Archive for the ‘Hewson, Dr. William’ Category

“Our Family here is in great Distress. . . “

For MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON HEWSON 1774 was a bad year. Her two little boys contracted smallpox; they recovered. But her husband of only four years died leaving Polly pregnant with a third child. Doctor William Hewson had constructed a theater in the Craven Street house where he lectured on anatomy to students. At the same time he was carrying on his own research to better understand the human body, particularly its blood and lymphatic systems. Dissecting corpses was one way to increase his knowledge. Hewson died of septicaemia contracted from this hazardous work. He was only 34.

In 1998 when conservation work had begun at 36 Craven Street to create the museum that is there today a bone pit was discovered under what had been the garden during Hewson’s two-year residency. Some 1200 pieces of human and animal bones were found from a dozen or so bodies, including some children. There were saw marks and scalpel scars on many; holes had been drilled in a skull with some sort of trepanning device. Cadavers were difficult to come by; grave robbers delivered some, and there were bodies of unclaimed persons and of those executed. The practice of procuring and selling cadavers was illegal until 1832. Rather than transport the remnants of skeletons and bury them elsewhere, risking discovery, Hewson apparently decided to bury them on site. Benjamin Franklin, scientist that he was, almost certainly knew what Hewson was doing; indeed he probably visited Hewson’s laboratory to see the work in progress.

Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah in Philadelphia:

Our Family here is in great Distress. Poor Mrs. Hewson has lost her Husband, and Mrs. Stevenson her Son-in-law. He died last Sunday Morning of a Fever which baffled the Skill of our best Physicians. He was an excellent young Man, ingenious, industrious, useful, and belov’d by all that knew him. She is left with two young Children, and a third soon expected. He was just established in a profitable growing Business, with the best Prospects of bringing up his young Family advantageously.

For more on the bone pit and for the Franklin quote see HERE and HERE.

posted April 5th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Medicine

“Lectures go on briskly”

In 1771, the year following her wedding to Dr. William Hewson, POLLY STEVENSON HEWSON had her first child, a boy they named William. Benjamin Franklin was the godfather. He was always delighted to hear news about the child: teething, weaning, walking. He had a bit of advice for Polly:

Pray let him have every thing he likes; I think it of great Consequence while the Features of the Countenance are forming. It gives them a pleasant Air, and that being once become natural, and fix’d by Habit, the Face is ever after the handsomer for it, and on that much of a Person’s good Fortune and Success in Life may depend.

In 1772 the Hewsons took over the house on Craven Street. In July Polly wrote Franklin, who was away, that her husband had made some changes.

My Mother I must tell you went off last friday week, took our little Boy with her and left Mr. Hewson the care of her House. The first thing he did was pulling down a part of it in order to turn it to his own purpose, and advantage we hope. This Demolition cannot affect you, who at present are not even a Lodger, your litterary apartment remains untouch’d, the Door is lock’d, and the Key in this House.

William Hewson was no ordinary doctor. Noted for his contributions in hematology, he was an anatomist and teacher. He had added a theater to the Craven Street house in order to give lectures to students. These were successful as Polly notes in a letter to Franklin in October: “Lectures go on briskly; a fresh Pupil to day who makes up the half hundred whose names are enter’d, besides some others who have promis’d. . . . ” It was in this month that Polly’s mother and Franklin moved to another house on Craven Street.

In 1773 Polly had a second child, another boy, who was named Thomas. The next year 1774 proved to be a sad one for Polly and those to whom she was dear.

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson with a Postscript to Dorothea Blunt, 25 November 1771,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-18-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 18, January 1 through December 31, 1771, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 252–253, 341-342.]

posted March 25th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Medicine

“I am apt to love every body that loves you”

POLLY STEVENSON must have written Benjamin Franklin asking his advice on whether she should accept the proposal of marriage from the surgeon William Hewson for he responded on May 31, 1770:

. . . . I am sure you are a much better Judge in this Affair of your own than I can possibly be. . . . My Concern (equal to any Father’s) for your Happiness, makes me write this. . . . I assure you that no Objection has occur’d to me; his Person you see, his Temper and his Understanding you can judge of, his Character for any thing I have ever heard is unblemished; his Profession, with that Skill in it he is suppos’d to have, will be sufficient to support a Family. . . . I shall be confident whether you accept or refuse, that you do right. I only wish you may do what will most contribute to your Happiness, and of course to mine; being ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately

Polly apparently decided for herself since she married William Hewson on July 10. Benjamin Franklin gave her away. Franklin wrote to her on July 24-25 while she was on her honeymoon, in part spent visiting the relatives of her husband—a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother— in Hexam.

Your Friends are all much pleas’d with your Account of the agreable Family, their kind Reception and Entertainment of you, and the Respect shown you. . . .Make my sincere Respects acceptable to Mr. Hewson, whom, exclusive of his other Merits, I shall always esteem in proportion to the Regard he manifests for you. . . . I am apt to love every body that loves you. . . . We like your Assurances of continued Friendship unimpair’d by your Change of Condition, and we believe you think as you write; but we fancy we know better than you: You know I once knew your Heart better than you did your self. As a Proof that I am right, take notice, that you now think this the silliest Letter I ever wrote to you, and that Mr. Hewson confirms you in that Opinion. However, I am still, what I have been so many Years, my dear good Girl, Your sincerely affectionate Friend, and Servant
B Franklin

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 31 May 1770,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson Hewson, 24 July 1770,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-17-02-0082. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 17, January 1 through December 31, 1770, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973, pp. 152–153; 198-199]

posted March 18th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Friendship,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Marriage

“I met with a very sensible Physician yesterday”

MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (soon to be HEWSON), having just heard that Benjamin Franklin had returned from a tour of the Continent, wrote him this letter:

Margate Sept. 1. 1769Welcome to England my dear, my honour’d Friend . . . .
I met with a very sensible Physician yesterday, who prescribes Abstinence for the Cure of Consumption. He must be clever because he thinks as we do. I would not have you or my Mother surpris’d, if I should run off with this young man; to be sure it would be an imprudent Step at the discreet Age of Thirty but there is no saying what one should do if sollicited by a Man of an insinuating Address and good Person, tho he may be too young for one, and not yet establish’d in his Profession. He engag’d me so deeply in Conversation and I was so much pleas’d with him, that I thought it necessary to give you Warning, tho’ I assure you he has made no Proposal.
How I rattle! This Flight must be owing to this new Acquaintance or to the Joy of hearing my old one is return’d to this Country; I know which I attribute it to, for I can tell when my Spirits were enliven’d, but you may think as you please if you will believe me to be Dear Sir Your truly affectionate humble Servant
M StevensonCan’t you send me one little Letter directed for me at Mr. Coleman’s Margate? where I shall be some days longer.

The man Polly describes was William Hewson (surgeon, 1739-1774). He was a teacher of anatomy and noted for his research in the field of hematology.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 1 September 1769,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-16-02-0108. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 16, January 1 through December 31, 1769, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 190–192.]

posted March 12th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Uncategorized

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