A SURGEON ON ROCKY

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Heading east on Hwy 24/27 you can’t help but notice the beautiful farm land rolling off to the south as you near Rocky River. I’ve written much about this place and of the revolutionary war era Baptist church which once stood nearby. It really was an important place impacting the spread of religion and even America’s trail west all the way to Oregon.

Recently, yet another and equally exciting chapter of the above story has been revealed to me. While preparing for an upcoming talk at the Carolinas Genealogy Society in Monroe, this week I came across an important newspaper article by and about Dr. John Beckwith. His life, at one time, crossed the lands I’ve admired all my life. Dated 18 Jun 1841, the following appears in the Raleigh Register:

     Mr. GALES: Something more than a year ago, I came to this City blind, as you may recollect. An interesting notice in your paper, of a young woman and a young man, both born blind, being restored by Dr. JOHN BECKWITH, some 20 years since, induced me to place myself under his care. One eye was operated on for Cataract, with complete success. Little pain attended the operation, and no inflammation succeeded it – in a week I could see to read with comfort. Impatience of a long night of darkness, and of dependence upon the sight of others, led me for a long time to post pone the claims of the other eye. Twelve months attention to business, however, satisfied me, that two eyes are better than one, and that it is not well to impose unusual labor upon an enfeebled member. Under this conclusion I returned, on the other eye, in presence of Doctors LEWIS, McKEE, and SMITH

The operation occupied probably one minute, and was attended with less pain than bleeding at the arm. Neither pain nor inflammation have followed, and with this eye also, aided by glasses, I can read and recognize the faces of my friends. In a few days, I shall return to my residence in Cabarrus County. I make this communication in a spirit of thankfulness to that Being, whose goodness and mercy have followed me all my days, and with the hope that my example and good fortune, may afford encouragement to others.
Your Friend,             JOHN PHIFER

John Phifer of Cabarrus County surely had heard of the near miraculous medical procedure that had taken place in nearby Salisbury. From the Medical Repository And Review Of American Publications On Medicine (p. 311), “A case of successful treatment of Cataract and Amaurosis on both eyes, by attempts of couching, and by the successive destruction and absorption of the crystalline lens” was communicated on 25 Jun 1819 by Dr. John Beckwith of Salisbury, North Carolina. The article outlines the process John Beckwith used to remove cataracts from a young man residing in Wilkes County NC.

From the above, in March 1823, John Beckwith successfully operated on a 19 year-old who had been blind from birth. Following surgery, the patient’s eyes were able to “distinguish minute objects and were reported to be daily acquiring strength. The operation was performed with little pain and succeeded by no inflammation.” The Western Carolinian concluded that the “success which has attended the various cases operated on by Dr. Beckwith, we believe, unparalleled; and the spirit of kindness and benevolence he has manifested toward those who were laboring under the complicated evils of poverty and blindness, we trust, will bring upon him the blessings of those who were ready to perish.”

John Beckwith also sold medicines by way of the newspapers. In 1835, and as found in the Raleigh Weekly Register, Dr. John Beckwith offered a half page advertisement filled with testimonials on behalf of his anti-dyspeptic pills. Good folks such as Gov. James Iredell, Secretary of State William Hill, and US Court Judge Henry Potter offered their testimonials. Below is one of many published advertisements for his medicine.

Clipping from Fayetteville Weekly Observer - Newspapers.com

All of the above is really cool with clear ties back to Cabarrus County by way of John Phifer’s surgery and testimonial. But, as I pass down Hwy 24/27 near Rocky River, what am I seeing that brings to my mind the image of John Beckwith? What is it that I’d like to share with you?  Well, knowing me, it’s got to be something to do with the land so let’s take a look.

map midland

In 1789, George Graham Esq, late Sheriff of Mecklenburg County sold the above highlighted tract (deed 17-398, Mecklenburg NC) to Henry Smith. Metes and bounds show that this tract was located on Meeting House Branch” which signals the nearby location of Haynes Meeting House Baptist Church. This branch enters Rocky River on the southern boundary of the above tract. I have not found the origination for this large tract of land, but it was surely owned by someone else prior to the purchase by Henry Smith. Born in Lancaster County PA, Henry Smith settled earlier in Surry County NC where he served in the Revolutionary War prior to moving again to Cabarrus. There, in Surry, now Stokes County, Maj. Henry Smith married Maria Barbara Loesch whose brother Johann Jacob Loesch played an interesting role in what we know of goldmining in Cabarrus County. According the early newspaper The Salem Gleaner, Jacob assayed gold from Reed mine and found that it was pure.

In 1793, Andrew Alexander, Sheriff of Mecklenburg sold the above land to Leonard Huise (Deed 15-99, Mecklenburg NC). Metes and bounds now mention Michael Garmon’s line and Muddy Creek.

In 1830 Jacob Petre sold the above to John Beckwith and Co. of Wake County NC (deed 11-282, Cabarrus NC). Jacob Petre sold his land and moved to Pope County Arkansas in the 1830’s. Some of his sons moved to Sonoma County and San Francisco CA. From 1789 to 1830 the metes and bounds of the above land changed little in shape and length of lines. And, what was once known as Meeting House Branch is now identified as “The Malling Branch.” I see this term used often in describing land across the state. Having yet to figure out its meaning, I believe that a Malling Branch would be one with a beach or other nice spot for people to gather or come to cross over. Maybe it was the location of early baptisms. Can’t you imagine?

The next recorded conveyance of the land was in Feb 1845 when Laird Alexander, Cyrus C. Alexander, and Green H. Swearengen sold the above to Hartwell Spain Love (deed 17-237, Cabarrus NC). This sounds like a committee or were they attorneys representing John Beckwith’s interests?

foxglove-poisoningFrom newspaper articles we know that John Beckwith once did business in Salisbury as well as Wake and even locations further east. But what were his intentions along this beautiful stretch of Rocky River? And, what happened; when did John Beckwith step away from this land holding? To find the answer we must look into the private collection of letters left by John Beckwith’s fellow surgeon Calvin Jones (1775-1846). From one of the letters dated “8 Dec 1819, John Beckwith of Salisbury [wrote] about a medical case, his desire for digitalis seed for planting, and geological specimens”. Two years later, on 15 Nov 1821, “John Beckwith of Salisbury discussing prospects for his making a living practicing medicine in one of several places under consideration.” This timing is perfect in relation to his mentioning of the acclaimed 1819 surgery on the 19 year-old fellow. And, why did he seek to grow digitalis? Known commonly as foxglove, this extremely powerful herb is both beneficial and can be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. It’s medicinally used to control the heart beat particularly in the case of irregular and often fast beating atrial fibrillation. Was the beautiful land I drive by once used as a medicinal growing ground of sorts? And if so, why was it sold in 1845? I wonder, if today, could we find on this area remnant patches of herbs gone wild?

On 6 Feb 1845, John Beckwith placed an advertisement in the Raleigh Register. As appears below, he sold his house and office which were located on Hillsborough street west of the North Carolina State Capitol.

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Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., John Beckwith is the son of Elizabeth Dart and John Beckwith. Visiting a friend in New Bern, he met and married Margaret Cogdell Stanly, the daughter of Ann Cogdell and John Wright Stanly. John and Margaret’s son John Watrous Beckwith removed to Georgia where he was elected second Bishop of the Georgia Episcopal Church. Under his leadership, John Watrous Beckwith established 20 churches and 5 missions including the Savannah Orphanage for Confederate children. John Beckwith’s  8 Jun 1870 obituary appears in the Raleigh Weekly Standard:

Clipping from The Weekly Standard - Newspapers.com

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