“LEAP FOR JOY . . . DR. WARREN HAS CLOSED THE OPERATION UPON PHEBE’S UNFORTUNATE SWELLING.”; Letter describing Dr. John Warren’s successful removal of a precancerous tumor from an adolescent girl
Boston, Massachusetts to Coventry Connecticut: February 6, 1799. Envelope or Cover. This one-page stampless folded letter measures approximately 12” x 7.5”. It is datelined “Boston Feby March 6. 1799.” It bears a straight-line “Boston” handstamp, circled “7 / MR” Boston postmark, and a manuscript “10” rate mark. Small sealing wax tear from when the letter was opened. In nice shape. A transcript will be provided.
In this letter Abbot describes Dr. John Warren’s surgery to remove a precancerous tumor from his daughter. The letter reads in part:
“My dear brother & Sister Betty . . . you will leap for joy when I inform you that this moment Dr. Warren has closed the operation upon Phebe’s unfortunate swelling. The time of her suffering was as follows. 9 min’ts in cutting, 14 in taking up the blood vessels, & 22 in Sponging, airing, & dressing the wound. Her conduct, her fortitude & composure were astonishing, & unequaled says the Doctr. It proves to have been a serirous tumor, wh would certainly have become a cancer. Every thing is well & promising. She Stays here at Cap Weld’s 4 or 5 days when the Dr. Supposes she can safely be removed to Andover.”. Very good. Item #009635
Dr. John Warren was an American patriot and a surgeon in the Continental Army. His brother, Joseph, was a leader of the Sons of Liberty and is most famous for having recruited Paul Revere and William Dawes to spread the alarm when British troops departed Boston for Concord and Lexington. He was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill, and John was bayoneted by a British soldier when he attempted to retrieve Joseph's remains. After John recovered, he served in army hospitals at Concord and Long Island and fought in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. After the war, he became a very successful Boston surgeon and performed the first abdominal operation in the United States. He founded Harvard Medical School in 1782. (See “Warren, John” in American Medical Biographies online and entries including “John Warren” in Garrison’s History of Medicine.)
Warren performed a similar operation, a mastectomy, on President John Adams's daughter in 1812, and a letter describing it in the same manner was written by Adams to Dr. Benjamin Rush.
While the location of Phebe’s precancerous growth is not identified, Abbot’s elated letter nonetheless describes an early successful tumor removal by Warren and is a firsthand testament to the doctor’s skill as well as to Phebe’s fortitude while calmly suffering through such a serious and painful 45-minute operation without the benefit of anesthesia. Online genealogical records suggest that Phebe was born in 1799, if so, she would have been about 11 years old at the time of the operation.
Adams’s letter describing Warren's surgery sold in 1984 for the equivalent of $20,000 in today's money. Granted, Abbot’s Revolutionary War service as a Major does not carry the same cachet as Adams’s service as President, however, his letter describes a similar perilous surgery performed by Warren twelve years earlier.
Exceptionally scarce. At the time of this listing, nothing similar is for sale in the trade, and no similar descriptions of Warren’s surgeries are held by institutions per OCLC. As previously noted, there is one similar letter, the Adams’s letter, describing an operation by Warren.