Monday, February 18, 2013

The Bonesetter Sweets

of South County, Rhode Island
by Martha R. McPartland

In colonial America, graduates of medical schools were few and far between.  In Rhode Island there were only five medical school graduates practicing in 1800and the first medical degree awarded in the state was a Brown University in 1814.  Prior to that period, from its founding in 1636, Rhode Island had many men called "Doctor" with little or no qualifications to back up their title.  Some were the seventh son of a seventh son, and so believed to be endowed with special healing power; some were charlatans with a smattering of education and glib tongues, who took advantage of misfortune and ignorance; still others had a natural flair for caring for the sick and were able to relieve much suffering.  In the last category was a remarkable family from the southern part of Rhodes Island called, and still recalled, as the "Bonesetter Sweets."

The Sweets were an old Rhode Island family whose progenitor, John Sweet (1)*[this asterick means nothing to me as it is not included in the notes I, Allyson Wood, copied], came to the state from Salem, Massachusetts in 1637.  Of Welsh extraction, family tradition has it that their forbears in Wales had this innate facility for helping the sick.  James Sweet (2)*, son of the immigrant, John (1), was the first of the American "Bonesetter Sweets".  He was born in 1622, came to Rhode Island with his parents, married Mary Greene and settled in what is commonly called South County, and more correctly named Washington County.  Of the nine children of James and Mary Sweet, only Benoni (3) born in 1663, became a bonesetter.  Traditionally, Benoni is said to have had a flowery and polished manner - perhaps a forerunner of the bedside manner possessed by some of today's medical men!  He was a respected member of the community and communicant of the historic Narragansett Church.  When he died in 1751, Dr. James McSarren, rector of the church, delivered a glowing eulogy.

The inherited ability to set bones was not regarded by the Sweets as a vocation, but rather as an avocation.  They were artisans by calling - stonemasons, blacksmiths, wheel-wrights and carpenters.  Bonesetting was a sideline, as is demonstrated by an advertisement in the Providence Journal of February 16, 1830 and printed at the top or the first page of this article.

The remarkable part of this family was the fact that they never exploited their natural ability.  Not on of them sought fame or fortune through this medium.  The father usually selected one or two of his sons, probably those who showed a tendency in that direction, and instructed them in bonesetting.  The Sweets did not deem this a magicaal thing, but more of an inherited knowledge acquired from their elders.  They handled fractures, sprains, and dislocations with a skill to be envied by an orthopedic physician.  Their skill was in the manipulation of bones but they were known to use herbs, ointments, and skunk grease in massaging too.  Their knack was thought uncanny, as they so often succeeded where others, more learned and "better trained" had failed.  Instances naming local doctors who failed to relieve suffering that was later relieved by one of the Sweets have become a part of South County folklore.

Dr. Benoni Sweet (3) selected his son, James (4), to carry on the family art.  James was born in 1688 and not too much is known of his successes, but it was Job Sweet (5), son of James, who gained national recognition and established their bonesetting reputation.  Job (5) was born in 1724 and married Jemima Sherman in 1750.  He lived all his life in the South County section of Rhode Island.  During the Revolutionary War, Dr. Job, as he was called, was sent to Newport to set bones of French officers, an operation their own doctors would not attempt.  After the war, Aaron Burr, later Vice-President of the united States, sent for him to minister to his daughter, Theodosia,Who had a dislocated hipbone.  Dr. Job, rather reluctantly, journeyed to New York and was there greeted by Colonel Burr, their family doctor, and several other learned medical men, Job was not happy about having an audience.  They suggested that a specific hour - ten o'clock the next morning - be set for the operation.  After they had left the house, Job talked soothingly to Theodosia, who was in great pain, and explained to her his methods.  When he had eased her fears, he asked her father if he could place his hands on her hip to locate the trouble.  Colonel Burr consented and, after a few minutes, Job said to her, "Now walk around the room" and much to the surprise of Theodosia and her father she did just that -- and without pain.  When the medical team arrived the next morning Job was well on his way back to Rhode Island and Theodosia's hip was properly set and on the mend.  Two of Job's (5) sons were natural bonesetters, Benoni (6), born in 1762 and Jonathan (6), born in 1765.  Benoni married and lived in Lebanon, Connecticut, where he continued the Sweet tradition of amazing people with his propensity for healing.  Jonathan settled in Sugar Loaf hill in South Kingstown.  He married Sally Sweet and pursued his trade of blacksmithing.  He trained his son, Job (7) in both smithing and bonesetting.  The only "hinderance" they asked for their bonesetting services was enough to pay for the time lost in shoeing a horse!

"Shepherd Tom" Hazard (recollections of Olden Times by Thomas Robinson Hazard, J. N. Sanborn, pub. Newport, R. I. c. 1879), a South Kingstown diarist who knew Jonathan Sweet (6), once inquired of him, when he was setting the thigh bone of a colored boy, just how it was done.  Jonathan replied that he could not explain it, but that in his mind's eye he could see every skeletal bone and knew just where it should be placed.  This same knowledge was displayed by Dr. Job (5) of Aaron Burr fame, when he was being shown through a medical science hall in Boston by a learned doctor.  Glancing at a skeleton exhibited there, Dr. Job remarked that he had never seen a "tominy" before but that there was a little bone upside down in the foot of that one.  His learned friend protested  but on closer examination admitted that such was the case.

Many South County people recall incidents relating to this remarkable family.  "Shepherd Tom" Hazard, considered a reputable historian to illustrate the complete lack of avarice in the Sweet family.  Hazard met William Sweet (7), son of Jonathan, on the street in Peacedale, South Kingstown and while chatting with him, discovered that he was returning from a visit to Newport where he had been called to set the arm of a  man who had fallen from a haymow.  "How much do you charge for a visit across the bay?" inquired Hazard.  "Why," answered Sweet, "I have been very unlucky.  In going I was detained all night and most of the next day on Conanicut Island by bad weather, and I got over so late I was obliged to stop all night at a tavern in Newport.  Then I had to walk six miles out of town to fix the man's arm, and had to stay another night in Newport.  Now it is nearly sundown, and I have not got home yet, so I had to charge him pretty bad - eight dollars".  Hazard figured that from his eight dollars, William Sweet had to deduct four ferry fares of 40 to 60 cents each and two tavern bills for food and lodging, to say nothing of traveling some 20 miles on foot and losing four days work!

In some instances the bonesetting was performed by Sweet descendants not bearing the family name, as was the case of Edward (Bunk) Harvey (9) in South Kingstown, whose mother was Frances Sweet (8), daughter of William, Edward Harvey was a crossing tender who plied his bonesetting trade in South County.  An admirer told of his cousin who, while playing baseball in 1917 as a youngster of 13, was struck in the leg by a ball, which resulted in a large, painful swelling of his lower leg.  He was under the care of the most skilled of local doctors and after three months, was still in the same condition.  One of his doctors recommended that he consult "Bunk" Harvey, with the admonition not to tell of the referral.  The boy, some 40 years later, gave the following account of the treatment:  "BGunk ran his hand up the front of my leg from the ankle to the knee, then with one quick snap of his thumb he twisted the bunch on my leg.  It hurt like Hell for a minute, then the pain disappeared, and the lump was gone.  Bunk told me that two cords had become twisted one on top of the other.  That leg hasn't bothered me since."

Generations followed by generation of this bonesetting family and branches appeared in many parts of the county.  Some of them went to Upper New York State and others to Massachusetts and Connecticut, where their prowess as bonesetters came to light in local histories and genealogies.  The last practitioner bearing the Sweet name in South County was Dr. Benoni Sweet (8), son of William (7) and Martha Tourgee Sweet.  Benoni was born in South Kingstown on September 23, 1840.  He married Eliza Eaton and settled down in Wakefield, Rhode Island.  He was a stonemason and worked at this trade for a number of years, but on the death of his brother, George (8), in the 1890's he assumed the family profession of bonesetting.  The Rhode Island Medical society thought enough of dr. Benoni and his ability to present him with a certificate to practice medicine in Rhode Island.  He was unusually successful in his practice and on the very day he died, April 21, 1922, reduced the fracture of a boy's wrist.

In late years the Sweets have gone on to obtain medical degrees.  One of these, Dr. John Sweet (1884-1950), was a practicing physician in Newport, Rhode Island.  He is quoted in an article by P. P. Swett in the Connecticut Medical Journal for 1946:  "It is my belief that the reputation of the Sweet family for skill in setting bones was often deserved; but quite frequently the flind faith created by popular superstitions covered up many mistakes in the past which would be revealed by x-ray today.  The mechanical principles which brought success to the Sweets are the same which are found scientifically sound today.  Folk stories concerning the achievements of the Sweet family have led to the belief that there as as natural gift for bonesetting and that no training for the art was necessary.  This belief is in complete variance with the facts.  From early childhood the boys of the family have seen their parents perform bonesetting operations and the principles of the procedures have been explained in careful detail."

Dr. John Sweet's statement bears out modernization and conversion of the natural bonesetting Sweets into licensed and reputable physicians, as he became a member of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgeons, thus combining his inherent ability with professional knowledge.  So, be it North, South, East or West, any orthopedic surgeon named Sweet may well be a descendant of that unusual and fascinating clan of "Bonesetter Sweets" of South County, Rhode Island.


The Natural Bonesetters with Special Reference to the Sweet Family of Rhode Island by Robert J. T. Joh, M.D. from the Bulletin of Medicine Vol. XXVIII, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1954.

Orthopedic Surgery in Connecticut by P. P. Sweet, from the Connecticut State Medical Journal, 1946.

Recollections of Olden Times by Thomas R. Hazard, Newport, R.I. Sanborn, 1870.

History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island by Wilkens Updike, Boston, Mass, Merrymount Press, 1907.

Newspaper clippings, photgraphs, and valuable genealogical information were furnished most graciously by George Sweet of Wakefield, R.I. and Mrs. George Crandall of Cranston, R.I., both descendants of the "Bonesetter Sweets," and by the Pettoquamscutt Historical Society of Kingston, R.I.

Article written in the January 1968 YANKEE

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dr's Sweet - 5 generations of bone doctors

and Family memoirs
under the editorial supervision of Cuyler Reynolds
Vol IV, New York, Lewis historical Publishing Company 1911
pages 1441-2

Genealogical Society of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: #50622


The Sweet family of Amsterdam, New York, descends from Dr. Samuel Sweet, immigrant ancestor, who came to America from Wales, where the family name is not uncommon.  A remarkable fact connected with the family is that each of the four generations in the United States has produced one or more members who have been noted for their skill in the treatment of diseases of the bones and joints.  Their methods have been handed down from father to son, and while differing from the regular prescribed treatments for such diseases laid down by regular schools of medicine, have been very successful.  Each generation of the four has had a Dr. Sweet who enjoyed more than a local reputation for skill in bone surgery, there is described as a “simple, natural treatment.”

(I) Dr. Samuel Sweet was born in Wales.  He settled in Rhode Island at a date previous to the revolutionary war, and was then a comparatively young man.  He was noted around Providence for his skill in bone treatment and must have had the method taught him by his father in Wales.  By his “natural treatment” he was able to perform some cures of dislocated bones and joints that were considered very remarkable.  Leaving providence, Rhode Island, he journeyed north and westward with his wife, whom he married in Rhode Island, using the method of transportation then available - the covered wagon drawn by horses or oxen.  He settled at Bullshead, Montgomery county, New York, on a farm where he resided until his death at an extreme old age.  He was often called upon by his pioneer neighbors to treat their disabled or disjoined limbs and gained a reputation that extended far beyond local limits.  He reared a family and it is a matter of regret that the name of his wife has not been preserved.

(II) Dr. Waterman, son of Dr. Samuel Sweet, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, April 8, 1776, died 1849.  He inherited the method of bone treatment followed by his father.  His fame extended over a large section of country, and he was much sought after by those afflicted with diseases he was reputed to successfully cure.  To his business of a healer he added that of farmer, and was an active worked in the Baptist church.  He studied theology and was licensed to preach, which he often did, in fact was known as widely as a preacher as a healer.  During his latter years his eyes failed and he became totally blind.  So skilled was he and of such delicate touch that his blindness did not interfere with his work of healing.  He was greatly respected all over Montgomery county.  At the time of his death, 1849, he was living in Amsterdam, New York.  Rev. Waterman Sweet married, in New York Elizabeth Hodges, born in New England, died in Amsterdam and buried in Florida, Montgomery county, New York.

(III) Dr. Waterman (2), son of Dr. Waterman (I) and Elizabeth (Hodges) Sweet, was born in Florida, Montgomery county, New York, August 12, 1809, died August 18, 1886.  He also became famous as a “bone healer,” having succeeded to his father’s practice.  He cultivated a small farm successfully and died possessed on considerable property.  He and his wife were members of the Baptist church.  He married, in Florida, June 1, 1815, died march 28, 1902.  Children:
1.  Elizabeth, born August 1, 1839, died July 25, 1859.
2.  Twins, died in infancy
3.  Twin, died in infancy
4.  Waterman (3), April 17, 1843.
5.  David M., see forward.
6.  Ira S., march 14, 1849; resides in Utica, New York and is a successful practitioner of the family method of bone treatment; married Martha Brown and has five children.
7.  Sherod L., November 6, 1850, died aged three years
8.  Leonard G., November 21, 1852, died January 21, 1890.

(IV) Dr. David M., son of Dr. Waterman (2) and Ruth (Mallory) Sweet, was born in Florida, Montgomery county, New York, June 4, 1845.  He quite naturally adopted the profession of his father, in which he has achieved remarkable success besides a local patronage, people from all over the United States coming to consult him concerning their bone ailments.  He has resided for many years in amsterdam, New York, where he is a highly respected citizen and professional man.  He has now (1909) largely withdrawn from active practice, surrendering it to his son, who is the fifth of his name to follow the particular methods employed.  The “Old Original Sweet’s Liniment” was made by the emigrant who settled in Rhode Island, and the same liniment is used to this day.  Dr. David M. Sweet married, December 23, 1863 Hannah M. Greene, born June 11, 1843, in Greenfield, Saratoga county, New York.  Children:
1.  Emma L., born November 11, 1864; married John S. Sterling, of Pattersonville, new York; they have a son, Lincoln S., born October 11, 1894.
2.  Harry L., November 30, 1869; was educated in the public schools and is rapidly succeeding to the business of his father, whom he will succeed as the fifth in direct line to follow the “natural method”; married Harriet M. Ransler, born in Schenectady, New York, June 13, 1874; has one child, Vinnie M.
3.  Vinnie E., August 21, 1873, died February 3, 1885.
4.  Infant, deceased,

Mrs. Hannah M. (Greene) Sweet is a daughter of Anson Greene, born in Saratoga county, New York, January 23, 1814, died June 1, 1891, and Lucinda (Lincoln) Greene, born in Saratoga County, March 7, 1818, died November 9, 1851.  Anson Greene was the son of James Greene, born in Rhode Island, died in Saratoga county, new York, aged seventy-seven.  James Greene married Pamelia Hendrick, who died in May 1868, aged seventy one.  Lucinda Lincoln, wife of Anson Greene, was daughter of Henry and Hannah (White) Lincoln, who were married in Rhode Island, settled in Saratoga county, New York, where they died, both having passed their eightieth year.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Marriages at the Seventh-Day Baptist Church in Hoosick 1801-1838

Sweet family Marriages:

Performed by Elder Willaim Satterlee, Elder of the Seventh-Day Baptist Church of Little Hoosac, N.Y., between 1801 and 1837-1837, from his old book, the original of which is in the possession of Sylvester Satterlee of Berlin, N. Y.; copied from the original by Miss Leone Hall of Williamstown, Mass, New York. [Rensselaer Co., NY GenWeb]

Page 1:
John I. Brimmer to Hannah Sweet
Luther Sweet to Clarissa Cory
Maxon Green to Harriet Davis

Page 2:
Nicholas Green to Polly Kenyon
Jerry Milliard to Betsey Sweet
Thomas Carpenter to Jane Russell
Sylvester Carpenter to Susan Umphrey
Mr. Fauster to Susan Carpenter
Schuyler Green to Martha Carpenter
Eli Townsend to Harriet Carpenter
Joshua B. Maxon to Polly Carpenter
Samuel Browning to Mercy Carpenter

Page 3:
James Hubbard to Amy Carpenter
James Denison to Esther Green
Asa Coon to Sally Green
Daniel Green to Amy Godfrey

Page 4:
Thomas Green to Polly Whitford
Jerod Green to Sally Potter
Orsen Cambell to Anna Green

Page 5:
Date entered 20 June 1824
Orison Coon to Polly Carpenter
Martin Townsend to Polly Carpenter
Mr. Perry to Dedroh Carpenter

Page 6:
Eden Carpenter
Orin Green to Lydia Coon
Andrew Hewit to Abigail Green
John Green to two times
Winter Green to Lucrety Sanders
Stephen Lawrence to Amanda Green
John Randolph to Esther Green
Horace Hakes (or Hare) to Sinthy Green
Ray Green to Lucy Maxon
Joseph Green to Polly Gavet

Page 7:
Jonathan Smith 25 to Silvene Sweet, 18; 1835
Silas Davis to Emaline Carpenter; 1830