Dr. Silas Cummings

Dr. Silas Cummings

Silas Cummings was born in Fitzwilliam in October 1803. He worked on his father’s farm as a boy and attended local schools. Cummings then went to Dartmouth College, where he graduated from the school’s medical department in 1827. Following graduation, he immediately returned home to Fitzwilliam to begin a medical practice.

Dr. Cummings’ account book for the first two years of his practice has survived. It gives detailed insight into the work of a physician in the late 1820s. Dr. Cummings charged 12 cents for an office visit or house call and the same amount for pulling a tooth. He charged $1 per day for attending a patient full-time and $2 for delivering a baby and all treatment involved with the pregnancy.

Dr. Cummings sold medicines to his patients, including bitters, laudanum, opium, sedatives, body plasters and a great variety of colored pills. He also used juniper berries, bloodroot, lime water, rosemary, orange peel and licorice in his treatments. Bleeding was a widely used treatment, and Dr. Cummings kept a ready supply of leeches in his office for that purpose.

July 4 of 1827 was a typical day for the doctor. On that day he made one house call, had five office visits, dressed an injured leg, and sold his patients a variety of pills, powders, bitters — and one dozen leeches.

During a 10-month period in 1827 and 1828, Hannah Rockwood made 55 office visits and purchased a great quantity of medicine, running up a bill of $18.08. She paid her bill with 37 pounds of ham and veal, and 56 pounds of butter and cheese.

Silas Cummings also served as town postmaster, served in the state Legislature, and was active in Fitzwilliam’s school association and debate club. He is best remembered for his medical practice, however, which was very successful; he served as doctor for the people of Fitzwilliam for 55 years, until his death in 1882.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.