Gc M. L.
ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY
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DR. BENJAMIN GOTT
A FAMILY OF DOCTORS
€l;e Colonial ^octety of $®a$$M\)umt8
JOHN WILSON AND SON
DR. BENJAMIN GOTT
A FAMILY OF DOCTORS
DR. BENJAMIN GOTT: A FAMILY OF DOCTORS.
Dr. Benjamin Gott was a physician of some prominence in Marl-
boro, Massachusetts, in the middle of the eighteenth century. His
father, John Gott, a well-to-do tanner of Wenham, had three sons;
the elder two he intended should continue his business, while Benjamin,
the youngest, was indentured to Dr. Samuel Wallis of Ipswich to
learn the "art and mysteries" of the physician's profession. Ben-
jamin was born March 13, 1705-06, and was probably about thirteen
or fourteen years old at the beginning of his apprenticeship. His
father died in 1722 during his indenture, and in his will charged his
elder sons to "find him with good and sufficient clothing during the
time he is to live with Dr. Wallis as may appear by his indenture"
and " pay him £200 in silver money or in good bills of credit when he
arrives at the age of twenty-one years."
Here I lose sight of the boy for six years. He probably finished his
term with Dr. Wallis, received his two hundred pounds, moved west
to Marlboro, which even in 1727 was well out towards the wilderness,
and started in the practice of medicine.
On January 20, 1728, being only twenty-two, he married Sarah,
daughter of the Rev. Robert Breck of Marlboro. She was only sixteen
or seventeen years old, when this young couple launched out into life
on their own account. The Rev. Robert Breck, a descendant of
Edward Breck of Dorchester, graduated from Harvard College in 1700
and was a clergyman of some note in his day. His wife, Elizabeth,
was the daughter of Simon Wainwright of Haverhill, who was killed
by Indians in 1708. These Wainwrights form a remarkable family
distinguished for their wealth, their military spirit, and the extraor-
dinary number of their college-bred men.
Three years later, on January 6, 1731, the Rev. Mr. Breck died
leaving to Dr. Gott " two acres of land as recompense for instructing
my son Robert in the rules of physic." This Robert Breck, Junior,
born July 25, 1713, graduated at Harvard College in 1730, preached
in Springfield in 1734, was ordained on January 26, 1736, and was
settled over the Springfield parish where he gained considerable
distinction as a preacher. It does not appear that he ever practised
medicine as a profession, but it was not uncommon in those early
1909] DR. BENJAMIN GOTT : A FAMILY OF DOCTORS 215
days for a minister to acquire some technical knowledge of the healing
art, so that he could care for the bodily ailments of his people, as well
as their spiritual needs, in case his field of work fell in one of the small
outlying towns, just as the missionaries in China to-day are often
The Rev. Mr. Breck's will also left to Dr. Gott " ten pounds worth
of books out of my library," which will account for the large number
of theological works in the inventory of Dr. Gott's library. 1
It is worthy of note here that a younger son of Mr. Breck, Samuel,
born May 17, 1723, graduated at Harvard College in 1742, also
studied medicine, perhaps with Dr. Gott, and settled in Worcester
in 1743, in the practice of his profession. Dr. Gott's oldest son Ben-
jamin, too, became a physician and practised in Brookfield, while
Anna, daughter of Dr. Gott, married Dr. Samuel Brigham, a physician
of Marlboro, and her son, Samuel Brigham, p actised medicine in
Boylston. Medicine certainly ran in the family.
Returning to Dr. Gott, on January 8, 1733-34, a young man named
Hollister Baker, about sixteen years old, was apprenticed to him, till
he should come of age, "to learn his art, trade or mystery." Baker's
father had disappeared and his guardian apprenticed him to Dr.
Gott, in the manner of that time, to be made a doctor. Things moved
fast in those days. Dr. Gott, only twenty-eight years old, was married,
with three children — and more coming ; already one student, a
graduate of Harvard, had passed through his tuition and gone out
into the world, and another lad had entered his office under a five
years' apprenticeship. Baker's original indenture lies before me
and is worth preserving, as a sample of the ways of medical edu-
cation in 1734. It runs as follows:
This Indenture Witnesseth, That Hollister Baker a minor aged
about sixteen son of Mr. Eben r Baker late of Marlborough in the County
of Middlesex Gent. Deceased of his own free Will and Accord, and with
the Consent of Benj a Wood of Marlborough in ye County aforesaid his
Guardian doth Put and Bind himself to be an Apprentice unto Benj a
Gott of Marlboro in ye County aforesaid Physcician to learn his Art,
Trade or Mystery, and with him the said Benj a Gott after the manner
of an Apprentice, to Dwell and Serve from the Day of the Date hereof,
1 New England Historical and Genealogical Register, lvi. 341-344.
216 THE COLONIAL SOCIETY OF MASSACHUSETTS [Jan.
for and during the full and just Term of five Years and four months next
ensuing, and fully to be Compleat and Ended. During all which said
Term, the said Apprentice his said Master and Mistress honestly and
faithfully shall Serve, so long as his Master lives of said Term, 1 their
Secrets keep Close their lawful and reasonable Commands every where
gladly Do and Perform ; Damage to his said Master and Mistress he shall
not wilfully Do, his Masters Goods he shall not Waste, Embezel, Purloine
or Lend unto others, nor suffer the same to be wasted or purloined ; but
to his power shall forthwith Discover, and make Known the same unto
his said Master or Mistress. Taverns nor Alehouses he shall not fre-
quent; at Cards, Dice, or any other unlawful Game he shall not Play;
Fornication he shall not Commit, nor Matrimony Contract with any
Person, during said Term: From his Masters Service he shall not at
any time unlawfully Absent himself But in all things as a good, honest
and faithful Servant and Apprentice, shall bear and behave himself
towards his said Master and Miotrooo during the full Term of five Years
and four months Commencing as aforesaid.
And the Said Benj a Gott for himself Doth Covenant Promise, Grant
and Agree unto, and with him said Apprentice in Manner and Form
following, that is to say, That he will teach the said Apprentice, or
cause him to be Taught by the best Ways and Means that he may or
can, the Trade, Art or Mystery of a Physcician according to his own best
skil and judgm't (if said Apprentice be capable to learn) and will Find
and Provide for and unto said Apprentice, good and sufficient meat
Drink washing and lodging During said Term both in sickness and in
health — his Mother all said Term finding said apprentice all his Cloath-
ing of all sorts fitting for an Apprentice during said Term; and at the
End of said Term, to dismiss said Apprentice with Good skill in arith-
metick Lattin and also in the Greek through ye Greek Grammer.
In Testimony Whereof, The said Parties to these present Indentures
have interchangeably set their Hands and Seals, the Eighth Day of Jan-
uary — In the seventh Year of the Reign of Our Sovereign Lord George
ye second by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and
Ireland; And in the Year of Our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred
and thirty three four —
Signed, Sealed and Delivered f ^
in Presence of Hollister Baker f \
John Mead Benj a Wood I * wte J
Elisabeth Woods Benj a Gott \^__^/
1 The words "so long as his Master lives of said Term" are interlined.
1909] DR. BENJAMIN GOTT : A FAMILY OF DOCTORS 217
Marlborough June 15 1734
Memorandum whereas I the subscriber Father to the said Holister
Baker within mentioned being absent for about two years whereupon a
credible Report was abroad of my Death &c. upon the said Report
although false the said minor was Taken Care of as within written unto
the said within written Indenture I consent and am well satisfied and
Contented that the same be fullfilled by All parties as aforesaid In witness
thereof I here set my hand and seal the Day and Year first above written.
In Presence of / X
Benj a Wood Eben r Baker j g, ca l J
John McCleave V J
Baker's father, it will be noticed, turned up before the close of the
indenture and consented to its terms. What became of Hollister
Baker I have been unable to ascertain.
Returning to the instrument, Baker was bound with Dr. Gott " to
dwell and serve." He agrees "his master and mistress honestly and
faithfully to serve," not his master alone, but his mistress too. "Their
reasonable commands he will everywhere gladly do and perform, and
in all things as a good, honest and faithful servant and apprentice will
bear and behave himself."
In short, his mother was to furnish his clothes and Dr. Gott his
board and lodging and medical tuition, and in return he was to work
his passage to his profession by serving the Doctor and Mrs. Gott
for five years and four months, doing their chores, household and
professional. Doctor Gott had served Dr. Wallis in the same way,
and it was the custom of the day. There was no other method for a
boy of ordinary means to enter the profession. The first medical
school on the continent, that of Philadelphia, was not founded till
1765, 2 and even then a boy was required to pass one year in a doctor's
office as an apprentice.
How I should like to see a letter from Baker describing his life.
1 Presumably he was the "[C?] ollister Baker" who was baptized on March 1,
1720 (Vital Records of Marlborough, p. 15).
2 The Philadelphia Hospital, the first in this country, was established in 1751.
See Harrington, Harvard Medical School, i. 30, 31 ; Scharf and Westcott, History
of Philadelphia, ii. 1584, 1588.
218 THE COLONIAL SOCIETY OF MASSACHUSETTS [Jan.
I imagine Dr. Gott lived in a modest house in the village with his
office in one of the front rooms, where he kept his instruments —
what few he had — his little library and some store of medicines,
for there could hardly have been a pharmacy in the small town. So
he would have to keep on hand some stock of things he most needed,
such as opium, antimony, Peruvian bark, mercury, nitre, sulphur,
ipecac, and probably some collection of the native remedies in general
use, such as elecampane, elder, yellow dock, slippery elm, anise,
saffron, snake-root, and the rest, and among these emblems of his
future calling, Baker very likely passed a good share of his time.
He would come down from his plain quarters in the attic early in
the morning and start the fire while Mrs. Gott attended to the children,
then he would go out and look after the Doctor's horse. Before break-
fast would come family prayers, when, according to tradition, the
Doctor used to read from his Latin Bible. After breakfast, he would
saddle the Doctor's horse and bring him round to the front door,
when his master would throw the saddle bags over his back, stuffed
with such medicines or instruments as the morning's work required,
and ride away to his patients. Then perhaps Hollister would sit down
to his " arithmetick, Lattin and Greek grammer," possibly dipping
into some of the medical books which adorned the Doctor's shelves.
After a midday dinner, perhaps the Doctor would take him to visit
some patient in the village or send him on the old mare with remedies
to some distant invalid, whom his master was unable to attend in
person. And when the day's work was done, the Doctor would look
after the boy's studies and impart to him some knowledge of that
"art, trade and mystery," which the boy was anxious to grasp. If
the Doctor was kind and his mistress gentle, the lad's life might be
very pleasant and his father's confirmation of the indenture seems
to imply it was so. I wonder what were his relations to the boys and
girls of the village. Of course, he met them at church ; did he belong
to the singing-school ? Did they go out together huckleberrying ; did
he sometimes tempt the wary trout from his hole; or fish through a
hole in the ice for the impulsive pickerel ?
What a contrast the life of this lonely boy bears to the medical
student of to-day, plunged in the whirl of city life, surrounded by
the activities of a great class, enjoying the mysteries and sociabilities
of a Greek letter fraternity, working in a richly endowed laboratory,
1909] DR. BENJAMIN GOTT : A FAMILY OF DOCTORS 219
under the guidance of an army of distinguished scientists, and all
this housed in a marble palace, such as poor Baker never dreamed of.
It is a far cry from all this splendor of modern education to that
solitary boy serving his master and mistress under a five-year indenture
for his board, lodging, and tuition. But the old way had its offsets,
for it brought him very close to his master's care and attention, and
if the Doctor was a kind and sympathetic teacher, he could do wonders
to guide and stimulate the struggling pupil.
Soon after the close of Baker's indenture, Mrs. Gott died, in 1740,
leaving six young children. The Doctor married again, but his second
wife died in 1745, leaving another infant on his hands. His own
career was drawing to a close, and in 1751 he passed away in the prime
of life, being only forty-five years old.
He died intestate, but the inventory of his administrators shows
a handsome estate : * QJg £^8*7
Personal property £1445
Real estate at home 2060
" " " Housatonnuk 960 .
Book debts due 2071-9
The "Book debts" I fear were hopeless, but his library appears
not to be included in the above inventory. Its pecuniary value was
not large, but the remarkable number of historical and classical books
in this collection — Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, and others — indi-
cates a literary culture unusual in those days.
He left a host of mourning friends, some of whom testified to their
sorrow by the following quaint obituary notice, published in the Boston
News-Letter of August 1, 1751 :
Marlborough, July 27. 1751
On the 25th deceased, and this Day was decently interr'd, Dr. Ben-
jamin Gott, a learned and useful Physician and Surgeon : The Loss of
this Gentleman is the more bewail'd in these Parts, as he was not only a
Lover of Learning and learned Men, and very hospitable and generous ;
but as he was peculiarly faithful to his Patients, moderate in his Demands,
and charitable to the Poor ; a Character very imitable by all in the Fac-
ulty; and was taken off in the very Meridian of Life, being but in the
46th Year of his Age.
This memorial has about it the flavor of genuine feeling. Marlboro
had indeed lost a faithful citizen and a good man.