Featured Fragment – Riverfront Bottle
By Kerry González
Dovetail Cultural Resource Group recovered this hand-finished bottle from a Civil War context (shown to the left) during an excavation in October 2015. The site, 44SP0069-0001, is located in the City of Fredericksburg and dates to the mid-eighteenth through early-twentieth century. The finish on this bottle is hand tooled, and the bottle itself was mouth blown into a dip mold and displays an intact cork. As part of the laboratory process, Dovetail x-rayed the bottle (shown below), which revealed the presence of residue of the original concoction within the bottle. Ruth Armitage of Eastern Michigan University’s chemistry department then analyzed the contents of this artifact along with student, Mishka Repaska. They found traces of turpentine, mercury, and possibly animal fat within the sealed bottle. Given the presence of mercury, along with the shape of the bottle, it is believed to be representative of a patent medicine.
This is not an uncommon find on an archaeological site as patent medicines were prolific throughout the nineteenth century. During this time most recipes were not patented and were usually nothing more than a couple of extracts with high doses of alcohol (Hagley 2016). Producing and selling these medicines was a major industry in America during the nineteenth century, all claiming to cure numerous kinds of ailments (Hagley 2016). Although the exact use of this particular medicine is not known, Civil War soldiers often carried similar bottles with them to cure a variety of ailments such as syphilis, diarrhea, small pox and scurvy.
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Lowry, Thomas P.
The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994.