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Ready for Rough, New Country


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 4, 1976
Ready for rough, new country
Many of our pioneer doctors had done their ‘post-graduate’ work in the
 War of the Revolution
     In 1775 there were 3,500 doctors, fewer than 400 of them with medical degrees, for some 2.5 million Americans spread along 1,000 miles of eastern seaboard.  Thus, one doctor was available for each 700 of our scattered citizens.
     The number of doctors on call for civilians dropped sharply after the first Minutemen fell at Lexington and Concord.  Wherever the soldiers went the doctors went, those without degrees as well as those with serving their country well during the 61/2 years between Lexington and Yorktown.
     What better preparation for the challenges of a rough, new country?  And that’s what Montgomery County was when the first of its two medical veterans of the Continental Army arrived in the spring of 1797, just one year after the first settlers landed here after their trip up the Miami River.
     DR. JOHN HOLE came here prepared to be a doctor on horseback, for he settled “way down” in what is now Washington Twp.  Born in 1754, he got his early education in his native Virginia and “read medicine” with a doctor there.  He became a surgeon’s mate at the outbreak of the war and was on the medical staff of Gen. Richard Montgomery when the general was killed leading the storming of Quebec on Dec. 31, 1775.
     Dr. Hole apparently carried the memory of his first commander throughout the war and it is generally believed that he suggested the name of Montgomery county.  The doctor’s own name is retained here in Hole’s Creek.  He died in 1813, before his 60th birthday.
     Dr. John Elliott probably had “apprenticed” to a doctor in his home state of New York, a basic step in “reading medicine” in the early days.  He also started as a surgeon’s mate, but stayed on in the military for some time after the war.
     HE CAME WEST with Gen. Arthur St. Clair in 1788, to Marietta, and thence to Cincinnati.  He was with Gen. Anthony Wayne when he came up the Miami Valley in 1794 to subdue the Indians, which led to the treaty of Greene Ville the next summer, which led, in turn, to the settlement of Dayton in the spring of 1796.
     It wasn’t until 1802, however, that Dr. Elliott came here, opening his office in “downtown Dayton,” still a cabin community except for Col. George Newcom’s two-story tavern.
     Dr. Elliott was active in civic life, in addition to being a busy and highly- regarded medical man, but did not get to enjoy either phase of his life very long.  He died in 1809, probably in his middle 50’s.
     TO THE RESEARCH of Dr. W. J. Conklin, president of the Montgomery County Medical Society in 1884, 1885, 1899 and 1900, and of the Ohio State Medical Society in 1891, goes the credit for most of the available knowledge of the early days here.
     That indicates that there were between six and a dozen doctors here before Dayton got its first medical school graduate in 1812.
     Dr. John Steele had received his BA at Transylvania college, which his father had helped found in 1780 in the five-year-old town of Lexington, Ky., and his MD at the University of Pennsylvania.  His brother, James, older by 13 years, had come here in 1805 and by 1812 was a well-established business man and church and civic leader.
     Only 21 when he came to Dayton, Dr. Steele also became active in community affairs.  Shortly after his arrival, a small frame hospital was opened at Third and Main Sts., for wounded soldiers of the War of 1812 and he was assigned as surgeon.
     HE WAS ONE of the organizers in 1816 of the Dayton Medical Society, which disbanded after three meetings, but when the Ohio Legislature passed a Medical District act in 1824, Dr. Steele became the first president of the Seventh district society, for Clark and Montgomery counties.
     He died in 1854 at the age of 63, six years after his son, Dr. H. K. Steele, joined him in practice.
     The Ohio country grew by leaps and bounds in the second decade of the 19th century, especially this part of it.  By 1817, when Dr. Job Haines, graduate of Princeton and Pennsylvania, came here as the second medical school graduate, Dayton’s population was more than double the 383 counted in 1810 and Montgomery County’s was pushing toward 5,000.  But the doctors must have been taking shorter horseback rides during their rounds, for the medical population had increased, too.
     MOST OF THOSE whocame in the early years left no names or other marks that Dr. Conklin could find.  Dr. William Murphey, who came in 1805, left little more when he died in 1809—“one horse, saddle and bridle, 12 volumes of Shakespeare, one family Bible, wearing apparel, bedclothes and some medicines,” according to the inventory of his estate.
     A fellow citizen’s diary did provide Dr. Murphey with a personality, however: “He was a popular and able man, who died of an overdose of Laudanum, taken to ward off the effects of a fit of intoxication.”
     Dr. James Welsh was considerably less obscure, although the place and time of his medical education, if any, was the opposite.  The date of his birth in Pennsylvania was not known either, but he was licensed in Virginia in 1793 as a Presbyterian minister.
     He accepted a call to a church in Lexington, Ky., soon after that and in 1799 became professor of languages at Transylvania.  Col. Robert Patterson, one of Lexington’s founders, came here in 1804 and so did Dr. Welsh.  Seven years later he married a Patterson daughter, widow of a Kentucky doctor.
     HE HAD BECOME a busy man here before that, with a pastorate, a medical practice and a drug store, none of which brought in enough cash.  He frequently ran newspaper ads appealing to patients to pay their debts “as both reason and Scripture require they should.”
     He still had time for civic affairs, however, and was one of the incorporators of the Dayton Academy in 1808.  In 1816, he turned to land development, platting the rival town of North Dayton, now Dayton View, complete with a ferry between First St. and Salem Ave.  The town didn’t catch on and was abandoned in 1821.
     It is not clear whether Dr. Welsh left Dayton at that time or earlier, but he died in Vevay, Ind. in 1826.  The probable reason for his leaving was less a mystery.  He became involved in a newspaper controversy over church matters in 1817.   On the other side of the public argument was Daniel C. Cooper, who was not only the principal land owner but a high officer in and benefactor of the Presbyterian church.
     WHATEVER THEIR other interests, all of the early doctors had one in common—trying to find a way to get some kind of pay for their services.  Found in Dr. Hole’s effects after his death were unpaid bills like these:
     “I owe Dr. John Hole one pair of leather shoes for a boy child—Benj. Robbins.”
     “Nov. 1, 1801—I agree to deliver to Dr. J. Hole a winter’s smoking of tobacco or five venison hams—G. Adams.”
     Even Dr. Haines, who appears to have made more of an impression on the community than any other early doctor and most of the other leading citizens, for that matter, wasn’t without his problems, as evidenced by this advertisement in an 1824 newspaper:
     “Once More: I request those indebted to me by note or book to make payment between this and the middle of December, for some money I must have.  Let those concerned take notice. -- Job Haines. Nov 30, 1824.”
     HE DIDN’T ALIENATE his patients by such public dunning.  He was elected mayor of Dayton in 1833, even though it was known by one and all that he was opposed to one of the standard remedies of the era.
     “Dr. Haines was strongly anti-liquor and never lost an opportunity to preach temperance,” reported Dr. Conklin.
     And, although some of his fellow physicians may have been on the receiving end of such a lecture from time to time, it didn’t affect his popularity and their respect.  He was the first secretary of the district medical society and was elected president of the county society three successive times in the 1850s.
     “He was tall, slender, dignified and a benevolent lover of truth and peace,” wrote one historian.  “He was a lover of nature and an expert botanist.  An elder of the First Presbyterian church, he was deeply religious and sometimes filled in for the minister.”
     Those who paid their bills and those who didn’t paid Dr. Haines something else when he died at 69 in July of 1860—a unique tribute.
     “THE STREETS along which the funeral cortege passed were thronged with sad and sorrowing people,” wrote Dr. Clark McDermont, a 37-year old colleague.