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American Medical Biographies/Jackson, Hall

Jackson, Hall (1739–1797)

Dr. Clement Jackson, of whom we know hardly anything of value towards the formation of a biography, was practising in Hampton, New Hampshire, when his son Hall was born November 11, 1739. The father, either to enlarge the bounds of his practice or to better educate his children, moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1749. His son, after receiving the ordinary common school education of those days, had also a special education in the classics by a local clergyman. He then entered his father's office and rode about with him seeing cases and studying medicine and investigating the action and compounding of drugs until he had acquired sufficient knowledge to begin practice. Before entering into practice he went to Europe and completed his medical education under the best masters of the day, being remarked for his skill in surgery, an art which was by no means so extensively or so fearlessly practised in those days. While in London he received honorable notice for an ingenious invention by which he extracted from a gun-shot wound a bullet which had baffled the skill of the attending suregons.

Returning home well equipped, he opened first a pharmacy as a sort of focus for practice, and as a source of income until he should gain enough patients to become self-supporting. This pharmacy he handed over ultimately to a son named John. From 1760 to 1775 he remained constantly in Portsmouth identifying himself with the community, gaining an excellent reputation and marrying the widow Mary Dalling Wentworth.

With the outbreak of the Revolution he came at once to the front and after the Battle of Lexington rode post haste to Boston to do his share in taking care of the wounded and in preparing for further medical and surgical work in the army which was soon to be recruited from the various New England States.

Returning to Portsmouth in a few days, he enlisted a company of men and was elected both their captain and surgeon, and these he continued drilling persistently, until news arrived of the battle of Bunker Hill, when he forthwith packed his chaise with all available instruments, drugs and lint, set off early in that June morning, and twelve hours later was amid the wounded whom he found in a most deplorable condition. In the two days that had elapsed since the battle, the Massachusetts surgeons had attended to their wounded in some reasonable fashion, but nothing had been done for those from New Hampshire. Three physicians belonging to the New Hampshire troops were indeed on the field, or wherever the wounded had been transported, but they were all young and inexperienced, and had never performed a single operation, to say nothing of the capital operations now demanded, and even with the best of skill they were most amazingly unprovided with even such necessary trifles as surgical needles or sutures.

Jackson began his work at once, though twilight had set in, worked nearly all night long with the aid of lanterns, and during the next day and the one following performed forty-eight operations, extracted a large number of bullets, and did one amputation at the hip-joint on a soldier by the name of Hutchinson. W hen a week and a day later this poor fellow died, Hall Jackson said that the only thing that killed him was his name, so deeply indignant were the patriots then with the name of Hutchinson, as borne by a detested governor.

When this imperative work was done, it next became a vital question of a permanent hospital for the sick and convalescents of the twenty-five thousand troops soon collected around Boston. In this great work Jackson did yeoman service. In addition to these labors, he was the only surgeon at hand competent for medical consultations and he spent many a day in such work with Dr. Benjamin Church (q. v.) in riding out to Waltham, Watertown and Medford, to visit several of the officers of high rank who had been wounded at the battle or had fallen ill later on from their heroic exposure in the service of their country. For four months Jackson remained in the camp on Winter Hill, with the exception of a few days when he suffered intensely from so severe an inflammation of the eyes that he was obliged to give himself complete rest, and gradually became weary of working without pay of any sort, not even of rations for himself or his horse. There he was, paying out of his own purse twelve dollars a week for his board and lodgings and seven dollars a week for the care of his horse. Nor would human nature let him forget that while so occupied in a wasting business, he had left three rival physicians at home, of whom he says in one of his very few letters extant, "Cutter, Brackett and Little are eating up my patients daily." The most galling thing, however, to him was the selfish behavior of many of the so-called patriots in Boston. "I am utterly disgusted with some of those damnable patriots and their glorious cause of liberty, which they are constantly flaunting in our faces. If liberty consists in killing the wounded, starving the sick and letting them languish in the hospitals on bad salt pork for their only meat, I do not want to be much farther employed in such a glorious cause."

Despite his discouraged state of mind, neither Gen. Lee nor Gen. Sullivan would hear of his abandoning the sick to inferior physicians and it was not until October that he was able to return home for needed rest and then to make up for time lost to his patients and practice.

Ultimately, the New Hampshire Assembly honored Dr. Jackson with the thanks of the province, paid him fifteen pounds a month and proper rations for himself and his horse and elected him surgeon to the New Hampshire troops in the Revolutionary Army. In return for these favors he enlisted a body of men and drilled them into a company of heavy artillery with four guns from a fort in Portsmouth harbor. In the next year he was surgeon-in-chief in Col. Pearse Long's regiment and after that probably retired from active service and paid attention to his private practice.

The rest of Dr. Jackson's life was spent in active medical work. He was a first-rate surgeon, and regarded as clever as an obstetrician; he paid a good deal of attention to couching of cataracts, and with the needle had remarkable results in curing the blind. He was elected an honorary member of the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1783, and in 1793 received the honorary degree of M. D. from Harvard College. He took great interest in smallpox inoculation.

His life was terminated, like many others of our profession, by an accident occurring while on his rounds of duty. In September, 1797, while "turning out" for another carriage his own was overturned and he was thrown and suffered a fractured rib. Fever soon ensued and September 28, 1797, he died. Hardly any other medical name in New Hampshire stands out brighter than that of Hall Jackson, for he was kind to the poor, charming in manners, genial in society, skilful in every branch of medicine which he practised, and above all an honest patriot.

The Graves we decorate, Portsmouth, N. H. 1907.
Letters by Whipple, Thornton and Hall Jackson, Phila., 1889.