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Brigham, Amariah (1798–1849)

Amariah Brigham, alienist, was born in New Marlborough, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, December 26, 1798. His father, John Brigham, was a native of the place, a farmer by occupation and a descendant of Thomas Brigham, who came over from England and settled in Cambridge in 1640.

Amariah becoming fatherless when eleven years old was adopted into the family of his uncle, Dr. Origin Brigham of Schoharie, New York, who meant to educate him for the medical profession. Within a short time, however, the boy was thrown upon his own resources by the death of this uncle, and at fourteen made his way to Albany and secured employment as clerk in a bookstore, where he had access to books and lesiure to read them. After three years' service he returned to his mother's home in New Marlborough, where he spent a like period fitting himself for the medical profession, and had, besides, a year in New York in attendance at lectures. During this period he taught school through the winter months, and it is said of him in this connection that up to this time he had never studied English grammar but in order to qualify as teacher he mastered the subject in a single day. Some time was spent as a medical student under Dr. E. C. Peet, of New Marlborough, and in 1820 he went to Dr. Plumb, of Canaan, Connecticut, with whom he began to practise. In 1821 he established himself in Enfield, Massachusetts, where he remained for two years, removing thence to Greenfield, and there some seven years' practice brought him such financial success that he was able to spend a year in travel and study in Europe. He returned in 1829 with increased ambition and confidence, and soon selected Hartford, Connecticut, as a more prominent and lucrative field for his labors, settling there in April, 1831. His early residence in Hartford was marked by a controversy in which, in his solicitude for the mental and physical health of his fellow-citizens, he opposed the custom of revivals and protracted religious meetings, bringing upon himself a charge of scepticism and infidelity. He published his views on this subject in two small volumes entitled "Influence of Mental Cultivation on Health" (1882) and "Influence of Religion on the Health and Physical Welfare of Mankind" (1836).

About this time Asiatic cholera made its first appearance in America, when he made a careful study of the disease and published a treatise on "Epidemic Cholera."

The year 1840 saw another work entitled "An Inquiry Concerning the Diseases and Functions of the Brain, the Spinal Cord and the Nerves," and in the same year he became a candidate for the office of superintendent of the Retreat for the Insane at Hartford, but having created prejudice by his stand against undue religious enthusiasm, and by his strong democratic political views, his candidacy was opposed, but the appointment in the end was conferred.

Dr. Brigham married, in 1833, Susan C. Root, daughter of Spencer Root, of Greenfield, Massachusetts. They had four children, one son and three daughters.

In 1837 he delivered a course of lectures before the College of Physicians in New York and in 1842 he accepted the superintendency of the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica, opened in January of the following year, which he labored to make a model institution and to persuade the public of its curative rather than custodial function. To this end he sought to diffuse a more extended knowledge of mental diseases through the medium of his annual reports and popular lectures. For the same purpose he undertook the publication and editorship of the American Journal of Insanity, at the time the only magzine of its kind. The first number appeared in July, 1844.

Besides having the supervision of about 500 patients he delivered popular lectures, was often called to testify in the courts as an expert and made a success of the business management of his institution.

Dr. Brigham kept a journal relating to his health, and it is noted that from 1845 his condition caused him some uneasiness. In February, 1848, he was obliged to give up work temporarily, and spent two months in travel in the southern states. The benefit derived from this change was soon offset by great sorrow at the death of his son, which occurred in August, 1848; an affliction followed by the death of his mother. The following year is a story of struggle against failing health, and in August he was prostrated by an attack of dysentery to which he succumbed on September 8.

The Utica State Hospital is an enduring monument of his ability as an organizer, and his annual reports and editorial writings in the Journal of Insanity bear witness to his professional fitness for his pioneer service in the state of New York. It may be said without hesitation that his most prominent characteristic was a benevolent interest in his fellow men. His self-reliance and strong determination were traits which served equally to advance his own beneficent ambitions and the welfare of the afflicted in his care. Not at all covetous of personal popularity, he was governed in all his acts by conscience rather than by considerations of human respect. His last publication, "The Asylum Souvenir," dedicated to those who had been under his care, is a collection of aphorisms and maxims to aid in the restoration and preservation of health; among them he placed a quotation from Bryant which describes the purpose of his life and the manner of his death:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death.
Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night.
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustain'd and sooth'd
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who draws the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Memoir of Dr. Brigham, American Journal of Insanity, Utica, October, 1849, by Dr. C. B. Coventry, Utica, N. Y.
Appleton's Cyclop. Amer. Biog., New York, 1887.