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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Friday, June 21, 2019

Ezekiel Brown in the Boston Jail

When the British army put Thomas Kettell and other provincial prisoners from the Battle of Bunker Hill into the Boston jail, one of the men they found there was Ezekiel Brown (1744-1824) of Concord.

Robert Gross discusses Brown at length in The Minutemen and Their World. He was born in Concord, but his poor father moved the family back and forth between Groton and Dunstable. Brown returned to Concord at the age of twenty-two with no property but enough education to set up as a scrivener and clerk. Soon he had his own shop and wife.

In 1772 Brown bought a house, barn, and land near the center of town, as shown above. (Once the headquarters of the local D.A.R., it appears now to be a private residence.) Brown took out two mortgages for a total of £203, presumably using that money to buy goods for his business. His neighbors elected him to minor town offices.

In May 1773, however, the Boston dry-goods firm of Nathan Frazier and Frederic William Geyer sued Brown for a debt of almost £275. He lost his appeals in court, and on 14 December he was locked in the Boston jail as a debtor. Geyer made the unusual choice to keep paying the costs to keep Brown in jail.

Ezekiel Brown was thus confined in Boston through the Tea Party, the arrival of Gen. Thomas Gage and royal troops, the “Powder Alarm,” and the outbreak of war in his home town. What was he doing all that time? Studying medical books.

Most of the provincial prisoners from Bunker Hill were wounded, and Brown helped to care for them. In a petition to the Massachusetts General Court he stated:
on the 18th June the day after the Battle of Bunker Hill the Prisoners being Provincials who were taken by the Ministeral Army & brought into Boston Goal he gave his attendance and gave them all the relief in his power visited them dressd their Wounds & assisted Doctr Miles Whitworth in administering medicines to them from l8th. June 1775. to March 1st. 1776
The legislature granted Brown £8 on 24 Jan 1777. Even though most of those prisoners had died, they agreed that he had performed good service.

By then Brown was free, his creditor Geyer having left with the British military. Though father of a growing family, he joined the Continental Army for five months as a surgeon’s mate to continue his medical training. In 1777 he enlisted again, this time as a regimental surgeon, and served through January 1781, mostly in northern New York. Elaine G. Breslaw’s Lotions, Potions, Pills, and Magic: Health Care in Early America states that Brown didn’t have a lot of medical training, but he had as much as many colleagues.

After his military service, Dr. Brown returned to Concord, set up a practice, and rose in local society again. He became a member of the town’s Social Club. Then the war ended, and his financial troubles returned.

TOMORROW: Geyer’s father-in-law.

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