Gen. Henry Dearborn, M.D.

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The Physician General Of Two Wars

The Granite Monthly, October 1903

Volume XXXV - Number 4 - Page 182

By Gilbert Patten Brown

{Author of "The Massacre of York,"" Memories of Martinique," "The Tory's Daughter," etc.}


(Made a Freemason under marching orders.)

Painting of Henry Dearborn
Henry Dearborn
1751 - 1829

In the old and renowned state of New Hampshire are many interesting spots to the curious student of American history. The ancient town of Hampton is rural and furnishes much material for the ardent historian. Among its early settlers was the distinguished name of Dearborn. Godfrey Dearborn was born in Exeter, in the county of Dover, in England, and when arriving in America settled in Exeter. He, was one of the thirty-five men to sign the constitution for the government of Exeter, in 1739. In 1749 he moved to Hampton, where he died February 4, 1786. From that sturdy oak of New England life the subject of this memoir descended. He is none other than Henry Dearborn, born at Hampton, February 23, 1751, son of Simon and Sarah (Marston) Dearborn.

The early education of Henry Dearborn was obtained at the district school of his native town, and his course in medicine was under the tuition of Dr. Hall Jackson, of Portsmouth. In 1772 Dr. Dearborn settled as a physician at Nottingham Square, and had a good practice at the breaking out of the American Revolution. In Portsmouth was old "St. John's Lodge No. 1" of Free Masons. The leading men of the town were members of that sturdy body, and the young physician of rural Nottingham wished to learn the mysteries of Freemasonry. He received the first and second degrees March 3, 1774 (in company with Maj. Andrew McClary, who was killed by a cannon ball at Bunker Hill). Dr. Dearborn did not receive the third, or Master Mason's, degree until April 6, 1777. His diploma is the property of "St. John's Lodge No. 1." It reads:

"Our Honorable Brother
Henry Dearborn, was made a Mason in the first and second degree the 3d day of March 1774, and was raised to the degree of Master April 6, 1777 in St. John's lodge of Portsmouth as per records; Clement Storer Master Edw'd St. Leo Livermore, St Warden, Abel Harris Ju Warden, John P Pason, Secretary."

This rare and unique document was found in 1901 among some rubbish at an auction sale at Saco, Maine. Chandler M. Hayford, Esq., the present secretary, has it in his possession; of it he is justly proud.

Soon after settling in Nottingham, and anticipating trouble with the mother country, Dr. Dearborn organized a military company and was elected its captain. When the news of Concord and Lexington reached the town, he, with Joseph Cilley and Thomas Bartlett, reorganized the little command, and at the head of sixty men marched Captain Dearborn on the morning of April 20, 1775, towards Cambridge, Mass. In less than twenty-four hours those farmer volunteers marched a distance of fifty-five miles. After remaining there several days they returned home. A regiment was at once organized, commanded by Col. John Stark, of Londonderry, and Dr. Dearborn was on April 23, 1775, commissioned a captain. His company arrived at Medford, Mass., May 15, and in a few days was engaged in a skirmish on Hog island. He had been sent by the colonel to prevent the stock from being carried away by the British, and a few days later took part in an engagement with an armed vessel, near, Winnesimet ferry. The following letter by Colonel Stark is self explanatory

"Medford, June 8, 1775. Captain Henry Dearborn,-You are required to go with one sergeant and twenty men to relieve the guards at Winter Hill and Tempi's tomorrow morning at nine o'clock, and there to take their places and orders, but first to parade before New Hampshire Chambers (Billing's Tavern). John Stark, Col."

Captain Dearborn endorsed the order by writing on the back: "First time I ever mounted guard."

Early on the 17th of June, Colonel Stark's regiment marched to Bunker Hill. Captain Dearborn's company was the flank guard of the regiment. In the thickest of the fray was Dearborn and his men. He took with him his small medicine case, which he lashed together with his sword to his coat, and did one man's part in using the old king's arm upon the forces of England. In the following September he volunteered and joined the expedition of Gen. Benedict Arnold through the wilderness to Quebec, where on December 31, 1775, he was taken prisoner, and the commanding officer, Gen. Richard Montgomery, was killed. He was not exchanged until March 10, 1777, and nine days later he was made major Third N. H. regiment, to rank from November 8, 1776. Col. Alexander Scammel (another member of "St. John's Lodge, No. 1") commanded that regiment of veterans. At Stillwater he fought bravely, and on September 19, 1777, was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel and transferred to the First regiment of New Hampshire continental troops, commanded by Col. Joseph Cilley (who had on June 15, 1775, been made a Mason in St. John's Lodge, No. 1, gratis," "for his good service in the defence of his country"). At the battle of Monmouth the First N. H. regiment fought bravely, and both Colonels Ciley and Dearborn "attracted particularly the attention of the commander-in-chief."

It was after General Lee's blunder, that Washington ordered Colonel Cilley's regiment to attack a body of the British crack troops. As they passed through an orchard Lieutenant-Colonel Dearborn played a most daring and important feat. After the British had been beaten off, Colonel Cilley dispatched his lieutenant-colonel to General Washington to ask what further service was required before taking refreshments. The little doctor-soldier's face was black from smoke of battle. He saluted the general, who cried out, "What troops are those?" Dearborn replied: "Fullblooded Yankees from New Hampshire, sir." " Your men, sir, have done gallant service, fall back and refresh yourselves," quickly replied Washington. The following day General Washington in his general orders showed the highest commendation on the exploit of that regiment. Here General Washington learns that Lieutenant-Colonel Dearborn is a member of the Masonic institution and is popular in the cloth of the craft.

In 1779 he accompanied Maj.-Gen. John Sullivan on his noted expedition against the Tories and Indians, and took an active part in the action of August 29 at Newburn. In 1781 he was appointed deputy quartermaster-general, with the rank of colonel, and served with General Washington's army in Virginia. He could be trusted at all times. He served until March 5, 1782, when he retired to private life. In 1784 he moved from New Hampshire to Kennebec, in the district of Maine. In 1787 he was elected brigadier-general of militia, and later, was appointed a major-general. In 1790 Washington appointed him marshal for the district of Maine. He was twice elected a representative from rural Kennebec county to congress. On March 5, 1801, he was appointed by President Jefferson secretary of war, which office he held with credit to himself until March 7, 1809, when he resigned and was appointed collector for the port of Boston. On January 27, 1812, he was appointed and commissioned as senior major-general in the United States army.

His military bearing was of the best; he was popular with his men and loved by his fellow officers. The one failure of General William Hull at Detroit had a deep effect upon the plans of General Dearborn. Commodore Isaac Chauncey and General Morgan Lewis (both Masons) worked in perfect harmony with General Dearborn in all his plans. On the force march to "Four Mile Creek," the hospital surgeon of the army, Dr. James Mann, said to General Dearborn: "I apprehend you do not intend to embark with the army?" The general replied: "I apprehend nothing, sir, I go into battle or perish in the attempt." The little engagements of the War of 1812 were tame to him compared with some of the hard battles of the Revolution he had participated in. He was honorably discharged from the army June 15, 1815. In 1822 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Portugal, and after two years returned to America at his own request. The hard service in the two wars of his country had broken down his health.

He was a member of that distinguished American body," The Society of the Cincinnati," and became one of its general officers. Never was any of his undertakings a failure. The sturdy Anglo-Saxon ancestry of General Dearborn was plainly seen in him.

He first married, 1771, Mary Bartlett; second, 1780, Dorcas (Osgood) Marble; third, 1813, Sarah Bowdoin. His son, Henry Alexander Scammel Dearborn, was born March 3, 1783, and died July 29, 1851.

Gen. Henry Dearborn possessed that rare jewel of mental aristocracy which has been common in almost every age and country. Dr. Dearborn would have been a valuable man in the medical department of the continental army, but knew where he would do the best service to human kind. The careful and curious student of the War of 1812 finds no officer of more value to the American cause than Maj.-Gen. Henry Dearborn. He died at Roxbury, Mass., June 6, 1829, and was buried at Mount Auburn cemetery with full civil, military, and Masonic honors, where a suitable stone, bearing a touching epitaph, marks his tomb. His achievements were vast for American liberty, and we find he has not proper space on history's page. The writer is a young man, and considers it his duty to contribute to literature this article, that generations yet unborn may read of the life of the physician-general of America's two wars with England. Masonic writers have failed to record his name among those of the craft who served their country in the war against British despotism.

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