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Accidental Poisoning in Mobile, Alabama

This sad story has been transcribed from Greenville Advocate (Greenville, Alabama May 2, 1867

Accidental Poisoning

A very unfortunate case of sudden death from accidental poisoning occurred yesterday and there is considerable portion of the city into a state of excitement.

Mrs. Adelia F. Van Hagens, the lady who has fallen a victim to this mistake, was a young married lady of Mobile but little over eighteen years of age, and the wife of a well-known Mobile business man.

She had been suffering from ill health for a few months past, and was the mother of a child about two months old.

Supply was exhausted

The physician attending her had been giving Citrate of Potassa as a neutral mixture and the bottle becoming exhausted was sent to be refilled at the store of Wm. H. Belden. The store was undergoing repairs at the time and the bottles were all removed from the shelves and standing on the counter in order to make room for the painters. When the prescription was brought in, it was handed to Mr. Roberts, one of the most careful and oldest of Apothecaries in Mobile, and through some mistake, which the most expert and careful one is liable to commit, he filled the bottle, not with the Citrate of Potassa, but with the Cyanuret of Potassium, a deadly poison.

The mistake was not discovered until too late, and the dose of poison was administered to the unfortunate lady, and in a short time after she was dead.

Typical medicine bottles of the time – Patent medicine labels for Perry Davis & Son, showing view of Providence, R.I., and four patent medicine bottles (Library of Congress)

Coroner gave a report

It is said that after taking the second swallow the lady detected the noxious nature of the mixture, and at once said, “I am killed,” or words to that effect.

Considerable excitement was at once caused in the neighborhood of the residence of the deceased, on the corner of St. Louis and St. Joseph streets and the Coroner proceeded to the spot to hold an inquest. The following is the official report:

State of Alabama, Mobile County

At an inquisition, taken this 23rd day of April, A. D. 1867, upon and in view of the body Mrs. Adella F. Van Hagens, then and there lying dead we, the Jury, find that the deceased came to her death from accidental poisoning by the substitution of cyanuret of potassium for the citrate of potassa in filling a prescription. The mistake was made by Seth W. Roberts, a druggist of this city, in consequence of the proximity and resemblance of the two (2) bottles containing the different preparations and which had been removed from their proper place for repairs to the store.

Reputation destroyed

In justice to a good man, and a good druggist, we cannot refrain from saying that none deplore this lamentable mistake more than Mr. Roberts. With an established reputation, and with 28 years experience in Mobile, he is too well-known for the public to doubt that the mistake must have been one over which he had no control A long life of sobriety and of careful attention to business, is the unassailable record of this gentleman, in this instance so unfortunate.

This unfortunate mistake illustrates the wisdom of the preference shown in the pharmaceia (?) for the chemical names of drugs. The observance of the old-fashioned name “prussiate of potash,” though chemically inaccurate, would have avoided the error. Mobile Times

Discordance: The Cottinghams Inspired by true events and the Cottingham family that resided in 17th century Somerset, Maryland, and Delaware, colonial America comes alive with pirate attacks, religious discord, and governmental disagreements in the pre-Revolutionary War days of America.


About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. Very interesting and sad.

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