Surg Mate Isaac Bronson 1760-1839Leave a Comment
Colonel (Doctor) Isaac Bronson
2nd Regiment Light Dragoons
Issac Bronson (1760-1839), who had trained for several years and studied medicine with Dr. Lemuel Hopkins in Litchfield, received a warrant as surgeon’s mate (or junior surgeon) at the age of 19 on November 14, 1779 in The 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons ( a cavalry detachment), commanded by Colonel Elisha Sheldon, in the Connecticut line, under the immediate command of General George Washington. He acted as the senior surgeon (due to the age and infirmities of the senior surgeon) and served until the end of the war in 1783 as a medical officer and part of Colonel Sheldon’s regimental command. He attained the rank of Colonel. Isaac performed all medical duties for several campaigns for all the troops attached to Sheldon’s command.
“The senior officer was…unable to endure the hardships…the protection of the inhabitants…between the outposts of the two contending armies… This service required the troops to be constantly moving…Not a single tent belonged to the regiment, nor had they any other covering except the occasional shelter which uninhabited houses and barns afforded… The wounded, as well as the sick, were frequently left under the protection of flags of truce, attended by the surgeon only; the New York levies being without any medical officers even in name.”
“The life of a medical officer during the Revolutionary War was only a bit less unpleasant than that of the average soldier. The army frequently suffered from shortages of provisions, including medical supplies. At that time, medicine under the best of conditions was in a comparatively primitive state, and the facilities for proper medical attention in wartime were usually very inadequate. Sheldon’s regiment of horse spent much of its time in combat areas…Bronson experienced the brutal realities of war when hardly more than a boy, while treating, or perhaps more often just trying to comfort, the casualties of battle and of sicknesses like dysentery, often in the open field or sheltered only by trees.”
On September 23, 1780, British Major John Andre, who had compromised Benedict Arnold in a dramatic, almost catastrophic plot to take West Point and even to capture General Washington, himself was captured outside Tarrytown, New York with incriminating documents of Arnold’s treason. Major Andre was arrested as a spy because he had crossed into American lines wearing civilian clothes and under an assumed name. Isaac Bronson was in charge of Major Andre during his captivity and trial and was present at his execution “in his official capacity.” Major Andre borrowed a gentleman’s shirt from Bronson to wear at his trial and execution.
Washington offered to exchange Andre for Arnold, but the British declined. Much to the chagrin of Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette and many of his officers, including Isaac Bronson, Washington insisted that Major Andre be hung as a spy rather than executed by a firing squad as a British officer because of the seriousness and near success of the plot and Washington’s desire to make an example of Major Andre.
On another occasion Isaac Bronson, made a personal appeal to George Washington to have all his fellow surgeons’ mates fairly treated and awarded pensions like full surgeons and other officers. Washington forwarded the personal appeal to his Secretary of War. Three decades later the omission Bronson had complained of was finally addressed, and surgeons mates were granted full pay for life, in his case $480 a year. George Washington signed Isaac Bronson’s Certificate of Membership in the Society of the Cincinnati on July 4, 1786.
After the War, Isaac Bronson engaged in foreign commerce and travelled, most likely as a ship’s doctor, as far away as China. He returned from his last trip in May 1789 and, after disposing of the cargo he brought back, he had sufficient financial resources to satisfy his future father-in-law, Thomas Olcott of Stratford. He married Anna Olcott on August 30, 1789, and they settled first in Hartford, then moved to Philadelphia and finally to New York. They had ten children, two of whom died in infancy.
Following his marriage, Isaac Bronson first pursued a career in purchasing and selling government obligations, using the capital he had acquired from foreign trade. His career was greatly assisted by his many friendships with his former fellow officers, including Alexander Hamilton. Isaac Bronson concluded that the new federal government would ultimately make good on the debt it had issued. He had purchased the debt for as little as ten cents on the dollar and ultimately recovered the face value. He also invested, to his advantage, in the Bank of the United States.
Once Isaac Bronson had amassed a fortune from trading in government securities, he became one of the chief private money lenders in New York. He founded a bank in Bridgeport in 1807. His career as a financier spanned four decades and was carried on by his two sons. By 1828, he was listed as one of the eleven wealthiest New Yorkers. He was considered an authority on banks and banking and encouraged a sound national banking policy and fair and dependable banking practices.
In 1796, Isaac Bronson and his wife, Anna, moved their family into a new home on Greenfield Hill in Fairfield, where they lived half the year for the rest of their lives. Their house, rebuilt by their grandson, is now the Fairfield Country Day School, and some of the dogwood trees they planted along the road to their home (now named Bronson Road) still survive. Neighbors have replaced the trees which have died.
“For thirty years prior to his death, [Isaac Bronson] devoted much attention to the Christian religion, and never for a moment was shaken in his clear conviction of the great truths of the Bible. He lived and died with a firm reliance on its promises. His great age cast no shadow over his mental powers, which continued in their full force and brilliancy to the close of life.”
Henry Bronson, The History of Waterbury, Connecticut (Waterbury, Bronson Brothers 1858) 371.
Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer, New Yorkers of the XIX Century (New York: F. Tennyson Neely, 1897) ix. See also Elizabeth Banks MacRury, More about the Hill:Greenfield Hill (North Haven, Conn.:City Printing Co.,1968) 83.
Henry Bronson, Waterbury, 371.
Grant Morrison, Isaac Bronson And The Search For System in American Capitalism 1789-1838 (New York, Arno Press 1978) 7.
Ron Chernow, Washington – A Life (New York, Penguin Books 2010) 385-6.
Elizabeth MacRury, Greenfield Hill, 8.
Mrs. John King Van Rennsselaer, New Yorkers of the XIX Century, ix.
Ron Chernow, Washington, 386.
Grant Morrison, Isaac Bronson, 12.
Elizabeth MacRury, Greenfield Hill, 94.