1847: Dr. Clement Adams Walker to George Bradley Barrows

George Bradley Barrows

This short but interesting letter was written by Dr. Clement Adams Walker (1820-1883), a native of Fryeburg, Oxford County, Maine. His parents were Peter Walker (1781-1857) and Abigail Swan (1787-1861). At the time this letter was written, Walker was pursuing his medical degree at Harvard (Class of 1850), having already graduated from Dartmouth College in 1842. While studying to be a physician, Walker volunteered to treat the immigrants quarantined on Deer Island who were afflicted with one disease or another. The 1850 Census records him as Assistant to Dr. John P. Moriarty, the physician at the hospital on Deer Island. The post script suggests that Walker was living at Deer Island when he wrote the letter in December 1847. [See Footnotes below for a biography of Walker and information concerning Deer Island.]

The letter was addressed to George Bradley Barrows (1822-1904) of Fryeburg, a childhood and college chum of Walkers. Barrows was the son of John Stuart Barrows (17??-1845) and Anna Ayer Bradley (1793-1825). After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1842, he was elected to the Maine House (Republican) in 1859 and 1862. He then served as president of the Maine Senate in 1864.

Stampless Letter

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[Addressed to G. B. Barrows, Esq., Fryeburg, Maine]

Boston [Massachusetts]
December 30, 1847

Dear Sir,

I received your letter enclosing $15.00 in due season. I feel that I ought to apologize for not doing your business before. The truth is I have been so unwell for a fortnight that I have not been in the city but once since I received your letter till yesterday. The doctor thought I was going to have the Small Pox. I kept hoping I should be able to be in every day and so I did not write you. Besides, I did not want Mother to know that I was unwell. I woke up one morning and found my bedfellow (who had been sick for 3 days) broken out with the varioloid!!

Ad for Oak Hall, Ann Street, Boston (1849)

Yesterday I went in and purchased the coats and vest for you. Coats 6.50 apiece. Vest $1.25. I am almost sure I have not suited you, but I tried every where almost except at Oak Hall. They make all the coats short and nearly all single breasted. I tried to get a double breasted one but I actually could not find one that I thought would suit you. I am assured that I did as well as you could had you been here yourself. If you do not like them, send them right back. I shall be very glad to exchange them and I have made arrangements so to do. They all say that their winter stock is not in yet! I received your letter last night after I returned from the city, or I should put off purchasing for a week. Now don’t hesitate to send right back if they don’t suit.

I shall call upon Mr. Ticknor next Saturday!!! I am obliged to you.

I have $0.75 of yours in my hands. If you want any thing more, just send on. I shall be very happy to do any thing of the kind for you in my power.

Please tell our folks that I am well. I am sorry that I have caused you to wait so long.

Yours truly, and in great haste, — C. A. Walker

P.S. We have had over 1200 patients in this house alone during the past year.

  • A Tribute to Dr. Walker appears in the American Journal of Insanity, Volume 40:

“Dr. Clement Adams Walker was born in Fryeburg, Maine, July 3, 1820. He died suddenly after several years’ serious illness, April 26, 1883, being 62 years and 9 months of age. His boyhood was passed near the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and almost in the shadow of Mt. Kearsage. The beautiful Saco intervale and Jockey Cap overlooking Lovewell’s Pond often recalled to him the stirring traditions of Indian warfare. He fitted for college at the Fryeburg Academy, a school once honored by the instructions of Daniel Webster, and still flourishing. He graduated at Dartmouth College in the somewhat remarkable class of 1842, of which he was not the least distinguished member. Among his classmates and college-mates I now recall Hon. L. F. Brigham, late Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts; Hon. Isaac Ames, late Judge of Probate for Suffolk county; Rev. Dr. Samuel J. Spalding, of Newburyport; Dr. J. Baxter Upham, of Boston, and Dr. John E. Tyler, for many years Superintendent of the McLean Asylum at Somerville’ and an honored member of this Association. He enjoyed the life-long friendship of all these and many others of his class. His intimacy with Dr. Tyler began in college and continued with brotherly affection until the death of the latter a few years ago. His power of making and keeping friends was one of the strongest points of his character.

During his college career his health gave way and he traveled in the South,teaching school inVirginia and making some valuable acquaintances there. He had suffered from hemorrhage from the lungs which led his friends to fear a fatal result. He afterward acquired an apparently vigorous physique which was severely tested hy his thirty years of active hospital life. He was a little above the medium height and became stout in middle life. His eyes •were dark and piercing, his lips expressive of firmness, the nose large and his hair straight and jet black in youth, but turning at thirty-five to white with his snowy beard gave the aspect of a vigorous old age in early manhood. He graduated in medicine at Harvard University in 1850, and began practice at South Boston under Dr. Charles H. Steadman, who was then physician to all the city institutions located there, including the Boston Lunatic Hospital. In 1847-9, when cholera and ship fever were prevalent among the poor emigrants at the quarantine station at Deer Island, he volunteered with his classmate, Dr. Upham, to assist in the fever sheds and rude hospitals erected there for temporary use. He entered on the work of managing these unfamiliar and dreaded diseases with characteristic promptness, courage and skill. Dr. Upham’s reputation was speedily established by an able monograph on ship fever, and Dr. Walker’s no less by his success in dealing with the intractable diseases above mentioned. July 1, 1851, Dr. Walker was appointed Superintendent of the Boston Lunatic Hospital, which position he held until his resignation on account of ill health January 1, 1881, a period of nearly thirty years.

This hospital, built in 1839, had been in charge of Dr. Butler its first Superintendent and Dr. Steadman whom Dr. Walker succeeded, a period of twelve years. In its rear was a semi-detached building known as the “Cottage,” fitted up with cells like those of a police station for the violent insane. Such cells were supposed to be a necessary adjunct to an hospital for the insane in those days. Dr. Walker at once advised their disuse and in a short time succeeded in having them abandoned by gradually bringing their occupants into the wards of the main building. He thus became the pioneer in the discontinuance of cells in the treatment of the insane in this country. He was remarkable for bringing things to pass. Whatever he took in hand he gave his whole mind to, and his clear intelligence, strong will and skillful management accomplished many things seemingly impossible. In the care of the insane these qualities gave him a great advantage over obstacles, and exerted a powerful moral influence upon patients and their friends. He never knew when to give up a case; with death at the very door he persisted in active and sometimes successful treatment. While not neglecting judicious alimentation he had more faith in medicines than is fashionable at present, while life lasted there was not only hope, but active help for all his patients. In many ways he improved his hospital, elevated the standard of treatment, diminished restraint and brought about needed changes and reforms. For many years his advice was implicitly relied on by successive Boards of Visitors and Directors.

He early recognized the necessity for better accommodations for the city’s insane, and for years labored earnestly for this object, until success nearly crowned his efforts. A site for a new hospital was purchased, plans made and adopted and an appropriation passed, only to be vetoed by the Mayor, who opposed the project. It was said that the site was exposed, remote and difficult of access. But the substitute hospital at Danvers is as much exposed, ten times as remote and far more difficult of access. The site at Winthrop said to be uninhabitable, is surrounded by dwellings newly erected, is reached hourly by rail, and has just been sold for three times its cost to the city. This veto was a severe blow to his hopes and he had only the sad satisfaction of seeing the city’s plan of construction adopted at Danvers, and of having the medical supervision of the work in behalf of the commission which had it in charge.

As an expert in mental disease, Dr. Walker was frequently called in court, in his own and other States. His opinions being deliberately formed and clearly expressed, carried weight in consequence. His written opinions, reports and medical papers were always carefully prepared, condensed in expression and logical in method. His handwriting even expressed his character in its peculiar squareness and solidity. In dealing with men, a rare combination of strength of mind, sound judgment, tact and well chosen language gave him great influence and made him a safe adviser, a • useful advocate and friend. He made the most humble, whose cause he espoused, feel that his chief desire for the moment was to serve his interests. The patience with which he entered into the details of another’s troubles, or listened to the tedious recital of symptoms, was only equaled by the persistency with which he devoted himself to their relief. He left no stone unturned to accomplish his benevolent purposes. He was large-hearted, sympathetic and generous to a fault, and now and then was made the prey of ingenious schemers through an excess of misdirected sympathy.

His social feelings were strong, and his acquaintance grew in many directions. He was prominent in the Masonic order, reaching the highest degree attainable in a very short period, and devoting much time and energy to the subject while his interest lasted.

You know better than I can describe it, his standing and influence in your Association. He was an active member from 1851.”

  • The following piece on Deer Island appeared in the Christian Inquirer on 11 August 1849:

Christian Inquirer Reveals Deplorable Conditions of Immigrants
The Christian Inquirer reports on the condition of the City Institutions on Deer Island. The reporter made the trip on the quarantine boat in about three quarters of an hour covering the six miles separating the island from downtown Boston. The reporter learns that Deer Island was chosen some two years ago to handle immigrants who had succumbed to ship fever and other diseases. The accommodations were most imperfect, made in great haste. He noted that the current physician’s brother died from exposure to the ship’s fever. The growing pauperism, he believes, was a factor in transferring paupers from South Boston to Deer Island. At the time of his visit there are a hospital and an almshouse, the latter being a branch and under the directors of the House of Industry and used mainly for diseased and foreign paupers including children suffering with the opthalmia who are getting better, if not entirely well by simply by a change of air. The reporter notes that the descriptions that Dr. Moriarty gave of the horrible condition of some of the immigrants on their arrival were such as to make the listener shudder and shrink with feeling of loathing and disgust. It was enough to cause him to look with admiration upon the kindness and professional faithfulness of a physician willing to go near such cases at all. Ireland, must, indeed, be a land afflicted with a terrible curse as the consequence of awful wickedness or awful blunders where such “human vermin. The phrase is not exaggerated in this application of it – are found in almost every ship load of emigrants arriving in this port.

Those emigrants who are according to law, to be “bonded” by the owners of the vessels bring them over to prevent them from becoming a charge to the Commonwealth, are generally taken on shore and subjected instantly to a cleansing operation of the most searching and through kind. Their rags are stripped off and burned, their bodies abluted with hot water and cold and a solution of corrosive sublimate, to kill effectually the vermin with which they are often covered

“It is not for us, perhaps, with slender information, to speak of the policy of the city government, and we suppose that the municipal affairs are intricate machine, having wheels within wheels not always moving, without friction, difficult sometimes to manage and turning out, occasionally, some very remarkable products. But we will just hazard the opinion that the sooner all the institutions to take care of the destitute and the vicious are classified, separated and placed each on an island by itself, the better. The building together of almshouses, lunatic asylums, house of correction and reformation on the main land, in our humble and possibly very crude judgment, is not the wisest, the most humane or in the long run the most economical course for a city which can command a while harbor full of islands, every way suitable for such establishments.
(Christian Inquirer, August 11, 1849, p 1).

  • On 8 June 1848, it was reported in the Boston papers that:

Medical Staff Disabled by Disease
The hospital’s assistant physician at Deer Island, Dr. Walker and Captain Ellis of the Sloop Betsey Ransom, who carries immigrants from the city to the island, are both quite ill. A total of 169 patients remain in the Deer Island Hospital with 2,610 admitted since its opening (BET, p. 2).

  • In his letter, Walker expresses gratitude to Barrows for an introduction to Mr. Ticknor. Too little information is revealed in this simple sentence to know for certain but there’s a possibility Walker is referring to William Davis Ticknor (1810-1864), the founder of the Publishing House, Ticknor & Fields, or to his brother, George Ticknor (1791-1871), of Boston. I believe it is most likely the latter as he was affiliated with Harvard and had an extensive library that may have held interest for young Wilson. Then again, there is a George Ticknor who was born in Boston and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1847 that may be the Ticknor Wilson is referring to. More research is required to reach a conclusion on Ticknor’s identity.

George Ticknor Residence at corner of Park and Beacon Street, Boston, 1850's

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