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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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

William Dorrington: keeper of the hospital

Yesterday I quoted Boston selectman Timothy Newell recording the arrest of “Dorrington his son and daughter and the nurse” by British military authorities on 14 July 1775.

William Dorrington was one of the town of Boston’s relatively few employees. He had started to work in the public sector on 4 Nov 1761 when the selectmen appointed him “the Head or Constable of the Watch at the North end.”

On 11 June 1762, the selectmen were worried that “the Fire was not extinguished in the Ruins of the Buildings at Williams’s Court” that day, so they ordered Dorrington and several other watchmen to watch “the Fire the whole of the Night, and that they imploy themselves in throwing Water upon the same till it is quite extinguish’d.”

Dorrington left that job in the summer of 1763—perhaps the hours were getting to him. He reappears in the town records on 22 Apr 1772, when the selectmen appointed him the keeper of “the House at New Boston, being the Province Hospital.” This was on the sparsely settled western wing of the Boston peninsula. Smallpox patients were quarantined there. Dorrington and his family, who must have had the disease already, would apparently get to live in that building year-round in exchange for taking care of patients when necessary.

Dorrington reported that day that “the Hospital House at New Boston requires glazing [i.e., windows], and he was directed to apply to the Province Glazier, for the same.” He also supplied an inventory of items in the hospital, which promptly led to a list of hospital property that the previous keeper had taken with him.

On 27 April, the selectmen—including John Scollay, John Hancock, and Newell—gave Dorrington his formal charge:

We having appointed you Keeper of the Province Hospital at New Boston under our care and inspection, and delivered up to your Keeping sundry Utensils belonging to said Hospital as specified in an Inventory taken thereof. Our Orders and directions are that you take proper care of these Articles and apply and use them only for the convenience & necessitys of such sick and diseased Persons as may from time to time be Sent to you.

You must also take good care of the House and admit no unnecessary Visitors, and see that the several Apartments and Rooms for the sick are properly aired, and when any Repairs are wanted let us have speedy Information that so everything may be ready to receive any sick Persons upon the most sudden notice.
TOMORROW: How this system responded to a smallpox outbreak.

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