Medicine during the time of the American Revolution was a messy and imprecise business - especially battlefield medicine. In Lititz, Pennsylvania, affixed to the side of the building in which it was written stands a historical plaque commemorating the very first American pharmacopoeia. Designed for use by the medical department of the Federated States of America, the Lititz Pharmacopoeia contained vital lists of medically similar herbal alternatives for use when regular supplies were limited or nonexistent.
Not often mentioned in the annals of military glory are
those professions which work in a supportive capacity. Yet no army could wage war without the
dedicated medical personnel who risk their lives not to take lives, but to save
them. One of the more notable achievements
of the Revolutionary War era was the creation and publication of America’s
first pharmacopoeia, written at the makeshift hospital at Brethren House in
A pharmacopoeia is defined as an official publication
containing a list of medicinal drugs with their effects and directions for
their use. At a time where most of the approximately
3,500 doctors in America lacked any kind of formal training, it was the luck of
the draw whether a patient was seen by someone who knew what to do about their
particular ailment or not. It becomes
vitally important, then, for any fledgling nation to do everything it can to
standardize the care received by the soldiers fighting for its very
In February of 1778, Dr. William Brown made the Brethren
House in Lititz his headquarters after being selected as Physician General for
the Middle Department of the Continental Army.
While his residence at the Brethren House was short, Dr. Brown worked
there tirelessly for the preservation of the lives under his direct care. In addition, while at Brethren House, he
wrote and published the Livitz Pharmacopoeia which included both the regular
remedies, their sources and directions for their use, but also listed several
medicinally similar alternatives to account for circumstance where the ideal
remedy was unavailable. In battlefield
medicine, this kind of guide was invaluable.
According to the U.S. Army Medical Department’s Office of
Medical History, the pharmacopoeia included “…three preparations of Peruvian
bark for use in the treatment of intermittent fevers; apparently not used for
malarial prophylaxis. A prescription for sulfur ointment was provided for the
treatment of scabies and the prevention of its spread.” It wasn’t until the second edition of the 32
page pamphlet, however, that authorship was credited to Dr. Brown and while
there was a controversy over the authenticity of this claim after an anonymous
article published in 1896 claimed the real author was Dr. James Tilton, the
opinion of the Army Medical Library’s assistant librarian is that Dr. Tilton
was not at all associated with the production of this manual.
Originally built in 1759, Brethren House was a lynchpin in
the Revolutionary military hospitals; when Washington and other generals wanted
to consolidate the hospitals of the Middle Department in the spring of 1778, it
was to Lititz that they wished to converge and even expand. However, the Reverend Ettwein wrote to
General Washington that the people of Lititz would be incapable of supporting
themselves if such a plan went through.
In light of this and other considerations, plans for expansion were
scrapped, but Brethren House continued to see patients until it closed as a
hospital in August of that year, but the contributions made by both the
hospital and the physicians who worked within it were instrumental in the war
The historical marker commemorating the Brethren House as
the site of the Lititz Pharmacopeia was erected in 1976 by the American Institute
of the History of Pharmacy and the Pennsylvania Pharmaceutical Association.