Born on 1 September 1747 in what became known as Sharon, Samuel Curtis was the eldest surviving child of Rev. Philip Curtis (1717-1797) and his wife Elizabeth (1721- ). An older son also named Samuel had been born to the couple in May of the previous year but had died on 22 January 1747. A 1738 graduate of Harvard, Reverend Curtis preached his first sermon at the 2nd Church in Stoughton in May 1741 and was ordained there the following January. His ministry at Sharon, known as Stoughton prior to 1783, spanned fifty-five years and included baptizing 926 individuals, solemnizing 313 marriages and presiding over 403 burials. Rev. Philip Curtis was married first to Samuel’s mother Elizabeth Bass of Newburyport on 6 September 1744 and later to Elizabeth Randall (1731-1823) of Sharon on 31 October 1754. Samuel Curtis’ siblings included sisters Hannah, Elizabeth and twins Mary and Susanna. Younger half brothers included Philip, Oliver, Edward, Calvin and Francis.
After graduating eighteenth in his class of forty at Harvard College in 1766, Samuel Curtis resided briefly in Roxbury before moving into the Marlborough home of Lydia Dexter, widow of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter who died on 4 May 1769. Curtis appears to have been invited into her home to continue the practice established by her deceased husband in the face of Dr. Amos Cotting who had relocated to Marlborough from Waltham upon news of his death. Dr. Dexter had been married to the former Lydia Woods, daughter of Benjamin Woods and Elizabeth Morse, for over fifteen years and they had shared four children. The thirty-four year old widow Dexter subsequently married the twenty-three year old Dr. Samuel Curtis on 30 June 1771. The couple had two children, Anna born just over three months after their marriage on 5 October 1771 and Christian born on 30 March 1774. Both children died at a young age in 1774 with their thirty-eight year old mother following in death in December of that same year, leaving Dr. Samuel Curtis a grieving twenty-seven year old widower. Although some sources record Lydia Curtis’ death as 24 December, her mortuary notice appears in the 19 December 1774 edition of the Boston Post-Boy.
While Samuel Curtis’ pension application makes no mention of Continental Army service, one biographical source suggests the 1766 graduate of Harvard participated in the Lexington Alarm in April 1775 and served as a Captain in the 3rd Continental Infantry until December 1776. This is plausible considering that Curtis’ brother-in-law Dr. Samuel Cony, who was studying medicine with the Marlborough physician at the outbreak of hostilities, also responded with the Lexington Minutemen and continued in Army service afterward as Adjutant of a regiment of infantry under General Horatio Gates.
One earlier writer suggests that after the tragic loss of his children and wife, Dr. Samuel Curtis was “induced to embark” as surgeon on the Continental Navy frigate Hancock of 32 guns commanded by Captain John Manley. Over two years had passed since the death of his wife when, by his pension application testimony, Dr. Curtis entered onboard the Hancock on 20 March 1777. An interesting document, one of four which appear to be hand-written by Curtis and were sold at Eldred’s Marine Art & Antiques Auction in July 2013, is an invoice dated February 1778 detailing his naval service on behalf of the United States of America. This document itemizes the surgeon’s time from his entry on the Hancock noted as 24 March 1777 until 16 July 1777, presumably the day he left the vessel at Halifax. The period between 17 July 1777 and 25 January 1778 is identified separately, suggesting this is the precise time of his incarceration onshore at Halifax until his return to American soil.
In the two months between his entry on the frigate prior to her departure, Dr. Curtis was responsible for preparing the Hancock’s medical stores for sailing and action as evidenced by the inventory of medical articles on board for Dr. Curtis’ “Use of the Sick on Board said Ship” dated Boston 24 April 1777, also one of the auctioned documents. Continental Navy Surgeon Samuel Curtis sailed with the fleet on the Hancock’s first cruise from Boston on Wednesday 21 May 1777 on a voyage to St. George’s Bank in search of British fishing vessels. Also with the ship was fellow Harvard alum Rev. Edward Brooks sailing as Chaplain. In concert with the Continental frigate Boston under the command of Hector McNeill, the Hancock captured the 28 gun British privateer Fox on 7 June 1777 in a bloody engagement. No doubt both Curtis and Brooks had ample opportunity to exercise their healing gifts with the surgeon dressing the stump of John Brick, “a Negro man on Board Thee ship hancock”, who lost his left leg in the action.
One month later on 8 July 1777, after being abandoned by McNeill and the Boston, the frigate Hancock along with the prize ship Fox were captured by the British 44-gun Rainbow and 32-gun Flora after a thirty-nine hour chase. Dr. Curtis was carried to Halifax as a prisoner of war with 228 other officers and men of the frigate Hancock. An account of the treatment of the captured Continental Navy officers on the Hancock and Fox is recorded in The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser of Thursday 5 February 1778 published in Volume 11 of the Naval Documents of the American Revolution, “those taken by the Flora frigate, were well treated, the little time they were on board said Flora; from which they and their men were sent on board a prison ship, where numbers of their unhappy fellow-prisoners had been for a long time confined, and had the yellow-fever, the small-pox, and almost all disorders, to a shocking degree, without any physician allowed them, or any medicine, those that were taken in the Hancock, were put on board the Rainbow, and no distinction was made between the officers and men, but some took shelter in the hold, and under the half deck; were for some time without any provision, and scarce any thing to support nature, while confined on board said ship; upon our officers and people leaving the Hancock, their chests were searched, and all mathematical instruments such as quadrants, scales, dividers, together with all books, journals, etc. useful to navigation, were taken from them with a number of other articles, of value.”
Dr. Samuel Curtis would have been among the the other Navy officers who recounted, “After being in Halifax harbour 8 or 10 days, all the prisoners in the prison-ship, and in the Rainbow, were, on the Sabbath, in grand marine order, removed to the shore, and committed to the custody of the town-major, and all the British officers and soldiers in the place. The American officers were huddled in among the common men, and told, by the British officers, that they knew no distinction; and in this undistinguished manner, all the prisoners, 300 in number, were conducted, in the roughest manner, with unpardonable insults, into a large brick building, barracaded in by a very high fence, and under the care of the provost-guard. Thus the sick of the small-pox, yellow-fever, and other disorders, were drove into said building, indiscriminately with the well; and the American officers, though a few minutes before, they were told that there was no distinction known between them and the men, yet, that American officers should be answerable, and suffer for all disorderly conduct that the prisoners should be guilty of: added to this, the surgeons were, the day after the prisoners were under said provost-guard forbid innoculating any person, on penalty of being confined in irons, etc. though much the greater part of the prisoners had never had the small-pox, and several among them were almost rotten with the disorder.”
The ghastly plight of the officers and men of the Hancock and Dr. Curtis’ early inability to adequately treat the men under his care is further documented in the newspaper account, “The small-pox, fevers, &c. being brought from the prison-ship, and being all turned in together, indiscriminately, and no possibility of keeping themselves clean, numbers soon became very sickly, and a hospital was prepared for them, built in the roughest manner, inclosed with poor boards slightly feather edged, and nailed on to unhewn timber, no fire place, store or glass. ‘Till a considerable time after the cold weather came on, to this dismal place the poor miserable sick were conveyed, where they were poorly sheltered with miserable bedding, and more miserable attendance, together with a most miserable diet…and no fire to warm even the least thing. Thus the poor miserable suffered and died, oftentimes 3 or 4 or half a dozen per day, of fevers and the small-pox, mostly through want of proper attendance, and immediately on their dying, were carried out of the hospital, and laid in a cradle in the open air, and here kept 3 or 4 days, and when they were buried, their brother prisoners were obliged to dig their graves and burry them.”
At some point during his confinement in July, Dr. Samuel Curtis was apparently permitted to inoculate Hancock’s officers and men with the smallpox virus in hopes of stemming the disease’s epidemic race through the prison population. Two historically important documents sold at Eldred’s Marine Art & Antiques Auction in July 2013, apparently hand-written by the Naval surgeon, include a list of fifty-four persons Curtis inoculated in the Halifax Prison in July 1777 accompanied by a list of forty-eight American prisoners attached to the ship Hancock who died in Halifax Hospital between July and the end of September 1777. The documents reveal that at least 54 men were inoculated, presumably 45 from the Hancock and nine others listed separately. Included in those receiving the treatment are Curtis’ friend and fellow Harvard alum Rev. Edward Brooks and Captain of Marines Seth Baxter. Despite the preventative inoculation, Rev. Brooks contracted smallpox as evidenced in his pension testimony and at least eleven of the forty-five men noted to have been inoculated also appear on the accompanying list of the dead.
According to their own published account, by the end of July the conditions of confinement for Dr. Curtis and the other Naval officers improved incrementally, “In about 8 or 10 days after the prisoners were put under the provost-guard aforesaid, the Continental officers were removed to an apartment in the soldiers barrack, where they, from 13 to 18 in number, were closely confined to one room… in the hottest season of the year, with the door locked, and only two small windows, where they had their cabins and chests, were obliged to have almost constantly a fire to dress their provisions, which they were obliged to cook themselves, not being allowed even one of their own men to cook for them, ’till after frequent petitioning.” In a 8 November 1777 letter from Rev. Edward Brooks to James Boudin, the Hancock’s chaplain names thirteen roommates sharing confinement at the Apartment: shipmates 1st Lt. Stephen Hills, 2nd Lt. Joseph Adams, Sailing Master John Diamond, Captain of Marines Seth Baxter and Surgeon Samuel Curtis; frigate Boston’s 1st Lt. Robert McNeill, 2nd Lt. Simon Gross and 2nd Lt. of Marines John Harris; sloop Providence’s 1st Lt. Adam Thaxter and 2nd Lt. Esek Hopkins; Tartar’s 1st Lt. John Galekar and 3rd Lt. Oliver Reed; and brig Freedom’s 2nd Lt. John Hooper.
The newspaper account of the treatment of the Continental Navy officers taken on the Hancock and imprisoned at Halifax continues, “For about a month they were thus closely confined, permitted to go to the necessary, under guard, and that only from sunrise to sunset; at no other time were they permitted to go out of the room, let the calls of nature be ever so urgent…add to this, that they had no person to wait on them, they were obliged, by turns, to carry out their wash, etc. quite out into the open street, draw the water they wanted, etc. after frequent petitioning, as aforesaid, they were allowed one of the prisoners from the provost guard, to wait upon them, and the General, with much importunity, permitted them to walk 2 hours in the 24, in the barrack-yard, which was picketed in, and guarded at all parts with armed soldiers. During this, and for a long time after, they were almost suffocated with the heat of the room, which was so hot, that even the centries, who had only two hours to guard, before they were relieved, often fainted away. This, together with the scantness of provision allowed, the pork often tainted, and so bad as not to be eaten, the pease mouldy, and unfit for food, and any friends in town forbid speaking to them, or supplying them, and almost always turned away when they were bringing provisions.” It is this last prohibition which may explain why when on his landing at Halifax, Dr. Curtis spied his Aunt Hannah Loring Winslow – a Boston Tory- who lived there, “but she took no notice of him, and when he wrote to her for assistance, she did not reply to his letter.”
It can be deduced from the officers’ account that while conditions were still severe, a slight relaxation of the most intolerable rules commenced about the end of August or beginning of September. The newspaper report continues, “Thus closely and cruelly confined, and so miserably supplied, they were obliged, as they were poorly furnished with specie, to sell some of their cloathing, and many other articles, at little more than half their value, in order to purchase necessaries; as they had no persons but soldiers to buy things for them, they were often imposed upon by them, in giving them more than the articles cost, and paying them dearly for their service. Many wearisome weeks were they in this deplorable situation, and no mortal to make application to, for the least supply, ’till Capt. Salter arrived from Boston, about the last of October, who, with great difficulty and risque, got to their window, and offered to supply them with what money they wanted for necessaries, they drawing bills on their friends, and was so friendly as to tell them, that he should ask neither commission or interest.” Despite these promises, circumstances prevented any significant relief to the American prisoners.
After over six months of confinement at Halifax, sometime during the first week of January 1778, Dr. Samuel Curtis was put on the cartel Royal Bounty to be sent to Newport, RI to be exchanged. According to the British Commissary of Prisoners at Halifax Captain Sir George Collier, “upwards of 260 American Prisoners” were embarked on the vessel and waiting “only for a Wind to Sail” when the cartel Favorite arrived from Boston on 10 January. The American officers reported in the 5 February 1778 edition of Boston’s Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, “At length, on a very stormy day, in the midst of severe snow, rain and cold, they were ordered on board the said transport Royal Bounty, where they arrived with all their cloaths and bedding, extremely wet, in which condition the hold of the ship was the most convenient place allowed them, and accordingly they took their station, forward of the cable tier, in the cole hold, amidst wood, lumber and cordage, without either fire or light, where they continued four days, in a cold, wet and gloomy condition, with extreme scanty allowance, ’till they had the happiness of being removed to the cartel brig Favourite, from Boston.”
Although Rev. Brooks was among those placed on the Favourite, Dr. Curtis would remain on the Royal Bounty. The Master’s Journal of the British brig Cabot published in Volume 11 of the Naval Documents of the American Revolution, indicates that at noon on Monday 12 January 1778 in weather described as “Light Airs & Clear, the Cabot pulled anchor at Halifax Harbour and came “to Sail with a Convoy of 10 Merchf Vessels & the Royal bounty Cartell”. While largely silent on the circumstances of his confinement in Halifax, Dr. Samuel Curtis’ own 1818 testimony in pension application # S-4,276 states that after three or four days at sea, his cartel was separated from the convoy by a gale and “we tho[ugh]t a convenient opportunity had presented. We took command from the cap’t and after running many risques, We got into Marblehead harbour.” This event is also recorded in the pension application #S-33563 of Benjamin Rickard, a sailor taken fourteen months earlier on the brig Independence under Captain Simeon Sampson in a “severe and bloody” conflict on 25 November 1776.
The Royal Bounty was seized from her master Thomas Compton on 14 January and the vessel was carried into Marblehead ten days later. This escape of 280 Continental prisoners on the “Saturday last” is reported in the 6 February 1778 edition of the Connecticut Gazette, with a Boston byline dated 29 January. The prisoners “rose on the crew” of fifteen hands and brought the prize into Marblehead, but not before they had lost twelve men on the passage, not including two others who had fell overboard. Dr. Samuel Curtis testifies in his pension application that after the ordeal he “returned home to Marlborough, Mass, ready to be called on board some other ship.” Despite one report that Curtis “also served on other vessels in the same capacity during the Revolution”, no evidence has been located to support that statement. Speaking further about the pay due him as a Continental Navy Surgeon, Curtis recounts in the pension record that after a lapse of two or three years, the Congressman from Massachusetts Nathan Gorham “took my Commission & procured me a final Settlement certificate for $963 doll[ars] which I was compelled to sell for about 1/3 of its nominal value.” It is possible that the hand-written invoice for 299 pounds 18 shillings detailing Dr. Curtis’ naval service on behalf of the United States of America dated February 1778 that was sold at Eldred’s Marine Art & Antiques Auction in July 2013 was the basis for this settlement.
It was 9 May 1777 when Intentions of Marriage were published between “Samuel Curtis of Marlborough Esqr and Miss Abigail Whitney of Weston”, daughter of William Whitney and Martha Pierce. After a ten month engagement, the thirty year old doctor and his twenty-four year old fiance were married by Rev. Samuel Woodward on 5 March 1778. Woodward was only the second pastor of the First Parish of Weston and served there as “Minister of the Gospel” from 1751 until his death in 1782. With the surgeon’s war service completed, the couple had a number of children in quick succession. The family is recorded in “Records of Some of the Descendants of William Curtis, Roxbury, 1632” by Samuel Clarke Clarke (1869). The Curtis children included: Samuel, Jr. born 14 February 1779, Nancy born 26 March 1780 and died 1784, Fanny born 19 March 1781, Clarissa born 3 November 1782 and died in 1783, William Whitney born 7 January 1784 and died 1785, Robert born 10 May 1785 and died 1804, Hector McNeal born 28 December 1787 and died 1788 and lastly Abigail- or Nabby- born 15 November 1789 and died 1796.
While living at Marlborough, Dr. Samuel Curtis served as a member of the Committee of Correspondence in 1778 and was described as “a man of influence in the town, clerk, selectman and a justice of the peace.” About twelve years after his marriage to Abigail and six years after the peace, while in his young forties Dr. Curtis moved his family to Amherst, NH in 1789. After practicing medicine there for a few years, the doctor gave up his profession to become an inn-keeper, however still maintaining an apothecary in his tavern. Interestingly, a 16 June 1795 newspaper article heralds, “Dr. Samuel Curtis of Amherst, New Hampshire…advertises in the late Boston Papers, that he has discovered a safe and easy remedy for the dropsy; being an American production.” Perhaps clues to the secret ingredients of his medicinal remedy can be found in another newspaper advertisement placed the following year in the 8 November 1796 edition of the Amherst Village Messenger, “WANTED IMMEDIATELY, ABOUT fifty bushes of CHESTNUTS and WALNUTS”. Responders to the ad are directed to Dr. Samuel Curtis at the Post Office.
As one can guess from the preceding advertisement, Curtis was serving as Amherst’s second postmaster by late 1796, succeeding William Gordon who was first appointed by President Washington on 16 February 1791. Dr. Samuel Curtis’ tenure as postmaster and his ownership of stage company operating the mail lines are comprehensively and engagingly detailed in an article by Katrina Holman entitled “Earliest Stage Coach Lines The Feud between Stage Driver and Tavern Owner” appearing in the 23 June 2015 edition of The Amherst Citizen repeated almost in entirety: “The first scheduled stage coach to and from Amherst began in 1792. To give you an idea of how late this was, service between Portsmouth and Boston had commenced in 1761 “for the encouragement of trade” with “a large stage chair with two good horses” that could carry four passengers… by the spring of 1763, the “Portsmouth Flying Stage Coach” carried six persons inside and ran with four or six horses. So Amherst, despite being the site of the Hillsborough County court sessions since 1771, was still hinterland for two decades. It was the new tavernkeeper in the Village who remedied the situation. “[A] Stage has commenced running from the Town of Amherst in New Hampshire to Boston. [It] will set off from Dr. Curtis’ in Amherst, on Tuesday morning, and arrive at Boston on Tuesday evening; and will set off from Boston, on the return on Friday morning, from the House of Mr. Nathan Peabody, and arrive at Amherst on Friday evening, running once a week. The rate of passengers from Amherst to Boston, for the first Quarter, will be seven shillings and six pence only; two pence per mile will be the rate for any intermediate distance. Amherst, August 24, 1792.” (Independent Chronicle, Boston, Mass., 6 Sep. 1792.)”
Ms. Holman’s article continues, “This stage line was intended as public transportation for passengers and their baggage, and for newspaper distribution. A contract to carry mail would be obtained few years later. Here’s what the one-day journey of about 15 hours over 52 miles was like for passengers: Leave Amherst at 4 a.m., breakfast in Dunstable, dine [mid-day] in Billerica, and arrive in Boston by sunset. In the other direction, leave Boston at 4 a.m., breakfast in Woburn, dine in Tyngsborough and change horses, and arrive in Amherst the same evening (Columbian Centinel, Boston, July 1794). In the winter, the trip required an overnight stay; the stage would arrive around noon the following day. Passengers were expected to pay half of the fare in advance, when they reserved their seats. They were allowed 14 lbs. of baggage each gratis. A lengthy notice in Boston newspapers (Federal Orrery and Columbian Centinel, Dec. 1794) gave details of the “Amherst Stage, N.H.”, but not exactly in a customer-friendly way. Although the fare had nearly doubled in two years: “It is presumed, no rational person will object to the small rise in the fare, considering the present advanced prices upon the necessaries, for the support of the driver and his horses.” Subscribers to Boston newspapers, who obtained them from this stage at towns en route, were warned: “Every delinquent, who does not pay up by the 10th of January, will be sued, without further notice.” Although unsigned, Samuel Curtis was the likely author. In an advert of Sep. 1797 Curtis said: “It has become absolutely necessary, that all persons who are indebted for Newspapers, delivered by the stage, should (of their own free will and accord, without any further evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatever) made a full and compete settlement for the same, least they be called before some gentleman of the green bag; for the press cannot go long without oiling, and at that day, there is none to be borrowed.””
Ms. Holman adds personal details regarding Continental Navy veteran Dr. Samuel Curtis, “who had arrived in Amherst with his family in May 1789, purchased the house lot next to Robert Means on the south side of the Common in March 1790 and opened his home as a tavern and apothecary. By Jan. 1795, he had erected a new building on the same lot (now empty green space) as his tavern-inn – next to the Means store. Curtis was appointed postmaster in 1797, likely because his stage line had obtained the government contract to carry the mail – and a tavern made a convenient post office. Initially the Amherst stage carried mail once a week to Boston, and to post offices along the way in Chelmsford, Billerica, and Medford, Massachusetts. The earliest known stage driver was Joseph Wheat, a native of Hollis. In July 1799, Wheat announced that the “Amherst and Billerica Stage” to Boston would leave from “Mr. J. Watson’s in Amherst.” John Watson was a direct competitor of Curtis, having opened his tavern-inn at 1 Carriage Road. It turns out that stage driver Wheat and innholder Curtis had formerly been partners and were now competitors. Because they took to the newspapers for a war of words, we learn the early history of Amherst’s stage line.”
Curtis’ perspective of the feud with his former stage driver is captured by Ms. Holman, “Samuel Curtis wrote: “One WHEAT complains bitterly of late, in the Public Papers, that the Amherst Mail Stage, which has been handed regularly down from its original owner to the present proprietors is an eye sore to him, and is taking from him his right, &c. – That this Wheat has no right or just claim to this business, and of course no right to deceive the Public, is my intention to shew and to prove. When I formerly run the Amherst Stage, and being the sole owner, I employed said Wheat as a driver, and paid him his wages; on the 1st day of January 1798, I sold and conveyed said line of business to D. EMERSON, and to him only. EMERSON, by WHEAT’S importuning, took him into partnership for one year; at the end of the year, the 1st of January last, Emerson & Wheat both signed and published a dissolution of the Partnership, … and on the 1st of July last, EMERSON removed said line of business to me, the fee then being solely in him; and by myself and co. it is now run. … it is evident there is not business enough for two stages on that road, and without the assistance of the Mail, they must both be losing money. … N.B. The Mail Stage will in future run twice a week.” (Columbian Centinel, 11 Sep. 1799.)
In the journalistic tradition of fair-mindedness, the author of the The Amherst Citizens’ article also offers Joseph Wheat’s view of Curtis, “Mr. Wheat responded: “Mr. Printer, By Publishing the following Truths, in your useful Paper, you will oblige a Friend, as well as to give a check to some Falsehoods lately published in the public Newspapers. One SAMUEL CURTIS, who stays at Amherst, has thought fit to make me a public Example, by crying my Stage down, in order to recommend his four-wheel carriage for public use … I will … undertake to inform the Public, the truth of matters, as respects Curtis and myself: As early as 1794, the first of May, Curtis and myself bought a Stage in Boston, to run from Amherst to Boston. We then set up the business together and I drove the Stage, but Curtis’s Horses being poor, I thought best to take mine away. I then out of goodwill to him, left him the line; but received nothing for a Reward. Curtis carried on the business three years, the last 15 months I drove for him. I then thought best to set up a Baggage-Stage on said route – bought Horses and Carriage for the same. Then in December 1797, one Dearborn Emerson agreed with me to buy Curtis’s Stage and four Horses, and go into Co-partnership in running said Stage to Boston. Accordingly he was to buy the same of Curtis, and I was to put my Horses and Sleigh, &c. against it – which I like any man who is led into difficulty, agreed to. We carried on the Stage business one year, but caught nothing. We then dissolved Co-partnership – and I lent my right to Emerson, to run the Stage – which right I paid $50 for, and Emerson $50 more to Curtis. Emerson carried on the business badly, from January 1st, 1799, to the 3d of May last – when I was besought to come on to the line again – which I did, and took possession of the lent property, and have run a regular Stage ever since the Mail was agreed to be carried by Emerson and Wheat, for two years yet to come. Which right I never parted with to any[one] – and having been at great expense – hope still to have the good will of every true-hearted Citizen. … Sep. 24, 1799.” (Independent Chronicle, Boston.)
Ms. Holman seemingly concludes Dr. Curtis’ stage history, “The feud got resolved in that Wheat in March 1800 purchased the Mail Line of Dr. Samuel Curtis. Wheat’s next move, in Dec. 1800, was to open a new N.H. line, between Concord and Dunstable, through Merrimack, Bedford, Goffstown, Dunbarten, and Bow, so people from those towns could get to Boston by catching the Amherst Mail Stage in Dunstable. In 1802, Wheat expanded his Mail Stage by utilizing the newly opened Second N.H. Turnpike between Claremont and Amherst to run all the way from Boston to Windsor, Vermont…” Apparently, the story was not quite finished as Holman writes, “Somehow, Curtis was compelled back into the fray, back into a business connection with Wheat. With new partner Benjamin French, the recent proprietor of an inn on Back-Street in Boston, Curtis “took” the “Amherst, N.H. REAL MAIL STAGE, Old Line, driven by Joseph Wheat” and promised “every attention paid to render the flight agreeable to passengers, any spurious Stage to the contrary notwithstanding.” (Farmer’s Cabinet, May 1803.) At the same time, “Joseph Wheat & Co.” offered an explanation in a Boston paper (New-England Palladium, 31 May 1803), assuring the public that the Amherst (N.H.) Mail Stage still ran despite the fact that: “The subscriber is under the disagreeable necessity of being obliged to be now confined in Boston Gaol to answer a demand of his contending brethering on the [Amherst-Boston] line. Not only did the new line survive – having the clout of six new proprietors who were the tavern-inn owners along the route (including Chelmsford, Francestown, and Windsor) – but they also acquired the mail contract, and switched to French’s tavern for their Boston stop. [I wonder if Curtis & French engineered the deal. The Amherst post office in 1803 moved to a store on Courthouse Road.]”
While much of the mail that passed through Amherst was carried by the stage lines, additional mail was carried by post riders on routes not served by passenger coaches. One such route ran from Portsmouth to Keene through Amherst. Mail was delivered to Amherst, the Hillsborough County seat, in this manner once every two weeks. The post riders were entitled to the postage- six pence for every forty miles and four pence for less than that distance. Postmasters like Dr. Curtis were permitted to charge two pence on each letter or package forwarded through their post office. Captain Daniel Prior, a native of Nantucket, succeeded Dr. Samuel Curtis as Amherst’s postmaster in 1803. Like Curtis, Prior had spent time in British prisons during the War for Independence, having been taken captive twice while serving on privateers during the conflict. In January 1799, Prior purchased the Amherst house that Dr. Samuel Curtis had erected at 11 Court House Road almost a decade earlier and kept a grocery and dry good store. The Amherst post office operated out of this location from 1803 until Prior’s death in 1808. Pictures of the structure can be found in “Colonial Amherst: The Early History, Customs and Homes” by Warren Upham (1916) and viewed at: http://www.hsanh.org/vewebsite/exhibit1/e10387b.htm . Curtis’ home, one of the first built in Amherst, was burned in 1920 and is no longer extant.
In February 1791, Dr. Samuel Curtis was among thirty-one interested parties to form the Aurean Academy at Amherst, “the end and purpose of which was declared to “encourage and promote virtue and piety, and a knowledge of the English, Greek, and Latin languages, mathematicks, writing, geography, logic, oratory, rhetoric, and other useful and ornamental branches of literature.” On 30 May 1792, presumably celebrating a first full year of classes, the trustees of the Aurean Academy met at the home of Dr. Samuel Curtis and then marched in procession to nearby “Rev. Mr. Barnard’s Meeting House” for the commencement ceremony. Initially opened under the charge of Charles Walker, after an early success, the school was closed in 1801 due to lack of funds. Dr. Curtis was also one of the founding incorporaters of the Amherst Library Society which operated between 1797 and 1832, when its books were sold at auction. In addition, he compiled and published the “Curtis’ Pocket Almanac and New Hampshire Register” annually from 1800 to 1809. The four first of these were printed at Exeter and Walpole, however the final six were printed by Joseph Cushing at Amherst. Perhaps in explanation of his passion for the almanac, it was said of the doctor, “In his old age he loved to hear and tell the news, and relate rare instances which had come under his personal observation or which he had heard.”
Dr. Samuel Curtis served as Justice of the Peace at Amherst in 1802. While in his sixties, Dr. Curtis is recorded in the Diary of Dr. Daniel Cony of Augusta, Maine as a visitor at his brother-in-law’s home on 19 June 1808. Cony was married to Samuel’s younger sister Susannah and had trained in the medical profession under Curtis before the War for Independence. Two years later, Samuel Curtis is identified as a representative of the Amherst Congregational Church to a church council held in Charlestown, MA on 16 October 1810 along with his pastor Rev. Jeremiah Barnard and Robert Means. It appears to be soon after that meeting that Col. Means and Dr. Curtis were appointed to the local committee for the support of schools at Amherst already headed by Reverend Barnard. One biographical source indicates Curtis was for a time, bell-ringer of Barnard’s Meeting House, at a salary of twenty-four dollars per year.
On 11 April 1818, the eighty year old Samuel Curtis offered his pension testimony and gave evidence concerning his personal physical and financial situation. The doctor observes about himself a “lameness of late years”. Including his sixty-six year old wife Abigail in his thoughts, Curtis notes the couple is “but so feeble and infirm that we are oblig[ed to] keep a servant maid & boy on wages”. Regarding his dire finances Curtis testifies “I owe $1500 dollars, which I never can pay”. The most interesting fact about the aging physician’s schedule of real and personal property inventoried as required by the application for government assistance is his personal Library valued at eight dollars, over 11% of his total $72.00 estate. The Revolutionary War veteran was granted a pension certificate on 2 December 1818 for twenty dollars per month with arrears paid back to 4 September.
Not listed as a real estate asset in his pension application, Curtis’ tavern obviously had been sold by the aging physician prior to 1818. An interesting advertisement endorsing new management appears six weeks after the sworn pension testimony was given in the 30 May 1818 edition of the Farmer’s Cabinet under the heading of “Curtis’ Ancient Tavern Stand” stating, Mr. Robert Holmes has taken said stand situated on Amherst plain, N.H. Opposite to the meeting-house and court-house. The former customers of said stand; and others, are respectfully invited to continue their calls at the sign of the Golden Ball, where the subscriber vouches for their kind treatment. (signed) Samuel Curtis”. While appearing to have a financial stake in the success of Holmes’ tenure, the ownership of the tavern appears to have passed out of Dr. Curtis’ hands by the time of an earlier Farmer’s Cabinet account of 7 October 1815 where Theophilus Page advertises the Amherst Coffee-house as “the old established Hotel, at the sign of the golden ball, so many years kept and served by Dr. Samuel Curtis”.
Several ancient writers suggest a melancholy connection between Dr. Samuel Curtis’ choice of inn-keeping over medicine as a source of tragic circumstances which envelope his family. It is noted that the doctor’s oldest son Samuel, Jr.- a house-painter in Amherst- died “in the prime of life, a victim of intemperance” at the age of forty-one on 29 June 1820. His widow Nancy Shepard Curtis was later married to Luther Roby of Concord. The children of Samuel, Jr. who survived childhood and their grandfather were Boston merchant Samuel Curtis and Ann Augusta who died in Concord at the age of sixteen. Dr. Curtis’ daughter Fanny Curtis Thorton was the mother of the other two grandchildren noted in the Continental Navy veteran’s 1822 mortuary notice. Fanny had been married to Matthew Thornton, Jr., a Dartmouth graduate and lawyer, son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who also died of intemperance at the age of thirty-four. His widow followed him in death three years later at the age of twenty-six, leaving two young orphaned daughters.
Dr. Samuel Curtis’ wife Abigail died 17 December 1821 at the age of sixty eight. Her mortuary notice in the Boston Post-Boy of 19 December 1774 pays homage, “deeply lamented by numerous friends and acquaintances, Mrs. Abigail, consort of Dr. Samuel Curtis, aged 68 years. By her natural vivacity [quality of being attractively lively and animated] and good sense, under the restraints of the Christian religion, of which she was early a professor; her society became the resort of every age and class of the respectable, among her acquaintances.” Her husband died at Amherst just fifteen weeks later on 31 March 1822. His obituary published in the 6 April 1822 edition of Amherst’s The Farmer’s Cabinet reads, “In this town, on Sunday last, Dr. Samuel Curtis, in the 75th year of his age. His death was occasioned by a paralytic shock, under which he survived, through speechless, and apparently senseless, eight days. He had been the husband of two wives, and the father of eight children, and had buried them all. He has left as descendants only four grand children. He sustained the office and character of a magistrate many years with fidelity and uprightness.” The Hillsboro Telegraph of the same date simply notes, “In this town on Sunday last, of the palsey, Doctor Samuel Curtis, a revolutionary pensioner, aged 74.”
The Continental Navy surgeon and veteran was subsequently interred in Plot 133 of the Amherst Town Hall Burying Ground and his grave marker can be viewed at: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=31096499 . Dr. Curtis’ financial condition late in life is confirmed by the 6 September 1823 edition of the local Farmer’s Cabinet advertisement for “Creditors of the estate of SAMUEL CURTIS Esquire, late of Amherst, deceased, represented insolvent” to present their claims to appointed commissioners Edmund Parker and Robert Means between 2-5 in the afternoon at Ray’s Hotel in Amherst on the first Mondays of November and December. Located on the south side of the Amherst Village Common, Ray’s Hotel was formerly Curtis’ tavern, by then operated by James Ray and his son Henry. In later years, Curtis’ inn at the sign of the Golden Ball was also known as the Fredonia Coffee House, Union Hotel and the Hardy Tavern kept by Elbridge Hardy from 1832 to just before it was destroyed by fire on 3 December 1863.