Bidwell Lore – Widow Bingham’s Tavern, Part IV

Welcome to week 93 of Bidwell Lore! This week we take a small detour in our Anna Bingham story to talk about two prominent doctors in Stockbridge who would have been familiar with Anna Bingham’s Tavern.

Widow Bingham’s Tavern – Part IV
by Rick Wilcox

As we mentioned last week, for this week’s Bidwell Lore we will take a slight detour in the Anna Bingham story to talk about two of the most prominent 18th and 19th century doctors in Stockbridge, Erastus Sergent and Oliver Partridge. Both would have been well known to Anna and familiar with her tavern.

 Dr. Sergeant and Dr. Partridge, whose sister Elizabeth Partridge was married to Dr. Sergeant, decided to form a county medical society and meetings were held at Bingham’s Tavern: “We now come to a period in the medical history of the county that was fraught with great interest to the people – the establishment of the first medical society. The parent society was incorporated in 1781, and in October, 1785, that society appointed Drs. Sergeant and Partridge a committee in this county ‘for the purpose of encouraging the communication of any important or extraordinary case that may occur in the practice of the medical art, and for that purpose to meet, correspond, and communicate with any individuals or any association of physicians that have been or may be formed in their respective counties, and make report from time to time o their doings to this society as occasion may require.’” [1] The second meeting in May of 1787, there were but seven present. They probably had a short meeting, perhaps not felicitous, for the record runs, ‘Where, the tumults of the times are so great as almost to prevent a meeting, etc.’” Only in February 26th of that year Stockbridge had been pillaged at pleasure and a great number of inhabitants made prisoners. At the third meeting, June 12th, 1787, at the house of ‘Mr. Bingham in Stockbridge, 10 o ye clock A.M.,’ there were convened fourteen physicians.” [2]

“Notwithstanding the urgent solicitation of this committee, for earnest men they were, the meeting for the formation of an association did not occur til January 16th 1787. The first name and first president of those constituting was William Whiting, of Great Barrington.” [3]

Whiting had a stellar career up until Shays’s Rebellion when he was forced by the Shayites to sign a document agreeing to hold no more court until the State Constitution was reformed or revised. “It was brought upon him the dislike and displeasure of the friends of law and order. For his course in this tumult he was fined and sentenced to imprisonment, and compelled to sign bonds to keep the peace. His offense seems to have consisted in ‘seditious words and practices.’” [4]

Black and white image in the Red Lion inn  from the late 19th or early 20th century
An historic photo of The Red Lion Inn

From The History of Berkshire County byJ.B. Beers & Co, we learn more about Dr. Sergeant and Dr. Partridge:

Dr. Erastus Sergeant, of Stockbridge, is the next member. He was the eldest son of the Rev. John Sergeant, the first minister of Stockbridge, missionary to the Housatunnuc Indians, and one of the first white settlers in that town. It is believed that Dr. Sergeant was the first white male child born in Stockbridge, in 1742. He was fitted for college by his father, entered Princeton, was there two or three years but did not graduate there. He studied medicine with Dr. Thomas Williams of Deerfield, the usual period of two years, and commenced the practice of physic and surgery at Stockbridge about 1764, and immediately established a fine business…. He was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1785, and was a member for 29 years, in which period he was often chosen as councilor. Dr. Partridge observes, ‘He was endowed with a sound judgment an skill in his profession, was sedate, with a large share of Christian grace, and was truly the beloved physician.’ In the summer of 1776 he went to Ticonderoga with a regiment from Berkshire, under Capt. Cook of Curtisville [5], and held some office in the company. In Shays Rebellion his house was visited, and he, with his students, Partridge [6] and Catlin, were taken away as prisoners. In the later part of his life he had pulmonary disease, and in November, 1814, while seated at the dinner table, he was attacked with a fit of coughing, succeeded by a violent hemorrhage that it speedily terminated his life, at the age of 72 years” [7]

“Dr. Oliver Partridge, of Stockbridge, born April 26th 1751, in Hatfield, studied medicine there and removed to Stockbridge in 1771. He began an active practice of his profession in 1773, and died in July 1848. He lived in one house seventy-seven years and had been in the profession for seventy-five years. He was engaged in in a public discussion upon the merits of some of our indigenous plants with Dr. Thatcher of Plymouth, after they were both past the age of four score; and even when was more than ninety-five years old he corresponded with an eminent physician concerning a case of some doubt. It is said he was with the volunteers who marched to the battle of Bennington, or had hurried on before them, and often related that during the busy scenes that followed the battle he noticed and spoke of the blood upon the sleeve of Captain Stoddard.” [8] [Dr. Partridge treated the wounds of Col. Friedrich Baum, commander of the British forces, who later died.]

The Mission House in Stockbridge. The former home of the Sergeant family was moved from its original location on Prospect Hill to Main Street in the 1920s.

Another description of the famous Dr. Partridge comes from Mrs. Josiah Quincy, who describes him during her visit to Stockbridge in 1786:

“Among other members of the family, I ought to mention Dr. Partridge, a brother of Mrs. Sergeant. He was an old bachelor, and the most complete personification of the character I ever saw. He had a number of patients, and use to ride about on an old pacing horse with saddlebags full of medicine. He was a sensible, humane man, though somewhat of an oddity. He possessed some property, and generally visited and gave professional advice without fee or reward. In dress and appearance, he resembled a Quaker. He was very kind to us young people, and reminded us of Dr. Levet, commemorated by dr. Johnson; only their sphere of action was so totally different – the one seeking pain and misery in the abodes of poverty, in the crowded parts of London; the other seeking them out among the valleys and mountains of a beautiful country. But still the same simplicity, benevolence and industry marked them both.

On Sunday when I entered the church, I saw that Dr. Partridge had carried his old bachelor habits so far as even there to keep aloof from everyone. He had constructed a pew up in one corner, almost as high as the ceiling, to which there was an ascent by steps from the gallery. There he sat with one or two young lads of the family; and so great was the respect with which he was regarded, that this singular arrangement did not seem to excite either observation or ridicule.” [9]

Finally, we have one more story about Dr. Partridge from Henry Dwight Sedgwick:

“Dr. Partridge. The old man was in his laboratory, bedroom, etc., among his old tables, bookcase, etc. with shelves of medicines, and scales suspended hard by. He is about 94, and remembered Williams (Col. Ephraim Williams, Sr.) well; who he described as a large stout man, who used to often to visit his father, and take him on his knee. He says he remembers the face as if he saw it yesterday, especially the swelling of the ruddy cheeks. His father, Colonel Partridge, was in the service, and despised Abercrombie as a coward. The Dr. remembers seeing a thousand of Abercrombie’s Highlander at Hatfield or some other town where they were billeted. Abercrombie was always trembling with fear of the Indians, and sending out scouts about camp. When Howe fell,  (Colonel) Partridge, the Dr. says, was at his side, and his lordship said, ‘The army has no leader, and is defeated.'” [10]

Shays’ Rebellion arrived in Stockbridge during the winter of 1787 when a large body of discontented farmers came from New York state and then to Bingham’s Tavern where they established their headquarters. Among a number of homes in Stockbridge, they entered Theodore Sedgwick’s house on Main Street intent on robbing the owners. The Sedgwick family was not there. The Shayites were met by Mum Bet (Elizabeth Freeman), who provided them with a small amount of liquor and then, while sitting on a chest filed with the Sedgwick family silver and valuables, told them the contents were hers and they could not have them. They soon learned that they had met their match and left hoping to find other homeowners more compliant.

Among a number of other stops, they climbed Sergeant Hill [11] to the house of Dr. Erastus Sergeant, by now a successful doctor and deacon of the church, knowing he had the wealth to support a large house. At the end of the Revolutionary War, two enslaved Africans named Joe Walker and Tamar, sold by the Rev. Nehemiah [12] in Westfield, were among them. Dr. Sergeant boarded and trained twenty medical students during his lifetime. They may have been some of the individuals present during Shays’ Rebellion. Mercy Scott, a seamstress, was staying at the house, while Shays’ men captured Drs. Sergeant and Partridge, medical students Hopkins and Catlin, hired hand Moses Lynch, and one other.  As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Dr. Oliver Partridge was Erastus Sergeant’s brother-in-law and lived in the so-called Mission House upon completing his medical training in Hatfield at age 20. He lived in the Sergeant house for the next 77 years. A future Bidwell Lore will expand on the Shays’ Rebellion and its impact on Stockbridge.

Next week we will go back to the trials and tribulations of Anna Bingham, after the death of her husband Silas.

[1] History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, Volume I & II (New York: J.B. Beers & Co., 1885)
[2] History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, Volume I & II (New York: J.B. Beers & Co., 1885), 367.
[3] History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, Volume I & II (New York: J.B. Beers & Co., 1885), 362.
[4] History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, Volume I & II (New York: J.B. Beers & Co., 1885), 363.
[5] Now Interlaken, a village in Stockbridge.
[6] Partridge was born in 1751, finished medical school in 1771 and joined Dr. Sergeant in practice, and was 36 years old when captured by Shayites.
[7] History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, Volume I & II (New York: J.B. Beers & Co., 1885), 363-364.
[8] History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, Volume I & II (New York: J.B. Beers & Co., 1885), 366-367.
[9] A Gentlewoman of the Days of the Revolution: Extract from the Diary of Mrs. Josiah Quincy, describing a visit to Madam Dwight of Stockbridge in 1786.
[10]  Sedgwick, Henry Dwight, Francis Parkman (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1904), 119.
[11] Sergeant Hill cut through Marian Fathers on Eden Hill just south of the Shrine and came back out on what is now 4 Prospect Hill. Prospect Hill was created in 1866-67.
[12] Rev. Bull was married to Elizabeth Partridge, possibly the aunt of Elizabeth Partridge Sergeant.