John Graves Simcoe was the first Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario). While traveling on business, he fell ill at Kingston. His wife, Elizabeth Simcoe, told the story in her diary: Friday Apr. 14, 1795
"The Governor has been so ill since the 21st of March that I have not left his room since that day. He has had such a cough that some nights he could not lie down, but sat in a chair, total loss of appetite and such headaches that he could not bear any person but me to walk across the room or speak out loud. There was no medical advice but that of a horse doctor who pretended to be an apothecary."

Rather than trust the advice of the "horse doctor," Elizabeth Simcoe turned to Molly Brant, sister of the Mohawk leader and British ally, Joseph Brant.  "Capt. Brant's sister prescribed a root - it is, I believe, calamus, a genus of palm, one species of which yields a resin called dragon's blood, the root of which is the sweet flag…."

John Graves Simcoe was the first Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario). While traveling on business, he fell ill at Kingston. His wife, Elizabeth Simcoe, told the story in her diary:

Friday Apr. 14, 1795


"The Governor has been so ill since the 21st of March that I have not left his room since that day. He has had such a cough that some nights he could not lie down, but sat in a chair, total loss of appetite and such headaches that he could not bear any person but me to walk across the room or speak out loud. There was no medical advice but that of a horse doctor who pretended to be an apothecary."

Rather than trust the advice of the "horse doctor," Elizabeth Simcoe turned to Molly Brant, sister of the Mohawk leader and British ally, Joseph Brant.  "Capt. Brant's sister prescribed a root - it is, I believe, calamus, a genus of palm, one species of which yields a resin called dragon's blood, the root of which is the sweet flag…."


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

John Graves Simcoe

Toronto Public Library

T 18042
© Toronto Public Library (TRL)


"[It] really relieved his cough in a very short time," Elizabeth Simcoe recorded.  The governor recovered completely and continued with his duties.

The root recommended by Molly Brant was probably Acorus americanus, which contains a range of chemicals that can kill various bacteria, fungi, and amoebas. Related species have been used by many peoples in Europe, Asia, and the Americas for medicinal purposes. However, it is probably a good thing that Governor Simcoe’s cough disappeared quickly, since recent research suggests that some of these plants may be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) when used in large doses or for a long time.

"[It] really relieved his cough in a very short time," Elizabeth Simcoe recorded.  The governor recovered completely and continued with his duties.

The root recommended by Molly Brant was probably Acorus americanus, which contains a range of chemicals that can kill various bacteria, fungi, and amoebas. Related species have been used by many peoples in Europe, Asia, and the Americas for medicinal purposes. However, it is probably a good thing that Governor Simcoe’s cough disappeared quickly, since recent research suggests that some of these plants may be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) when used in large doses or for a long time.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Acorus americanus

Missouri Botanical Garden

© Missouri Botanical Garden


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • recall how John Graves Simcoe was healed by traditional medicine;
  • indicate if an illness like the one that affected John Graves Simcoe could happen again today.

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