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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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

“Requested my friend to send the Major to England”

In preparation for his second visit to London, Dr. Amos Windship convinced Harvard to give him degrees of Bachelor of Physic and Master of Arts in June 1790. He told the college that back in the 1760s he

being under the direction of his Guardian, was induced to dissolve his connexion therewith at the commencement of his Sophomore year.
In fact, he had entered Harvard at age twenty-two, past the age of majority, and left under a cloud before finishing a year. But Windship had practiced as a physician for over two decades, with service in the army and navy, so the college apparently granted him credit for life experience.

Dr. John Coakley Lettsom of London didn’t know about Windship’s tangled affairs. He introduced the eager American doctor to his colleagues, including Dr. William Pitcairn (1711-1791, shown here), president of the College of Physicians and brother of the late Maj. John Pitcairn of the Marines, and Dr. David Pitcairn (1749-1809), the major’s son and at some point “physician extraordinary to the Prince of Wales.”

The Pitcairns were no doubt interested to hear that Windship had shared a house with an officer of the Marines in the spring of 1775. And that he was a vestryman of the church where Maj. Pitcairn’s body lay. They introduced Windship to the major’s widow, and expressed a wish to have the major’s remains brought back to Britain.

Windship and the Pitcairn family made an arrangement which Dr. Lettsom described in a letter to a friend on 11 July 1791. (Lettsom, by the way, was a Quaker.)
Thou must remember the affair of Bunker’s Hill last war, when Major Pitcairn fell. A friend of mine, lately at my house on a visit from Boston, was a particular acquaintance of the Major’s, and this officer was beloved by all parties. My friend loved him as a father, although he is an American born and bred. The Major received 30 balls through his body.

He was brought into Boston, and buried in the King’s church, in a vault by himself in a close coffin, in his regimentals, and is at this moment in a perfect state. I informed Drs. Pitcairn, the brother and the son, of the circumstance, who requested my friend to send the Major to England, and I hope and believe he accompanies my bust of Washington.
According to Dr. Ephraim Eliot, Windship returned to Boston with another supply of medications bought on credit. Back in the North End, he ordered the Christ Church sexton to take Maj. Pitcairn’s coffin out from under the church, pack it in a box marked “Organ,” and ship it to London. Perhaps alongside a bust of Washington.

TOMORROW: And did it get there?

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