The most frightful epidemic of any childhood disease in American history began in 1735. The disease was diphtheria which in colonial records was also known as cynanche, angina, canker, bladders, rattles, or throat distemper. The most characteristic feature of this epidemic was the occurrence of multiple deaths in families. There were at least six instances of eight deaths at a time due to diphtheria in a single family.1

During this epidemic Colonial newspapers carried reports of methods to cure diphtheria as is evident in this notice from the Boston Gazette, dated March 18, 1735-1736.


What is used is as follows. First be sure that a vein be opened under the tongue, and if that can't be done, open a vein in the arm, which must be first done, as all other means will be ineffectual. Then take borax or honey to bathe or annoint the mouth and throat, and lay on the Throat a plaister Vngiuntum Dialthae. To drink a decoction of Devil's bitt or Robbin's Plantain, with some Sal Prunelle dissolved therein, as often as the patient will drink. If the body be costive use a clyster agreeable to the nature of the Distemper. I have known many other things used, especially a root called Physick Root, filarie or five-leaved physick; also a root that I know no name for, only Canker Root. But be sure and let blood, and that under the tongue. We have many times made Blisters under the arms, but that has proved sometimes dangerous.

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