Blast from the Past: Colonial Era cure for snake bites

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The account and supposed cure for a rattlesnake bite published in 1739. (Courtesy Virginia Gazette)
The account and supposed cure for a rattlesnake bite published in 1739. (Courtesy Virginia Gazette)

In this series, we take a look back at news coverage from the early days of the Historic Triangle.

This letter, printed on Sept. 21, 1739 in the Virginia Gazette, features a second-hand account detailing a cure for a rattlesnake bite.

As the British Empire expanded its reach worldwide its soldiers had been encountering unknown animals, diseases, and people, and many accounts of these endeavors returned to the City of London. An account of the bite of an adder snake was “cured” and repurposed to work for rattlesnake bites.

WILLIAMSBURG, SEPT. 21.

There was publish’d in the English Papers, some Months ago, a Relation of an Experiment that had been made before several Members of the Royal Society in London, of the CURE of The Bite of an Adder, which is a venemous Snake in England; and the Cure was perform’d by taking inwardly and applying only Sallad-Oil, which we call Sweet Oil.

We have since that, receiv’d from New York, an Account of an Experiment made there, about a Month ago, of the same Nature; which we publish for the Common Good of the Inhabitants of This and the Neighbouring Colonies, that it may be known, That the same cheap and common Medicine will effectually perform the Cure of a Rattle Snake’s Bite, if timely apply’d; and thereby the Lives of many may be sav’d, in this Part of the World, where several have been lost for want of the Knowledge of so easy a Cure.

The Account of the said Experiment, is as follows:

Last Week Mr. William Forster, of West Chester, in the County of West-Chester, had a Dog bit in his Shoulder by a Rattle-Snake; and in a little Time the Dog began to swell, the Owner let him lie, and he swell’d prodigiously, and in three or four Hours the Dog seem’d to be dying whereupon Mr. Forster gave him a Spoonful of Oyl, and in two or three Minutes, the Dog began to __ and revive; he gave him another Dose, and he grew better: He also bathed the Place with the said Oyl, and gave him a third Dose, and the Dog recovered, and is perfectly well and cur’d of the said Poysonous Bite of the Rattle-Snake.