Medicine, midwives, and doctors

Doctors in colonial times did many different things.  Doctors, medicine, and midwives were part of the apothecaries.  There were people that were trained in medicine, those that gave medicine, people that did surgeries, and man-midwives.


Apothecaries were people that would take care of those that were sick and would treat patients.  They would have people that would come to them in order to get better, and then they would also go to the homes of patients in order to treat them.


The apothecary shops would hold medicine and prescriptions that the doctors would use for sicknesses and for surgeries that they had to do.

The shop would have jars that would hold the medicines and ways for the doctors to give out the medicines.


The apothecaries would make medicines that were needed to treat people for fevers, heartburn, diseases, sicknesses.

There were also creams that were made, such as calamine lotion for the skin.  People that had skin diseases or itchiness would have to be treated, and sometimes the medicine was made right in the shop.

The different types of medicines included pills, topical creams, liquids, and teas.


Other items were available in the shop beside medicines such as spices, oils, candles, anchovies, toothbrushes, tobacco, and more.  Many of the apothecary shops were like stores.

What Did an Apothecary Do?

An apothecary would use different methods to try to heal people.  They would use pills, herbs, honey, foods, and other things in order to help make someone better. Here are some things that were often used during these times:

  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Dill
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Mint
  • Pennyroyal

The great thing about these plants is that the people of these times grew these plants in their homes and at different shops.

Some of these herbs helped to numb things, helped to stop inflammation, reduced fevers, and helped to get rid of the pain.

Apothecary Jars

Apothecary jars were used to hold medicine and tools that the doctors needed to use.  These jars were sealed tight so that the medicine wouldn’t go bad when it wasn’t in use.


Some doctors or apothecaries during this time would do surgeries.  They would have to have different tools of different kinds in order to be able to do surgery.

Some of these tools were cutting tools, needles, thread, alcohol, pain relievers, and other things.  Some of the doctors or apothecaries would also be dentists, and they would have to take out teeth and do other dental work by hand.

Other Tools

Other tools that were needed were bandages, cloths, cooking tools, and tea kettles that were used to sterilize the tools.

Herbs and other things were used to help people that were very sick.  Apothecaries would not do surgeries or treat people unless it was very necessary.


Even small illnesses and illnesses that were common could cause death to people because the medication was not as good as it is today.  It was important that the doctors did their best to treat people, and even then, sometimes they died.

There were some diseases that were contagious, which means that other people could catch them, and there were diseases that were caused by people not eating enough fruits and vegetables such as scurvy.

Another thing that sometimes caused the people to get sick was the water.  Since the water had no real filtration system, it was sometimes dirty and caused there to be sickness.  At this time, the bathrooms had no running water, and people had to use the bathroom in a chamber pot that was like a bucket.  This waste was poured outside, and it would cause the water to get dirty.


Apprentices were used, and they were people that would become doctors but would have no real education.  They only had to work under a doctor for a little bit of time to become a doctor.


Women that would have babies would not go to the hospital.  Most women would have at least five babies in her lifetime, and sometimes the woman would die when she was giving birth.

Mothers that were pregnant were normally worried about their children being born healthy, and then they still had to worry because a lot of children didn’t live past the age of 5 years old,

A midwife would deliver the baby at home.  Most of the midwives were older women that had already had babies before.  They would get experience with the number of babies that they delivered.


The midwives would often live with the family that was going to give birth, and they would not have to pay rent.  For this, the midwife would not be paid for delivering the baby.

What Else Did the Midwife Do?

The midwife would also help deliver animal babies, help to give medicine to the mother during and after delivery, attend the baptism of the baby and if the baby died, they would help to bury him or her.

More Facts About Medicines, Doctors, and Midwives:

  • A midwife was sometimes an apprentice.
  • Midwives would usually only get paid with free rent or with household things.
  • Slaves were sometimes midwives.
  • Sometimes people that were sick would die because there was no cure for what was wrong with them.
  • Some of the medicines were saved for people that were of the meddling class and gentry class.
  • Many women died giving birth because they only had a midwife; nowadays, women usually go to hospitals to give birth in case of an emergency.

What Did You Learn?

What was the practice of medicine called in colonial times?
The practice of medicine was called apothecary.

What were some things a doctor did?
A doctor would give medicine, do surgeries, and even do dental work.

How did doctors get educated?
Many of the doctors were only educated by watching other doctors do the work and learning from them.

What kinds of medicines were there in colonial times?
The colonial people had medicines that were creams, herbs, painkillers, medicines to cure diseases, and more.

What was a midwife?  
A midwife was a lady that helped to deliver the child of a pregnant lady.