Hewson family papers, 1767-1836

Mss.B.H492.h, .br, .b1, .b

Date: 1767-1836 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet, 22 items

Abstract

These are letters of William Hewson, Mary Stevenson Hewson, and Thomas Tickell Hewson, chiefly to members of the family on personal affairs. There are also a transcript of a draft of William Hewson's account of his quarrel with Dr. William Hunter and a letter from Barbeu Du Bourg to Mary Stevenson Hewson.

Background note

The patriarch of this family was William Hewson (1739–1774, APS 1769). He was a London based surgeon and anatomist, chiefly known for his contributions to hematology. He was married to Mary (Polly) Stevenson (1739-1795), who had been a close friend of Benjamin Franklin ever since her mother had been his landlady during his stay in London in the 1750s. After her husband's death the widow and her three children relocated from London to Philadelphia. One of their sons was Thomas Tickell (1773-1848, APS 1801), a physician, professor of Comparative Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and president of the College of Physicians.

William Hewson was apprenticed to his father, who was also a surgeon. He then studied under Richard Lambert at the Newcastle Infirmary. In 1759 he went to London to attend the lectures and classes of the physicist Hugh Smith as well as the anatomists and obstetricians William Hunter and Colin Mackenzie. In addition, Hewson studied at St. Thomas's and Guy's hospitals.

In 1760 Hunter left Hewson in charge of his students in the dissecting room when he went abroad. Soon afterwards he suggested that Hewson enter with him into a partnership. A condition for this arrangement was that Hewson would study for one year in Edinburgh. Hewson accepted the offer, and in 1762, after his return from Scotland, became a partner in Hunter's anatomical school. He lectured on anatomy and also, in 1765, traveled to the continent to visit hospitals in France, Flanders and the Netherlands.

Hewson's first important scientific contributions involved the lymphatic system in fishes. Indeed, he was one of the first to describe the lymphatic system accurately in several animals. This research earned him the Copley medal in 1769 and membership in the Royal Society in 1770. However, it also triggered a controversy with the Scottish physician Alexander Monro, secundus, who, in a letter to the Royal Society and in a pamphlet, claimed that he had made these discoveries before Hewson. Hewson defended himself by arguing that while Monro had anticipated him in minor points, he could not claim priority in the more important matters. Hewson remained in partnership with Hunter until 1771, when he decided to open his own school. By then, he had built up a substantial practice in surgery and midwifery. His anatomical school was a success from the start. By the time he commenced with lectures, in 1772, he already enjoyed a reputation as an excellent anatomist and surgeon. His two-part study, titled An Experimental Inquiry into the Properties of the Blood, published in 1771 and 1774, solidified his status as a foremost expert on hematology. In his research, Hewson was able to demonstrate that fibrin was responsible for the final act of clotting. He also showed that the "red particles" in human blood were flat rather then spherical, as had been argued previously.

Hewson's decision to leave the partnership with Hunter led to serious tensions between the two over the terms of their agreement. The bitter controversy centered on priorities for their discoveries which Hunter claimed for himself. In the end, their mutual friend Benjamin Franklin helped negotiate an agreement between the two men. Hewson later dedicated the second part of his study on blood to Franklin.

Hewson had made the acquaintance of Franklin through his wife Mary "Polly" Stevenson, whom he had married in 1769. Polly's mother Margaret Stevenson had been Franklin's landlady since he arrived in London in 1757. He formed a familiar relationship with both women who served as something of a surrogate family for him during his absence from his wife and daughter in Philadelphia. He soon grew particularly fond of Polly, who in the year of their first meeting was a pretty eighteen year old with an inquisitive mind. His respect for her intelligence is evident in the fact that he corresponded with her a great deal about various intellectual and scientific topics, including his work on electricity. Moreover, while some of their exchanges were playful and flirtatious, he more often assumed a paternal role. Franklin, who had missed his own children's weddings, walked Polly down the aisle when she married William Hewson. He later served as godfather to their first son, William.

In 1774, at the age of thirty-five, William Hewson died from septic fever that resulted from a wound suffered during a dissection. He was survived by his widow Polly and their two sons, William and Thomas Tickell. A daughter, Elizabeth, was born four months after her father's death. The French botanist and physician Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, also a friend of Franklin, suggested to Polly Stevenson that she issue a translation of her husband's work. A Latin edition was published in Leiden in 1795.

Polly Stevenson remained close friends with Franklin until the end of his life. "Our friendship has been all clear sunshine," he wrote to her in 1783, "without the least cloud in its hemisphere." Two years later she visited him in Passy. Upon his urging, she moved her family to Philadelphia in 1786, to be near her old friend. Polly was at his bedside when he died in 1790, thirty-three years after their first meeting. She remained in Philadelphia for another two years, until 1792, when she relocated to Bristol, Pennsylvania, to be with her eldest son William, who had established a medical practice there.

Like his father, the younger son Thomas Tickell became a well-known physician. As a boy he attended the school of William Gilpin, at Cheam, near London. After the removal of the family to Philadelphia, he studied at the College of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania) and afterwards commenced his medical training with the Philadelphia physician John Foulke. In 1794 he moved to London, where he was house-surgeon in St. Batholomew's hospital. He subsequently studied medicine in Edinburgh before returning to London and finally, in 1800, to Philadelphia.

Thomas Tickell Hewson entered into private practice in Philadelphia, and he also engaged in many other medical and charitable activities. In 1806 he was appointed physician to the Walnut Street Prison, a position he held for twelve years. He also served as one of the surgeons of the Philadelphia Almshouse and of the Orphan Asylum. In 1815 he published a translation from the French of François-Xavier Swediaur's Treatise on Syphilis. The following year he was appointed as a professor of Comparative Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. When yellow fever broke out in Philadelphia in the summer of 1820, Hewson volunteered his services at the Yellow Fever Hospital. He subsequently was selected to join a committee charged with drafting recommendations that would help prevent future outbreaks of the disease. Twelve years later he was a member of a similar board that was concerned with cholera outbreaks in the city.

In 1822 Hewson established a school of medicine which offered classes in anatomy and practice. He also played a leading role in the planning and publication of the first national Pharmacopoeia (1830) as well as its decennial revision. From 1835 to his death in 1848, he was president of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia.

Thomas Tickell Hewson's scientific contributions were recognized with numerous awards and honors, including membership in the Edinburgh Medical Society in 1796, the American Philosophical Society in 1804, and the Philadelphia Linnaean Society in 1813.

He was married to Emily Banks. She died in 1837, after a marriage of twenty-four years. The couple had twelve children, ten of whom survived him. Their son Addinell (1828–1889) was also a prominent Philadelphia surgeon.

Scope and content

These are letters of several members of the Hewson family, including William Hewson, Mary Stevenson Hewson, and Thomas Tickell Hewson, chiefly on personal affairs. The items cover the period from 1767 to 1836, with the bulk dating from the 1760s to 1800. Many of the letters are copies or transcripts of originals located elsewhere; however, there are also a few manuscript letters. All of the items are in English, with the exception of the letter from Barbeu Du Bourg, which is in French (an English translation is included). Typed tables of contents are included in the box.

The collection sheds much light on the personal and family affairs of several members of the Hewson family. On one occasion, for example, William Hewson informs his friend Samuel Powel of his recent marriage, an event that "is apt to make great changes in us young ones" (1770). A letter by Isaac Brown informs T. T. Hewson about Hewson's nephew's school tuition (1816), and a letter by Mary Hewson to her sister explains in some detail a trip she took with her son Tom and daughter Eliza (1780). The two letters by William Hewson, written when he was a boy, inform his "Dear Mama" when school will be out and whether she had procured the "history of England or the Juvenille-sports" for him (1779, 1780). Mary Hewson's letter to "my dear Dolly" consists of a will which specifies, among other things, that she is leaving her children, "the most valuable pledges," to Dolly (1774?). In his letter to Mary Stevenson, Barbeu Du Bourg offers his condolences on occasion of the death of her husband, William Hewson, and he also proposes publishing some of Hewson's work (1776).

Of particular interest is also a letter by Mary Stevenson to Elizabeth Hewson, in which she describes a dinner she attended with Benjamin Franklin "at the Presidents with the three Indian men and one woman the wife of the old king." Stevenson describes the Native Americans in some detail, mentioning, among other things, that the "Young Cherokee is really clever," and that the chief told her that he would "be ashamed to be intoxicated in the presence of the many wise men & several gentlemen of the Convention" (1787).

Also noteworthy are the five letters by Ann Hardy, a servant who moved from England to North America in the 1760s. The letters to Margaret Stevenson reflect some of the difficulties Hardy experienced, including financial problems. Hardy did not like it in Philadelphia, but she was "very much afread to Come upon the Sea again" (1767).

Information about the professional interests of the Hewson's is limited. However, William Hewson discusses his interest in anatomy in a letter to Powel (1770), and there is some information about T. T. Hewson's "National Pharmacopoeia," which was adopted by the New York College of Physicians (1821).

Finally, of particular interest is an 18-page transcript of a draft of William Hewson's account of his quarrel with Dr. William Hunter that resulted from Hewson's decision to end their professional partnership in 1771.

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Physical description

26 items.

Provenance

5 items, typed L., presented by Mrs. Hendrik Booraem; Oct. 1961 (B H492.h); 9 items, D., presented by Miss Frances M. Bradford and accessioned, 06/29/1961 (1961 931m)(B H492.br); 4 items, typed D., from originals in possession of Mrs. William Hewson, Philadelphia, presented by Mrs. Hendrik Booraem and accessioned, 02/--/1962 (1962 123m (B H492.b1); and enlargement prints of L's 5 documents in 13 pieces, filmed from the originals, July 1956 (B H492.b). See in-house shelf list for additional accession numbers and dates.

Early American History Note

The Hewson's were close to the Franklin family. Mary Stevenson Hewson was Franklin's landlady when he was in London, and they maintained a correspondence throughout their lives. This collection contains some of the family correspondence. Most are not originals, which are in private hands. The original manuscripts are primarily letters to and from Mary Stevenson Hewson. Of note is a poem/prayer written by Mary Stevenson Hewson. The MOLE record is very detailed, but the record does not mention records of a controversy Benjamin Franklin had with Dr. William Hunter that are part of this collection.

Indexing Terms


Genre(s)

  • General Correspondence
  • Poems.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Social life and customs.

Occupation(s)

  • Physicians.

Personal Name(s)

  • Barbeu Du Bourg, M. (Jacques), 1709-1779
  • Hewson, Mary Stevenson, 1739-1795
  • Hewson, Thomas T.
  • Hewson, William, 1739-1774
  • Hunter, William, 1718-1783

Subject(s)

  • Marriage and Family Life
  • Medicine.
  • Social Life and Custom
  • Women's History


Detailed Inventory

Papers
  
B H492.h. Hardy, Ann.
Letter to Mrs. [Margaret] Stevenson, London
Sept. 2, 176711x8-1/2

Philadelphia, Typed L. 1p. (see Hewson family papers.) Differences in England and America for a servant. Refers to B.Franklin.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-65 FRAME 218

B H492.h. Hardy, Ann.
Letter to Mrs. [Margaret] Stevenson, London
Aug. 28, 176811x8-1/2

Philadelphia, Typed L. 1p. (see Hewson papers.) Financial difficulties. Refers to B. Franklin.

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Hendrik Booraem; Oct. 1961.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-65 FRAME 219

B H492.h. Hardy, Ann.
Letter to Mrs. [Margaret] Stevenson, London
June 211x8-1/2

Philadelphia, Typed L. 1p. (see Hewson family papers.) Financial difficulties. Orders some clothes. Refers to B.Franklin.

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Hendrik Booraem; Oct. 1961.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-65 FRAME 220

B H492.h. Hardy, Ann.
Letter to Mrs. [Margaret] Stevenson, London
July11x8-1/2

Philadelphia, Typed L. 1p. (see Hewson family papers.) Thanks for clothes and asks that she send additional clothing. Refers to B. Franklin.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-65 FRAME 221

B H492.h. Hardy, Ann.
Letter to Mrs. [Margaret] Stevenson
Nov. 1511x8-1/2

Philadelphia, Typed L. 1p. (see Hewson family papers.) Asks advice as to whether she should stay in America or return to England. Financial problems. Refers to B. Franklin.

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Hendrik Booraem; Oct. 1961.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-65 FRAME 222

B H492.br. Hewson, Mary Stevenson, 1739-1795.
Letter to "My dear Dolly"
[1774]9x7-1/2

A.L.S. 4p. (see Hewson family papers.) Fears she will die, and disposes of her jewelry, etc.

Provenance: Presented by Miss F. M. Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 9x7-1/2

Access digital object:
https://diglib.amphilsoc.org/islandora/object/text:296552

B H492.br. Barbeu Du Bourg, M. (Jacques), 1709-1779.
Letter to [Mrs. Mary Stevenson Hawson]
Jan. 25, 17769-1/2x7-3/4

Paris, A.L.S. 3p. In French. (see Hawson family papers.) Proposes the translation of some publications of William Hewson. Refers to Franklin and Pringle.

Provenance: Presented by Miss F. M. Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 9-1/2x7-3/4

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-67 FRAME 83

B H492.br. Hewson, William, 1772-1802.
Letter to Mrs. [Mary Stevenson] Hewson, Cheam
Nov. 25, 17799x7-1/4

Cheam, A.L.S. 1p.and add. (see Hewson papers.) Concerning the end of school.

Provenance: Presented by Miss F. M. Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 9x7-1/4

B H492.br. Hewson, William, 1772-1802.
Letter to [Mrs. Mary Stevenson Hewson]
Nov. 21, 17809x7-1/4

Cheam, A.L.S. 1p.and add. (see Hewson papers.) Hopes she has his ink-horn. Sends his respects to friends.

Provenance: Presented by Miss F. M. Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 9x7-1/4

B H492.br. Hewson, Mary Stevenson, 1739-1795.
Letter to [Elizabeth Hewson]
[1787?]8x6-1/2

Sunday night. A.L.S. 4p. (see Hewson family papers.) Describes dinner with Benjamin Franklin and visiting Indians. Indians include a "clever" young Cherokee; the "old King" and his wife. Amused at their "civilized" dress. Behaved well; Council also at banquet.

Provenance: Presented by Miss F.M.Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 8x6-1/2

Other Descriptive Information: Freeman Guide 623. FILM 54-67 FRAME 82

Access digital object:
https://diglib.amphilsoc.org/islandora/object/text:183171

B H492.br. Hewson, Thomas T., 1773-1848.
Letter to [Elizabeth Hewson]
Jan. 15, 18369-3/4x8

A.L.S. 1p.and end. (see Hewson family papers.) Death in the family.

Provenance: Presented by Miss F.M.Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 9-3/4x8

B H492.br. Hewson, Mary Stevenson, 1739-1795.
Poem
undated8x7-1/2

A.D. 1p.on add.sheet: "Miss Stevenson" (see Hewson family papers.)

Provenance: Presented by Miss F.M.Bradford; June 1961.

General physical description: 8x7-1/2

B H492.b1. Hewson, William, 1739-1774.
Letter to [Samuel] Powel
Aug. 21, 177011x8-1/2

Typed L. 1p. c.c. Copy. (see Hewson family papers.) Has recently married. News of Dr.Hunter. Concerning mutual affairs in England. Blood.

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Booraem; Feb.1962.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

B H492.b1. Brown, Isaac S..
Letter to Tho[ma]s T. Hewson
Oct. 26, 181611x8-1/2

Typed L. 1p. Copy. (see Hewson family papers.) Will teach his nephew.

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Booraem; Feb. 1962.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

B H492.b1. Mitchill, Samuel L. (Samuel Latham), 1764-1831.
Letter to Th[omas] T[ickell] Hewson
Nov. 18, 182111x8-1/2

New York, Typed L. 1p. Copy. (see Hewson family papers.) New York college of physicians and surgeons adopted National Pharmacopoeia. Condoles on death of Dr.Spalding.

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Booraem; Feb.1962.

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

B H492.b1. Hewson, William, 1739-1774.
Concerning an agreement with Dr. Hunter
undated11x8-1/2

Typed D.18p. Carbon copy. (see Hewson papers.)

Provenance: Presented by Mrs. Booraem, Fe. 1962;

General physical description: 11x8-1/2

B H492.b. Tyler, Elizabeth.
Letter to Mrs. Coleman, Rochester
July 30, 1775 

Savage Gardens, Enlargement print of A.L.S. 2p. and add (see Booraem, Mrs. M.H. Collection of Hewson family documents, no.1) Friendly letter.

B H492.b. Blunt, Thomas.
Letter to Madam [Coleman]
April 17, 1779 

Cornhill, Enlargement print of L.S. 1p. (see Booraem, Mrs. M.H. Collection of Hewson family documents, no.2) Form for power for receiving dividend.

B H492.b. Hewson, Mary Stevenson, 1739-1795.
Letter to "My dear sister"
Dec. 6, 1780 

Cheam, Enlargement of print of A.L.S. 4p. (see Booraem, Mrs. M.H. Collection of Hewson family documents, no.3) News of family and friends.

B H492.b. Maddison, John.
Letter to Mrs. Ann Coleman, Rochester
March 5, 1781 

London, Enlargement print of A.L.S. 1p. and add. (see Booraem, Mrs. M.H. Collection of Hewson family documents, no.4) Friendly letter.

B H492.b. Tyler, Elizabeth.
Letter to Mrs. Ann Coleman, Rochester
Nov. 16, 1781 

London, Enlargement print of L. 1p. and add. (Written by J. Mair for E. Tyler) (see Booraem, Mrs. M.H. Collection of Hewson family documents, no.5) Friendly letter.