Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Extortion Trial of 1861, Who was Dr. Gilbert: Part 4

Before continuing with day three of the extortion trial now would be a good time to learn about Dr. Samuel Gilbert and his family.  A quick synopsis shows that he was born in 1802 in Westmoreland Virginia.  The family moved to Boon's Lick Missouri when he was a young boy.  He apprenticed as a tailor and met Kit Carson who was apprenticing in Franklin Missouri at the same time.  Gilbert had a leg ulcer which the medical profession had been unable to cure leading him to a woman who had a homemade cure that worked for him.  After escaping from his apprenticeship he made his way to Memphis and opened up a tailoring business that was not very successful.  In order to supplement his tailoring he began making the homemade ulcer treatment and with that "Dr." Samuel Gilbert was born and that is how he made his fortune. He established infirmaries and a hospital in Memphis and he traveled a great deal around the country with his "cure".  He returned to Memphis in the late 1850's and began practicing again but he also was in the business of loaning money.  Which brings us to why he was seen as a good mark for extortion.  Dr. Gilbert had a wife and at least two children: Silas T. and Louis R. Gilbert.  Samuel Gilbert died in 1869 and is interred at Elmwood Cemetery.

Oftentimes when researching the past we first look at the death of the individual in question and work backward.  Dr. Gilbert died in Memphis on August 17, 1869 as reported by the Memphis Daily Appeal on August 18, 1869.   "Dr. Samuel Gilbert died yesterday at his residence in this city, aged sixty-eight.  He has been a prominent citizen for many years, and his death causes a feeling of profound regret in the community."

In the same issue of the Memphis Daily Appeal a more lengthy obituary appeared for Dr. Gilbert that mostly discusses the fact he had been a tailor prior to being a doctor!

Remarkable History of a Remarkable Man.
Dr. Samuel Gilbert, the rather famous cancer doctor of this city, has recently deceased in the sixty-eighth year of his age, and a few words as to his history may not be inappropriate.  It is not generally known that he was in early life a tailor.  While yet a boy, his parents removed from Westmoreland County, Va., where he was born, to the Boon's Lick settlement in Missouri, and there in the town of Franklin he was bound an apprentice to a man named Dow, to learn the tailoring business.  His fellow apprentice was the celebrated Kit Carson.  Both of Dow's apprentices ran away from him, and both in their several ways, achieved distinction.  Gilbert's career was the result of accident.  Carson' grew out of his natural instincts.  During his apprenticeship, Gilbert was much troubled by a malignant ulcer on the leg, which baffled the skill of all the physicians within his reach to effect its cure.  At length an old lady of the neighborhood, a Mrs. Taylor, from Kentucky, somewhat celebrated for her treatment of inveterate ulcers, undertook its cure and succeeded.  The remedies used, through powerfully escharotic, were of a very simple nature, and the old lady made no secret of them.  The initiatory means was thus placed in Gilbert's hands, which he afterwards turned to a good account, and out of which he succeeded in building up a large fortune.  Taking French leave of his master shortly after this, and before the completion of his indentures, he came to this State, and after various vicissitudes, settled in this city as a tailor.  But customers not, and fortune was chary of her favors.  At length he bethought him of the remedy which had given him so much relief, and resolved to add to his regular business of adorning the body, the more grateful one of healing its infirmities.  Accordingly, in a small way he commenced, and was at once successful.  Patients soon flocked in on him in such numbers and his success was so great and the returns so remunerative, that he shortly dropped the shears altogether, and confined himself to his practice as a healer of cancers.  Perhaps no one in this country, in the same line of business, ever met with such complete success.  He quickly acquired both fame and fortune.  He established infirmaries in this city, in New Orleans and New York, and his reputation was co-extensive with the whole country.  In his latter years and during the war reverses came upon him, and a large portion of his ample fortune was lost, but a handsome property was still in his possession at the time of his death.

We are at a loss to know the connection there seems to be between tailoring and patent medicines, but certain it is those who have most prospered pecuniarily by the sale of patent nostrums, have been tailors, and tailors, too, afflicted with ulcers on their legs.  Swaine and Jayne, both of Philadelphia, and both of whom left estates counted by the million, begun life, each of them, as a tailor, and both owe their astonishing success to the fact of having ulcerous legs, and accidentally discovering the means of curing them.  And now our city furnishes another instance of another tailor, who owes a remarkable success in a parallel line, to the same unpromising cause.

The following comes from Elmwood: Charter, Rules, Regulations and By-Laws of Elmwood Cemetery Association of Memphis, 1874:

The most successful in money-making of all Memphis physicians, was born in Westmoreland county, Virginia, in 1802, and died here in 1869.  He met death calmly--contemplating its approach for six months--and as heroically as any that rest in Elmwood.  He was poor in early life, and apprenticed to a tailor.  He suffered many years from a running sore in his side which the healing art, as practiced by learned physicians, failed to cure.  He undertook the task for himself, and was successful.  He sought information everywhere, and reading constantly, and having a vigorous intellect, because most skillful in treating ulcers, and it was often asserted that he cured incurable cancers.  His fame extended over the whole country, and he was more successful in New Orleans and New York than here at his own home.  He established a hospital in Memphis, through a series of years, filled with patients from all directions and States.  He was a devout Spiritualist, and separated himself from an orthodox church to died in this faith.  He acquired great wealth, was kind and generous, and certainly a man of rare natural intellectual energies and endowments.

Discovering early information about Dr. Gilbert has not been so easy.  The only Census record I've found him in is the 1860 Census for Shelby County where he is listed as having a great amount of personal and real  wealth.  His real estate worth was listed at $228,000 while his personal worth was $83,000.  His wife's name was Nancy, age 56 from North Carolina.  His son Louis was 16 years old.  

I found the following article in the Democratic Banner from Bowling Green Missouri, May 13, 1850, reprinted from the New Orleans Delta:

Cure for Cancer--Cancer is a terrible disease, and although in many cases it has yielded to no very uncommon treatment, still taking the disease into account, it is difficult of treatment in the extreme, and regular physicians generally resort to the knife.  The following article from the New Orleans Delta show that one physician has great skill in the treatment of such a disease, without the knife operation:

Dr. Gilbert, whose frequent success in curing cancers, without the use of the knife or other cutting instrument, has been referred to in this paper, took us yesterday to see the most horrible case of this loathsome disease we have ever witnessed and which is in a fair way of recovering.  A young man who had a cancer, which grew out of the base of his nose, and extended itself over his eyes, so as entirely to blind him, and to cover two-thirds of his face.  He was reduced to the last stage of suffering, and had been given up, utterly incurable by the most eminent surgeons of the west and of this city.  They said he had only to lay down and die--that the operation of cutting would cause his death, and that was all they could do for him.  At this point Dr. Gilbert was called in and commenced attending the case.  It immediately began to assume a promising appearance, and after a few days the cancer was removed, the patient was enabled to see, and his whole health began rapidly to improve, so that in two weeks after Dr. Gilbert had commenced to practice upon him, he was able to get up, dress and shave himself, and write to his friends, and he is now in a fair way of recovery.

May 19 1857 Memphis Daily Appeal
Dr. Gilbert has returned to the city of Memphis by at least 1857:

A Card.  Dr. Samuel Gilbert, Sr., has returned to his old homestead near Memphis, and reopened his infirmary, and will remain permanently.  He treats the following Chronic Disease: Cancers, Scrofula, White Swelling, Tumors and Wens, without Surgical operations.  he also treats all Chronic Female diseases, Sores of  long standing, Totter, Rheumatism, Syphilis, and all forms of Mercurial Affections.,

Dr. G. deems it unnecessary to say more, as he has living witnesses of his success from Maine to Oregon.

The following year the two Drs. Gilbert, father and son, begin advertising in the Memphis Daily Appeal.  Advertisement appeared in the Memphis Daily Appeal on June 17, 1858:

Dr. Samuel Gilbert,
After an absence of several years, engaged in the successful prosecution of his professional speciality in the cities of New York and New Orleans, has returned to:
Memphis,    Tennessee
and is now prepared to treat
Chronic Diseases,
  Without Surgical Operations.
Owing to the fact of his having procured the assistance
of his son,
a graduate of the Jefferson Medical College, of Philadelphia,
and who has had ample professional expert (?),
the cities of New York and Charleston, patients will now
be treated upon more favorable terms than heretofore.

  SLAVES will be boarded, lodged and treated for $1.50
per day.
  Particular attention paid to the treatment of CHRONIC
DISEASES peculiar to females,
                     SYPHILIS, ETC.
During Dr. Gilbert's absence from this section of the
Union, certain persons have, to the great detriment of
many of those who have employed them, attempted to
imitate him, professing to have a thorough knowledge of
his remedies and mode of treatment.  The public is here-
by notified that Dr. Gilbert has no specific remedy for
any disease, that his success has been almost wholly
owing to his personal skill and experience, and that the
judicious use of caustic applications requires fully as
much professional sagacity and experience as does the
successful use of surgical instruments.
  Pamphlets of testimonials, &c., for gratuitous distri-
bution, may be had on personal application, or by
addressing          DRS. S & S.T. GILBERT,
                    100 Main St., Greenlaw's Building

Gilbert & Higbee
At some point Dr. Samuel Gilbert goes into the druggist business with H.H. Higbee as can been seen in this advertisement in the Public Ledger on April 16, 1866.  At the bottom of the advert it says
  For sale by Druggists everywhere.
  Manufactured only by Gilbert & HIgbee,
    Wholesale Druggists, 281 Main Street,
     Memphis, Tenn

I'd like to mention that Silas T. Gilbert was rooming with H.H. Higbee and G.T. Plumbee, both druggist, in the 1860 Census.

Advertisements similar to this one were appearing regularly in the Memphis Daily Appeal, the Public Ledger and The Bolivar Bulletin.

The Equalizer now
owned by Gilbert & Gilbert

The partnership of Gilbert & Higbee dissolved late 1866 or early 1867.  A rather lengthy advertisement appeared in the Public Ledger January 12 1867 announcing the dissolution while introducing a new partnership between what used to be Mansfield & Co. and Gilbert & Higbee to form Mansfield & Higbee.

In the later part of 1867 Dr. Samuel Gilbert and his son Dr. Silas T. Gilbert purchased the rights of the "Equalizer" from Dr. George Hadfield.  The Equalizer was promoted as a cure for paralysis and a host of other physical disabilities.  These advertisements continued to be seen in local newspapers through 1868.

With the exception of the extortion trial it seems that Dr. Samuel Gilbert was kept busy with his medical practice until the time of his death in 1869.

His son, Dr. Silas T. Gilbert was born about 1834.  He married Meta Denton in September 1872.  He and his father enjoyed a very lucrative medical practice together.  He continued practicing after the death of his father.  Silas died March 16 1874.  His death notice appeared in the Daily Appeal on march 17, 1874.

"Dr. Silas T. Gilbert, a prominent physician and highly esteemed citizen of this city, died at his residenc in south Memphis yesterday afternoon after a short illness.  He was a son of Dr. Samuel Gilbert, the celebrated cancer doctor, and one of the most successful practitioners of his day, whose name is familiar to all the old citizens of Memphis."

Silas died of heart disease and  is interred at Elmwood Cemetery.

We know from the short paragraph that appeared in the Daily Appeal on August 13, 1874 that Silas and Meta had at least one child, a daughter.

"Mrs. Dr. Silas T. Gilbert, widow of our late esteemed friend, and her daughter, have our thanks for a basket of grapes, which the editors and attaches of the Appeal enjoyed very much.  They are among the best we have seen or tasted this season."

Samuel's wife Nancy remains a mystery.   Census records say she was born in North Carolina.  They married sometime about 1832.  She, her daughter in law Meta and her son Louis/Lewis all appear in city directories together for several years in the 1870's and then they disappear until the 1880 Census when they are living in Louisville Kentucky.   Also in the household are two children: Volney age 6 and Daisy age 2.  What is not clear is the parentage of the two children.

What I do know is that Meta showed back up in Memphis as late as 1897 because she appears once again in the Memphis City Directory.  Volney T. Gilbert also is in the directory and he and Meta live in the same home.  Volney's occupation is book agent. At some point Volney begins moving west.  He marries a woman named Grace and they appear in the 1910 Denver Census. They have two children: Jacklyn age 9 and Raoul age 4.  By 1920 the family has moved to San Francisco and that's where Volney dies.  According to the death certificate he was born Aug. 20 1873 and died May 29, 1943 and his mother's maiden name is listed as Denton which then confirms that Volney is the son of Meta and Silas.

Interestingly a Nancy Gilbert appears in the 1885 and 1887 Florida Census at the age of 83 and from North Carolina with the following children: Meta, age 11, Daisy age 7 and Netta age 4.  The information is in line with the few things we know about Nancy Gilbert. Sometimes research presents more questions than answers!

That wraps up all of the information regarding the Gilbert family.  The next post we will return to trial testimony from day three including testimony from Captain A.B. Shaw.

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