Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin Waterhouse to Thomas Jefferson, 1 May 1813

From Benjamin Waterhouse

Boston 1st of May1 1813

Dear Sir,

If you will excuse my breaking in again upon your philosophical retirement, I think I may venture to promise that it shall be2 the last time.

I little thought, when I wrote to you last, that I should have so soon to lament the loss of my revered friend & brother Dr Rush! By his death I feel as if one strand of the thread of my life was cut. It is a heavy, very heavy stroke to his old3 friend Mr Adams. They exchanged letters about once a fortnight. Mr Adams was expecting a letter, when mine came to his hands containing an extract of a letter from my son (who has been under Rush the year past) with the particulars of his illness, death & last words—He told my son, not long before he expired, (for he was sensible to the last) alluding to the persecution of his father in Massachusetts4—“I owe my enemies nothing but forgiveness.”—and not long after he added.—“They have it most5 heartily.” I hope I may be able to say so too, before I die—; but the time is not yet come; for their wrath has been cruel—

Upon the news of the death of Dr Rush my republican friends drew up & signed a short address to the President, recommending me to his notice, for some appointment “comporting, as they expressed it, with my years & rank in society.” but without saying what, because they had heard that I had been spoken of at Washington as Physician general; but they had in view the office of6 Treasurer of the mint, grounded on the opinion that I would gladly quit Boston for Philadelphia, & the probability of my filling some part of Dr R’s professional stations.—It is upon this subject that I beg leave to communicate to you my feelings, views & wishes; and I have been encouraged to it by the last paragraph in your friendly letter, where you say “They (the persecuting party here) may force you to fly south of Connecticut, where no truth is feared, where science is honored, not reviled, & where you, as one of its sons, would always be received with cordiality.”—These sentiments, the death of Dr Rush, & the Strong desire I have to get out of this La Vendee of the U. States,7 have occasioned a strong current of thought, which I cannot resist expressing to you; not without a hope that you might express it to others.

After a seven years persecution, the leading particulars of which I am now publishing,8 I found it expedient to dissolve all connection with Cambridge college, & take up my residence in Bosto[n] with a view of practising physic, & of giving lectures on Natural History, & continuing vaccination. To this end I took a conspicuou[s] & not inelegant house. But I soon found, that so far from relaxing, my pursuers redoubled their efforts, & encreased the oppression. No federalist dare employ me; and I have not vaccinated six inhabitants of Boston during the year9 past; and, what may surprize you,10 the college have transferred their Lectures on Natural history & botany11 from the college to this town. And all this glaringly under the patronage of the Essex12 Junto, so that my lectures are entirely put a stop to. These domineering people say outright “We are the patrons of Science; & nothing of the sort will be patronized here, but by the Federalists.”13 Their mode of oppression often times betrays deep thought; and if they proceed as they have begun, I do not see but they will, before the year closes nearly interdict me fire & water. I do not, at present, see how I can maintain my family among them.14 It is through “the Washington benevolent Society,” falsely so called, that they carry on their ingenious oppressions.15 If I could obtain the place of Treasurer of the mint, I would remove to Philadelphia without the least reluctance. of my six promissing children, four are sons; the eldest a student in law with our District attorney, the 2d is in Physic, & just graduated at Philadelphia, where he wishes to settle, & where he is already distinguished, the 3d is in the counting house of our friend the opulent Mr Gray; & the fourth just about commencing the gantlet through the hypocricy16 & political nonsense of Cambridge college. All these young persons, neither of whom will ever be in the background of society,17 are thoroughly imbued with the true principles of Jefferson, Adams,18 & Madison. But how can they ever expect to advance in Boston,19 unless they fall into the ranks of the enemies of the administration, as many of the Sons of Republicans are doing daily.20 If they cannot decoy them into the Washington benevolent net,21 they will be marked out & pursued as enemies to the good old cause of British superstition. You may read my opinion of them in the Independant chronicle of this day under the signature of “a Shepherd.” I felt it a duty to expose this new superstition.

It is seven years since the Essex22 Junto circumvallated my professorship. During this time, they made their regular approaches, & minings; but I have more than once countermined them, & several times23 filled up their intrenchments. But this is not all.24 I have attacked their champion openly, by way of repelling his secret attacks. I have not only called him by name, but I have cited him to the bar of the public, exposed his25 malignant intentions.—Nay more I have draged him like Cacus in Virgil from the midst of his fire & smoke to light & punishment. After26 holding this influential man, the Ahithophel of the Junto,27 up to public view, in the firm grasp of truth & resolution, can I expect ever to be forgiven; or that they will not visit the sins of the father upon his children?

On these accounts I wish to retire from this residence of sordid merchants, & narrow minded shop keepers, & slavish lawyers, and professional rivals & political bigots, into some city where I can serve my country, finish the education of my children, & enjoy my political principles without persecution.

It has been suggested to me, by certain members of Congress, that the Government were about establishing a Surgeon general (by which I presume they meant a Physician general, as the latter includes the former) & that I was spoken of at Washingto[n] in that connection. On which I would observe that I stand ready, to obey that call, if it should ever28 be uttered. I very well know that we suffer for want of some such arrangement, by Sea as well as by land.29 I have been frequently consulted by the head of the medical department of the army under General Dearborne, and I believe his path to usefulness is narrowed for want of system;30 and I have long been convinced that the late Secretary at war was not able to supply one; not for want of talents; but for want of reading.

With a general & indistinct idea that the Administration contemplated calling me into their service, in some station or other,31 the most prominent Republican32 characters in Cambridge, Charlestown & Boston, drew up & signed the following,

“We the undersigned having a high opinion of the abilities, learning, professional knowledge & integrity of Dr Benjamin Waterhouse,—take this method of recommending him to the notice of the President of the U. States for any office, in which the before33 mentioned qualities are requisites; and which may comport with his years, & rank in society.”—

I would here remark to you, that when this paper was brought to me, I saw with pleasure that it was the work of those gentlemen who were the most forward in displacing me from the Marine-hospital Dr Eustis, & another Physician excepted,34 The second signer was Mr John Brazer, who was the Zealous chairman of that committee which remonstrated to you against your appointment of me to the hospital. He says to me & to others, that he acted in that business from misinformation.35 It is also Signed by Mr Dearborne the collector; & other gentlemen of the custom house;36 & by the Navy-agent; and by the President of the Senate, who lives at Charlestown, near the hospital, & who knows every minute circumstance of the inquisition set on foot by the Government of the University. So that after induring that calumny four years, I have lived it down; & now stand without reproach even from my bitterest political & professional enemies.—My unpardonable offence is that of exposing the jesuitical practices of the Essex Junto; expostulating with the clergy for going contrary to that injunction of scripture which forbids them “to mix linnen with woolen”;—or “to plough with an Ox & an ass.”—

Our republican brethren in the South, and the West, have no conception of the disagreeable situation of some of the most independent Republicans in this “La Vendee37 of the U.S. The publication in the N. Engd Palladium signed “A Friend to Peace & Commerce, may serve to shew you how near some of us are to the brink of rebellion; and the public Spectacle of yesterday under the imposing & venerable name of Washington will not lessen this apprehension. I found myself constrained to combat this New Superstition in the Chronicle.

Although I know that this peninsula is no more to the whole of the U.S. than is a nest of catterpillars on the twig of an apple-tree, compared with the whole plant yet I cannot but feel anxious for the future. Every thing here has a military aspect, & a military tendency. Even the clergy “speak daggers.” Every likely, enterprizing youth is seduced, or attempted to be seduced into this Washington Society; & this society is absolutely enrolling men, & raising money. They marchd through the Streets yesterday to the number of two thousand, including between two & three hundred children of the first families, ornamented with artificial flowers & the white rose of the insurgent house of York. To crown all, that political sky-rocket Josiah Quincy, choke-full of the wild-fire of British politics, harangu’d the people from the pulpit of the old South church an hour & an half, & in the most positive manner, & with the strongest emphasis called upon the people to unite in resisting the oppression of our government. Thus situated & circumstanced, a man past the period of bearing arms, & of a literary habit, & who wishes his children to maintain their integrity, & walk agreeably to their principles, would naturally desire to withdraw from such a people.

Some of my republican brethren say, that I must not quit my post; but stand at the avenue of public opinion, resting upon the printing-press. To this I answer, I have stood there, untill I am deprived of every thing but my children & family; and until I am now living upon the last remnants of my property. I still keep up the appearance of a man in easy circumstances, but it cannot be continued much longer.

Your friendly conduct towards me has encouraged me to be thus explicit. I have sent a pretty long narrative to the President relative to the hospital intrigue, in which I have rather restraind than indulged resentment towards Dr Eustis, the original author of my vexations, yet I could not bring myself to write these personal & private matters to the Supreme Magistrate of the American Nation; for I deem it improper. I have nevertheless hoped that I might do it to some other very distinguished person not in a public station. Mr Adams has spontaneously, and of his own accord written to President Madison respecting my peculiar situation; but I have never seen what he wrote. Mr Gerry has done the same. So has General King, & Mr Gray. I have therefore hoped that if I wrote to Mr Jefferson, he might in like manner address a line to Mr Madison, or if he chose, send this letter. My wish being to convey facts in a proper channel. But should my ideas, for I am unlearn’t in the rules & etiquette of Governments, not comport with yours, I beg you to commit this letter to the flames, and excuse my impropriety; for I know not but that I have committed one.

Should the Executive think favourably of me as the Physician general, it would be gratifying to know that that great & good man Dr Fothergill gave me the following certificate just before I left Europe to return to my native country.


“To all whom it may concern—  

The Bearer Dr Benjamin Waterhouse of Newport in Rhode Island, having been recommended by his Friends in America to my notice—these may certify that he has steadily, & diligently pursued his studies, under the ablest Professors, & Practitioners in Physick, at Edinburgh, in London, and at Leyden, during the course of seven years; and with so much success as to gain their esteem, & approbation— Having been likewise a part of my family, for a considerable time (about three years) I can, from my own observation, recommend him to his fellow citizens in America, as one, who by the propriety of his moral conduct, his capacity, & proficiency in his studies, is likely to become highly useful in his station as a physician, an ornament to his profession, and a credit to his country.”

John Fothergill.


If I have taken too great a liberty pray be so good as to excuse it; and believe me to be with a high degree of respect, esteem & gratitude your steady friend

Benjn Waterhouse

P.S. I hope the character of Mr Gallatin by “Sallust,” in the enclosed Patriot will meet your approbation.

RC (DLC); edge trimmed and chipped; endorsed by TJ as received 15 May 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (MBCo: Waterhouse Papers); in Waterhouse’s hand; incomplete, consisting of first four pages; only the most important of numerous textual differences from the RC are recorded below; at head of text: “Thomas Jefferson.” Enclosed in TJ to James Madison, 21 May 1813, and Madison to TJ, 6 June 1813. Enclosed newspaper articles described below.

Benjamin Rush informed John Adams on 16 Mar. 1813 that Waterhouse’s son, John Fothergill Waterhouse, had “passed his examination for a degree in our University with great honor, and that he will in a few weeks be created Doctor of Medicine” (Lyman H. Butterfield, Letters of Benjamin Rush [1951], 2:1190). la vendee (Vendée), a department in western France, was the scene of a series of peasant insurrections against the Revolutionary government, 1793–96. Waterhouse’s eldest son was Andrew Oliver Waterhouse, the 2d was John Fothergill Waterhouse, the 3d was Daniel Oliver Waterhouse, and the fourth was Benjamin Waterhouse Jr. (Philip Cash, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse: A Life in Medicine and Public Service [1754–1846] [2006], 397).

Waterhouse spoke out under the signature of “a shepherd.” against the Washington Benevolent Societies, comparing their activities to those of Jesuit societies that had been expelled from Europe; asserting that the Washington societies sought “political division, wor[l]dly honors, and a wor[l]dly despotism”; condemning members of these societies for their singleminded devotion to George Washington and declaring that the honors showered upon him ought to “be divided between S. and J. Adams, Hancock, Bowdoin, Jefferson, Madison, Jay, Clinton, Gens. Lincoln, Knox, and a great many beside”; and arguing that if Washington were alive, he would “renounce and denounce” the tendency of these societies to seek out and encourage British influence (Boston Independent Chronicle, 29 Apr. 1813).

The man Waterhouse regarded as the champion of his enemies was probably Theophilus Parsons. In Roman mythology cacus was a savage, fire-breathing monster (OCD description begins Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2003 description ends , 267). The late secretary at war was William Eustis. A 28 Apr. 1813 petition drawn up and signed by sixteen of the most prominent republican characters in cambridge, charlestown & boston was enclosed in a letter Waterhouse sent to President James Madison on 1 May 1813 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 6:273). Petitions to TJ of 9 and 13 Dec. 1807, the latter signed by john brazer, had remonstrated against Waterhouse’s appointment as physician to the Marine Hospital (DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–09). The biblical admonitions against mixing linnen with woolen and plowing with an ox & an ass are found in Leviticus 19.19 and Deuteronomy 22.10, respectively.

a friend to peace & commerce” argued in a letter to the editor of the Boston New-England Palladium published 30 Apr. 1813 that seaport towns had suffered from decreased commerce as a result of the current war while other parts of the country had not yet been injured economically; that commerce had a divine origin; that if Madison could be “induced to read the good book, and pay a little more attention to the natural rights of man, and principles of the ‘social compact,’ we should not experience so many evils which we are now compelled to endure”; that the southern states had an ample supply of food and fuel but that the overall decrease in commerce would harm the whole nation, because “Commerce is like the circulation of the blood—if you impede its course in any part the whole body is sure to feel the ill effects”; and that in the ensuing year legislators ought to unite in oppositon to the “mis-management of those who have gone before them.”

speak daggers quotes from William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 3, scene 2. Waterhouse sent a pretty long narrative to the president on 29 Apr. 1813 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 6:251–64). John adams wrote to Madison on Waterhouse’s behalf on 2 Feb. 1813 (Madison, Papers, Pres. Ser., 5:642–3). Elbridge gerry wrote similarly to Madison on 20 May 1809 and 15 Aug. 1812 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 1:194–6, 5:158–61). No letters on this subject have been found from general king (possibly Cyrus King, a general in the Massachusetts militia and a Federalist recently elected to the United States House of Representatives), but William gray sent his recommendation of Waterhouse to Madison on 6 July 1813 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 6:408).

In the Boston Patriot, 28 Apr. 1813, “sallust” defended Albert Gallatin against charges leveled at him in an “illiberal paragraph” recently published in the Boston Centinel wherein the author had questioned Gallatin’s motives for accepting the position of minister to Russia and doubted his ability to negotiate peace there.

John Fothergill (1712–80), physician, received his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1736 and began a practice in London in 1740. He took a keen interest in the science of botany and created an extensive botanical garden in Upton, Essex. Fothergill was an advocate for the American colonies, working to introduce there such plants as bamboo, coffee, and tea; authoring a pamphlet calling for repeal of the Stamp Act; and cooperating with Benjamin Franklin in drafting a scheme to reconcile the colonies with Great Britain. His most famous medical treatise, An Account of the Sore Throat (London, 1748), was the first recognition of diphtheria in England and included a clinical description and suggested treatments (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ).

1Word interlined in place of “April” in FC.

2FC substitutes “believe it will be” for preceding ten words.

3FC substitutes “my venerable” for preceding two words.

4Preceding two words not in FC.

5Word not in FC.

6FC: “without saying what; but it was intended as successor to Dr Rush, as.”

7FC substitutes “of my son (who has already distinguished himself) to settle down in the practice of physic in Philadelphia” for preceding thirteen words.

8Preceding nine words not in FC.

9FC: “8 months.”

10Preceding four words not in FC.

11Preceding two words not in FC.

12Word not in FC.

13Sentence not in FC.

14Sentence not in FC.

15FC here adds “As the Essex Junto have all the power, & all the patronage, I do not see how I can live much longer in this ‘head quarters of (Hamilton’s) good principles.’”

16FC: “vice.”

17Preceding eleven words not in FC.

18Name not in FC.

19FC here adds “No federalist casts a friendly eye upon them. they must starve.”

20FC substitutes “our young gentlemen of education have already done” for preceding seven words.

21FC here adds “a refinement of the old Jacobin clubs.”

22Word not in FC.

23FC here adds “sallied out &.”

24FC substitutes “I have done more” for preceding four words.

25FC here adds “dishonest acts &.”

26Manuscript: “after After.”

27Preceding five words not in FC.

28FC substitutes “whenever it shall” for preceding four words.

29FC here adds “The officers & the Surgeon of the Guierrere frigate made bitter complaints when their wounded men were brought into this port.”

30For remainder of this sentence, FC substitutes “We never yet had a good medical system in any of our camps, & yet we are now following our old customs. As I have been broken up at Cambridge, & have been prevented from doing any thing of consequence in Boston, I am more at liberty for entering upon such a task as that of Physician general, than any other medical man of my years & standing among us.”

31Sentence to this point not in FC.

32Word interlined.

33Manuscript: “before before.”

34Preceding six words interlined. Paragraph to this point not in FC.

35Sentence not in FC.

36Remainder of FC reads “by the District attorney, & the Marshal, & by some others concerned in my removal from the hospital. They one & all say they acted under misinformation; and they all seem eager to repair the injury. They have seen that my bitterest political & professional enemies have never once reproached me for any misconduct in the hospital because my enemies have themselves investigated it.— My.”

37Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and B. Rush search
  • Adams, John; friendship with B. Waterhouse search
  • anonymous correspondence; in newspapers search
  • Bible; Deuteronomy referenced search
  • Bible; Leviticus referenced search
  • Brazer, John search
  • Dearborn, Henry; as secretary of war search
  • Dearborn, Henry Alexander Scammell; recommends B. Waterhouse for office search
  • Essex Junto search
  • Eustis, William; as secretary of war search
  • Eustis, William; opposes B. Waterhouse search
  • Fothergill, John; certificate commending B. Waterhouse search
  • Fothergill, John; identified search
  • Gallatin, Albert; newspaper attacks on search
  • Gerry, Elbridge (1744–1814); and B. Waterhouse search
  • Gray, William; and B. Waterhouse search
  • Harvard University; B. Waterhouse’s professorship at search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation from search
  • King, Cyrus search
  • Madison, James; and B. Waterhouse search
  • Parsons, Theophilus; criticized by B. Waterhouse search
  • Quincy, Josiah search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and J. Adams search
  • Rush, Benjamin; death of search
  • Shakespeare, William; quoted search
  • United States Marine Hospital (Charlestown, Mass.); and charges against B. Waterhouse search
  • Waterhouse, Andrew Oliver search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; alleged misconduct at Marine Hospital search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; and Federalist party search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; and J. Madison search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; family of search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; letters from search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; on benevolent societies search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; seeks appointment search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; writes anonymous newspaper articles search
  • Waterhouse, Daniel Oliver search
  • Waterhouse, John Fothergill search