J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dr. John Jeffries: physician, Loyalist, aeronaut, part 7

This series of postings, starting with Part 1, has brought Dr. John Jeffries from his early medical practice in Boston to floating across the English Channel on a balloon in January 1785. Jeffries then returned to London, apparently hoping for adulation as a man of science and adventure.

And to some extent his feat was recognized. Jeffries was made a "Baron of the Cinq Ports," a minor honorary title. His position as a fashionable doctor seemed assured. But he didn't receive the financial reward and pension that the French king had given his companion, Jean Pierre Blanchard.

In 1787, at the age of forty-two, Jeffries remarried, to a twenty-two-year-old Englishwoman named Hannah Hunt. They had several children together, though two died sadly young, according to family records: Harriet Maria “smothered" before her first birthday, and Robinson Ardesoif “burnt to death" at the age of five. Some of their other children lived considerably longer, including a John Jr. who also became a doctor and practiced for 57 years until his death in 1876.

In 1789, Jeffries received letters from family in Massachusetts "urging the necessity of his immediately repairing to Boston, to secure some property which had devolved to him by the death of a near relative.” He returned to his native town with his new wife and children. His father, town treasurer David Jeffries, had never left. Even his medical mentor and fellow Loyalist, Dr. James Lloyd, had ridden out the war in Boston. In April 1790, Jeffries decided to stay and become an American citizen.

Within a few years Dr. Jeffries was a popular local physician, respected despite his service with the British military. Local writers accepted his stories of identifying Dr. Joseph Warren's body on Bunker Hill and finding new ways to treat smallpox, though they were often self-serving. The 1801 Massachusetts Register listed Jeffries as practicing on "Franklin-Street, near the Tontine."

As for the small French aeronaut Blanchard, his republican beliefs made his home country somewhat unwelcoming in the 1780s, so he traveled Europe, making the first or early balloon ascents from Frankfurt-am-Main, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Leipzig, Berlin, Breslau, Warsaw, and Vienna. After the French Revolution, the new government in Paris continued the pension that the king had granted the traveler.

On 9 Dec 1792, Blanchard arrived in Philadelphia on a ship from Hamburg, bringing "4200 weight of vitriolic acid." That was, he announced in the newspapers, "the quantity necessary to effect my own ascension, once." He no longer cared for aerial companions. On 9 Jan 1793, Blanchard made the first balloon flight in America, taking off from the grounds of the Walnut Street Prison, as shown in the engraving above.

Samuel Breck, a Boston native who became a businessman in Philadelphia, met both Jeffries and Blanchard. He wrote of their voyage over the Channel:

I have heard the account of this trip from Blanchard given with feelings of asperity that were not reciprocated in my hearing by the doctor. The Frenchman was from some cause or other displeased, and being intent upon revenge took a very public manner of insulting his companion. He employed Fielding, the best coachmaker of Philadelphia, to build him a vehicle that was to go without horses. The machinery that moved it was worked by a man standing on the footboard behind, who by the alternate pressure of his feet set the wheels going and expanded the wings of an eagle, that by constantly flapping them seemed to draw the carriage along by its flight. On the panels of this carriage, which was exhibited in all the large towns in the United States, he caused the doctor to be painted in the balloon, with a bottle of brandy to his mouth, intimating by the motto beneath that without the aid of this Dutch courage his fortitude would have wholly forsaken him.
Jeffries apparently kept his notes and his cool throughout the flight, so this seems to be Blanchard's jealousy about having to share any glory with his patron and passenger.

Blanchard died in 1809 after suffering a heart attack during a balloon ascent. His widow, Madeléine-Sophie Blanchard, became a famous aeronaut in her own right; she died on 7 July 1819 when her hydrogen balloon caught fire and she fell to the Paris street below.

Two months later, on 16 Sept 1819, Dr. John Jeffries died in Boston of, a medical colleague wrote, “an inflammation in his bowels, originating in a hernia, occasioned by great exertions in his first aërial voyage."


Margaret DeLacy said...

It appears that this is the same Dr. John Jeffries who appears as a member of Benjamin Franklin's Deist and pro-American "Club of Thirteen" (in London) which is discussed in Nicholas Hans, "Franklin, Jefferson, and the English Radicals at the End of the Eighteenth Century" Proc. American Philosophical Society 98, no. 6: (Dec. 23, 1954), pp. 406-426

J. L. Bell said...

That’s an interesting connection. A skim of Hans's article (available through Google Book, but not with a direct link) indicates that Franklin founded the club in 1774, shortly before he was lambasted for leaking Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s letters back to Massachusetts. He left London months later, so the club must have been kept up by others after that.

Dr. Jeffries apparently joined the circle in the 1ate 1770s when he was in London seeking a better position in the British military. He seems to have been a political oddity—serving the Crown while most members supported the U.S. of A. (Religiously, Jeffries had joined the Anglican church back in Boston despite coming from a Congregationalist family. Whether he was actually deist is another matter.)

The article says Jeffries “often visited Paris and met Franklin,” along with a French balloonist named Pilâtre. He reportedly brought Franklin letters and packages on these visits. But Hans’s notes don’t give more details or sources, alas.

corvallis,or said...

This was great reading!!!! I love history.