Tuesday 1 November 2016

Was Great-Grandfather Thomas Mayfield Really a Doctor?

My 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Mayfield (1778-1859) was, from some accounts a Doctor of Medicine. At least a few documents say so.

The 1850 United States census for Jefferson County in Indiana show him as a Physician. I have a copy of a biography for one of his sons, Isaac, that also states his father was a doctor. Isaac had lived in Kansas for many years and his biography was published in Portrait and Biographical Album Washington, Clay and Riley Counties, Kansas in 1890. It’s available to read online at Archive.net. Isaac was also a medical doctor and in that bio there was a piece on his parents:

Dr. Mayfield is of English descent, his grandfather, William Mayfield, having been a watchmaker in London, carrying on a factory in that city. He was a man of considerable means, and prominent among the artisans of the world's metropolis. The father of our subject was Thomas Mayfield, who was born in London, and was graduated from London Medical College. He began practice in that city when thirty-two years old, but shortly afterward came to America, locating in Maryland, first in Harper's Ferry, and soon afterward in Baltimore. He had become so thoroughly identified with the interests of the United States that during the War of 1812 he took part on behalf of the country of his adoption. During this contest he was detailed on city duty. In 1834 he removed to Jefferson County, Indiana, and buying land near Madison, made himself a rural home, still continuing the practice of his profession. His death occurred there in 1869 [typo – probably 1859], he being eighty-four years old. His religious faith was that of the Universalist Church.

That, along with information discovered by my aunt and a cousin in Indiana gave me some names, dates and places. Thomas married a lady named Eleanor Tunstall at St Clement Danes church in London in 1804. Several years ago I had found that information, along with the baptisms of their first two children at St James church in Clerkenwell, London. The family immigrated to the United States, settling in the Baltimore area, around 1812, so Thomas had not practiced very long in London.

There are some other problems with the biographical information. It said Thamas was 84 when he died. I am very confident I have the right baptism record for him, placing his birth date in 1778. If he died in 1859 (the probable date, rather than 1869 which may be a typo error) he would only have been 81. A death year of 1869 would have made him 91. Neither seems right although one may be loath to think that his son did not know the details. No one has yet found a death record or a gravestone for Thomas so we are at a loss to really know when and where he died. Most dates quoted on published family trees just quote other family trees as their source, but none reference an actual record.

Anyway, to get back to the search for information about his medical training. From the census, biography and vital data, it seemed he had trained in London. Now, there are many sources of data about the medical profession, but details about graduates and even working physicians in the early part of the 19th century are sparse. I have not yet found the information I want but the sources listed here might help others with a similar quest.

One of my recent queries was sent to the archivist of The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London. It’s been around for 400 years and apparently is a group to which many medical doctors belonged. Dr. Mayfield has not yet been found in their records but the archivist is still looking.

I sent a note to the archives office of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) hoping Thomas might have joined that group following his training and accreditation. Training in the late 18th century was not as rigorous as it is today and many physicians. Not all doctors had received a university education although that was improving toward the beginning of the 1800s. Registration was not universal either. The RCP archivist searched their biographical database – Munk’s Roll – but did not find Thomas Mayfield listed. Her comments included, “I also searched our archive catalogue but that was fruitless. That’s not to say that he definitely did not come through the RCP at some point, but it doesn’t look as if we hold any information on him here.”

Another source was the London Hospital Medical College (now part of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry). One can search student records going back to 1740 at Barts Health NHS. The name Mayfield did not turn up at all! The archivist for the Royal London Hospital Archives & Museum informed me they had no record of Thomas. They did suggest other hospitals that he might have attended. I have sent emails to those other hospitals. Hopefully one of them might have Thomas listed as a student or a practicing physician.

The biography also said Thomas’s father was named William and that he was a watchmaker in London. I found a publication named: Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World originally compiled by G. H. Baillie and revised by Brian Loomes. It can be searched on Ancestry. On page 215 he shows two men named Mayfield: John, apprenticed in 1768 in London; and Edward, in the Little Minories of London, apprenticed in 1784, member of Clockmakers Company in 1798 and died in 1812. But there was no person named William. I am sure that the biography is wrong and that Thomas’s father was actually John as shown on the baptism records. It just fits better with other information about the Mayfield family.

Many pieces of the family history are gradually coming together except I still cannot confirm when Thomas graduated as a doctor and whether he practiced in London.

I am doing an exhaustive compilation of all of the Mayfields I can find in Middlesex and Surrey and trying to relate all the families together in hopes of being able to find the direct ancestral line of great-grandfather Thomas. A few of them appeared to have trained as clock or watch makers. I’ll report later on aspects of that occupation, particularly as it pertains to my Mayfield family.

I also intend to consult with a professional genealogist in Maryland, where the Mayfiled family landed and see if there is information there as to Thomas’s background and occupation.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.