Saturday, July 08, 2023

"The Surgeon of Ann Arundel"

Every so often when researching our family, I come across a person whose life story is so interesting that it needs to be told. My 9th Great Grandfather is one such person. He was Dr. Richard Wells (1609-1667), and was known as "the Surgeon of Ann Arundel." Ann Arundel is a county in Maryland some 50 miles east of Washington, D.C.

Richard Wells is our ancestor through my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard (1896-1986). He is also the Great Grandfather of our ancestor, the Quaker Rachel Wells (1720-1771), who I have written about several times in this blog. Here is Richard Wells' family line:

Wells Family Coat of Arms
Richard Wells (b.1609)
Frances Wells (b.1657)
Joseph Wells (b.1697)
Rachel Wells (b. 1720) 
Joseph Wright (b. 1740) 
John Wright (b.1774) 
Nancy Wright (b. 1811) 
Malinda Wright (b. 1846) 
James Brooks Davis (b.1870) 
Bura Davis Shepard (b.1896) 
Eugene Shepard (b.1921) 
me (b.1948)

Richard Wells' life in Colonial America began when he immigrated at 28 years old from England to the colony of Virginia in 1637. He was a staunch Puritan of wealth and influence in a time when Puritans were in power. He married Francis Elizabeth White (1622-1711) while living in Virginia and with her had 11 children, a normal sized family for colonists like the Wellses who sought to populate the new world.

Being a Liberal Puritan, Richard felt the urge to move northward to Maryland where Lord Baltimore had established freedom of religion. The Puritans were a significant group of activists within the Church of England. They sought to rid the Church of all Catholic influence. They were purists who resisted the Church straying from its roots. They had a major impact on life in Colonial America, and eventually became the Congregational Church, which is today part of the United Church of Christ.
A physician's 17th century
blood-letting tool chest. 

It was in 1653 that the Puritan Richard Wells and his family of 11 children and 6 slaves relocated to the western shore of Herring Bay in the southeastern part of Ann Arundel County. Once they settled in Maryland, Richard immersed himself in civic affairs. He was appointed a member of the Parliamentary Commission the year after arriving and served on that body from 1854 to 1858. It was an appointed commission of eight who controlled Maryland's Government. 

Richard is best known for being given the moniker, The Surgeon of Ann Arundel. It suggests that he had some familiarity with the practice of medicine, although historical details of that are hard to find. In the 17th century, during Richard's lifetime, there were no medical schools, and one became a doctor simply by practicing. Among his functions as a surgeon was blood-letting, a common medical procedure at that time. The image above shows a blood-letting "tool chest" for 17th century doctors such as Richard Wells.

In Maryland, Richard and his family did very well and accumulated significant wealth, primarily through land ownership. Soon after he arrived he was granted 600 acres on the shore of Herring Bay, an estate he named "Wells". His accumulation of land went far beyond that and eventually included several thousand acres of land. In his Will, which was probated in Ann Arundel County in 1667, Richard Wells bequeathed to his 5 sons parcels of land that totaled nearly 3,000 acres. In 1658 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and was also on the Puritan Council. Clearly our ancestor Richard Wells was a leading citizen of early Maryland. We are honored to have ancestors such as Richard Wells and Frances White Wells in our family tree.

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Steve Shepard

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