As I walked up the long path, a path buttressed by a white blanket of snow, I could clearly see the red door before me. Approaching the door, the regal black iron door knocker came into view. The blank stares of the face, surrounded by a laurel, I reached out to knock on the door to gain entrance.
It is with a heavy heart that I bear witness to the most tragic and cowardly act upon my home soil. There is nothing to say, only to feel. I leave you with a most apropos quote, from one of our founding fathers, that rings true today as it did when written in a letter by John Adams in 1775:
“The town of Boston is a spectacle worthy of the attention of a deity, suffering amazing distress, yet determined to endure as much as human nature can, rather than betray America and posterity.”
Ask yourself if we can live up to the aspirations of our founding fathers, or will we be afraid to persevere. This is a question everyone of us must ask of themselves in the coming days and weeks.
Leaving the garrison here at Westpoint, NY, I will need to take a ferry across the Hudson River. Being as it will be spring time, the river could be high, and the passing a bit rough and treacherous for myself, horse, and belongings. To the ferryman, being a fine and upstanding man (recommended by His Excellency) I put my utmost trust.
We will travel down the Hudson, and up the Peeks Kill River, to Peeks KillTown.
…from WestPoint, NY to Boston, MA.
I am currently working out the logistics to travel from the garrison here at Westpoint, NY to Boston, MA. This journey is one of an assignment, appointed by none other that His Excellency, Gen. George Washington. An assignment which I have been entrusted by Gen. Washington, and all the officers of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, to travel as a civilian doctor (on horseback) to Boston to retrieve a large sum of gold His Excellency has in trust at a certain legal office. This precious cargo is intended to provide the officers of the 2nd Massachusetts their back pay for their years of service to this fledgling country. It will be a grueling journey, one I am sure will be fraught with many challenges, dangers, and adventures.
Until that time, this journal will be documenting my planning of the route. I write this journal as a testament for future travelers and others of inquiring minds. Please, follow my progress toward this goal. As the calendar closes in to springtime, I will set out when the travel will be most favorable. You are all welcome to follow along…….if you dare.
Arrived on Friday afternoon for the setup of the camp. We established our encampment outside the fort, in an attempt to defend it against the reports of British regulars in the area. The hospital tent went up well, but, with room getting tight as more units arrive, the hospital became locked into a dead-end street. It will be difficult to treat the men there, so I will need to make plans to perform my craft in a more open area. Friday night came, along with a little chill. The wool blankets provided just enough warmth for sleeping. However, during the night, I heard the patter of a light rain descending upon us all. Hopes are it stops before the sun rises and morning gun is fired.
Saturday morning was chilly, but bearable. The light showers had ended before dawn, and there was a heavy fog hanging above the battlefield beyond the fort. Knowing New England this fog will burn of as soon as the sun rises above the trees and bears down upon us for the day. I could hear the camp stirring from within my tent, so, I decided to join them before morning gun. I dressed in my short clothes, donned my wool full length green cloak, green wool liberty cap, and headed out to obtain that elixir of life from the dining fly………coffee……..
Officer’s call was struck, so I headed off to the command tent to receive our orders for the day. As the meeting went on, I discovered there were new recruits in the ranks that had not been inoculated for the pox. It was decided the inoculations would be best done after morning drill, as the men paraded back to the camp. I began to develop an inoculation plan for the men, and scouted out an appropriate area and recruited a nursing staff from the existing camp followers. As fate would have it, the best location for the procedure was just in front of our dining fly and fire pit. The smoke from the fire will server well to stave off the infection by purifying the air, and it was on the side of the parade ground making it ideal for the purpose.
The drill went well, the men look sharp and ready to defend the fort if needed. On their march back, they were lined up to receive the inoculation per orders of the commander. Most men took it well, a few were hesitant at the sight of the scalpel, but were reassured by the lovely nursing staff at my side. The nurses were essential and we all worked as a finely oiled machine. As I finished with the scalpel, I handed it to Nurse Donna, who scrubbed it in the soapy wash, then handed it to nurse Laura for rinse and drying. Meanwhile I was applying the smallpox soaked thread to the newly opened incision. As I finished the inoculation on one soldier, the sanitized scalpel was ready for the next soldier. I was quite impressed with these new nurses, they were not only helpful and efficient, but eased the tensions of the men during the procedure with calming and reassuring words, and a lovely smile.
The battle was upon us following a wonderful nooning prepared by Mr Longtooth. The British regulars pushed the Militia lines, while the regular Continentals were assembled for the final push. I positioned myself and the water-bearing ladies behind the lines. I watched the battle, with an eye on the fallen men in the field. As the lines advanced, and I deemed it safe, I instructed the water bearers to enter the field, to attend to the fallen men. As the battle lines advanced further, I went onto the field, with my hospital flag flying, indicating that the area was under the control of the hospital department. We watered down those that needed it, and covered the faces of those that we beyond our help, and were now in the care of a higher power.
The British regulars were thoroughly routed from the field by the skill and bravery of the American forces. however, I feel this will not be a lasting situation.
As the sun set beyond the camp, and darkness descended upon us,
…the camp was in the process of castremetation. We were directed to our designated area to raise our canvas. We soon discovered one of the commanding colonels had appropriated his own offsite lodging (it must be nice to be an officer) and would not require his place in camp. The Adjutant graciously offered the space for the flying hospital, allowing us to extend ourselves.
…..to the Mohawk Valley. Tales of Indian raids abound. I have been recruited to travel with the campaign to the upper York region as Surgeon’s Mate for the entire battalion of militia. So its time to pack the flying hospital once again, for the 5 hour drive come early Friday morning.
I will attempt to send correspondence back here during the weekend, if at all possible. Until that time, I remain,
Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant (YMH & OS),
Doct. John Hart
I arrived in Salem, MA on very hot but overcast day.I was met by my fellow members of the 2nd Massachusetts, who were in the process of setting up camp. It was a lovely location, as we were encamped under a very large shade tree (although, being overcast it didn’t help at the moment) that may be a good thing if the clouds break for the afternoon. My work ahead of me was to establish my small hospital table.
I began setting up the table at the main entrance to the house, aside the stone walkway. I decided to cover the table using a striped linen cloth I had amongst my medical equipment. I setup my scales, ointment pots, medicinal ingredients, pill tile, and my new box of medical instruments (see my projects page). It was all laid out, but being so hot, I decided wearing my woolen coat would be to the detriment of my health…so, I spent the day in only my weskit and small clothes, topped with a flat brimmed hat instead of my tricorn.
To my right were the other members of the 2nd Mass, all demonstrating their own handiwork. There was Pvt Dan Lacroix and Sgt Mark Nowacki with their leather work, Mrs. Penny LaCroix and her spinning wheel, Mr. David Workman’s fine woodworking, and more members socializing, sewing, and talking with the visitors. Ms. Laura Marie was teaching the children in the crown the use of 18th century toys, including the rolling push hoop and ribboned tossing hoops.
It was now time to have my very capable tailor to give me my final fitting for a new frock coat he is making for me….it’s a long, black linen coat, lined with a finer black linen. The fitting went well, and the buttons can now be sewn on in the proper places….if I don’t gain any weight that is.
As the day went on and the crowds passed through, they approached with their questions, to which I was eager to answer. Mostly, I had to draw the questions from the more shy visitors. Most enjoyed my diatribes on how to amputate a limb, the fact that there was no anesthetic (other than the officers getting their gill of rum). There were oohs and ahhs, and more than a few winces of the face over the procedures. There was always a better appreciation for the more modern medical practice of the 21st century….and I hope it gave them a bit more of an appreciation of how far we have come, as well as how close we still are. Many were surprised that much of the original medicinal ingredients in the 18th century, were still used today, only in a more purified form, or synthesized.
I spoke to an elderly woman about smallpox inoculations, and how our modern vaccinations as children were not lifelong…and wear off in about 30 years. I mentioned my vaccination scar, when she offered advice that it will go away when I get older, as hers had done. She also joked that I had a lot of time ahead of me before that happens. :)
We had a wonderful nooning of cold meat pasties, a leafy salad, and bread, jam, and butter.
Another visitor approached with a fine greyhound alongside….a lovely animal it was. After engaging him in conversation, I discovered he does leather work as a hobby. He expressed interest in how someone would join such a group. I immediately gave him a 2nd Mass card, and called for our recruiting Sgt Middleton to speak with the fine gentleman. Sgt Middleton took him aside and spoke his magic, got his particulars, and we hopefully will have a new recruit soon that has experience in leather works….it’s all good.
As the sun moved across the sky, the men formed up to march out to the shore for the firing demonstration. They looked fine, as they went through the safety inspection, and the music was on beat and spurred the men to the march. They marched off to the fife and drum, as I heard them fade off into the distance.
I also fielded many other questions throughout the day, such as, “Is there a public restroom in the house”, “Where is the entrance”, “Does the gift shop carry…..”. I smiled and pointed or responded with the appropriate answer (if I had one).
As the day progressed, the clouds began to clear, and the sun poked its head from above. It was at this time when the lovely ladies of the 2nd Mass kept an eye on me, and made sure I kept hydrated, by offering to get me water, or checking that I was drinking it regularly. They keep great care of their doctor, I must say….considering I’m a poor patient myself.
One visitor I spoke with was actually a former U.S. Army surgeon. Following my obligatory thank you for his service, we had a gripping discussion on the differences in the Hospital Department in the past 200+ years. When I told him about the separate structure of the Hospital Department from the main Continental Army, and that a soldier transferred to the hospital under care of a Regimental Surgeon could not be ordered by his Army superior to return to duty unless the surgeon deemed him fit, he smiled…..and commented that the modern army medical corp should return to that approach in his opinion. He shared with me a story from his experience in Korea, where he was ordered, against his medical judgement, to release a solider to his unit for deployment before he was medically ready to return. It was a wonderful discussion, and I enjoyed it immensely.
The day went on, and the sun moved to the point where it was now peeking around the edge of the shade tree leaves. It was now approaching 4:00pm, and time to break down for the day. I started packing up my equipment, piece by piece. once that was complete, I broke down the trestle table and carried it to the awaiting regimental truck, with the assistance of Pvt Martin (what a great brother-in-law). Once the truck was packed and the day over, we headed off, leaving the Salem Witch House until next year.
Well, old Doc Hart has been hired to help augment the festivities at the re-opening of a newly renovated 18th Century home in Dover, Massachusetts.This is the culmination of 2+ years of careful restoration. The home includes much of the original furniture, and the main structure was never changed over these many years. It represents a true upscale 18th Century New England home.
The Benjamin Caryl House in Dover, MA, is an 18th century house on the U.S. National Register of Historic sites, currently in the stewardship of the Dover Historical Society. The original owner, Benjamin Caryl, was the first minister of Dover. His son, Dr. George Caryl (1767-1829) was the town’s first doctor.
The Dover Historical Society has kindly asked me to portray an 18th century New England doctor, to demonstrate various medical practices, display my instruments, and interact with the crowd for the afternoon.
This appearance will be on Sunday, September 30th, from 1:30-3:30 pm or thereabouts. If you are in the area, you are more than welcome to stop by and support this wonderful organization.
For more information on the site, please visit their web presence at: