Friday, October 21, 2016

Dr Church and the Royal Maritime Hospital

   Before I get into Dr Church's rather tumultuous stint as Director of the Continental Army Hospital, I would like to discuss his earlier attempt to establish a Royal Maritime Hospital in Boston.

   In 1771, Boston had no hospital, as we understand it. It did have a Quarantine Hospital located on Rainsford Island in Boston Harbor but that Hospital was used to isolate people suspected of having smallpox. Sometime in early 1771, probably April, Dr Church and his brother-in-law, John Fleeming,  became very interested in a proposal to establish a Royal Maritime Hospital in Boston. The origin of this proposal is quite cloudy and, at first glance, the rationale for establishing such a hospital in Boston is rather nebulous. Although Royal Navy ships transited Boston quite regularly, the Headquarters of the North American Squadron was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But due to the unrest in Boston (The Boston Massacre occurred in March 1770), Whitehall, at the recommendation of the Privy Council, took a number of steps in response to the turmoil of the past months, one of which was to transfer the Headquarters of the North American Squadron from Halifax to Boston. It thought that the sight of Royal Navy ships in the harbor would provide a daily reminder to Bostonians of the might of the Empire. In any event, Boston in early 1771 was a somewhat different place than in 1770. The Boston Massacre trials had concluded in the fall of 1770; soldiers no longer patrolled the streets and there were no sentry boxes. There was no stamp tax or duties placed on lead, glass, paper, and painters' colors.

Boston Harbor 1770 by Franz Xaver Habermann

   Trade exploded with the demise of the non-importation agreements.  In 1771, imports from Great Britain into Boston increased six times over those in 1769. But all was not rosy. British ships anchored in the Harbor, British troops were only three miles away and the Declaratory Act still remained in effect. The Whigs controlled Boston and held majorities in the House and the Council, but Thomas Hutchinson was governor and he controlled the executive and judicial branches of government, still formidable if somewhat weakened. Bostonians resented the imposition of Parliamentary rule over them but most just wanted some semblance of their earlier lives and reluctantly accepted the status quo.

   It was in this atmosphere that Dr Church and his brother-in-law became involved in the proposal to establish a permanent Royal Maritime Hospital. John Fleeming, as you recall, was a strong supporter of the Royal government and had been involved with his partner, John Mein in the publishing of the Boston Chronicle in its successful campaign to undermine the non-importation agreements. You may also recall that John Mein was forced to flee Boston and on June 30, 1770, Fleeming himself had to flee for his own safety to Castle William in Boston Harbor. But popular rage against Fleeming soon abated and he was able to open a new printing shop on King Street, this time without a partner.

   It is not known just how Fleeming came to marry Church's younger sister Alice ( birth date unknown) in August 1770, but it is a most curious marriage. Dr Church was as prominent a Whig as there was and Fleeming was very well known for his activities on behalf of the Crown. That the marriage took place in Portsmouth, New Hampshire says a great deal. In any event John Fleeming and Dr Church seem to have developed a close relationship. Fleeming became a Mason sometime in 1770, most likely influenced by his new brother-in-law, a very prominent Boston Mason; and Fleeming was to join his brother-in-law when he received permission from John Rowe to start a new masonic lodge, the Rising Sun Lodge in August 1772.

   Boston had not forgotten Fleeming's actions and political sympathies and his printing business did not flourish. Fleeming soon found himself in financial difficulty when a printing contract he had hoped to receive from the Royal government did not come through and he found himself unable to pay even the interest on a loan he had taken out in London to purchase supplies to serve the contract.

   Whether the scheme to establish the Royal Maritime Hospital in Boston was influenced by Fleeming's financial difficulties is not known but it is probable. There are vague references to Fleeming having certain "connections" in London which would aid the two brothers-in-law in obtaining approval. Dr Church apparently was charged with obtaining a recommendation of approval for the hospital from Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

Thomas Hutchinson by Edward Truman, 1741.
 This is the only known portrait of him and was painted when he was 30 years old.

   Governor Hutchinson led  Church a merry chase in his attempt to obtain his approval for the hospital and one contemporary remarked that "Hutch made him [Church] dance attendance. " Hutchinson played it cool and one gets the impression that Church really pushed this Hospital plan. Church had to know just how he was viewed in Government circles yet he still pursued this. I doubt that Church was pushing this scheme because of financial difficulties of his own since in April of 1771 he was able to purchase a Boston estate becoming a neighbor of the wealthy John Rowe.

John Rowe's Bedford St. home.

 Church pursued his attempt to sway Hutchinson through 1772. Whatever he said to Hutchinson, at one point Hutchinson wrote to Francis Bernard (January 29,1772):
"The faction seems to be breaking, the Doctor Church who wrote The Times is now a writer on the side of the Government."
   If Church had been writing for the Loyalists, it was a deep dark secret because there is no evidence elsewhere that this was the case. Any such writing would have been published in the Boston Censor and there is absolutely no evidence of this. If Church had been flirting with the Loyalists, he certainly would not have been selected to give the Boston Massacre oration in March 1773.

  I might add that this attempt to found a Royal Hospital becomes even more curious in light of the fact that the man Hutchinson was writing to in London, Francis Bernard, had been recalled to England from his position as Governor of Massachusetts Bay in August 1769 because of his harsh stand against the Whigs. He remained an advisor to the Government and certainly was no friend of Church who had  published two scathing poems viciously attacking him. The two poems, published in Boston in 1769,  are titled  "An Address to a Provincial Bashaw" and "An Elegy to the Infamous Memory of Sr. F[rancis] B [ernard ], the first published before Bernard left Massachusetts and the second after. Although rather curious to the modern ear, these two poems are masterpieces of political invective and satire and were recognized at the time as having a poetic voice that was powerful and persuasive. The third stanza of the "Address to a Provincial Bashaw" gives you the flavor of Church's attack against Bernard.

But when some Miscreant eminently vile;   
Springs into place, and blindly arm'd with power;
Presuming on his privilege to spoil;
Betrays a keen impatience to devour;

   John Fleeming's financial difficulties continued through 1772 and on April 2, 1772, Hutchinson writes in a letter to London:

   "The Commissioners are desired to employ Mr Flemming. He is in the utmost distress and says his family must starve. But this is not all, it hurts his Majestys Service and our enemies triumph and take encouragement to persevere when they see or hear of any one being deserted who has been a friend to Government as well as of any being promoted who has joined with them in their measures for distressing governments. Mr Flemming had been suffering as well as Green [another Boston printer] and the Commissioners had given him the supply of their Stationery...It is too small an affair to trouble Lord Hillsborough or else (?) for the reasons I have mentioned to you.

   So, Governor Hutchinson would lobby for John Fleeming in London, but he would only go so far, even if Fleeming was starving.

   In any event, the proposal for the Royal Hospital fell through in March of 1773 since there was no real push for it in Massachusetts or London. Facing financial ruin, John Fleeming sold his equipment and supplies to the new partnership of Mills and Hicks who had taken over his business and sailed, with his family, for London in April 1773. He would return to Boston sometime in 1774, probably May of 1774 and renew his acquataince with his brother-in-law.

  It is this relationship between two brothers-in-law that no historian has yet, to my knowledge, acknowledged or been aware of when they mention that the infamous letter that Dr Church attempted to smuggle into Boston was addressed to his brother-in-law.

N.B. I have researched and completed the only known biography, as sketchy as it is, of John Fleeming and those interested can read it in these three previous posts on this blog.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dr Church's Surgeons

   Dr Church hired a staff of seven surgeons to run the Hospital he established for the Continental Army and I thought it would be interesting to provide some background on a rather interesting staff of surgeons.

 1. Dr. Isaac Foster, Jr. was born in Charlestown, was a graduate of the Harvard class of 1758 ( four years after Dr. Church) and was elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in October 1774 as a representative of Charlestown. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress
Isaac Foster, age 15,
 Joseph Badger,
was faced with the problem of wounded soldiers, British and American that had fallen on a very long battle front. Orders were given by the Congress to take care of them and Dr. Foster responded to the call. He set up a temporary hospital in the Vassall House and collected a number of wounded, apparently, most of them British soldiers. On April 29, 1775, Dr. Foster was given an order to relocate all of the sick and wounded, whose conditions permitted, and who were scattered amongst a number of houses in the local area, to the Vassall House. The Vassall House soon filled with militia men suffering from fever, dysentery and the other diseases that would naturally arise from the hastily constructed and apparently not too clean camps of the Yankee militia. Until the middle of June, Dr. Foster devoted most of  his time to the Hospital but made no attempt to obtain a regular staff, medical supplies, or additional hospital space. He was assisted by one of his apprentice doctors. However, any physician was free to visit the hospital and attend and/or prescribe medicines for any of the patients. In Dr. Foster's defense, he was merely a contract physician and had not been given any authority or direction to take charge. But then, he apparently made no attempt to convince the Provincial Congress to do anything further.

    Dr. Foster's world was shattered by Bunker Hill in mid-June 1775. All of a sudden, there were approximately 300 wounded that had to be treated. Confusion reigned. And to add to that confusion, a rumor spread that the British were about to attack Cambridge. Many of the wounded were carried to Watertown and to farm houses in the adjacent country. Dr. Foster enlisted the aid of Harvard undergraduates, probably all of whom had absolutely no medical training. After the initial chaos had abated, the wounded were brought back to the Vassall House and other locations in Cambridge. The Provincial Congress energized itself and arrangements were made to establish branch hospitals in Cambridge and Roxbury, and to deal with the ever present fear of smallpox. But then, there was still no formal organization and no one in authority. That was changed when Dr. Church was named Director General of the Hospital and he began to bring his organizational and executive skills to bear in a rather chaotic situation in which there were more than thirty hospitals.

   Dr. Foster remained in residence at The Vassall House and was hired by Dr. Church (probably the first hire) as one of his surgeons. After Dr. Church was removed from his position, Dr. Foster became Director General until he lost out to John Morgan of Pennsylvania and he apparently became Deputy-Director. I lost touch with Dr. Foster who apparently left the Army and returned to Charlestown where he died in February 1782.

2.  Dr. John Warren, younger brother of Dr. Joseph Warren, was born in Roxbury in 1753. While attending Harvard (class of 1771), he started an "Anatomical Society" amongst the undergraduates in which they studied a skeleton and dissected whatever they could get their hands on; e.g. horses, dogs. Cadavers were impossible to obtain although the "Society" did concoct an elaborate plan, never consummated, to secure the body of a hung criminal. After graduating from Harvard, John, and almost all the members of his "Anatomical Society" AKA "Spunkers", studied medicine. John, obviously, under his brother Joseph. After two years, John moved to practice in Salem, apparently believing that the competition for physicians was rather too intense in Boston. He joined Col Timothy Pickering's Salem militia regiment in 1773 as a surgeon and marched with the regiment when the battle at Lexington broke out. However, the regiment arrived too late to take a major role in the battle. John was in Salem when he received the news of  Bunker Hill and, at 2 AM the following day, he set off for Cambridge. On the way, he heard that his brother was reported missing in the battle. He then made an attempt to look for his brother on the battlefield where, according to John, he was turned back by a thrust from a bayonet from a British sentry. ( A tale I view with extreme skepticism.) He was said to bear a scar from that thrust for the rest of his life.
John Warren by Rembrandt Peale
ca 1806

   Dr. Warren then accepted a post as a surgeon under Dr. Foster, apparently heeding the entreaties of his mother not to enlist as a soldier in the militia. At 22 years of age, Warren's views of his abilities did not quite match those held by his seniors and he appears to have been somewhat frustrated in the practice of his profession. Warren continued to serve as a surgeon with Washington's Army and was present at Long Island, Trenton, and Princeton. He returned to Boston in 1777 to continue his service as a military surgeon. After the war, he became a very successful doctor and helped to found the Harvard Medical School in 1782. He died at the age of 61 in 1815.

3. Dr. Samuel Adams, Jr. The only son of Samuel Adams was born in Boston in 1751 and attended Harvard, graduating with the class of  1770. He has been described as academically undistinguished and somewhat of a troublemaker. This, despite the fact that he was a sickly child suffering from tuberculosis and apparently sick for much of his life. After graduating from Harvard, young Samuel studied medicine with Dr. Joseph Warren, perhaps more as a favor to his father than to young Samuel's abilities. After Lexington and Concord, young Samuel was trapped inside Boston and was only released by General Gage with some reluctance. Finding employment  as a regimental surgeon in Cambridge, Adams continued to serve the wounded after Bunker Hill. Adams continued to serve the Continental Army as a surgeon in the New York and  other areas, returning to Boston after the war, apparently in very poor health since he did not resume the practice of medicine. He died at the age of 36 in  January 1788, pre-deceasing his famous father.

4. Dr. Charles McKnightwas born in Monmouth County, New Jersey on October 10, 1750 and graduated from Princeton in 1771. At Princeton, McKnight was a member of the American Whig Society along with fellow classmate James Madison. McKnight's father, the Irish immigrant Rev Charles McKnight, was an ardent patriot who reportedly received a severe sabre cut to the head  in the same skirmish that saw General High Mercer, George Washington's good friend, die at the battle of Princeton. He later was imprisoned on a British Prison ship in New York harbor and died on January 1st, 1778.
    After graduation, McKnight studied medicine under the distinguished physician of a well connected Pennsylvania family and a trustee of Princeton, Dr. William Shippen. Before he could complete his studies, the Revolutionary War broke out and Dr. McKnight joined the Continental Army along with a number of medical students. It is not clear as to how McKnight came to Dr. Church's attention or precisely which Continental Army unit he was associated with. But given Dr. McKnight's later career, it is obvious that he was a doctor of some talent and would quickly be noticed wherever he was assigned. McKnight later founded the "flying hospitals" for the Continental Army which allowed for a more rapid response to wounded soldiers. McKnight served throughout the Revolutionary War as a senior physician, establishing a good reputation. Immediately after the war, McKnight was appointed to the position of Professor of Surgery and Anatomy at Columbia and was considered one of  the foremost surgeons in the United States until his death at the age of 41 in November 1791.

5. Dr. William Aspinwall, was born in Brookline in May 1763, descending from one of the first
Dr William Aspinwall
Gilbert Stuart, circa 1815
English settlers of Massachusetts. After graduating from Harvard in 1764, Aspinwall studied medicine in Connecticut with the famous small pox expert Dr. Benjamin Gale and in Pennsylvania. with Dr John Morgan.  He received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, at that time the only medical college in the colonies.  He became the first physician resident in Brookline where, after  practicing medicine for some years, and after hostilities broke out, Aspinwall decided to join the army. Dr. Joseph Warren, however, persuaded him to serve as a physician instead. Aspinwall received a commission as a surgeon under Brigadier General  William Heath and then was appointed as Deputy Director of the Hospital on Jamaica Plain. Aspinwall fought as a soldier in the battle of Lexington and followed the retreating British to Charlestown. He served as a surgeon throughout the war and, at one time, served with General John Sullivan in Rhode Island. After the war, Dr. Aspinwall returned to Brookline where he resumed his medical practice and became renowned for the treatment of small pox. Dr. Aspinwall lost sight in an eye as a child and later suffered from a cataract in the other eye. Cataract surgery proved unsuccessful and he was totally blind  for the waning years of his life. He lived to be 80 years old, dying in 1823.

6. Dr. Lemuel Hayward was born in Braintree in 1749 and graduated from Harvard in 1768. He was one of the many who studied medicine under Dr. Joseph Warren. After Lexington and Concord, Hayward and Aspinwall both served militia units and were then contracted by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to serve the wounded. Both received warrants as  surgeons from the Provincial Congress in late June 1775. When Dr. Church was appointed as Hospital Director, both Hayward and Aspinwall were in a kind of limbo. Their warrants from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had been superseded by the Continental Congress. Church asked them to stay on since there was a dire need for their services and told them he would obtain warrants for them as surgeons from the Continental Congress. Before that could be accomplished, however, Dr. Church was arrested and their status had to be sorted out by General Washington. After the siege, Dr. Hayward returned to his civil practice and like Aspinwall, specialized in the inoculation and treatment of smallpox. Hayward retired in 1798, living a very comfortable life until his death in 1821. He lived his final years in a mansion in Boston on Washington Street, between Bedford and Essex, that had an acre of garden with it. It is reported that in addition to being a successful physician, part of Dr. Haywards's wealth derived from the sale of a rather non-descript one story and a half house in Jamaica Plain, but with extensive land and mature Linden tress to John Hancock as a summer home in 1800. Hancock paid for the home with four and a half shares in the Long Wharf, which proved to be very valuable.

7. Dr. Elisha Perkins. Elisha Perkins was born in Plainfield Connecticut in January 1741, the son of a physician. He briefly matriculated At Yale and then studied medicine under his father. After practicing in his hometown and surrounding area, Dr. Perkins joined a Connecticut militia unit and served at the siege of Boston. However, I cannot place Dr. Perkins in the Boston area prior to January 1776, some six months after he is reported to be attending to the sick and wounded in Roxbury. On the other hand, I can find no physician of the same name on the rolls of any militia unit and the name would indicate that there can't be more than one. I am reasonably certain that the Dr. Elisha Perkins I describe is the same one hired by Dr. Church. Dr. Perkins is notorious in American medical history.

   After the war, Dr. Perkins returned to his medical practice in Connecticut, supplementing his income (he had ten children to support) by buying and selling mules. Sometime in the late 1790s, while in his forties, Perkins developed a theory that pain was caused by "a surcharge of electric fluid in the affected areas" and that metal could be used to draw off the electric fluid and cure the patient. In 1796, Dr. Perkins patented his " Metallic Tractors." The tractors consisted of two 3-inch metal rods with a point at the end. Although they were made of steel and brass, Perkins claimed that they were made of unusual alloys and he used his rods to cure inflammation, rheumatism and pain in the head and the face. He applied the points on the aching body part and passed them over the part for about 20 minutes. Perkins claimed they could "draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the root of
Modern Replica of Dr Perkins Tractors

   Perkins treated all kinds of illnesses and numbered among his patents George Washington and Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth. He sold his "tractors" by the score and became quite wealthy from the sales. George Washington was reported to have purchased a set for his family. Perkins  collected hundreds of testimonials from leading citizens, all claiming that his "tractors", not only relieved pain and suffering, but actually saved lives. (Imagine what Dr. Perkins could have accomplished if only Cable TV and the infomercial had been invented.)  His fame and his "tractors" spread to England and the Continent.

  Dr. Perkins then turned his attention to developing an antiseptic remedy which he claimed  could be used in the treatment of diphtheria and typhoid dysentery. Anxious to try out his newly developed antiseptic in treating yellow fever Dr. Perkins traveled to the city and treated patients with it for four weeks only to die of the disease in September 1799 at the age of 59.

  After his death, the use of his tractors and antiseptic faded into oblivion. It should be noted that not all were taken in by Dr. Perkins and he was expelled by the Connecticut Medical Society in 1797.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continental Army Hospital - August 1775

   Using Benjamin Church's letter to Samuel Adams and other research, the following is the best reconstruction I can attempt of the Hospital that Church established for the Continental Army in the late summer of 1775 in and around the Continental Army's Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Director General and Chief Surgeon
Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr.
(no known likeness)


Henry Vassal House
HQs and Hospital
Residence of Director General Church
Hooper-Lee-Nichols House (Lee Mansion)

Ruggles-Fayerweather Mansion (Fayerweather House)
Since I am not certain which building should be identified  as Washington, Lee, and Putnam Hospital, respectively, I have not done so.                                                                                
     1. Dr. Issac Foster - Succeeds Church as Director until replaced on 29 Nov, 1775
    Lives with Church in the Vassal House.                                                                    
           2. Dr. John Warren, younger brother of Joseph Warren.                                               
                 3.  Dr. Samuel Adams, Jr. son of Samuel Adams.                                                               
                                                      4.  Dr. Charles Mc Knight, very distinguished and connected surgeon.                                                                



Loring- Greenough House (Loring House)
Ward's Hospital
St Thomas Hospital*
Barnard House
Parker Hill, Brookline
Wooden Barracks No Longer Extant
Later Used to Inoculate Troops for Smallpox
Causing Great Consternation to the Local Residents
1. William Aspinwall, Harvard graduate and friend of Dr. Joseph Warren              
         2. Elisha Perkins, Attended Yale and inventor of "Perkins Tractors" (Quack medicine)
(I am not certain of this identification)
  3. Dr. Lemuel Hayward, studied medicine under Dr. Joseph Warren                       
   It is possible that the three surgeons in Roxbury were paid by their respective colonies rather than the Continental Army.      
   St Thomas Hospital is a very famous London Hospital that can trace its roots to at least the twelfth century. Could it be that Church walked its halls while studying medicine in London?
N.B. All of the house are depicted as they exist today. They have had many owners and many renovations since 1775. And, each was considered a country estate which mean they had lots of land attached to them.