Perry Davis

Davis' Vegetable Pain Killer

The Perry Davis Vegetable Pain Killer - "Good For Man or Beast"
by Henry A. L. Brown

As printed in the Pawtuxet Times

Reprinted in the May 1990 Punty Rod, newsletter of the Little Rhody Bottle Club

Pawtuxet Village has, for 350 years, had it's share of colorful characters; in particular was Perry Davis. Born in Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1791, he came from a poor family; he was crippled at an early age, and by the time he was 14, he was apprenticed as a shoemaker.

A few decades later, Perry Davis's name was more widely known than that of any other citizen of Rhode Island, and his face was familiar throughout the world. In crowded India, in Africa, on remote sheep farms in Australia, his name was a household word.

For many years, Davis barely eked out a living for his family, moving from city to city. Arriving in Pawtucket in 1828, he became an inventor, having designed an improved grain grinding mill. He was now 47, still poor and lame, but an ambition burned within him. His invention failed, owing to hard economic times, and he fell ill and did not expect to recover.

"I told my wife," he said, "that she could not expect to have me with her much longer. A cold settled on my lungs. A hard cough ensued, with pains in my side. My stomach soon became sore, my digestive organs became weak, consequently my appetite failed; my kidneys had become affected. The canker in my mouth became troublesome, etc., etc."

"I searched the globe in my mind's eye for a cure during my illness and selected the choicest gums and healing herbs. These were carefully compounded creating a medicine to soothe the nerves and a balm to heal the body. I commenced using my new discovered medicine with no hope other than handing me gently to the grave."

Instead he was cured!! By that time, he was in debt to the tune of $4500, and his assets were three cents and the recipe for the elixir. To become a medicine manufacturer he needed money to purchase components, bottles, labels, etc. He was able to raise $24.50 by selling his horse, wagon, and harness. With this fund he assembled a batch of medicine to try the Boston market. But the stuff wouldn't sell, and in desperation he gave much of it away to poor people.

In the latter part of the summer of 1843 he carried a batch of medicine to sell at the Pawtuxet fair. Established by the Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry in 1820, the fair was highly popular, drawing crowds from all over New England.

The fair grounds were located in the village of Pawtuxet, bounded on the east by Fair Street, on the south by South Fair and the north by North Fair Streets. The fair mansion displayed the most up-to-date agricultural equipment, wares, and produce. It remains today and is known as the "Bay Winds", built in 1820 by William G. Budlong and his son, Anthony, for James Rhodes, first president of the society.

It was here that Perry Davis set up his stand at the entrance to the fair grounds. That day proved to be the turning point. Some people believed what he told them about the merits of his medicine and one person with a pain in his stomach was bold enough to try it. The patient declared he had instant relief.

By 1844 he purchased a building on Pond Street in Providence making his medicine on a factory scale. An outbreak of cholera occurred in Asia. Soon cases of Davis' medicine were shipped with every Baptist missionary bound for India and China.

Another occurrence which helped make the Davis fortune was the Civil War. During the rebellion the factory was seized by the United States Government in 1861 to make medicine not only for the soldiers but for the army's horses. The medicine was considered "good for man or beast."

By the time Perry Davis died in 1862, his fame was worldwide. The wrapper of every bottle or his medicine carried a woodcut image of the maker. He was only a visitor in Pawtuxet, and the visit was brief, but he has been adopted by the village as one of her most notable sons.


Perry Davis - Addendum

Archie Calise

The Punty Rod, March,1988

In 1850 Perry's son Edmund joined him in the business and the company became Davis & Son, located at 43 Pond Street, Providence. When Perry passed away in 1862, Edmund continued the company his father had started.

In 1867, Edmund moved the company to 78 High Street and in 1871 took in Mrs. Sarah D. Dennis as a partner. They relocated the company to 136 High Street.

When Edmund died in 1880, his son, Edmund W. Davis took over the company. One year later he took in another partner, Horace S. Bloodgood. Mrs. Dennis also died that year and the company moved to 594 Westminister Street after her death. The company was still called Davis & Son throughout this entire period.

A few years later, Bloodgood retired, leaving the internationally known company with offices at 380 St. Paul Street, Montreal, Canada, and 17 Southhampton Row, Holborn, London, England.

Perry Davis & Son left Providence in 1895 and moved it's operation to New York City. Edmund remained in Rhode Island, living in Narragansett.