Cesar’s understanding of traditional African medicine, acquired as a slave under unexplained circumstances by a South Carolina native named John Norman, endeared him to many people in the southern United States in the 1700s.
There were insufficient physicians at the time, and those who were available were not even trusted by the populace. According to stories, people chose to rely on the medicinal skills of slaves and other Africans to treat their families and friends.
Cesar’s medical prowess reached politicians in South Carolina, who went so far as to release him from slavery and offer him a lifetime stipend because of his expert knowledge of the African healing practice.
Cesar had made a bargain with state officials, stating that if they granted him freedom, he would reveal the knowledge of his treatments, which they gladly accepted.
Cesar, who was born about 1682, is thought to have come from anyplace in Africa or the Caribbean, according to his extensive understanding of the healing traditions of those regions.
According to other accounts, he was born into slavery in the Carolinas and was most likely trained by African midwives who were well-versed in traditional African medicine.
Cesar began treating additional slaves and even members of his slaveowner’s family, as well as other plantation owners who had been poisoned by their slaves, after moving into Norman’s mansion.
South Carolina officials expressed willingness to liberate him from slavery in exchange for his knowledge, as he was also recognized for treating the effects of poisons and snakebites.
But they needed to be sure that Cesar’s herbal cures were successful, so South Carolina legislators formed a committee to look into his claims.
“Several renowned witnesses, including Dr. William Miles and Henry Middleton, testified to the success of Caesar’s cure,” according to sources. Caesar’s master, John Norman, claimed that his slave had performed “many services in a bodily way,” including “often curing the bite of rattle snakes,” and that “[Norman] never known him to fail in any one attempt.”
South Carolina legislators were persuaded and reached an agreement in the Commons House, granting Cesar, who was around 67 at the time, his freedom.
They also offered him a “permanent annuity of £100 cash” for the rest of his life. According to the South Carolina Encyclopedia, Norman was awarded £500 in compensation.
Cesar surrendered his medical recipe in return for his freedom, which was published in the South-Carolina Gazette on May 7–14, 1750. It said:
“The Poison Cure of the Negro CAESAR. Take three ounces of fresh or dried Plantane and wild Hoare-hound roots, boil them together in two quarts of water to one quart, and strain it; of this decoction, give the patient one third part three mornings fasting consecutively, and if he finds any relief, continue it until he is completely recovered: If, on the other hand, he notices no change after the third dose, it’s a sign that the patient hasn’t been poisoned at all, or has been poisoned with a poison that Caesar’s antidotes can’t cure, so he can skip the decoction.
“Caesar’s Cure for a Rattle-snake Bite.” Take a sufficient quantity of Plantane or Hoare-hound roots (in summer, roots and branches together), bruise them in a mortar, and squeeze out the juice, of which give one large spoonful as soon as possible; if he is swollen, force it down his throat: This generally cures; but if the patient finds no relief in an hour, you may give another spoonful, which never fails.”
Cesar’s “cure-all” treatment was so popular that his recipe had to be reprinted the following year in the South Carolina Gazette.
Cesar’s medical recipes were published in numerous magazines across North America and England due to tremendous demand for his remedies.
He is considered to have been the first African American to have his medical findings published when he died in 1754.