Lowell Old residents' historical association of Lowell.

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His devotion to this Society, of which he was a
counsellor for more than twenty years, is worthy of
notice. For this and his recognized professional ability
he received, in 1824, the honorary degree of M. D. from
Harvard University. The character of that honored
institution, even at that early period, is a suflScient guar-
antee that the honor was not bestowed unworthily.

How deeply he was interested in the education of
those just entering professional study, may be inferred
from the fact that " he educated fourteen students, sev-
eral of whom became distinguished in their profession."
That Dr. Thomas acquired a large practice, and was
zealous in his work, may be seen from the words of one,
a relative of the family, doubtless the only one now
living, who says : " He left behind him thirty large day-
books or journals, in which he systematically recorded,
^^y by <Jay> the name and residence of every patient,
the visit, the medicine prescribed, the disease or acci-
dent and the charge for service, with frequent notices
of the weather, etc., and but very few days are there in
fifty years in which some such service was not rendered
or recorded. The day preceding his last sickness, and
only a week before his death, being then almost 87
years old, he successfully reduced a dislocated humerus
with only the assistance of a neighbor called in to aid
him."

While his strong physical constitution and wonder-
ful power of endurance will be seen from the following
minute, which is found written in his journal December
22, 1849: "This day I am eighty-four years old, and
crossed the Merrimack River in a canoe, walked one mile
to visit a patient."

In another capacity he served his fellow-men with
a fidelity which was ever characteristic of his life. For



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392 OLD RESroENTS' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

twenty-eight years he held a commission as justice of the
peace,, under Governors Strong, Gerry, Brooks, and
Lincoln. On certain days of the week he held a justice
court at his house, performing such duties as legally
come before a judge of a police court. It always has
been the C£kse, and is likely to continue to be, that those
who are defeated in any trial at law will feel that they
have not been fairly dealt with. Such cases doubtless
occurred during the administration of Justice Thomas.
But with those exceptions, his traditional reputation in
that capacity is that he gave a full and fair hearing to
both sides, and rendered an honest and impartial decision.

It may be inferred from his will that his religious
views were in accord with those of the liberal and cath-
olic spirit of the Unitarians, as he left bequests to the
American Unitarian Association for the promotion of the
Unitarian religion in the Mississippi Valley, and also to
the president of Harvard University to be used at his
discretion for the benefit of theological students. He
also left a considerable sum to the Unitarian Society
in Tyngsborough, and one hundred dollars to the Massa-
chusetts Medical Society, for the purchase of medical
books.

Thus he infused the spirit of his faith into the work
of his daily life, which was long and useful. A merciful
Providence saved him from a long and wearing sickness,
as after a short illness of less than a week, he died
October 23, 1851, at the age of eighty-six years and ten
months. Thus another of those early physicians of New
England, after a long and laborious career of usefulness,
passed away.



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THE EARLY PHYSICIANS OF LOWELL. 393



AUGUSTUS PEIRCE, M. D.

A contemporary with Dr. Thomas, for nearly twenty
years of his practice at Tyngsborough, was Dr. Augustus
Peirce, who was born at New Salem, in this state, March
13, 1803.

He fitted for college under the direction of a legal
gentleman living in his native town, and entered Har-
vard University, graduating in the class of 1820. While
in college he was universally recognized as the "wit" of
the class. He was also of a strong poetical turn of
mind, and during his junior year, and when only seven-
teen years of age, he wrote an epic poem of a humorous
cast, called the *^ Rebelliad," which was delivered before
the "College Engine Club," in July, 1819. The poem
was received with great enthusiasm by the students, who
were very desirous of having it printed,' but this he
would not permit them to do. Says one in writing in
reference to it : "A copy of parts of it, which related
to members of the faculty, was posted on the president's
door by some one unfriendly to its author. The next
day President Kirkland called Peirce to his study to give
him an admonition for ^ cutting prayers,' when he took
the opportunity of alluding to the poem. He told him
that he had nothing to say to him in regard to what he
found on his door, for he knew very well that such a
thing would not be done by the author of the lines when
he had once publicly spoken them. ^But,' said he,
^ Peirce, I think you would be more regular in attending
morning prayers if you retired earlier in the evening
and did not sit up so late writing poor poetry.^ "

Just how much of censure the venerable president
intended to convey in his closing words, is not known,
but as nothing further was said to him on the subject by



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394 OLD residents' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

the faculty, it is supposed that little attention was given
to it by that body. But the poem was not destined to
be lost, as copies of it, in manuscript, have been handed
from class to class in that institution, and successive
generations of students, although strangers to him, have
enjoyed reading it or listening to its recitation by their
own witty geniuses. A few years before the doctor's
death it was printed for private circulation, and- the
original copy of it is now in the University library at
Camhridge.

After his graduation he studied medicine with Dr.
Shattuck of Boston, and commenced practice at Nashua,
N. H. Remaining there but a short time, in 1839, at
the request of Dr. Thomas, he removed to Tyngsborough,
where he remained in active practice until his death.

Dr. Peirce was peculiarly fitted for a professional
career. Possessed of affable and agreeable manners, a
sound judgment and quick perception, he soon acquired
an extensive and permanent popularity, which was not
confined either to his own or adjoining towns.

He loved his profession and gave to it his best and
constant endeavors. It is said that during his residence
at Tyngsborough he also had a considerable practice in
Nashua, to which place he made one or more visits every
week for over fifteen years. For a few years before his
death. Dr. Peirce appeared to be in failing health, the
cause of which could not, at first, be accounted for, but
it was finally supposed to be caused by poisoning from
the lead pipe connected with his well. A short time
before his death the pipe was taken up, and upon ex-
amination it was found that the inner surface of the pipe
was thickly coated with the oxide of lead.

But it had done its work, and after several weeks of
intense suffering, he died May 20, 1849, at the age of
forty-seven years.



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THE EAJMiY PHYSICIANS OF LOWELL. 395

By his own request an autopsy was held, at which a
portion of the 'brain, lungs, kidney, liver, heart, and
the whole of the stomach were removed. These were
brought to this city and placed in the hands of our well-
known citizen and expert chemist, the late Dr. Samuel
L. Dana, for examination. After several weeks of
thorough analysis he made a report, in which he stated
that traces of lead were found in all of the organs re-
moved, even the brain, adding in conclusion that "on
the whole the evidence of the presence of lead in the
organs of Dr. Peirce is unmistakable. The quantity,
though exceedingly small, is but another proof how
minute a quantity of lead may cause cruel disease,
from which the patient is released only by death.*'

AUGUSTUS p. PEIRCE, M. D.

It was only a few years that Dr. Augustus F. Peirce,
who was a son of the subject of the preceding sketch,
practiced his profession in Tyngsborough. Yet in that
brief period he endeared himself to the hearts of the
people in a remarkable degree.

" None knew him but to love him,
Nor named him but to praise,"

Bom in Nashua, N. H., August 11, 1827, he early
in life manifested a desire to enter the profession of his
father. Under his direction the son fitted for the medi-
cal department of Harvard University, which he entered
in 1846.

Owing to the failing health of his father, he was
induced to alter his previous plan, and in the fall of 1847
he left the medical school at Cambridge and entered
that of Bowdoin, hoping to complete his studies more
speedily.



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396 OLD residents' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

While there his father died, and although but
twenty-two years of age, he at once commenced prac-
tice in his native town. "The respect and confidence
felt by all for the deceased parent was transferred to
the son. How well he sustained himself in this trying
position and more than justified the confidence of his
friends is known to many who mourned his early
death."

Dr. Peirce gave great promise of usefulness, and
doubtless, had he lived, would have made his mark in
the community and become an honor to the profession.
But New England's dread destroyer, consumption, laid
hold upon his young life, and after several months of
gradual wasting away, he died. May 18, 1855, at the
age of 28.

HARLIN PILLSBURY, M. D.

Our citizens generjdly will not remember many of
the medical gentlemen who have been the subjects of
the previous papers. But nearly all of us will readily
recall the name of Dr. Harlin Pillsbury, whose familiar
form we were wont to see almost daily on the streets
of this city, as he was busily engaged with the duties
of his profession.

Dr. Pillsbury was born in Hanover, N. H., Novem-
ber 30, 1797, and received his early education in the
schools of that town and at the ajcademy at Atkinson,
N. H. In 1819 he entered Dartmouth College, gradu-
ating in 1823.

In August of that year he commenced his medical
studies with Dr. Rufus Kittredge, of Chester, N. H.
Subsequently he studied with Dr. William Graves, of
Deerfield, N. H. In 1824 he attended medical lectures
in Boston, being at that time a pupil with Dr. J. H.



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THE EABLY PHYSICIANS OF LOWELL. 397

Lowe, of that city. At the same tune he received
clinical instruction at the North District Dispensary.

In 1826 he practiced several months at Kingston,
N. Y., and in November of that year received his
degree in medicine from Dartmouth Medical College,
and in January, 1827, he came to Lowell, and at once
commenced practice. Having enjoyed the advantages*
of study under severd preceptors, and attended courses
of lectures at two of our best medical institutions, and
having acquired practical knowledge during a period of
service at the Boston Dispensary and also in New York,
he was well fitted on coming to Lowell to enter at once
upon a large practice, which it was his fortune to retain
during his long residence here of forty-seven years.

In person. Dr. Pillsbury was a little above the aver-
age height, and although never of a robust constitution,
he yet possessed an unusual degree of bodily strength
and activity.

In his deportment he possessed a suavity of man-
ner, combined with a marked facility of address, which
were not reserved for special occasions, but were ever
present, being a part of his nature, and therefore char-
acteristic of the man.

Those who were well acquainted with him will
readily recall a habit which he had when in earnest
conversation. He would bring the tip ends of the
fingers of both hands together, and with a movement
would describe the arc of a circle. It is doubtful if
anyone else could do it so gracefully and convey with
it additional emphasis to his words.

Dr. Pillsbury did not select a specialty in medicine
or surgery in which to direct his studies, but devoted
his time to the duties of a general practitioner. But
while he did not adopt any specialty, yet what is often
much better, he had a large family practice.



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398 OLD RESIBENTS' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

In this respect he was especially fortunate, as most
of his families continued to employ him as their medical
attendant as long as he lived. It was thought by many
that he had unusual success in the treatment of the dis-
eases of children and women. As a physician, he was
remarkably successful with his cases, and the extent of
his practice was only limited by the strength of his
physical system to perform.

In the District Medical Society he was an active
member from the time of its organization. At the first
regular meeting he was chosen a member of the stand-
ing committee, and during his life he held most of the
important ofl&ces of the society with the exception of
treasurer, which ofl&ce has had only three incumbents,
the last and present being Dr. Edwards of Chelmsford,
who has held the office for thirty-one' years. For t^pro
years Dr. Pillsbury was president of the organization.

Dr. Pillsbury was not a politician, and only on a
few occasions did he consent to hold office. For several
years he was a member of the School Committee, but
that honor was bestowed by reason of special qualificar
tions rather than on account of adherence to any politi-
cal party.

In 1839 he was a member of the Common Council,
and in 1840 of the Board of Aldermen. For many
years he was president of the Merchants' Bank.

Dr. Pillsbury was very temperate and abstemious
in his habits, and of the strictest morality. In his
religious life he was an attendant at St. Anne's Epis-
copal Church, whose creed and devotional forms he
adopted.

In 1874 he removed to Billerica, intending to
spend the remainder of his days on a farm, in the
enjoyment of that rest and quiet, to which a steady



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THE EARLY PHYSICIANS OP LOWELL. 399

and unremitting labor of nearly half a century had
certainly entitled him.

The people of that town not only welcomed him
as a neighbor and townsman, but soon became persist-
ent and almost unreasonable in their demands upon
his services as a physician.

Only a few days after his arrival in the town, his
services were called into requisition, and were continued
to the last day and even to the last hour of his life.
During the forenoon of Fast Day, April 12, 1877, then
being in feeble health, he made a professional visit
to a sick neighbor. His interest in the case was seem-
ingly as great as he had manifested in his patients in
his earlier practice, but on returning to his house to
prepare some medicine he felt a slight indisposition, and,
lying down upon the lounge, in a few minutes he was
dead. The immediate cause of his death was supposed
to be disease of the heart. His age at the time of
decease was 79 years and 4 months. His remains were
brought to this city for interment and burial at the
Lowell Cemetery.

The honor and respect in which he was held by his
medical brethren was attested by the large number of
the profession that attended his funeral, and by the feel-
ing which was expressed in the resolutions passed by the
members of the society at their next meeting.

The following, written by one who knew him well,
are fitting final words of tribute to his memory : " He
was a man to honor, to esteem, and to imitate; and
there are few, if any, who can think over his long and
useful life and say they would have it different. Thor-
oughly sincere in his opinions, strict in his regard for
morality, keenly aware of the needs and appreciating
the trials of humanity, his nature was one of truth, of
consistency, and of sympathy."



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400 OLD residents' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.



JOHN D. PILLSBURY, M. D.

Although not a resident of Lowell as long as Dr.
Harlin Pillsbury, yet most of our older citizens will re-
member the skilful and always jovial physician, Dr. John
D. Pillsbury. The subject of this sketch was the son
of Dr. John Pillsbury, and was born in Pembroke, N. H.,
April 16, 1805.

His early education was received in the old academy
of that town. Having chosen the profession of medi-
cine, he commenced his studies with his father in 1825,
and in the following year attended a course of medical
lectures at the Berkshire Medical School. Subsequently
he became a pupil of Dr. Peter Renton of Concord,
N. H., who was at that time one of the most distin-
guished surgeons in the state. After remaining with
him about a year he went to Pelham, N. H., where he
taught the winter school, and at the same time continued
his studies under the direction of Dr. William Graves of
this city.

In the fall of 1829 he received his degree of doctor
of medicine from the Bowdoin Medical School, and at
the urgent request of his friends and relatiyes, was in-
duced to settle in his native town, entering into partner-
ship with his father.

He remained there but a little over two years, when,
desiring a wider field in which to exercise his talents, he
came to this then growing and enterprising town in
1831, where he soon entered upon a thriving and lucra-
tive business, which continued without interruption for
nearly twenty-five years.

As a physician Dr. J. D. Pillsbury enjoyed the con-
fidence and esteem of the people of this city and the re-
spect of his professional brethren. In his method of



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THE EARLY PHYSICIANS OF LOWELL. 401

practice he was true to the principles of his profession,
and while not bigoted, yet had faith in the power of
medicine, believing that when its nature and constitu-
ents were thoroughly understood and properly applied,
it was of great and inestimable value.

It was at one time the custom in Lowell to invite
the citizens to attend a public meeting of the physicians
and listen to the annual address of the Medical Society,
delivered by one of their members. These occasions
were usually well attended, and much interest was mani-
fested in them on the part of the public.

On one of these occasions Dr. J. D. Pillsbury
delivered the annual address in the City Hall, May 21,
1845, ander the auspices of the Middlesex District Med-
ical Society. His subject was " The Progress of Medical
Science." It was a well prepared paper, showing careful
research on the part of the author. He was severe on
certain forms of practice, while his address contained
many humorous anecdotes and sarcasms at quackery and
charlatanism.

As a member of the Middlesex Medical Association,
he was much interested in its early organization. He
was the first secretary of the Lowell Medical Association,
and to him the Society is indebted for neatly written and
compact records of the doings of their early meetings.
He held the position of secretary for nine consecutive
years, and also served acceptably in other offices con-
nected with the Society.

Dr. J. D. Pillsbury was rightly called the cheerful
physician. He possessed a large and compact frame, and
a full and noble countenance, which was habitually lit
up with a genial smile, and which he always carried into
the sick room. His happy manner was often as beneficial
as the medicine which he prescribed. Charity to the
poor was one of his marked characteristics.

10



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402 OLD RESroENTS' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

In 1854 he removed to Rochester, N. Y. Here
" influential friends welcomed him, and the hand of
kindness was extended to him by his professional breth-
ren, by whom he was appointed to deliver the next
annual address before the Monroe Medical Society."
Being of a naturally hopeful temperament, and possessed
of a strong constitution, he looked forward with reason-
able hope of many years of usefulness and prosperity.

But his stay in that beautiful city was brief. In
about a year, just after having settled in his new and ele-
gant residence which he had purchased, he was stricken
down with a disease of the brain, which, though it had
troubled him some fifteen years previous, was thought to
have entirely disappeared, but again manifested itseU,
and finally produced death quite suddenly December 21,
1855, at the age of fifty years.

One who was intimately acquainted with him, in
speaking of his last illness, says of him : " He clearly
comprehended its symptoms, watched its progress, and
knew that it was not in the power of medical skill to ar-
rest it. But it was sad to look upon the going down of
so much hope, vigor, and mind, but sadder to him who
knew it all, suffered it all. In his release from great
physical and mental sufferings, we doubt not he has
made a happy change."

HENRY KITTREDGE, M. D.

The circle of adjoining towns whose memorabilia
of early physicians we have considered in previous
papers, would be incomplete did we not include that of
Tewksbury.

With no disrespect to any who have in the past, or
who may in the future, practice the healing art in that



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THE EABLY PHYSICIANS OF LOWELL. 403

ancient town, we venture to affirm that it is doubtful
if there ever was, or ever will be, within its borders a
greater than Dr. Kittredge.

Dr. Henry Kittredge was bom in Tewksbury, Mass.,
January. 3, 1787. He was the son of Dr. Benjamin
Kittredge of Tewksbury, who was one of the earliest
physicians in the town, and continued there in practice
until his death. The first Dr. Kittredge in this coimtry,
and who is supposed to have been the great-grandfather
of the subject of this sketch, is said to have been the
founder of a long family dynasty of physicians in New
Hampshire. He was one of seven brothers, all of whom
were physicians and men of distinction.

Dr. James Thatcher, in his most admirable work,
"American Medical Biography," in speaking of Dr.
Thomas Kittredge, who was an uncle of Dr. Henry Kit-
tredge, uses these words, which are perfectly applicable
to the subject of this sketch :

" The family of which he was a member has become
so distinguished for surgical skill in New England, that
in many places the name alone is a passport to practice ;
and the number of practitioners of this name is very
considerable. This is to be attributed, not only to the
well-earned reputation of Dr. Kittredge, but to that of
his father, who also had a high reputation in surgery ;
and it is not improbable that his grandfather and great-
grandfather, the latter of whom came to this country
from England, at an early period, and settled at Billerica,
were eminent in the same line."

This will readily account for the tradition which
has been handed down, that, on account of the great re-
nown which was accorded to this remarkable family, and
of the wide reputation which they achieved as repre-
sentatives of medical skill, severjd physicians in New



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404 OLD KESIDENTS' HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

Hampshire applied to the legislature for a change of
their names to Kittredge, believing that, in popular esti-
mation at least, they would thus acquire something of
hereditary prestige. But it may be reasonably doubted
if such an influence as that which the Kittredges con-
tinued to exert for so long a period, could have been
maintained simply on account of their name. But may
we not look back of that, and recognize in their sterling
integrity and soundness of mind and body the elements
of that sturdy stock from which they sprang.

The Dr. Kittredge with whom this paper is con-
cerned was educated at Phillips Academy and studied
medicine with his father. At the age of only twenty-
three he commenced practice in Tewksbury, where he
continued until his death, which occurred nearly forty
years after. In person Dr. Kittredge was tall, with a
well built and compact frame, capable of great powers
of endurance.

Dr. Kittredge was a very practical man, which was
clearly demonstrated in his method of practice. Doubt-
less his success as a practitioner was, in no small degree,
due to the liberal use of the tincture of good common
sense, which he made an important ingredient in the
medicines, which he himself always compounded. He
held human life too sacred for experiment or mere guess
work, and in accordance with that faith he brought to
the bedside of his patients honest purpose of heart and
sincerity of manner. He was not a stern and unap-
proachable man, but affable, courteous in his intercourse,
and his conversation was usually facetious, animated,



Online LibraryLowell Old residents' historical association of LowellContributions of the Old residents' historical association → online text (page 30 of 35)