III. Durham to Boston

A winter storm in New Hampshire, from The White Mountains, Their Legend and Scenery: Tourist’s Edition by Samuel Adams Drake. Harper & Brothers, 1882

On Thursday, March 1, 1827, Federal Burt and Mary Pickering Burt left their home in Durham to make the 75-mile trip to the hospital in Boston. They traveled by coach, or by boat, or by a combination; the railroad line that would link to the towns was nearly 15 years in the future. Travel in winter presented its own hardships. Ploughing would not start for another six weeks; no wheat would be sown until May’s third week. The Boston Literary Gazette offers one writer’s lament of March in New England:

…we cast our eyes abroad and considered the mixture of snow, rain, and mud, the half winter and half spring, which it is our lot to enjoy for nearly one third of the year, in this our native New England — where six or eight weeks, out of the fifty-two, of unexceptionable weather, is all that we can expect, and to balance which, we must must broil in July and be stewed in August; be hung with icicles in December, and thawed out in January; have our pores hermetically sealed in February, and drilled out again, as it were, by the searching blasts of March. We faced ourselves for a moment in that happy land, afar from the thousand torments, that beset the housekeepers of this realm, in the shape of fire-places, grates, stoves, and flues, at one season, and that of blinds, verandas, somer-houses, or refrigerators at another. There no sudden south-wind plunges the pedestrian knee-deep in snow-water, where he but yesterday shivered through an icy drift,— and no chilling eastern breeze condenses on his thin garments…

The record of Federal Burt’s 1827 admission to the Massachusetts General Hospital: “March 6. Federal Burt, a clergyman from Durham, N.H. with his wife — at $4 for himself, $3 for his wife, who is well. To have separate rooms.”

Both Federal Burt and Mary Pickering Burt had rooms at the hospital. To bring a caregiver, usually a family member, was not unusual for those who could afford it. He was one of 31 patients—19 men and 12 women. At the time of his admission the Trustees noted “The whole Hospital was in good order, & the air in the building seemed to be uncommonly fine.” Five years earlier, just after the hospital opened, they described their accomplishment, and what they hoped for:

…The Hospital…stands on a small eminence, at the most westerly part of Boston, open to the south, east, and west. The beautiful hills which surround Boston, are well seen from every part of the building, and the grounds on the south are washed by the waters of the bay. These grounds will be laid out into walks and gardens, as soon as the state of the funds will permit, for the purposes of amusement and exercise to the patients; in which will be included a small kitchen garden, also for relaxation, and pleasing and healthful occupation. In the centre, are the rooms for the Superintendent, the Apothecary, attendants, and the kitchen, In the upper part of the centre is also the operating theatre. The wings are divided into apartments for patients, those of the males being distinct from those of the females. The stair cases and entries are of stone. The apartments are supplied with heat by pipes from a furnace in the cellar—They are also supplied with water, by pipes running by the side of the air flues, in order to prevent freezing in winter…

This would be Federal Burt’s home for the next four months.

“The stair cases and entries are of stone,” noted the Trustees. The granite was hewn by convicts at the State Prison in Charlestown.
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