Harris: A distinguished medical career and a near career ender

Leonard W. and Jane Harris, according to one family historian, had eleven children. Until recently the seven known children appeared to make that a case of wishful thinking. The discovery of a “new” sibling suggested that there might be more. The count now stands at ten.

The report has been that of the eleven, at least two were born in Orford in Grafton County, New Hampshire. In fact, we now know that at least the first three children were. The first two, the oldest of Leonard and Jane’s children, are among the new “finds.”

Leonard W. Harris was born March 18, 1782, in Groton to parents Job and Elena (Harris) Harris. Groton is a town near Orford. It aligns with the eastern shore of the Connecticut River, across from Vermont.

It is claimed that Leonard’s wife, Jane, was Jane Keneston. Nothing is known about her. In fact, we only have an estimated marriage date of sometime after 1804. Until the discovery of these “new” children, the marriage was estimated to have occurred in 1808 or 1809 based on the birth date of the then-oldest child.

Jerome T. Harris, Leonard and Jane’s oldest son, born about 1807 in Orford, was a member of the medical profession. He graduated as a member of the class of 1830 from Bowdoin College, a liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine, chartered in 1794. Between 1821 and 1921 Bowdoin operated the Medical School of Maine.

It is unclear where Dr. Harris first entered practice. A Bowdoin catalog lists his residence shortly after graduation as Methuen, Massachusetts. A 1902 general catalog lists him, as a member of the class of 1830, as being a physician at Salem, New Hampshire, and Lawrence, Massachusetts. A pamphlet for Hampstead, New Hampshire, reports that in 1849, he was there. There is an over-lapping report that he was in Lawrence.

It is obvious that Dr. Harris spent considerable time in Hampstead, as that is where he resided when he married December 19, 1833, at the Kingston First Church (Kingston), New Hampshire, Mary Tewksbury of Hawke (Danville), New Hampshire.

On June 2, 1849, Dr. Harris married second Caroline Hamilton (Eaton) Witt. His residence was then given as Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was Caroline’s second husband. She married February 1, 1837, Dr. Azra L. Witt, who died in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Dr. Harris’ itinerant behavior is perhaps explained by his desire to go beyond the practice of the average physician. By the time of his second marriage he had changed his focus to homoeopathic medicine. Under whom he studied or took instruction is unknown.

The Proceedings of the Massachusetts Homoeopathic Society (1840-1861) reported that Dr. Harris was the first settled practitioner of this healing craft in Lawrence.

Jerome Harris, M.D., formerly an allopathic physician, commenced practice here, and succeeded very well. At that time the city was comparatively new, and the changing character of the population led Dr. Harris in 1854 to go to Dover, N.H., as successor to Dr. E.U. Jones.

Dr. Harris later stated, in a letter dated 1870, that after graduating from Bowdoin College he had practiced allopathy until 1845. He then “adopted homoeopathy” and practiced it ever since not only in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Dover, New Hampshire, but also Norwich, Connecticut, and was at the time practicing it in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Dr. Harris practiced in Salem (1859 and 1860) and Newburyport, Massachusetts. City and business directories show him (keep in mind that these publications often provide delayed reports) in Norwich, Connecticut (1862-1866); Pawtucket, Rhode Island (1867 and 1870-1872); and Woonsocket, Rhode Island (1868-1870 and 1876).

By 1880, Dr. and Mrs. Harris settled in Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, where they stayed until Dr. Harris died April 6, 1882. His wife brought his remains home to New Hampshire. He is buried in the same cemetery in Pelham as his brother, Hinkley Dyer Troupe Harris. Mrs. Harris resided in Pelham for the few months until her death, December 18, 1882. She is buried with Dr. Harris.

Near Career Disaster

Dr. Harris and city and business directories are silent as to when, exactly, he practiced homoeopathy in Boston, Massachusetts.

The accounts of what happened in Boston are, perhaps, a decade or more after actual events. These accounts, appearing in both The Boston Weekly Globe in January 1883 and The Inter Ocean of Chicago in February 1890, relate the tale of the well-known “flamboyant quack” and blackmailer, “Dr.” Charles L. Blood.

The long and the short of it is that Blood set up shop in Boston (one of many locations for his scams) offering treatments for an assortment of ailments using “oxygenized air”, essentially none other than nitrous oxide or “laughing gas.”

Dr. Harris, as the story goes, did not expose Blood–who was not a physician–as a charlatan but rather joined him in his own game, styling his treatment as “superoxygenated air.”

As crazy as this treatment sounds–using air to treat such illnesses as impure blood conditions, the use of air to treat medical conditions was recognized by Thomas Beddoes and James Watt in a 1796 publication on the medicinal use and production of “factitious air”. We would recognize the application today as similar to the action of “superoxygenated hyperbaric chamber.”

“Dr.” Blood decided to fight the competition–Dr. Harris had set up his medical headquarters nearby and in an office formerly used by “Dr.” Blood–by bringing in a ringer. A man named Carvill, allegedly of Lewiston, Maine, showed up at Dr. Harris’ office desiring his treatment.

Immediately following said treatment, Carvill fell to the floor, frothing at the mouth, and writhing in pain. Blood made sure that the newspapers were not only informed of the outcome but also kept abreast of Carvill’s “recovery”–as recover he did, of course. Dr. Harris attempted to settle legally with Carvill, who refused. Dr. Harris’ lawyers advised him not to pay Carvill. It was sage advice, as the case finally fell through in early winter 1866/67, it was reported.

Dr. Harris had a near professional escape, perhaps also explaining why he removed his practice to Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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One Response to Harris: A distinguished medical career and a near career ender

  1. ann harris says:

    this is fascinating! thank you for all the research.
    dr. harris would be my gggrandfather’s brother.

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