamphlet published by Dr.
Louis Turner of St. Louis, Missouri. It sets forth the virtues of
Turner's Consumption Cure, or Shaker Cough Remedy and Turner's
New Life for Women. Turner was a manufacturer of Medicines,
and he secured his herbs, tinctures, and fluid extracts from Union
Village near Lebanon, Ohio. This community in 1833 established
a special botanical garden under the supervision of Drs. Abiathar
Babbitt and Andrew Houston. These doctors were Shakers, who
acted as physicians to the community and accepted calls from the
world surrounding the settlement. Dr. J. R. Slingerland remarks
about the fine and complete equipment at Union Village and states
that the laboratory bottled and labeled Dr. Turner's Wonder Herbs,
344 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
the Great Shaker Blood Cure. Other preparations were the Shaker
Pain Cure, presumably a liniment, and Dr. Slingerland's Shaker
Granules, the latter a cathartic.
The Western Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences, pub-
lished in Cincinnati, carried this notice in 1835:
The Society of Shakers at Union Village, Warren County, Ohio cultivate
and prepare a variety of medical plants, native and exotic. This is a branch
of horticulture in which the profession is interested and the industrious and
orderly community who have undertaken it, deserve encouragement. Orders
to be directed to A. C. Houston.
The Shaker village at Enfield, New Hampshire, had a less ex-
tensive herb garden and they secured many of their herbs and
extracts from the Mt. Lebanon Shakers. The important product of
the Enfield group seems to have been Brown's Shaker Fluid Extract
of English Valerian. This plant was brought over from England
and was successfully propagated. The extract was of exceptional
strength, containing the essential oils and medicinal properties of
the fresh root. It was warmly recommended by Dr. Edward E.
Phelps, professor of therapeutics and materia medica at Dartmouth
College; by Parker Cleaveland, professor of chemistry, materia
medica, mineralogy, geology, and natural philosophy of Brunswick
College, Maine; by Dr. Charles H. Stedman, superintendent and
physician to the lunatic and other city institutions of South Boston;
and by Dr. George Buddington of Green County, New York, Dr.
John Ely and Dr. J. B. Henshaw of New York City, Dr. Josiah
Crosby of Manchester, New Hampshire, and Dr. H. B. Wilbur,
physician to the institution for idiots, Barre, New York.
Another preparation of the Mt. Lebanon Shakers was a mixture
of fluid extracts as tinctures known as Seven Barks. It had a wide
and long sale. I can remember the package on the shelves of my
father's drug store. It was about four inches tall and one and a
half inches wide and deep, a square-on-the-end package. It was
printed in colors, and down one side were seven heads of different
breeds of dogs. I do not credit the Shakers with designing this
attractive and humorous package. It contained the following ex-
Shaker Medicines 345
tracts in tincture form: blue flag, butternut, stone root, golden seal,
sassafras, blood root, and black cohosh. The dose was five to twenty
drops. It was marketed by Dr. Lyman Brown, 68 Murray Street,
New York City. It was sold widely in the United States and ex-
ported to England, Germany, and France.
Of the many preparations of the Shakers, none attained the im-
portance in wide acceptance and in profitable return that was en-
joyed by their extract of sarsaparilla. It was made from the root
imported from South America, and was prepared as directed in the
United States Pharmacopoeia. I can well remember this preparation.
I have seen many prescriptions calling for a bottle of sarsaparilla,
to which was to be added four to six drams of potassium iodide.
This was widely used by the medical profession for the secondary
and late symptoms of syphilis. The acceptance of their extract of
sarsaparilla by the medical profession is certified by the following
resolution adopted by the Lebanon Medical Society of Lebanon,
Ohio, October 29, 1849: "Resolved: That this society has entire
confidence in the purity of the pharmaceutical preparations of the
Shakers of Union Village, Ohio, and we heartily recommend their
preparations to the profession, especially the extracts from the
narcotic plants and of sarsaparilla."
The popularity of this preparation cannot be exaggerated; its
reputed virtue carried it into the medical folklore of the masses.
The extract was made by the Shakers and was marketed by agents
in New York City and elsewhere. It was the great "blood purifier"
from 1848 to well into the twentieth century. A circular advertising
it reads as follows:
Scrofulous diseases; this poison lurks in the body and attacks with im-
punity, producing diseases of the kidneys, liver, and lungs-also the
digestive and uterine apparatus, often producing such diseases as con-
sumption, ulceration of the stomach, liver, and kidneys, biliousness, sores,
tumors, erysipelas, salt rheum, blotches, pustules, boils, and pimples, as
well as causing pains in the bones, side, head, and back, rheumatism,
dyspepsia, female weakness, leucorrhea or whites, and pain and distress
in the womb, emaciation, dropsy, and general debility. We recommend for
346 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
alleviation and cure a remedy that has been sold for sixty years and pre-
scribed by our best physicians-The Shaker Original Extract of Sarsaparilla.
I want to make clear that this copy was not written by the
Shakers. I have come across a statement made by them in which
they extolled the excellence of this preparation for its tonic virtues
but cautioned that it was not a "cure all." I have no doubt that they
were embarrassed and distressed at the extravagant claims made by
the energetic worldly promoters of their products.
It is of interest to conclude this discussion of the "wonder drug"
with an extract from the manuscript diary of Oliver C. Hampton,
a member of Union Village: "On March 4, 1865, the Union
Society lost by fire the Old North House and its contents which
contained the tin shop, broom shop, carpenter shop, and sarsaparilla
A very popular German proprietary preparation was Mother
Seigel's Curative Syrup. The formula was brought to this country
in 1868 and was prepared and packaged by the Shakers as Seigel's
Syrup or Shaker Extract of Roots. It became very popular and was
widely sold both here and abroad. A. J. White of 168 Duane Street
was the New York agent for Seigel's Syrup, as well as for Shaker
Soothing Plasters and Shaker Family Pills. The latter was a
cathartic and bore on the label the following statement: "Unlike
many kinds of cathartic medicines, these pills do not make you feel
worse before you feel better."
The Shaker Asthma Cure carried the still valid statement, "No
disease is harder to cure." An advertisement offering a number of
testimonials concluded: "We offer the reasonable hope that the
preparation will effect a cure, and a still greater possibility exists
that it procure at least so much relief that you can breathe the free
air of heaven without distress and be able to lie down and find
rest in sleep." The Shaker Hair Restorative carried the legend,
"Gray hair may be honorable, but the natural color is preferable."
Ointments, porous plasters, skin lotions, cold creams, and lini-
ments also were made by the Shakers, but they were less important
than the Shaker preparations already mentioned.
A word should be said of one manner of distribution of Shaker
Shaker Medicines 347
herbs and medicinal products. In the early days the Shaker wagon
was a frequent visitor to the towns, villages, and country homes
throughout the eastern states. These wagons carried small pieces
of furniture, certain dry goods, and other products of their shops,
along with packaged garden seeds, packaged herbs, and, in time,
their bottled Medicines. The packaged garden seeds made a flourish-
ing business. The seed business no doubt gave wide and favorable
familiarity to the Shaker name and set a standard for excellence
and reliability for their herbs and medicinal preparations as well as
their other products.
A recent visit was paid the Tilden Drug Company of New
Lebanon, New York. This company is the oldest manufacturing
drug house in America. It was founded in 1824 and carried on drug
manufacturing contemporary with that of the New Lebanon Shakers
situated a few miles distant. Through the kindness of William
Gordon Cox, the president of the Tilden Company, the author
met several persons who had close contact with the New Lebanon
Shakers during the final years of their drug manufacturing.
Mrs. Lois W. Rider, secretary of the company, recalls their
activity since 1903. By that time the extensive extract business of
the nineteenth century was greatly curtailed. They did however
make inspissated watery extracts to which alcohol was added.
Eldress Emma J. Neale was in charge of drug manufacturing. Their
principal products were Brown's Seven Barks and Shaker Extract of
Veratrum Viride. According to her memory all drug manufacturing
ceased about 1930. Robert Pick, superintendent of the Tilden Com-
pany, confirmed these statements and added the information that
the New Lebanon Shakers obtained from his company certain ex-
tracts they had ceased to manufacture.
Bill Reed, also of New Lebanon, was interviewed. His father had
worked for years in the Shaker laboratory and Bill himself worked
about the community when a boy and assisted in mixing and
packaging Mother Seigel's Syrup. In his time the only alcoholic
extract produced was that of Veratrum Viride. He added: "The
Shakers were lovely people to work for. They were industrious and
peaceful. There was no quarreling."
348 Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly
A few miles from New Lebanon is located the Old Chatham
Shaker Museum. This institution is outstanding for its great variety
of Shaker remains, presenting as it does every aspect of Shaker life
and industry. A large room is given over to displaying considerable
equipment and products of the New Lebanon Shaker drug industry.
Here are a great variety of dried roots and herbs, herb presses, herb
choppers, parts of a copper still, mixing tanks, and bottling equip-
ment. Original packages of Corbett's Extract of Sarsaparilla, Nor-
wood's Tincture of Veratrum Viride, Brown's Seven Barks, and
bottles containing the pearls of ether, chloroform, and turpentine
are also to be seen.
In approaching the end of this paper it is necessary to state that
this is not an exhaustive account of Shaker medicines. The material
presented has been drawn from many but not all sources. The
records are both voluminous and widespread; much of it beyond easy
access. Enough has been presented to demonstrate that Shaker herbs
and Galenicals were for more than half a century widely accepted
by both the public and the medical profession. They put into drug
manufacturing the honesty, integrity, and sincerity of purpose that
characterized their labors in other fields and made the name Shaker
a guarantee of genuineness equal to the sterling mark on silver.
Of the Shakers it cannot be said that their way of life or their
labors were in vain. During their flourishing days, 1840 to 1880,
they spread an influence for good out of all proportion to their
numbers, and in these days of their diminishing membership their
kindness, honesty, integrity, and wholesomeness are not forgotten.
Careful and serious study of the Shakers has produced a shelf of
books and the end is not yet. The ideals of Mother Ann, Whittaker,
Joseph Meacham, and many other leaders are alive today, and the
future will not fail to remember this romantic, social-religious and