Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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192



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



the 7th of November, 1805, when William Patrick, John
Steams, and Grant Powell were appointed a committee to
correspond with leading men in Washington and Mont-
gomery Counties to get the sanction of the Legislature of
the State for organizing medical societies. The 7th day of
January, 1806, a meeting of the medical men of the three
counties was held, and a memorial to the State Legislature
was adopted and signed. Drs. Asa Fitch, of Washington,
John Stearns, of Saratoga, and Alexander Sheldon, of
Montgomery, were appointed a committee to present a
memorial to the Legislature. This memorial asked the
Legislature to give sanction to the societies formed in the
three counties. Fortunately for the cause of science,
Alexander Sheldon was chosen speaker, and gave the weight
of his commanding position to the interests of the memo-
rial. The committee assumed the responsibility, during the
deliberations on this measure, of changing the original plan,
and asking for a general law embracing the whole State
instead of the three counties first named in the memorial
This memorial was presented to the Legislature on the
25th day of February, 1806, and referred to a committee
consisting of William Livingston and Isaac Sargent, of
Washington ; Gordon Huntington, of Otsego ; John Ely,
of Green; and Joel Frost, of Westchester. The majority
of this committee were physicians deeply interested in the
proposed measure, and they succeeded in maturing a bill for
a general law of incorporation for the State. This bill was
reported to the House and met with strong opposition, but
finally passed both Houses and became the law of the State.

In accordance with the provisions of this act, a meeting
of the physicians of Oneida County was called at Rome, July
1, 1806, and the call was responded to by 29 of the physi-
cians of the county, to organize the Oneida County Medi-
cal Society. Amos G. Hull was elected president ; Sewal
Hopkins, vice-president ; David Hasbrouck, secretary ; Seth
Hastings, treasurer ; and Caleb Sampson, delegate to the
State Society, Francis Guiteau, Matthew Brown, Wel-
come Sayles, EInathan Judd, and Sherman Bartholomew,
censors. The anniversary was fixed for the first Tuesday
in July, to be held at Utica, and Seth Hastings, Sewal
Hopkins, and Caleb Sampson were appointed to prepare by-
laws for the society.

It is interesting to turn our thoughts back to the time
when twenty-nine of the physicians. of the county left their
business and traveled over the bad roads of that early day
fifteen and twenty miles to organize a medical society in con-
formity to the recent law of the State. It is difficult in
these days of easy transit to realize the fatigue and hard-
ship thsy endured, or the professional enthusiasm which
urged them forward in the face of so many obstacles, to
complete the task. The great impulse to their exertions
lay in the unfolding of new principles of action, in bringing
before them a new theatre for the display of professional
ability ; for now their rights wore secured by law, and a
line of demarkation was established by State authority,
separating in a great measure the unqualified and the
qualified medical practitioners. It has been my fortune to
meet several of the men who were actors in this first meet-
ing, and to know something of their character from per-
sonal observation. They were men fitted for the times in



which they lived, and not only the founders of this society,
but most of their successors who enrolled their names
among the zealous workers for its welfare, were men of
mental acumen and unfaltering energy, who were devoted
to the interests of their chosen profession, who labored
faithfully for the relief of human suffering, and conscien-
tiously for the welfare of the human family.

We will return from this digression, and resume the
history of this society. The first meeting at Rome, held
the 1st of July, adjourned to meet at Whitesboro' the 2d
day of September, 1806. The committee to prepare a
code of by-laws not being ready to report, they were con-
tinued, to report at the annual meeting in July, 1807. At
the annual meeting the committee reported a system of by-
laws, which was adopted, and a further new appointment of
Drs. Hopkins, Sampson, Wolcott, Sayles, Capron, Francis
Guiteau, and Luther Guiteau was made to report a fee-bill
for the society. The character of the men who were ap-
pointed on this commission is sufficient to show they placed
little value on the bread and butter side of the profession.

At the meeting held the 12th of January, 1808, at Judge
Ostrom's, in the village of Utica, the fee-bill was adopted
as reported by the commission. There was nothing pecu-
liar in the fee-bill. The prices were graduated for the times,
and a liberal margin allowed to meet the necessities of indi-
vidual patients. Drs. Sampson, Hopkins, Francis Gui-
teau, and Luther Guiteau were appointed to deliver disser-
tations on typhus fever at the anniversary meeting in July.
At this meeting strong resolutions were passed against illegal
practitioners. It is very evident that we have not the ad-
vantage of that law which bound them to the legal enact-
ments so recently passed ; for now the State in its great
liberality has legalized almost every kind of medical practi-
tioners. Amasa Trowbridge was admitted to membership
at this meeting, and the next year asked for a letter to the
Jefferson County Society. He located in Watertown, and
became the leading surgeon of that section of the State.
The meeting held the 30th of July, 1810, closed the first
period of its existence. Since its organization in 1806,
covering a period of four years, it had held seven meetings,
adopted a code of by-laws, formed a fee-bill to regulate the
prices in the county, and established a representation to the
State Society. Ten new members had been admitted,
making 37 in the aggregate, to guard the interests of. the
profession. We have no means, of course, to determine
what causes led to the suspension of its regular meetings.

The enthusiasm which first led the physicians of the
county to organize and found this society had in some
measure been burned out, while the distance to be traveled,
with the loss of time and the fatigue to be endured, would
seem good reasons for this apathy. But it was not destined
long to slumber. The noble impulses which were fostered
in the free intercourse of men engaged in the same pursuit
for four years, called for renewed exertions, and after a three
years' rest the society awoke from its dreamless sleep and
became a leader in the medical army of the State. On the
establishment of its regular meetings, the men who had
joined those who united in the few succeeding years gave
the society a prominent place in the medical meetings of
the State.



HISTOEy OF ONEIDA. COUNTY, NEW YOKE-.



193



A meeting had been called for July 6, 1813,. and a good
representation of the leading physicians of the county re-
sponded to the call, and re-organized the meetings by elect-
ing the regular officers of the society. A committee was
appointed to devise moans for establishing a library, and
the number of members necessary to form a quorum was
reduced to seven. Recommendations for the purchase of
books and adopting a plan for the use of the library were
the more important results of this meeting.

In 1814, January 6, the semi-annual meeting was held
at Utica, when a circular from the State Medical Society
was presented asking the co-operation of this society at the
present Legislature for a change in the State law ; but, as
the report of the committee to whom it was referred has
not been preserved, nor the circular itself, we are left in
ignorance of the objects sought to be obtained.

Rules regulating the use of books from the library and
the annual tax of $1.50 per head were adopted. The an-
nual meeting in July was the first in which the treasurer's
report was presented in due form, and passed through the
hands of an auditing committee, and the first in which mem-
bers were fined for non-attendance. The fine was $1, and
no professional engagements would be allowed to cancel the
debt.

In 1810 a circular from the College of Physicians and
Surgeons, and from Columbia College, oS'oring students
free access to the lectures, had been received, and a com-
mittee appointed to mature the plan of examinations for
such students as desired the aid of their liberality ; but in
the three year.?' suspension of its meetings both the com-
mittee and its objects were lost sight of In 1814 a plan
for organizing the library department and drawing books
was adopted, and a catalogue of the books to be purchased
and the periodicals to be secured for its use by the society
seems to be one of the most important results of this year.
In 1817, Amos G. Hull's truss for the cure of hernia had
been patented, and the secretary of this society was di-
rected to give him a certificate of recommendation for liis
patent. Dr. Hull was then president of this society and
delegate to the State Medical Society. This official action
seems to be a strange commentary on the stringent meas-
ures before taken by the society for violation of its code
of medical ethics. The fee-bill was changed so as to con-
form to the State Medical Society. An effort was now on
foot to get a pharmacopoeia of the United States, and this
society engaged in the plan and gave its influence to the
measure in 1819. The initiation fee was now established at
$1 per annum, and the vice-president to give an address at
the semi-annual meeting. Typhus fever seems to have
been epidemic for several years, and some of the most
prominent men in the profe.ssion had been designated to
prepare articles for the benefit of the society. Dr. Luther
Guiteau was tlie only one of the five appointed to the duty
who responded to the call, and his dissertation has not baen
preserved. Tlie society should now be rich in manuscripts
of addresses and dissertations covering a period of seventy-
two years, in which the changes in disease induced by the
transition from a newly settled condition of the country to
a higher state of culture and civilization would have been
portrayed. A fine of |5 had been imposed for neglecting
25



to read dissertations when appointed, and in 1820 the
treasurer was directed to enforce collection. The semi-
annual meeting of 1821, and the annual meeting in July,
the same year, failed for want of a quorum. A few of the
medical men of the society met at Whitesboro', on the
18th of October, 1821, and appointed a committee of three
to revise the by-laws and report to the semi-annual meet^.
ing in 1822. The result was a more thorough and perfect
system of rules to regulate the action of the society than
had ever before been adopted. For several years after the
meeting in 1822 but few changes were made in the society,
and only the usual appropriations to the State Society and
the delegate were made. The society was now entering upon
a period of prosperity, a library had been established, with
frequent appropriations to increase the number of its vol-
umes and periodicals, and establish a fund for a prize essay.
At the annual meeting in July, 1825, the award was given
to Luther Guiteau, in answer to the question what consti-
tutes fever. This essay has been preserved, and is in the
hands of the society. At the meeting in 1826 preliminary
steps were taken to found a lunatic asylum for the county,
with or without a hospital. There was another revision of
the by-laws in 1828, and a committee appointed to confer
with the trustees of Hamilton College for the purpose of
forming a medical branch under the auspices of the County
Society. In 1824, Robert C. Wood was admitted to mem-
bership, who beeami distinguished as surgeon-general of the
anny in Mexico with General Taylor, and James Douglass,
founder of a private lunatic asylum at Quebec. In 1829 a
committee was appointed to consider the subject of a med-
ical journal, and a voluminous report on the subject of in-
temperance was offered to the different papers of the county
for publication. A revision in the form of the diploma of
the county was reported this year and adopted.

An effurt was made in 1830 to have the general law of
the State for the organization of county medical societies
repealed, and the society promptly called a special meeting
and sent forward a remonstrance. At this meeting Andrew
P. Jloore made his charges against Dr. Newell Smith for
criminal operations on his wife and for unlawful intimacy
connected therewith, covering a period of about eighteen
months. Special meetings were held to hear the report of
committees and to obtain evidence, which resulted in his
expulsion from the society in October, 1832.

At the semi-annual meeting in 1834, Dr. C. B. Coventry
introdueed a preamble and resolutions, praying the State
Legislature to pass a special act for building an asylum for
the benefit of the insane poor of the State. He urged the
necessity, especially on the State Society, and through them
on the Legislature, and the massive walls and fluted col-
umns of the State Asylum in our city will stand a lasting
monument of his philanthropic spirit until it crumbles into
dust from the ravages of time.

At the annual meeting in 1836, Dr. Blair, president,
gave an address on the changes that had followed the epi-
demics of 1793, 1812, and 1832, and their influence on the
character of disease in this section of the State. An ad-
dress before the society, in 1838, by Theodore Pomeroy,
describing the fatal epidemic of puerperal fever which pre-
vailed in the winter of 1830 or '31, with all its practical



194



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



teachings, has been lost. The prize essay of Dr. Luther
Guiteau, on typhus fever, the important changes that fol-
lowed the fearful epidemics described by Dr. Blair, and the
more limited, but equally distressing scourge, in the ratio
of its victims, in the reported cases of Dr. Pomeroy ; all of
them connected with interesting periods of medical history,
and described by living witnesses, now leave only a blank
leaf for us to study, instead of the lessons of experience.
These are only a tithe of what has been lost by not having
a proper system of preservation for the important papers
that have become the property of the society.

In 1839 a committee was appointed to ascertain the num-
ber of insane and of idiots in the county. An eiFort was
made to abolish the power of county societies to examine
students and grant diplomas, which raised an opposition
quite as strong as the one a few years before to have the
medical laws of the State repealed.

In 1843 a valuable acquisition was made to the member-
ship of the society by the admission of Dr. Amariah Brig-
ham, Superintendent of the Lunatic Asylum. He came to
Utica, to take charge of this institutionj_from the Hartford
Retreatfor the Insane, with a reputation securely established
for this department of medical science, and a name for in-
tellectual gifts that had few rivals.

In 1846 an effort was made to increase the usefulness
and interests of the society by dividing it into sections, so
as to have two dissertations at each meeting. In the fol-
lowing year a new measure was proposed, that of quarterly
meetings, but at that time so few of the members became
zealous workmen, that after a very few efforts to keep them
up, the plan failed, and the quarterlies died a natural death.
The stated times for the regular meetings had been fixed on
the first Tuesday of July and January. It was so often
that they occurred on New Year's Day and the Fourth of
July, that a resolution was carried in 1848 changing the
time to the second Tuesday in each month. The society
had now for a few years been losing in its strength and im-
portance ; no steps that had been taken to regain its former
prestige had been successful, and a dark and portentous
cloud shrouded it in gloom and threatened its destruction.
The annual attendance ranged from eight to sixteen, and in
1851 but one dollar and ninety-three cents was in the treas-
ury, with outstanding bills of indebtedness to large amounts.
Special notices were sent to all the practicing physicians,
and strong appeals were made through individual efforts to
arouse the members to a proper sense of the danger of its
extinction. In 1853 a new treasurer was elected, who had
been a strong advocate for enforcing collections, and within
one week after his appointment four of the prominent de-
linquents in diffei-ent parts of the county had been sued.
Of course strong opposition was roused to the measure, and
every available means of defense were set up to avoid pay-
ment. A few lessons in the sale and costs of collecting under
an execution seemed to be a good argument in favor of at-
tending the meetings and paying without further trouble.
The society's tax had been repealed, its fines remitted, and
the initiation fee of three dollars abolished, to bring back
the recreant members, but it had all been to no use.

The State law was so amended in 1853 that it gave the
same number of delegates to the State Society as we had of



members to the Legislature. The influence of the new
measures for collecting the annual tax became manifest in
the increased attendance and its improved treasury, so that
in 1855 the new system of by-laws had been printed, and
the semi-centennial year dawned on a renovated society,
again starting on a career of prosperity, which gave promise
of better days to come.

At the semi-annual meeting of Jan. 7, 1856, a resolution
was passed ordering a semi-centennial celebration for the
annual meeting, to be held the 8th of July, in the city of
Utica. A committee of seven was appointed to organize a
plan of action, and to establish such n)easures as would
most certainly carry forward the cherished wish of its mem-
bers, and in this public union of the medical men of this
county acknowledge the great obligations we owed to the
heroes of 1806. The address of welcome to the guests by
the chairman of the committee of arrangements will give
some idea of the spirit and enthusiasm with which this call
for a semi-centennial anniversary was hailed by the medical
men of the county : " Gentlemen, fifty years have just passed,
the first of this month, since twenty-nine of the medical men
of the County of Oneida met at Rome, and organized the
Oneida County Medical Society. At the semi-annual meet-
ing of the society, held at Rome the 8th day of January,
1856, a committee was appointed to make the necessary ar-
rangements for holding a semi-centennial celebration. They
have fixed on this day and this place for the interesting
ceremonies. In behalf of that committee, gentlemen, I
welcome you to this hall ; not as strangers, but as brethren ;
fellow-laborers in the same calling; members of one and
the same noble profession. Yes, gentlemen, we have come
here to-day to commemorate an important professional move-
ment ; to do honor to the founders of this society, and to
extend to the survivors of that noble band a cordial greet-
ing." At that time there were but two of the original
founders left. They were escorted to their places of honor,
at the well-loaded tables, by Dr. Coventry and Dr. McCall,
where, with the members of the profession of this and ad-
joining counties, with the invited guests, they gave ample
assurance of their ability to enjoy the pleasure of this social
union, and to contrast its poor and meagre advent with the
prestige of this its crowning hour. Men eminent on the
bench and at the bar, the mayor and common council of
the city, distinguished representatives of the press, and
citizens of social position and character, all united in giving
prominence to this anniversary meeting of the medical men
of Oneida County.

At the time of the annual meeting in July, 1857, a por-
tion of the lunatic asylum was destroyed by fire. Dr. Bagg
offered a resolution of sympathy with the ofllicers and man-
agers of the institution, which was passed unanimously.
(Those who believed it was caused by the negligence of the
active oificers of the asylum, were willing to give them this
mark of consideration while suffering from such a fearful
calamity.) It can be said to the praise of the management
that no inmate was injured in this fiery ordeal ; but a young
and promising physician lost his life in vain efforts to save
this monument of pride to the citizens of Utica. This year
a resolution was passed to divide the life of the society into
five periods of ten years each, and all who had died in each



HISTORY OF ONEIDA COUNTY, NEW YORK.



195



of the ten years, whose biographies had not been written,
should be cared for by the individuals appointed for each
period. Dr. McCall was appointed for the first. Dr. Cov-
entry for the second. Dr. Barrows for the third, Dr. Bagg
for the fourth, and Dr. Thomas for the fifth. We never
had reports, I think, covering either of the above periods.

A fee-bill was adopted, and another petition was sent to
the Legislature praying for the appointment of a commis-
sioner of lunacy. In 1859, Dr. Coventry reviewed the
works of Drs. Forbes and Bigelow, on nature and art in the
cure of disease. The society ordered its publication,
and in January, 1860, 300 copies were ready for distri-
bution. Arba Blair, president of the society, and one of
the original founders, from the infirmities of age being un-
able U) attend the anniversary meeting, presented several
ancient works on medicine, to be preserved by the society,
as exhibiting by contrast the improvements made in the art
of. book-making, as well as in the science of medicine and
surgery. July, 1861, another resolution and petition to
the Legislature for the appointment of a commissioner of
lunacy, to inquire into the condition of the insane confined
in the poor-houses and jails, was presented by Dr. Coventry.
The committee reported in 1862 that circulars had been
sent to most of the county societies, and many petitions sent
to the Legislature; and at the semi-annual meeting in 1864
the medical men of the county signed a petition from this
county, which was followed by the passage of the bill soon
after.

In 1864 it was proposed to divide the life of the society
into five periods of ten years each. The first period was
given to Drs. McCall and Whaley, the second to C. B. and
W. B. Coventry, the third to Charles and F. M. Barrows,
the fourth to Dr. Thomas, and the fifth to Dr. Bagg. The
duties assigned were for the gentlemen named to prepare
notices of all the members who had died in each period,
whose biographies had not been written.

By resolution, the fees for medical services were increased
100 per cent. It will only be necessary to refer to the in-
creased expenses of living, caused by the calamities of the civil
war which then threatened the life of the nation, to give good
reason for the increased value of medical services. Fifty
certificates of membership were reported by the committee.
They were copied from the first issue, which was on parch-
ment, with the portrait of the head of John Hunter.
Amount in treasury, $83.26.

In 1865 the attendance still continued large in com-
parison with the past, and the collections increased in a cor-
responding degree. Dr. Coventry's Essay on Tuberculosis
was ordered to be published, and 300 copies were ready for
distribution.

At the semi-annual meeting, Jan. 9, 1866, the prevalence
of influenza attracted the attention of the society. It was
considered the harbinger of severe epidemic disease, which
seemed proved by its advent in December, 1831, and had
preceded the advent of all severe epidemic diseases since the
cholera of 1832. We have no means to determine now how
such atmospheric conditions may have operated long before
this period. Resolutions were reported touching the ser^
vices of Dr. Walter B. Coventry in the army, apd the
promise he had given of future eminence in bis profession.



At the annual meeting, in 1867, the president gave an
address on the founding and development of the first hos-
pitals of the United States. Dr. Gray generously proposed
to publish the address in the Journal of Insanity, and give^
the society 100 copies. His offer was accepted ; the address
was published and distributed to the several members of the
county.

A semi-annual meeting of 1868 was called to order, and
the deaths of Drs. J. McCall and N. H. Dering were an-
nounced, and appropriate measures taken to give them a



Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 53 of 192)