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Full text of "Dr. Benjamin Gott : a family of doctors"

Gc M. L. 

929.2 

G71302d 

1928787 



REYNOLDS HISTORICAL 
GENEALOGY COLLECTION 



\ 



ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY 



3 1833 01087 5125 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center 



http://www.archive.org/details/drbenjamingottfaOOdavi 



DR. BENJAMIN GOTT 



A FAMILY OF DOCTORS 



BY 

HORACE DAVIS 



REPRINTED FROM 

THE PUBLICATIONS 

OF 

€l;e Colonial ^octety of $®a$$M\)umt8 
Vol. XII 



CAMBRIDGE 
JOHN WILSON AND SON 

1909 



19£8787 

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 
practising physicians. 

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 

[Endorsement] 

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. 



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