Old time local doctor 1810 -1892 Dr. Henry DeWitt Pawling, Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Navy, Merchantman ship “Friendship,” frigate “Potomac,” Peacock Gardens Inn, King of Prussia Inn, Valley Railroad

08_image01In the several interviews that the writer has had during the past few years with Mrs. Martha Suffren, “the grand old lady of Strafford” who has just celebrated her 97th birthday, the latter has recalled from memory many fascinating stories of her childhood in Strafford.

Today’s column is founded on Mrs. Suffren’s written recollection of one of the best known local physicians of his time, Dr. Henry DeWitt Pawling, who at the age of 26 took up his residence and established his practice at what is now known as “Peacock Gardens,” just across the road from historic King of Prussia Inn. The inn has figured prominently in the news of late, since its proximity to the new State Highway makes its preservation a matter of much uncertainty.

Dr, Pawling, “an old time doctor in Pennsylvania,” as Mrs. Suffren has described him, was born in 1810 and lived to the good old age of 82. His home and his office were both in what is now “Peacock Gardens.” The side door, “the one with an arched top,” Mrs. Suffren recalls as the door to his surgery.

The five years before he took up his practice were exciting ones, filled as they were with much adventure as assistant surgeon on the frigate “Potomac.” Of these years Mrs. Suffren writes:
“He was just 21 when the merchantman ship “Friendship,” gathering its cargo of pepper on the coast of Sumatra, was attacked by Malays who rifled the vessel, threw overboard the few sailors who were not busy on shore and made off with the ship. When the news reached Washington, the frigate “Potomac,” was lying in New York harbor. President Jackson ordered the ship to proceed to Sumatra to punish the piratical Malays. When young Pawling took his medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania he was listed as assistant surgeon on the frigate, where he served for the next four years. It was during the first part of this service that he was sent to Sumatra.

“A little silver plate, lying before me, was taken from one of a number of boxes made by members of the crew to hold young Pawling’s instruments. Dr. Drake has shown me one of these boxes. It is beautifully made with inlays of brass on the cover. The inscription on the plate reads: ‘Presented to Dr. Henry DeWitt Pawling, assistant surgeon, U.S. Navy, by “Potomac” as a testimonial of their esteem.”

Adventure for the young physician was past when, as Mrs. Suffren writes, “he settled down to the life of a country doctor. He chose his location at the crossroads of King of Prussia, but he had yet to win his spurs… to make himself known. He was then only 26. Frank Hughes, of Martin’s Dam, heard his father tell of seeing the young doctor called frantically out from among the congregation at the Port Kennedy church, as if the world were on fire. Another neighbor tells of seeing him ride curiously past her house on horseback, with a red and blue cape streaming out behind him. This she attributed to ‘advertising on his part’ and she told the story round about!

“Slowly, but surely, his practice grew until it covered a great part or the counties of Montgomery, Delaware and Chester. He never failed to respond to a call, whether from rich or poor. One Sunday morning, Dr. Drake, a younger physician looking at the immediate roads in the neighborhood of Dr. Pawling’s office, exclaimed that it looked as if a funeral were going on – all the four crossroads, for some distance away, were lined with buggies, surreys, dearborn wagons – every sort of conveyance, just so it was strong enough to carry its occupants to the old doctor’s office.

“There were always three fine horses ln Dr. Pawling’s stable. Often when the snow was drifted, he would have to plough through. Frequently, he would fall asleep in his buggy and trust to the horse to bring him home safely. One night, after 36 hours of work, dead weary, he was wakened from such a nap by a strange bumping. Opening his eyes, be found that he was travelling up the bed of the Valley Railroad, over ballast and ties. It was impossible to turn around, so he kept on until they met the next grade crossing… and all was well!

(To be continued)

Martha Wentworth Suffren, Women’s Suffrage, Lucretia Mott (one of Radnor’s earliest settlers), League of Women Voters

07_image01Mrs. Martha Wentworth Suffren, of Strafford, has never missed voting at an election since the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 26, 1920. This was the memorable amendment which read, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state on account of sex.” It was an amendment for which no woman had worked harder than had Mrs. Suffren. And once the right to vote had been granted to her sex, she has consistently availed herself of its privilege.

More than 100 years ago, in July, 1848, the first Women’s Rights convention in all history was held at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, N.Y., later adjourning to Rochester. It was a meeting called jointly by Mrs. Stanton and by Mrs. Lucretia Mott, one of Radnor township’s early settlers. This may be regarded as the beginning of the movement for woman suffrage, not only in the United States, but in the world.

Two years later this meeting was followed by a convention in Worcester, Mass., under the auspices of Lucy Stone and a distinguished group of suffragists. Then, in 1851, Susan B. Anthony with her dynamic force of personality joined her efforts with those of Mrs. Stanton in a crusade which lasted more than 50 years. After the deaths of these two women, their work was carried on by their successors in office, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt.

While living in Brooklyn in the early years of the 20th century, Mrs. Suffren became very active in the work of the Woman’s Suffrage Party in New York City. It was through their mutual interest in this movement that she and Mrs. Catt first formed the friendship that was to last for so many years. When Mrs. Catt became chairman of the Woman’s Suffrage Party of New York City, Mrs. Suffren was first her secretary, later her vice-chairman. The work which Mrs. Suffren accomplished during this period, she now calls the most important thing that she ever did in her life. Frequent were the trips she made to the State Capitol in Albany before 1917, when New York State, by a majority exceeding 100,000, voted for full suffrage to women. It was only three years later, in 1920, that complete and universal woman suffrage was the law of the land.

It was in this year that Mrs. Suffren returned to Strafford from New York to take up her residence again in the stately house on Homestead road which she and her husband had built in 1908. It is from this house that this remarkable woman, now 97 years of age, ventures forth to cast her vote every election day since woman’s suffrage was granted.

In a recent letter received by the writer from Mrs. Suffren, the latter urges that women consider the words of Mrs. Catt in the last speech the latter made to the League of Women Voters when she said, “Women must unite in something greater than national or race loyalty and that is – the motherhood of the wide world.” To this Mrs. Suffren adds her own word when she writes, “Women in governmental office were never more needed than now, with such matters as juvenile delinquency, narcotics, etc., the problems that they are.”

1865 Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, John Langdon Wentworth home on Homestead Road, Dr. Henry Pleasants, family physician

06_image01As told in this column last week, it was in this house that Martha Wentworth, now Mrs. Charles E. Suffren, was born on October 10, 1858. Mrs. Suffren still lives on Homestead Road, in a house on the property adjacent to her birthplace. Like the former, it is a handsome while edifice which was built by Mr. and Mrs. Suffren in 1908-09. Later they sold it when they went to New York state to live. However, when they returned to permanent residency in Strafford in 1920, they were fortunate enough to regain possession of their former home. Standing on an acre and a half of ground which is part of the 130 acres bought by Mrs. Suffren’s parents now almost a hundred years ago, it is the only part of the original large tract still in the possession of any member of the Wentworth family.

It is here that Mrs. Suffren lives with her companion, and it is here that her daughter, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren come to visit her from time to time. The wide front door leads from the porch into a large square hallway, flanked on one side by the charming living room and on the other by a large dining room. A wide stairway leads to the upper stories which contain seven bedrooms and four baths. All windows look out onto a sweep of well kept lawn with trees on every side, many of them antedating Mr. Wentworth’s purchase of his 130 acres.

Mrs. Suffren, a delightful person with a keen sense of humor, still takes an active part in the management of her home. She enjoys its surrounding grounds even to picking up the fallen apples in the autumn just as she did when a little girl. Up until a few years ago she even did her own marketing.

Many of the small happenings in the quiet but happy childhood of this remarkable woman were told in last week’s column. But the memory of a day in the spring of 1865 was one of such outstanding tragedy throughout the nation that its sorrow touched even the little six and a half year old girl. In the 90 years and more that have passed since April 15, 1865, Mrs. Suffren has never forgotten the sorrow that was of such nationwide significance that it reached even into her quiet country home, affecting the lives of all who were there. For it was on the evening of that day that John Wilkes Booth shot president Abraham Lincoln from the back of the presidential box in the Ford Theater in Washington.

The next morning Lincoln died. And it was then that the Wentworth family heard the sad news from the lips of Dr Henry Pleasants, their family physician, who had stopped by on his horse and buggy round to tell them. Mrs. Suffren still remembers the scene in the big front hall and can visualize where each one sat and stood. Her mother’s tears as she sat on the bottom step were the first that the small Martha, standing just behind on the stairs, had ever seen her shed. The entire household assembled there had been praying for Lincoln’s recovery, as had their fellow countrymen across the nation.

A few days later, neighbors from far and near gathered with the Wentworth family on the front lawn to watch the Lincoln funeral train as it made its slow and solemn way from Washington to Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln was laid to rest in Oak Ridge Cemetery. In her mind’s eye Martha Suffren can still see that train as she saw it coming slowly into view along the railroad tracks in front or her home. One soldier stood at the head of the casket and another at the foot in the railroad car with its sides made of glass so that the casket might be visible to all onlookers along the railroad right of way. The group of Wentworth friends and neighbors stood in silence as the train passed out of sight. That was 90 years ago in April of this year.

On the high white columns of their stately home, the Wentorth family had draped two large black shawls. Small Martha thought they looked very beautiful and wished that her father might leave them there. And as with everything else that touched the life of that small girl in the tragic death of Lincoln, Mrs. Suffren can still visualize those black shawls on the tall white pillars of her home.

(To be continued)