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From the Rush Archives: David Jones Peck, MD (Part 4)

by Nathalie Wheaton on 2022-02-27T08:00:00-06:00 in Archives, History | 0 Comments

PART 4: After David Jones Peck, MD, Life Goes On

--This blog post is the fourth of five pieces on the life and legacy of David Jones Peck, MD, Rush Medical College, class of 1847. Dr. Peck was the first Black graduate of a medical school in the United States. 

Part 1: David Jones Peck, MD, before Rush Medical College: [link] [1]
Part 2: David Jones Peck, MD, and early Rush Medical College: [link] [2]
Part 3: David Jones Peck, MD, after Rush Medical College: [link] [3]

After the death of David Jones Peck, MD, during the Filibuster War in Nicaragua in 1855, his friends, family, and allies in the United States continued working toward the abolition of slavery and the advancement of Black Americans.

We don’t know if Dr. Peck’s friends and family members approved of Peck’s decision to immigrate to Nicaragua in 1852, or how or when they might have heard of his death a few years later in 1855. Although he had once been mentioned in Black and abolitionist newspapers as a shining example of the potential for Black Americans, his name was rarely mentioned after he chose to leave the United States. 

Here, we explore the interconnected lives of David Jones Peck's friends and family after his tragic death.

Rev. John C. Peck (1802?-1875)

David Jones Peck’s father, Rev. John C. Peck, continued his life of activism in Pittsburgh, Penn., heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. His optimism toward Black advancement began to wane, however, after the Dred Scot decision of 1857. In this decision, the United States Supreme Court stated explicitly that people of African descent, whether enslaved or free, could never be citizens of the United States, and that the privileges afforded to citizens by the U.S. Constitution did not apply to them. 

For Rev. Peck and many other activists, this was a devastating blow. We don’t know how his son’s decision to emigrate and subsequent violent death abroad affected Rev. Peck’s activism back home. Apparently, the finality of the Dred Scott decision moved Rev. Peck more in favor of emigration, however.

CAPTION: At the 1853 National Colored Convention, held in Rochester, NY, Rev. Peck was appointed President pro tem. Other men important to Dr. Peck’s life were deeply involved, also. James McCune Smith, MD, the first Black American to earn a medical degree (University of Glasgow, Scotland, 1837), served as chairman of the nominating committee. Frederick Douglass was named a vice president, along with Peck family friend, John B. Vashon. John Jones* of Illinois, also named a vice president, was one of the most prominent Black Chicagoans at the time. From The Liberator, July 22, 1853. (Reprinted from Frederick Douglass’ Paper.) [4]

Rev. Peck outlived his son David by twenty years, dying in 1875 at 73 years old. There is no mention of his son David and his accomplishments in Rev. Peck’s memorials and obituaries. However, his son’s first mentor in medicine, activist Joseph P. Gazzam, MD, who died in 1863, is noted among Rev. Peck’s friends in his obituary.* [5]

CAPTION: Description of funeral of Rev. John C. Peck, 1875. “Extensive preparations had been made by both the white and colored citizens of both cities to pay a fitting tribute to the memory of the good old man…” From the Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 2, 1875[6]

"...I am a man, for the first time in my life, invested with all the rights, duties and immunities that pertain to manhood..." - Martin H. Freeman, 1865

Martin H. Freeman (1826-1889)

The same year as the Dred Scott decision, a happier event occurred for the Peck family. In 1857, David’s younger sister Louisa married a man named Martin H. Freeman. Louisa, mentioned in Part 1, had attended Oberlin College, 1850-1851, several years after her brother had attended the school. At the time of her marriage, she was probably in her early twenties. 

Educator Martin H. Freeman was a close friend of the Peck family and was appointed as president of Avery College soon before his 1857 wedding. Freeman was the first Black president of an American college. 

Avery College, established as the Allegheny Institute in 1849, was a Pittsburgh school dedicated to the education of Black Americans. David and Louisa’s father, Rev. John C. Peck, served as Vice President of its Board of Trustees for many years. (Avery College closed in 1873.)

In 1864, during the Civil War, Martin and Louisa Freeman immigrated to Liberia when he was offered a teaching position at Liberia College. He eventually became the president of Liberia College, as well, soon before his death in 1889. Louisa and her surviving children returned to the United States after his death, but it is unclear what happened to her after 1893.* 

CAPTION: In 1865, Freeman wrote of his experience in Liberia after leaving the United States: “I am not the same misanthropic, miserable mortal that I was two months ago. I am a man, for the first time in my life, invested with all the rights, duties and immunities that pertain to manhood.” From The Vermont Chronicle, February 18, 1865[7]

Mary Peck Bond (1837-1926)

David Jones Peck and Louisa had another sibling, Mary. Mary Peck Bond organized the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Women in Pittsburgh, 1884. 

When Mary’s eldest child died, many friends reached out to her, including an older woman, “Aunt Peggy” Donaldson. Mary discovered that Peggy was in need of care and assistance herself. According to Mary’s obituary* in 1926, “Mrs. Bond’s quick sympathies went out to Aunt Peggy, and in spite of the recent bereavement in her own home, she straightway began to make preparations to do something for the needy old women of the community.” Along with other Black women in the community, they worked to support Aunt Peggy. They then joined forces to raise funds to establish housing and further support for other older Black women in Pittsburgh.

No doubt, Mary Peck Bond’s upbringing by a famed community organizer, Rev. John C. Peck, prepared her for such an endeavor. Mary herself worked in the Home for many years until she herself needed care and became a resident. The institution eventually became the Lemington Home for the Aged and served the Pittsburgh community until 2005. 

CAPTION: Mary Peck Bond’s obituary in The Pittsburgh Courier, November 6, 1926[8]

George Boyer Vashon (1824-1878)

As mentioned in Part 1, David Jones Peck’s close childhood friend, George Vashon, was the first Black graduate of Oberlin College, 1844, and the first Black attorney to pass the New York State bar, 1848. He was not allowed to practice law in his home state of Pennsylvania because of his skin color.

After Martin H. Freeman departed Avery College for Liberia in 1863, Vashon took over the presidency of the school until 1867, when he found new opportunities in Washington, DC. In DC, Vashon served roles in the Freedmen's Bureau, the Treasury Department, and continued to practice as an attorney.

George Vashon was deeply involved in decisions regarding the education of young Black students in DC public schools in the years after the Civil War. While Vashon believed students should be educated equally and in the same public schools, DC held two segregated funds for education, one for white children and one for "colored" children. The funds for the white children were unabashedly given priority. There are many articles related to this topic in DC-area newspapers in the 1870s. [9]

In 1873, Vashon was invited to join the faculty of Alcorn University in Mississippi, the oldest public historically Black land-grant institution in the United States. The University had been founded in 1871, to support the education of descendants of formerly enslaved Black Americans. Vashon died there in 1878. 

CAPTION: Death notice of George B. Vashon in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 26, 1878, stating, "...he nobly and earnestly sought to elevate a useful manhood [upon] the young men intrusted [sic] to his charge." [10]

Martin R. Delany (1812-1885)

Although Martin R. Delany had encouraged Black Americans, including presumably his friend David Jones Peck, to immigrate to Nicaragua in 1852, he himself never visited the country. However, he did end up leaving the United States for Canada in 1856, the year after his friend was killed. (We do not know when Delany might have learned about his friend’s fate or what he thought of it.) Delany continued to seek a new settlement for Black Americans in Africa, including visiting Liberia, 1859-1860. 

The outbreak of Civil War in the United States in 1861, inspired Delany to return to the United States, as he saw it as a sign that Black Americans might finally have a chance at freedom and equality in their own country. Delany recruited Black men for the Union Army and met with President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. He was commissioned as a major in February of that year, becoming the first Black field officer in the U.S. Army.

Today, Delany is mostly remembered for these and many other achievements, but to David Jones Peck, MD, Delany was the inspiring Black hometown doctor he would have looked up to as a young man in Pittsburgh.

CAPTION: An announcement of Delany's appointment as a major during the Civil War, from the Richmond Weekly Palladium, Richmond, Ind., March 2, 1865. As mentioned in Part 1, Delany was proud of his dark skin and African features in a way many Americans were unfamiliar with at the time. Quotes like the following were often included in articles about him: "He is a full-blooded negro, with a flat nose, and a kinky head, and is very proud of his unmixed African lineage."  [11]

Daniel Brainard, MD, (1812-1866)

Meanwhile in Chicago, Peck’s medical mentors continued their work.

Daniel Brainard, MD, founder and president of Rush Medical College, continued to lead the school until his death during a cholera outbreak in 1866. He was the Democratic nominee for Chicago mayor, 1858, during a complicated time in Chicago and United States history. Though he held abolitionist leanings, his main concerns at the time of the election were the city’s health, hospitals and clean water. He lost with 46.4% of the vote.

Brainard’s funeral ceremonies were conducted by Rev. Clinton Locke, Rector of Grace Episcopal Church. Pallbearers included Chicago mayors past and present. Rev. Locke had founded Rush's predecessor hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, two years earlier in 1864, making it one of Chicago’s earliest hospitals*. [12 and 13]

CAPTION: We do not know of the existence of any photographs of Daniel Brainard, MD. This particular etching, one of the only images we've seen of Brainard as a younger man, was reprinted in an issue of the Journal of Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics, January 1933, accompanying a piece on Brainard by Rush faculty and surgeon, Arthur Dean Bevan, MD. [14] 

Charles V. Dyer, MD (1808-1878)

David Jones Peck’s preceptor at Rush Medical College, Charles V. Dyer, MD, continued as a facilitator of the Underground Railroad in Chicago in the years leading up to the Civil War. He eventually became an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln. 

In fact, Dyer wrote to President Lincoln on behalf of Martin R. Delany in late April 1863, “Doctor Martin R. Delany is a reliable man and as you can not fail to discover a man of energy and intelligence and any monies that may be placed in his hands will be faithfully and legitimately applied as shall be stipulated.”

CAPTION: Letter from Charles V. Dyer to Abraham Lincoln, April 26, 1863, in the Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress. [15]

Someday, I hope, among all the existing papers and letters written by Dr. Peck’s family and friends, we will someday find recollections of him after his departure for Nicaragua and after his death.

The interconnectedness of Peck’s friends and allies above is not a coincidence. Although individual achievements are undeniable when researching the history of Black Americans, so is the importance of that individual’s community support; the friends, family and allies who encouraged or inspired them.

Part 5: The Legacy of David Jones Peck, MD, will post soon. Subscribe to the Rush Archives Blog in the "SUBSCRIBE" box for notifications of new posts. 

Want to learn more about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections? Explore the Rush Archives website, or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS. Follow us on Twitter! @RushArchives


* It’s very likely David Jones Peck met John Jones and his wife, Mary Jane, when he lived in Chicago. The two men arrived in Chicago the same year, 1845, at a time when there were very few Black Americans in the city. And both men were assisted and supported by prominent Chicagoans with Rush connections, judge L. C. P. Freer and Peck’s preceptor, Charles V. Dyer, MD, upon their arrival in the city.

* Rev. John Peck's obituary mentions that he is survived by three children; a son (unnamed, living in Pittsburgh), Louisa and Mary (mentioned later in this piece.) It is also mentioned that by "his second wife, he had two boys." We have not identified John Peck's second wife and these two younger children.

* In 1893, Louisa Peck Freeman suffered further tragedy. Her son, Edwin Peck Freeman, 32, publicly shot and killed a white woman he claimed had been his close friend. He then turned the gun on himself and died. Edwin’s brother, John, afraid his brother was bent on murder, had been searching frantically for Edwin, trying to stop him, and alerting passersby of his brother’s threats. “The mother of both boys lives at Brushton with her sister, Mary Bond.” After detailed news stories appeared about this tragedy and the incidents that preceded it, Louisa and her other son John cannot be traced. [16 and 17]

* Mary Peck Bond's 1926 obituary mentions the existence of further Peck family members. If you are interested in information we have gathered on some of these individuals so far, please contact Nathalie Wheaton, archivist.

The images in this post come from the sources cited in captions. Contact the archivist for information on full citations.


















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