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18th Century Medicine Practices in Colonial Williamsburg


In colonial times, a doctor was known as an apothecary. Yet these apothecaries were more than just doctors. They prescribed medical treatment and medicine, trained apprentices, performed surgery, and served as man-midwives.


Apothecaries made house calls to treat patients. Apothecaries also used to MAKE medicine for patients – just think, they didn’t have to wait at a drug store for their prescription to be filled! How convenient.

Colonial Williamsburg holds The Pasteur & Galt Apothecary Shop located on the Duke of Gloucester Street where two apothecary-surgeons practiced. The Shop features copies of Dr. Galt’s certificates in surgery, medical theory, and midwifery for completed training at Saint Thomas’s Hospital in London.


The Shop has wall displays of the British drug jars that stored medicine, and antique implements for compounding and dispensing drugs. Some items are original to the site. (See picture to the right)


Recipes for medications made in the 18th-century pharmacy books are also shown in The Pasteur & Galt Apothecary Shop.


Some old remedies are still used today in treatments – such as chalk for heartburn, cinchona bark for fevers, and calamine for skin irritation.


In these times, it was very expensive to see a doctor/apothecary. Individuals usually diagnosed their own problems and tried mixing and making their own medicines guided by tradition, folklore, or domestic medical books.


“Williamsburg apothecaries also sold cooking spices, candles, salad oil, anchovies, toothbrushes, and tobacco, making them true precursors of today’s drugstores.” (Read More)


How well do you think you would do if you still had to mix and make your own medicine? Or even diagnosing yourself? Waiting an hour for your prescription to be filled doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

One Response to 18th Century Medicine Practices in Colonial Williamsburg

  • Brie A. says:

    Very interesting! I don’t think I could manage making my own medicines – I have a hard enough time making dinner!