New Hampshire Glossary: Chirugeon

Chirugeon, also written “chirurgeon,” was the name for a colonial surgeon. In addition to performing surgical operations they were able to pull teeth, set broken limbs, perform bleedings, and to provide simple preparations to produce vomiting (purging was a common practice). 

They often apprenticed to a butcher or a barber in order to learn their trade. Merchant and military ships usually had one or more chirugeon among their crew.


One of the earliest records of a chirugeon in the American colonies, was that of Thomas Pell. In 1635/36 Captain David Lion Gardiner sailed from Boston to the mouth of the Connecticut River in the “Batchelor” with a garrison of men including Thomas Pell, 'one of the earliest medical men in America.' He used his skill to heal during the Pequot Wars.

In New Hampshire, the first chirugeon may have been Renald Fernald, born 1595 and died 1656 in Strawbery Banke (Portsmouth) NH.  He came over in company with others sent out by Capt. John Mason about 1630, and was surgeon of Mason's Colony in the New World. He also served Portsmouth as selectman and town clerk.

Robert Tuck, a noted chirugeon, emigrated from Gorlston, Suffolk England about the year 1636, and was among the first settlers in Hampton, New Hampshire. His great-grandson, Rev. John Tucke was the only paster ever ordained at the Isle of Shoals, and he is also buried there.

Walter Barefoot, Esquire, a chirugeon, arrived in New Hampshire about 1656 and died in 1688.  Deputy Governor of the Province of New Hampshire in 1686. Resided New Castle N.H.  “Dr. Walter Barefoot (or Barford, as the name is given in England) who came to Kittery, Maine, in 1656 or 1657, and for thirty years until his death, 1688, was said to be the most litigating and scandal-raising personage connected with the Piscataqua region, whether as doctor, captain, prisoner, prison-keeper, Deputy Governor, land speculator or Chief Justice. He was well-educated and wrote a good hand. He was a churchman, but a sturdy and quarrelsome supporter of the Stuart policy, while most of his neighbors were Puritans, so that the hard things…said of both Barefoote and Greenland need to be weighed in the light of these facts.”


In “Medical Record, vol 35” by George Frederick Shrady and Thomas L. Stedman, 1889, page 438 is quoted a work from 1548 describing the qualifications of a surgeon…. “lays much stress upon the natural, moral and physical qualifications of the man…. 'Upon this pynt al Authors doo agree that a Chirurgeon should be chosen by his complexion [natural temperament] and that his complexion be very temperate and al his members wel proportioned.' It is also insisted that the surgeon 'be a good liver and a keeper of the holy commandments of God.' It is agreed by 'al Authors that his body not be quaking, and his hands stedfast, his fingers long and smal, and not trembling; and that he left hand be as ready as his right hande, with al his lymmes able to fulfil the good workes of the soule.' To be perfect in his art, Mr. Vicary notes, 'foure things moste specially that every chirurgeon ought to have: The first that he be learned; the second, that he be expert; the third, that he be ingenious; the fourth, that he be wel manered.” The learning that Vicary advises is 'the principles of Chirurgie and Physicke, natural Philosophy, Grammar, Rhetoricke, and Anatomie.' The surgeon, he says, 'must be no spouse-breaker or drunkard.'

In The development of gyn√¶cological surgery and instruments, by James Vincent Ricci, Blakinston, 1949, page 191, in quoting a much earlier book, a surgeon is described getting ready for an operation. “I would that the Chirurgeons would not shew themselves to their Patients, 'till the Moment appointment for the Operation; and that lal things which … were ready prepar'd, in order to spare him the sight of those Prepartives, which only inspire him with a Horror for those who make them. Waht ought to be observ'd during the Operation is particularly what we call the Modus Faciendi, or manner of Performance; which consists in the actual Practice of all the Rules in the Case under hand which Art directs, discharing the Chururgeon's whole Duty with Sweetness, Address, Neatness, and nice Exactness. I would the have him affable to his Patient, that he encourage and hearten him, that he participate of his Affliction, and promise to put him to the least Pain possible. A Chirurgeon must be naturally dextrous in Operation, and that Address must be back'd with great Experience in his Profession; whence he should learn how to place his subject, to chuse the most proper Instruments, to invent new ones in particular Cases, and to make sure of them in such a manner as shall contribute  as much to the easing of the Patient, as to the Satisfaction of the Spectators…. Tho' the Operation be finished, the Chirurgeon's part is not discharg'd, if he does not remedy the Disorders which it might have caus'd; the principal of which is the Loss of Blood, which ought to be immediately stopp'd by the Means which Art directs…the Wound must be dress'd, a Tent or dry Plegets, or those charg'd with some Medicament accordingly as the Nature of the Malady requires, then a Plaister, a Boulster and proper Bandage; After which, the Chururgeon is to consider the Situation, in which to place the sort Part, so as to give the Patient the least Pain, and that he may be the least oppressed…and in the alst place, 'tis proper for the Chirurgeon to instruct the Nurse, and those about the Patient, in their Duty, recommend Repose to the Patient, and oblige him to set himself at Rest, with the hopes of an expeditious and perfect Cure; and last of all, when he leaves him, to assure him that the Operation, which he has just perform'd was the only way of restoring his health.


That Quacking Sound in Colonial America

-Quackery: Webster's Quotations

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