Phineas Parkhurst, Surgeon

Continental Navy Surgeon Dr. Phineas Parkhurst appears to have been born on 21 November 1743 in Plainfield, CT to Mary Johnson (1714-1809) and Joseph Parkhurst (1721-1815). George Parkhurst in “Increasings for Nine Generations” wrongly cites his grandparents Abigail Howe (1692-1774) and John Parkhurst (1691-1771) as parents. According to “The Biographical Record of McLean County, Illinois” (1899), “the Parkhurst family in America sprang from three brothers who emigrated from England in a very early day.” While still a child, Phineas Parkhurst’s grandfather John moved from Chelmsford, MA to Plainfield, CT with his parents who were early settlers there. John met and married Phineas’ grandmother Abigail at Plainfield and lived the balance of his life there. Joseph Parkhurst was the second son of John and Abigail who were married in November 1714, his older brother being named Phineas born in 1716. This uncle is also often incorrectly confused with the Continental Navy surgeon in genealogical sources. Other genealogical sources indicate Dr. Phineas Parkhurst had at least one younger brother named Benjamin (1745-1842).

Dr. Phineas Parkhurst and his wife Lydia were parents to three sons; Jared (1769-1864), Phineas (1772-1830) and Elisha (1775-1847). One genealogical source suggests the couple was married 7 May 1771 at Sharon, VT but there is no reason to suspect the couple was not married before the birth of their oldest son two years earlier or that they lived anywhere together other than Plainfield where all of their children appear to be born. The fact of their marriage is attested to however about 130 years afterward in “The Biographical Record of McLean County, Illinois” (1899) which identifies a heirloom teaspoon marked L.P.P. (for Lydia and Phineas Parkhurst) in the possession of grandson Dr. Harvey Parkhurst, MD of Danvers, IL since his marriage in 1853.

Phineas Parkhurst appears on the List of Officers and Men of the brig Resistance, Captain Samuel Chew, dated 31 August 1777 as the ship’s Doctor, or Surgeon. The vessel was purchased for the Continental Navy earlier that year and was fitted out at New London. Captain Samuel Chew was placed in command of the 10-gun brigantine the preceeding June. Dr. Parkhurst sailed with the vessel from the Thames River, just thirty miles downstream from his home near the Quinebaug River in Plainfield, on 13 September 1777. After a three day jaunt to Bedford, MA, the brig Resistance sailed on a cruise beginning 15 October 1777 during which she captured the 168-ton Mermaid under Captain James Cockran on 16 November 1777. Labeled a “valuable prize”, the vessel was libelled at Boston on 25 December 1777. The cruise of brig Resistance carried Parkhurst and his fellow officers and men to the Demerara River in Dutch Guinea (Guyana), arriving there in December 1777. From the Demerara River brig Resistance sailed to Port Royal, SC arriving on 15 January 1778 and thence to St. Pierre, Martinique arriving on 12 February 1778.

While cruising in the West Indies from Martinique, the brig Resistance fell in with a 20-gun British Post Office packet boat under the command of Captain William Kempthorne on 4 March 1778. Governor of Barbados Edward Hay’s letter to Lord George Germain dated on 27 March 1778 reveals the British perspective of the battle and result, “The Grenville Packet, Capt. Kempthorne, who was bringing the January Mail, arrived here the 7″. Inst. She had a few days before fallen in with an American Privateer, called The Resistance, Capt. Chew,’ who came up with her, & a smart engagement ensued, until the American, (after the loss of their Captain & Thirty Men killed, as we have since been informed) sheered off. Kempthorne & the Master, & Seven men of the Packet are wounded, & one man Killed. During the Engagement, The Mail, which had been slung out of the Cabin Window, to be ready to be sunk, in case the Packet had been taken, was carried off by a chance Shot from the Enemy. The Packet having therefore no Letters, it became unnecessary for her to take the tour of all the Islands. She is gone from hence to Antigua, & Jamaica, & from this last place will proceed to England.”

Early news of the deadly engagement reached Boston just over one month later when a Captain Smith arrived there after sailing 25 days earlier from Martinique with a letter from brig Resistance’s 1st Lieutenant William Leeds dated 10 March 1778. One report of the content of Leed’s correspondence appears in a letter from Josiah Waters to Nathanial Shaw, Jr., “I will Endeavor to give you, he Informs the Navy Board, that soon after they saild from Martinico they fell in with a Letter of Marque Ship Mounting 20 Six & 9 pdrs, which they attackt, when our friend Capt Chew was the first who fell. he with I think three others were kill’d instantly, Capt Leeds receivd a Shot in his Shoulder & several others were wounded- Capt Leeds’s Wound obliged him to go below, where Mr Geo’ Champlin had been confined with severe Sickness of which he died two days after the Engagement- From this Situation of affairs the Brig at the Same time having suffer’d Considerably twas thought best to leave the Ship, which they did, having before taken a Sloop & a Schooner.” A different report of Leeds’s letter suggests that twelve of the Resistance’s crew were wounded in the action.

With Captain Samuel Chew and 2nd Lieutenant George Champlin dead and 1st Lieutenant William Leeds seriously injured, the task of bringing the brig Resistance home to Boston fell on Acting Lieutenant Samuel Cardwell, formerly Master’s Mate of the vessel. The Resistance departed Martinique in late March, arriving at Boston on 2 May 1778. Cardwell pens his official report to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. two days after making port, “By Mr. Jabez Smith (Lieutenant of Marines) I take the Pleasure to acquaint you, that I arrived here with the Brig Resistance on the 2d Inst. after a tedious passage of 36 Days from Martinico, during which time we have experienced the greatest difficulties, having had the misfortune of bringing the Small pox from Martinique, by which contagious distemper we have lost 20 men during our passage— On the 23d Ult in the night we fell in with an Enemy’s frigate, who made us come under his Lee, but by our pretending to be freinds, & the wind & weather favouring us almost unexpectedly we got clear of him, & next day put into a harbour 15 Leagues to the westwd of Halifax where we refitted ourselves with wood & water- We have likewise been chaced by different ships for eight days, but by the help of Providence have luckily expected escaped them all— I have nothing further to add as Lieut Smith will inform you of every particular”. Bad fortune following the brig Resistance also extended to her accompanying prize as the schooner Sally, formerly a Barbados privateer, was retaken by the British on 25 April 1778 and sent into Halifax.

A newspaper article in the 7 May 1778 edition of Boston’s “Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser” confirms that 21 men died on the passage and further reveals that the returning brig Resistance brought back “a Number of Capt. Hinman’s Men” from the Continental ship Alfred captured by British warships Ariadne and Ceres on 9 March 1778. A letter from John Bradford to the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress sent from Boston one week after the news account places the number of Alfred’s returned men at “about fifty”. No doubt after treating both the battle wounded and smallpox infected crew, tragically Continental Navy Surgeon Doctor Phineas Parkhurst also succumbed at the age of 35 years old on 7 May 1778 from “west Ind. Fever [having] Just returned from a Cruze in Boston.” He was buried at Union Cemetery at Moosup near Plainfield in Windham County, CT with his grave marker available to view at Find-a-Grave.

Sometime after her husband’s death in 1778 but before the 1790 Census, the doctor’s widow Lydia Parkhurst moved her family with her father-in-law and the balance of the Parkhurst clan to Sharon, VT. Joseph Parkhurst was “one of the first settlers of Sharon”. Others in the family were original grantees of the town of Royalton, located just seven miles upstream on the White River. Lydia is noted in the 1790 Census as head of the Sharon household of one male under the age of 16, fifteen year old Elisha; and two males over the age of sixteen, 18 year old Phineas and his 21 year old brother Jared. Also listed in the household is another female in addition to Lydia, presumably a daughter-in-law or unknown daughter. By the time of the 1800 Census, Lydia Parkhurst appears to be living in the household of her oldest son Jared in Sharon, which is consistent with her residence in the 1810 Census. It is not certain whether Lydia was living with her son Jared or Elisa in Sharon at the time of the 1820 Census but certainly appears to be residing in the home of her oldest son Jared again by the 1830 Census.

In 1833, Vermont Congressman and longtime Windsor attorney Horace Everett (1779-1851) presented a petition to the United States House of Representatives on behalf of Lydia Parkhurst, “widow of Doctor Phineas Parkhurst, deceased, praying to be paid the prize money to which she conceives herself entitled, on account of sundry prizes captured during the revolutionary war, by a national vessel, on board of which Doctor Parkhurst was surgeon.” In addition to “his share of three prizes consigned to the United States agent at Martinico”, she also apparently sought an Invalid Pension payment due for her husband’s service. The wife of Continental Navy Surgeon Dr. Phineas Parkhurst would not live to see the adjudication of her claim as she died in Sharon, VT on 20 June 1834 at the age of ninety-seven. Her burial place has not been located to date either with her husband at Union Cemetery in Plainfield, CT or with her son Jared with whom she resided later in life at Sharon Broad Brook Cemetery. One year after her passing, the House of Representatives of the United States ordered, “That the petition of Lydia Parkhurst, Jared Parkhurst, Elisha Parkhurst, and Phineas Parkhurst, of Windsor county, in the State of Vermont, presented February 28, 1820, be referred to the Committee on Revolutionary Claims.”

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