Henry Marshall Turner


Dr. Henry Marshall Turner was born near Pekin in Montgomery County, North Carolina on June 20, 1800.  Little is known about his parents.  He had little formal education and studied medicine under Dr. Joe Summerall of Salisbury, a common practice at the time.  Dr. Turner came to Harnett County around 1823, settling in Averysboro and later relocating to an area near the present town of Buies Creek.  On February 8, 1827 he married 19-year-old Carolina Elizabeth McNeill, the daughter of Col. Neill McNeill and the granddaughter of Jennie Bahn McNeill.  He moved to Montgomery County, Alabama in 1835 and remained there until 1842, when he returned to Harnett County.  He remained on his Buies Creek property until 1870, when he returned to Montgomery County, North Carolina and died there on August 13, 1871.  He is buried near Pekin.

            Like many doctors of this era, Dr. Turner farmed as well as practiced medicine and he was considered to be financially well off while living in Harnett County.  He owned over 1,000 acres of land, many slaves, and built what was considered one of the finest houses in the area.  The house has long since fallen into decay and disappeared.  He was considered an excellent farmer and it was said among his neighbors that he had to farm only once in two or three years to make a living. 

            In addition to farming and medicine, Dr. Turner had extensive business interests and invested in numerous building and trading schemes.  He had interests in a mill; contracted to build locks and dams in the Cape Fear River for the Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Company; shipped timber and naval stores to Wilmington; and had a store in Haywood which did well.  During the Civil War he, like many Southerners, lost most of his wealth.

            Dr. Turner was highly regarded as a doctor and was called in to treat patients in Johnson, Sampson, Wake, Chatham, Cumberland, and Moore Counties.  He was said by his son-in-law Dr. William McNeill to be 25 years ahead of his time.  Among his treatments were purgatives, blisters, embrocations (liniments), and scarification of the tonsils.  He created a treatment for malaria called Turner’s Ague Pills which were quite profitable.  He employed an agent to sell these pills for him and had another man in his employ to collect money from the sale of his medicine.  He also pursued by legal means patients who did not pay their accounts.

            Dr. Turner was also known for his surgical abilities.  He was not afraid to tackle difficult procedures, performing several amputations, and even operating on his grandson in 1860 when he suffered from appendicitis.  Doctors at this time seldom operated on the abdomen, as it was considered too risky.  Not completely understanding what treatment might relieve his grandson’s condition, Dr. Turner made an incision in the boy’s abdomen, drained the infection, and the boy recovered.  This was 30 years before Reginald Fitz read his paper on acute appendicitis.  In the old pamphlet “Henry Marshall Turner:  Surgeon of the Cape Fear” the author states:

            This man, in an extremely isolated section, with little or no precedent to guide him, and with the life of his own grandson at stake, had taken a step of the greatest moment and had done what his clinical judgment and experience told him was the proper thing to do….Far from the ideal conditions of today’s modern operating room, before the days of antisepsis and asepsis, shortly after the introduction of anesthesia, and often with the crudest of surroundings, Dr. Turner stands out above his contemporaries…