This popular home medical guide by Dr. John C. Gunn (ca. 1795-1863) was first published in Knoxville in 1830. A proliferation of editions in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York soon followed. Enlarged under the author's supervision in 1857 and translated into German, the book remained Gunn's original basic text on through the National Jubilee Edition, the 160th, in 1876, down to the last recorded edition, the 234th, issued in New York in 1920.
Designed to serve as a guide for frontier and rural families who lived great distances from even primitive medical care, the book covered virtually any possible miscarriage of health. It contained extensive references from the works of the major medical men and journals of the time, making it also a useful textbook for largely self-taught doctors in all rural areas. The emphasis in the early editions on the use of herbs most readily available in East Tennessee indicates that initially Dr. Gunn did not expect his book to have the far-ranging influence it ultimately experienced. A sense of the volume's impact is suggested by its literary use in such diverse places and times as the Mississippi River in 1884 (Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn) and California in 1952 (John Steinbeck's East of Eden).