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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Sunday, January 17, 2021

How Aged Was William Northage?

This evening I came across an example of the importance of checking original documents where possible to confirm transcriptions.

In a 1993 article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine titled “John Jeffries and the Struggle Against Smallpox in Boston (1775-1776) and Nova Scotia (1776-1779),” Philip Cash and Carol Pine referred to Dr. Jeffries’s 1775 patients on Rainsford Island this way:

These patients range in age from Nancy Hawes who was four weeks old to William Northage who is simply listed as “aged.”
Jeffries’s medical records at Harvard’s Countway Library are currently being transcribed, so we can see his actual handwriting. Note what he wrote next to the name of William Northage in this image’s last entry.
Jeffries didn’t described this patient as simply “aged.” He left space to record an age, as he had for previous names, but never got back to it.

All the other patients Jeffries listed on these opening pages were children, aged from four weeks to ten years. Later in this document, on the dates of 10, 14, 16, and 20 June, Jeffries referred to William Northage by the name Billy. In that time he used pus from Billy Northage’s legs to inoculate his own infant son John. To me all that suggests William Northage was another child rather than an old man.

Billy Northage appears alongside Benjamin Northage, aged six in 1775 and thus identifiable as the Benjamin Nottage baptized in the Brattle Street Meetinghouse in 1769. I suspect Benjamin and William were brothers.

Benjamin’s father, Josiah Nottage (sometimes spelled Nuttage), was a house carpenter who after the war became known for constructing bridges across the Charles and Passaic Rivers. In 1796 Josiah and Benjamin Nottage bought house lots on Phillips Street that eventually became the site of Vilna Shul.


David Churchill Barrow said...

Dr. Jeffries also treated Patrick Carr, a victim of the Boston Massacre who lingered for several days. Through Jeffries, Carr testified from beyond the grave that he did not blame the man who shot him, had seen soldiers in Ireland fire under much less provocation, and that the crowd was yelling “Kill them!” The testimony was so effective that Sam Adams was reduced to sputtering in the newspapers about how Carr “in all probability died in the faith of a Roman Catholic.”

Dean Slone said...

Use original records but read the writing carefully.

In my own ancestry my 2nd great-grandfather

Charles Slone
Birth 18 JAN 1810 • Randolph, Norfolk, Massachusetts
Death 11 NOV 1859 • Milton, Norfolk, Massachusetts

has been saddled with a middle initial due to a misreading, by my Father and Mother in the 1950's, of the actual record.

The handwritten record lists the births of the first 4 Slone children and then has "Children of Charles & Slone" with a gap after the & sign. The gap appears to have been left in order to include the mothers name (Charlotte) once known. The looks like a D until you look at it under magnification.

The record can be viewed in "Massachusetts, U.S., Birth Records 1840-1915" under Births Recorded in Milton 1843

Mike said...

"...died in the faith of a Roman Catholic" - the 18th century version of declaring "Fake News"?

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, in a town with Puritan roots Samuel Adams calling someone a Catholic was suggesting the man couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth, even on his deathbed.