Edward Augustus Holyoke (1728-1829) was a pioneering American physician whose early advocacy of smallpox vaccinations did much to safeguard the health of Salem's inhabitants. After testing the inoculation on himself with no ill effects, he convinced over 600 of his patients to do the same. He also was one of the first to understand the connection between lead poisoning and pewter dishes. He recorded daily observations, including specifics of weather for over 75 years, in order to find a connection between diseases and weather conditions. Ultimately he created 122 daybooks relating to his medical practice and a 120-volume diary.
Holyoke trained in medicine long before medical school programs were established in the Colonies, and he was the first to receive an honorary medical degree some 40 years after his own graduation from Harvard. He, in turn, imparted his medical knowledge to over 35 apprentices. In addition, Holyoke was the first President of the Massachusetts Medical Society and a contributor to its publication, now The New England Journal of Medicine.
Always inquisitive, Holyoke was a founding member and president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a founder of the Philosophical and Social libraries which merged as the Salem Athenaeum and Essex Historical Society.
The son of Reverend Edward Holyoke, President of Harvard, Edward Augustus married Judith Pickman in 1755. She was the daughter of Benjamin Pickman, the donor of a silver tankard (lot 58). During the Revolution, Holyoke sent his family to live in Nova Scotia until the conclusion of the War because of his Loyalist leanings. However, he stayed in heavily patriotic Salem to care for his patients, and eventually became an advocate of their cause.
Like his father-in-law, Holyoke was actively involved in church matters. He was one of the leaders of the 1772 movement to divide the First and North Church, serving on the committee and supplying his house for the meeting of the breakaway congregation. This tankard was given to the North Church. Upon his death, he left a bequest to the North Church to relieve the suffering of widows and unmarried women (see extract from his will illustrated here).
Holyoke was one of Salem's most renowned inhabitants, not only for his many contributions to the health and welfare of Salem's citizenry, but also for his extraordinary longevity, as he lived 101 years. (See: Exercises in Commemoration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Gathering of the First Church in Salem, Massachusetts, 1930, pp. 56-64; Jim McAllister, "Salem Tales: Edward Augustus Holyoke," 2006)
Edward Augustus Holyoke (1728-1829), by James Frothingham
Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem
CAPTION: Excerpt from E.A. Holyoke's will, 1829
The First Church in Salem