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John Sappington

John Sappington

The basics
Quick Facts
Gender male
The details

John S. Sappington (1776-1856) was an American physician known for creating a quinine pill to treat malaria in the Missouri area. He also wrote "The Theory and Treatment of Fevers," the first medical treatise published west of the Mississippi River.

Personal life

John Sappington was born in 1776 to Dr. Mark and Rebecca Sappington in Havre de Grace, Maryland. He studied under the guidance of his father, who taught medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and later moved to Tennessee to practice medicine independently. He married Jane Breathitt. The couple had nine children together, two boys and seven girls. While living in Franklin, Tennessee, Sappington became close friends with Thomas Hart Benton, an important political figure. In 1819, following the advice of Benton, Sappington and his family moved to Arrow Rock, Missouri.


John Sappington provided medical services, was a financial lender, and imported and exported goods to the Missouri area. He established two stores near Arrow Rock that sold goods, loaned money, processed salt, and milled lumber. Once he had achieved financial success, Sappington was able to be more experimental with his medical practice. He focused his energy on the bark of the cinchona tree, the substance used to create quinine. Malaria, scarlet fever, yellow fever, and influenza, were prominent along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Sappington developed a preventative pill using quinine that was soon in demand across the country. It was marketed as an anti-fever pill, but Sappington also instructed some of his relatives to take the pills to prevent malaria. Most physicians were still treating malaria by bloodletting the patient and administering calomel. Sappington’s pill to prevent malaria—and also used to cure malaria—was controversial due to its novelty and unfamiliarity. The pill remained in high demand, however, and many other physicians began to develop their own anti-malaria pills after Sappington published the formula in his medical treatise, “Theory and Treatment of Fevers.” He is often regarded as the first physician to successfully and effectively use quinine to treat malaria.

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