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A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts: Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who was Captured at Sea by the British, in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, in England, and
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Benjamin Waterhouse, an early American physician, Harvard medical professor, and proponent of the smallpox vaccine, was born in Newport, Rhode Island on March 4, 1754. He became a surgeon’s apprentice while a young man and then studied medicine in London, Edinburgh and Leiden, Netherlands.
In 1783 Waterhouse became professor of theory and practice of physic at Harvard. In 1799 he began publicizing the use of the smallpox vaccine in England. During the following year came the first of a series of successfully tests of the vaccine that started with his own son. In 1802 Waterhouse, along with other physicians, publicized the successes of the vaccinations in the United States. This work won eventual acceptance for the practice in the United States. It was the crowning achievement of Waterhouse’s life.
In 1807 President Thomas Jefferson appointed Waterhouse head physician of the U.S. Marine Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Though he retained the position for just two years, his accomplishments while serving in the role were significant.
During the War of 1812, President James Madison appointed Waterhouse hospital surgeon to the First Military District. From 1818 to 1821 he held the position of medical superintendent of all military posts within the New England states. During his remaining years his main focus was literary.
Among Waterhouse’s writing credits is the Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts. The story of the authorship of this best-seller is an interesting one. In late 1815 or early 1816 the “young man” referred to in the title of the work approached Waterhouse with a text upon which the book would be based. The man, whom evidence suggests was probably Amos G. Babcock, asked Waterhouse to see to the publishing of the work. Waterhouse edited parts of the manuscript and rewrote other sections. The final product appeared in spring 1816 without either of its writers being identified. It was later attributed to Waterhouse. Babcock’s name did not come to light as the primary author until the middle of the twentieth century.
Babcock served as a surgeon aboard the schooner Enterprise, a privateer constructed in 1812 and based in Salem, Massachusetts. Enterprise, under command of Captain John R. Morgan, became a prize of HMS Tenedos when captured in May 1813 only five months after its launch. The British eventually brought Babcock to the infamous Dartmoor Prison, near Princetown, England. It is likely that he authored his manuscript soon after his release from captivity.
In its published form, the Journal includes complaints of British treatment of prisoners in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and tales of those who managed to escape from a prison ship in Chatham, England. An indictment of the naval officer in command of Dartmoor, Captain Thomas G. Shortland, on the basis of his handling of the Americans, is balanced by praise for the prison’s surgeon Dr. George Magrath. It is that portion of the book which deals with the “Dartmoor massacre” that serves as its centerpiece. Here the writer’s own words are supplemented by affidavits of other prisoners and texts of official correspondence related to the incident.
Not much else is know of Babcock besides what can be gleaned from the Journal. When he passed on is not clear. Waterhouse, on the other hand, died on October 2, 1846 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Waterhouse, Benjamin. A Journal of a Young Man of Massachusetts: Late a Surgeon on Board an American Privateer, Who was Captured at Sea by the British, in May, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen, and was Confined First, at Melville Island, Halifax, then at Chatham, in England, and last, at Dartmoor Prison: Interspersed with Observations, Anecdotes and Remarks, Tending to Illustrate the Moral and Political Character of Three Nations: To which is added, a correct Engraving of Dartmoor Prison, Representing the Massacre of American Prisoners, Written by Himself. (Boston: Rowe and Hooper, 1816).