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Merritt, David
Correspondence, Papers, and Ephemera of Civil War Surgeon Doctor David Merritt, M.D., of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, written to his family at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, as well as other Letters and Ephemera of his family, 1825-1905.

Collection of 45 letters, 170 manuscript pages, dated 10 April 1839 to 10 June 1882, plus over 150 printed and manuscript papers and ephemeral items, relating to Dr. Merritt and his family, dated 1825-1905.

$ 3000.00 | Contact Us >
This correspondence is one of the most peculiar, and, ultimately poignant that we have handled. The archive chronicles the dysfunctional relationship between Merritt and his father and  David Merritt's attempts to communicate with his father seeking acknowledgement, acceptance, and his father's respect. The letters become almost desperate, verging on belligerent, and are often accompanied by documents which Merritt has fashioned with elaborate calligraphy and handmade seals and other illustrations to resemble "official" certificates.  Merritt's father never answered his son's letters.

     Dr. David Merritt (1830-1888)

The Merritt family was an English family that came to America in 1662 and eventually settled in Rye, New York. During the American Revolutionary war the family, who were Loyalists, came to New Brunswick, with the majority of the family settling in Saint John, and one branch settling in Ontario.

David Daniel Merritt was born in 1764 in Rye, New York. He went to New Brunswick with his parents during the Revolutionary War. He married Mary Wheeler (1770-1842). They had 7 children: Thomas (1792-1869); David Jabez (1803-1884); Mary (1800-1894); Amy (1789-1871); Julia (1807-1881); Caroline Matilda (1809-); Eliza (-1827). David Daniel died in Saint John in 1829. He was a merchant and owned a store at the north side of Market Square. He built the Loyalist House located on the corner of Union and Germain Streets which eventually became a museum and National Historic Site.

David Jabez Merritt, son of David Daniel Merritt, was born in Saint John in 1803. His first wife was Fanny Cornwall Smith (1808-1838), daughter of William H. Smith, which he married in 1828. They had three children: David (1829-1888); Julia Harrison (1834-1912); and Edward Miles (1834-1896). His second wife, whom he married in 1841, was Anna Magee (1820-1911), daughter of James Magee. Anna was born in Ireland and died in Saint John. They had 8 children: Thomas Henry (1842-1910); William Hamilton (1844-1925); Frederick Jabez (1846-1918); Eliza (1849-); Charles Richard (1856-1924); Anna Maud (1860-1932); Fanny (1866-1929); and Louise (1860-1941). David Jabez Merritt was a merchant who owned a number of businesses. He had 2 stores, one in Hampton and a farm on Gondola Point. He was a 2nd Lieut. in the 1st Battalion Militia. There are several letters and ephemeral paper items related to David Jabez Merritt in this collection.

Anna Magee, David Jabez Merritt's second wife, was the daughter of John James Magee from Fermanagh, Ireland. Her siblings were John (1828-1885), William, and Thomas S. (-1857). Thomas S. ran a general merchandise establishment called India House located on Dock Street. After his death, Thomas' nephew, Edward Miles Merritt took over. John who was born in Enniskillen, Ireland, first went to work with Lawton & Vassie. He with his brother William established Magee Bros. & Co. around 1858. It was located at the corner of King and Prince William St. selling dry goods. The company in 1877 made the transition from dry goods to coal and shipping and relocated to Water Street. John Magee was one of the directors of the Spring Hill Coal Mines. In 1879 he was elected Alderman, Duke Ward until 1882. John and William also ran a farm on the Marsh Road. There are several letters of the Magee family in this collection.

Dr. David Merritt was born at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada on 14 September 1829. He was the son of David Jabez Merritt and his first wife Fanny Cornwall Smith. He emigrated to Philadelphia at the age of 19 years old and began the study of medicine and graduated from the Pennsylvania Medical College in March of 1851. It would appear from the correspondence that Dr. Merritt's father was very much against his choice of leaving home in Canada and studying medicine. Perhaps, as the oldest son, he was expected to stay at home and help with the family business, or to take it over.

Dr. Merritt practiced his profession in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, until the outbreak of the Civil War when he joined the 55th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, under Colonel Richard White in November of 1861. He was commissioned a major. During his military career, he treated the wounded from many battles, including Pocotaligo (1862), the Siege of Petersburg (1864), Cold Harbor (1864), and Drury's Bluff (1864). He contracted malaria and resigned his position with the 55th Pennsylvania in August 1864. After recuperating, he became a surgeon in Hancock's Veterans. Following the close of the war, he was mustered out in 1866 and went to Philadelphia and resumed his medical practice. He repeatedly had attacks of malaria afterwards, eventually filing for a pension, which he received.

Dr. Merritt married Rebecca Warren Paris on 8 July 1852 at Old St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia. Again, his father was against his son's decision, thinking the girl below their status in society. It mattered not and David married Rebecca. His father never forgave David for disobeying him and refused to speak or write to his son there after. The correspondence and various papers of Dr. David Merritt make much of his father's refusal to write him, or hear him out. Merritt repeatedly sends his father news of his success as a doctor, as a military surgeon, and after the war of his  having a successful medical practice. It   mattered not for his father, he never again wrote to his son after his marriage in 1852 and their estrangement lasted over twenty years until his father's death in 1884.

While Dr. Merritt married in 1852, the first child of the couple to actually live past child birth was not born until 1864. The correspondence tells us that the couple struggled with the loss of five children at child birth leading up to the birth of their son David Gilbert Merritt who was born 29 September 1864. Dr. Merritt's daughter Alma Rebecca Merritt was born on 6 March 1871. Dr. Merritt's son David married a woman by the name of Ann and had a son Frank G. Merritt (1897-1970). They lived in Philadelphia where David eventually found work as a letter carrier for the post office.

Dr. Merritt became ill about the year 1885 and died on 27 May 1888, leaving behind his wife, son, and daughter. He was buried 29 May 1888 at Glenwood Cemetery, in Philadelphia. He was 58 years old. His wife continued to live at their home on the 2000 block of Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia, dying in 1897.

     Description of Collection

11 of the 45 letters are written by Dr. David Merritt to his father. These long, detailed, boastful, and rather contentious letters written by Dr. Merritt to his father suggest that his father strongly disapproved of his choice of a medical career and the letters tell us, his father disapproved of his choice of a wife. Merritt writes, apparently seeking acceptance from his father, an acknowledgment that he was proud of him and his career, and attempts to repair their relationship, something his father was entirely un-interested in.

Dr. Merritt sent his father copies of his monthly income statements, registers of the births he attended, and other proofs of his professional success, many of them in fine calligraphy or illustrated with photographs and engravings.  In an attempt to make them look like official engraved certificates or documents. However they had no effect on his father, who appears never to have written or spoken to his son for over twenty years after his son married in 1852.

The earliest letter written by Dr. Merritt is not dated, but appears to be written by him after receiving a letter from his father asking if it was true that he would be married. This letter, while not dated, would have been shortly before Dr. Merritt's marriage in July of 1852. The letter reads in part:

"Dear Father,

I received from you lately a letter dated March 12th asserting that you heard a report that I was going to be married to a person very much beneath myself both in family and education. And that you wish an immediate answer if such is the case. First, I distinctly and emphatically answer that the report that I am going to be married to any person of that quality is a downright falsehood. I care not who reported such. I distinctly and emphatically deny that I am going to be married to any one who is beneath me both in family and education, or in either family or education. Second, I as distinctly and as emphatically as I deny the false report you have heard, do assert that I am, God willing, going to marry a person whose family is of undoubted and proven respectability, and I have yet to discover that my family can lay claim to anything more, but at the same time I would not have you think that I enter on this matter thoughtlessly, for I have been intimately acquainted with her family for nearly three years and have been engaged to and watched the one whom I am going to marry for over two years and a half during all my trials and anxieties. If I were to go on to assert that she is amiable, industrious, economical, and accomplished in the necessary requirements to constitute for one a good wife, you would at once set me down as labouring under the influence of a passion which is called Love and that I was blindfolded &c. So here I let the matter rest stating to you earnestly that it is my full intention to be married as soon as I find it convenient so to do. I can then live cheaper taking all things into consideration and get a great deal more respectable paying practice than I have at present though I feel thankful that after being left with my diploma in my one hand and nothing in the other, to my own exertions, I have done so well...You feel anxious to know the young lady's name,, I would fain gratify you by telling it, it is Rebecca Warren Paris, & I can assure that if my family will but let me alone, as I will them, for I consider it to be an affair of my own, I am not at all afraid but that with her, I will prosper, but in my marrying I would wish it be understood that I do as you did before me, that is marry to please myself and not the family, at the same moment I would assert that I hope after what I have written you in answer to your letter on the matter, you will do me the kindness to accept of my word & honor which has stood good up to the present, for the correctness of my choice. Before concluding I would wish that (if this epistle does not contain ample information on the topic of so much anxiety to you and you would wish to know more thereof) you would accept of my earnest wish that you come on personally and see & know for yourself...

 I am yours Affec. Son, David Merritt

P.S. You have said 'If I can not make a living come home.'  Why this invitation? Have I said or acted as if I could not get my living here"

This collection contains one wartime letter, of twelve pages, written by Dr. Merritt, dated February 9, 1862.  The letter is written from "[Head]Quarters of the Surgeon 55th Reg." at Hilton Head, South Carolina, and contains drawings and a description of the surgeon's uniform. Even though his father has given no hint of being interested in his son's life, Merritt doesn't seem to care and continues writing his father. In the letter Merritt is keen to let his father know that he has become successful, and that he would like to repair the break in their relationship, he is a son looking for his father's respect and acceptance:

                "Quarters of the Surgeon 55th Regt P.V.

            Hilton Head, South Carolina

            Sunday, Feb'y 9th, 1862

            My Dear Father,

Time rolls on and more than thirteen years have elapsed since I last shook hands and bid you an affectionate farewell on the North Market Wharf in my native city. Since then many changes have taken place with me and I have passed through many scenes and I have at times wondered how I accomplished the work I have. 1st the study and the honorable and proud result - my graduation - then Father soon came the "Confidence of Manhood" and I sought and obtained a fitting partner for life's journey - you demurred in giving your sanction to my espousal and I, who know that - 'Love is a passion by no rule confined, the first great mover of the human mind"- was fully convinced that any other being on this earth would never suit your son David so I in the face of your wishes, expressed in a letter, to the contrary - espoused one who has proved to me - that my judgment was not an erring one when I made the selection I did. I write thus plainly because I deem it much better so to do for a man of my age, past 32, now I believe, is no child and the proud position I at present hold warrants me in believing that the money you spent on me for the purpose of educating me and my exertions at that period and since have not been in vain. Therefore my dear and only parent, I hope you will at least honor me with proof enough to satisfy one that I still have a parent in the land of the living and do not treat me any longer as if I had robbed you, had abused you, had become an outcast from respectable society and as if you were ashamed of me. For I am exactly in every respect justly to be considered just the opposite of such a character. I seeing an advertisement in the Philadelphia papers in Sept last (1861) to the effect that a board of examiners would convene at Harrisburg, Penna at the Capitol for the examination of candidates for the position of surgeon or assistant surgeon in the Army according to their merit of their examination on Oct 2, 1861. I was fired by ambition and determination to try... let the consequences be what it would...My surprise Sir when I inform you that on the 8th day of October I rec'd a notice by mail to the effect that I had been reported to the Governor (of Penna) by the examining board of surgeons (not one of whom or the surgeon general presiding at the examination did I know...) as worthy of the appointment of 'Surgeon' and to hold myself in readiness...I did not change my plans I got prepared for the 'going to war' and unexpected a call so early was ordered to report to Surgeon Woods of General Hospital at Camp Curtain near Harrisburg...the Surgeon General made his appearance at the hospital and assigned me to the 55th Regt Penna Volunteers and I was ordered to report to the Colonel of that regiment for duty...So you see plainly I got my position not through favor, not through political trickery, not through connivance, no! Father but solely because the Examining Board of Surgeons composed by the way of 3 of our most eminent professional men from different parts of the state of PA and these few as Justices held the reins that time and fair-play was the order of the day I won the proud position I now hold and I thank no one but myself for it getting the position as I did a total stranger to them all, merely and solely on account of the Merit of my examination before the board....

Merritt continues:

"I indeed deserve what I gained - to wit - the position of Surgeon in Chief of the 55th Regiment Penna Vols. And my dear Parent, conscious within myself that I was able and willing to do the duties which would devolve on me - have devolved - and are now devolving on your son David who now sits here in his tents - in the State  of South Carolina - the hot bed of Secession, writing to an only Parent from whom no word has come either by word of friends or by letter of friends or relations - save to know that he still existed on earth - and was enjoying health Yes! Father - I again write -- writing to a parent from whom no word has come for over nine long years and then only to (by letter) impute him with marrying and this doing wrong ah! My parent my dear Father...I feel the ties of sanguinity still binding me to you. Yes! You are still tho so far removed from me my Father - Would I had a mother too She would not have cast off so her 1st born - No! She with the true pride of a mother would have felt all her maternal heart swell within her almost to bursting with pride when she heard almost seen known for certain as you must know that I have proclaimed if not by words at least by actions which speak louder than words in such a case as mine. That instead of you treating me as you have - as if I was a disgrace to my family as if she whom I espoused was a disgrace, as if I was not worthy of even an acknowledgement from you of your existence - ah! My only surviving parent she my poor gone mother would not have treated either me or mine as you have - She - would have seen for herself and then I trusting to the keen perception of woman - would have been happy, for her verdict would have been a just one - and she would not have taken the words of others and not seeing for herself, Condemned  me - and if she had felt herself wronged, if she had believed that I had forgotten her teachings, even to the 4th Commandment, she would have gently chided me - as a wayward son and all her anger would have been swollened up in the yearning maternal love she was capable of feeling and evincing, but my poor dear Mother is dead. Yes, she is gone and 'Change has come over the spirit of my life's dream' but I sometimes awake to the realities as I have this evening of this at best ever changing scene and then as now thy very evening...As countless as the sands of the seashore here at Hilton Head, S.C., could I but have my mother still alive Oh! how I envy the young man who is blessed with a mother...Ah! God help them to help themselves who have been so unfortunate in their boyish days as to lose a kind and loving mother!!! I do not write thus to wound your feelings, no my Father tho' I have not seen you for 13 long years though even memory almost fails to recall your appearance -tho' much of a mistaken much of an erring character may have occurred on both sides, I write now as no child save one of ripe years of maturing, of the age of 33 namely though you have censured me and thus, almost ignored me as a son. Still my only surviving parent I love you as a son should a father who in early youth that indulged him, had endeavored to put him forth in the world amongst his fellow men when he should attain the years of manhood as a gentleman of education & refinement as such and more as a father, I do respect - esteem and love but father, I do feel at the same time that you have wronged me and mine, that you have not let forgiveness like a shroud cover over the dead canker in your soul - that from you  - no word of encouragement has come whilst I strove to battle against the waves of the sea of life and buffeting with a strong will I swam on....".

The letter continues for three more pages.

Another letter in the collection is an astounding 46 manuscript pages in length. This letter written soon after the Civil War ended, but with Merritt still in military service, was written on May 15th, 1865, while Dr. Merritt was at "Camp Stoneman, D.C., near Washington, D.C." The letter recounts his career in the military as a surgeon, various movements, medical operations, stations where he was posted, hospitals, catching malaria and becoming sick, retiring, than coming back to enlist and serve with Hancock's Veterans. A fascinating and lengthy letter filled with details. This letter gives some insight about several of the documents in the ephemeral section of the archive, apparently Merritt sent all these documents to his father. Another letter, written just several days later on May 24th, 1865, from the same location, is 4 manuscript pages in length.

The next letter to his father is not until 1872, when he was out of military service and back in Philadelphia conducting his private medical practice. This letter appears to be the letter which was accompanied by a number of other documents that are listed in the ephemeral section of this archive, which carry various statements and accounts of his medical practice sent to his father, presumably as a way to prove to his father that he is indeed a successful doctor and by extension a worthy son. These ephemeral items consist of many post-war medical-related items, mostly associated with Merritt's medical practice in Philadelphia from the time he left  the military until the date of the letter (1866-1872). Merritt's business card, medical office cash account records, records of births delivered by Merritt from 1866 through 1871, official Philadelphia birth lists for several months in 1872, birth certificates for both of Merritt's children (1864 and 1871), various letters, and much more. Also included is a three-page manuscript written by Merritt entitled "Brief History of Service of D. Merritt M.D., Applicant for invitation to appear before the Medical Examiners Board", which offers details of his military service. The archive also contains several manuscripts that Dr. Merritt prepared specifically for his parents, such as the "Statement of Amounts received monthly and yearly Pecuniary results of the practice of Medicine, Surgery, & Obstetrics by David Merritt, M.D."

Some of the later correspondence deals with Merritt's requests for a pension. Other items in the ephemeral section include various pamphlets and imprints, such as "An Inaugural Address Introductory to the Course on Institutes of Medicine in the Jefferson Medical College, Delivered October 12, 1868".Also included is a "correct copy" of the Interior Department's document granting Dr. Merritt a military pension. Finally, the archive also includes some letters and ephemeral paper and manuscript items for Dr. David Merritt's father and the family of his second wife.
     Inventory of Collection:


45 letters, of which 33, (143 pp), pertain to Dr. Merritt: his pre and post war medical practice, his war time experience as a surgeon, and his fight for his military pension. These letters are dated 1862-1882. Dr. Merritt wrote 11 letters to his father, he also writes 1 letter to his half-sister Fanny and 2 letters to his sister Julie. There are also 3 letters written to Dr. Merritt, of which 1 is from Merritt's lawyers concerning his pension case in Washington.  Another letter written to Merritt is from the Registrar at the Philadelphia Health Office, praising Merritt for such excellent penmanship in his filing of his birth returns to the city. His penmanship is on display in the mock "certificates" which Merritt mails to his father. The final letter written to Merritt is from a Dr. J. S. Emerson asking if Merritt remembered treating a man by the name of Donovan during the war, Donovan was seeking a pension.

15 letters, 29 manuscript pp., concern Dr. David Merritt's successful attempt at receiving a military pension. Of these 12 are copies, transcribed by Dr. Merritt himself and sent to his sister, so that she may read the letters to their father, who appears to have then been in ill health. Two original letters are written by Dr. David Merritt to his sister Julie explaining what the 12 copied letters are about, the other original letter is from Merritt's lawyers in Washington. The copied letters consist of the correspondence from O. P. G. Clark, Acting Commissioner of the Pension Office in Washington, D.C.; W. W. Dudley, Commissioner of the Department of Interior's Pension Office; C. H. Crane, the Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Army; Merritt Barber, the Acting Assistant Adjutant General; U.S. Congressman Henry H. Bingham of Philadelphia who was helping Merritt to get listed as a "special" case, or letters copied from T.E. & B. E. Lloyd, Merritt's attorneys in D.C. David Merritt, Jr., (the son of Dr. Merritt), writes 4 letters to his parents. The remaining 12 letters that do not concern Dr. Merritt, concern his father, David Jabez Merritt, or members of his second wife Mary Magee's family (her brother Thomas mostly, who was in Alabama fighting a court case, and at home in St. John, NB).

35 manuscript ephemeral items (49 manuscript pp) pertaining to Dr. David Merritt, 1866-1872

1. Brief History of Service of D. Merritt, M.D. applicant for invitation to appear before the Medical Examining Board, U.S.A., now is session at N.Y. City, 3  pp., not dated, circa 1860s-1870s.

2. A Correct Statement, somewhat embellished of Obstetrical Cases attended by David Merritt, M.D., dated 1866-1871, 12 pp., decorated with laid on pictures

3. A Statement of Amount received monthly and yearly pecuniary results of the Practice of Medicine, Surgery & Obstetrics by David Merritt, M.D. from June 1866 to December 31, 1871, 12 pp., dated 1866-1871, decorated with pictures.

4. Transcript from my correctly kept cash book setting forth the various amounts received from the various sources of my practice during May 1872, 2 pp, dated 1872.

5. Address to My Father on his Birth Day November 1st, 1872, written to Dr. Merritt's father on his 69th birthday.

6. 15 addressed mailing envelopes, some decorated.

7. 1 printed and ms note stating Dr. Merritt was moving his medical practice to a new address within the city of Philadelphia.

8. Copy of Letter of recommendation from Col. Oliver Woods, of the 4th Regt US Vols, 1st Army Corps, recommending Dr. Merritt as an outstanding surgeon, gentleman and friend, dated 28 February 1866, 1 ms page, copied by Merritt.

9. Cash Account for Dr. Merritt's medical practice, dated 1872, 7 manuscript pages.

10. Transcript of My Cash Book, March 1872, 1 page.

11. 5 Returns of Births for February, March, May, September, and December 1872, 5 printed and manuscript pages.

12. 4 rather elaborate birth certificates, 2 each for Dr. Merritt's own children, Alma Rebecca Merritt and David Gilbert Merritt, created by Dr. Merritt.

13. 2 cards, one a business card. The other a railroad pass for the Camden & Atlantic Rail Road, 1872.

  117 other Ephemeral Paper Items mainly pertaining to David Jabez Merritt, or his Family, dated 1825-1906

14. 30 printed and manuscript receipts for St. John, New Brunswick, Canada banks

15. 22 printed letterhead and manuscript receipts for St. John's businesses

16. 7 manuscript receipts, dated 1839-1881

17. 9 printed and manuscript receipts for Jane E. Roberts, from Julie H. Merritt, 1902-1906

18. 14 addressed mailing envelopes

19. 4 printed and manuscript St. John's School District tax receipts

20. 3 Trinity Church, Parish of St. John, Annual Account pamphlets

21. 1 printed and ms. pew rent receipt

22. 1 printed and ms. Fire Insurance Circular

23. 1 printed and ms receipt for New Brunswick Arch Chapter, Masons group

24. 1 small printed summons to appear in court

25. 3 manuscript pages of verse (3 poems), not dated.

26. 1 bond, 3 manuscript pages Mary Miller, 1828

27.1 Probate Court document, St. John, NB, for John Burns, 8 manuscript pages, dated 1871.

28. 1 ms note for advertisement presumably for a newspaper, dated 1825.

29. 1 account book of David J. Merritt, 56 manuscript  pages, bound in vellum, (measuring 4 ¾" 7 ½"), dated 22 May 1839 -1 November 1865. Receipt book for monies paid to his sister and mother from his father's estate, of which he acted as one of the executors.

30. 17 pieces of medical paper ephemera, newspaper clippings of medical books, clipped title pages from books, adverts, addresses, etc., mostly not dated.