Plymouth County Biographies

Part of the Massachusetts Biographies Project

Samuel Fuller

"Mayflower" Physician First in Long Line of Eminent Medical Practitioners - Not only did the Pilgrims bring their historian with them but also provided themselves with the first physician, Samuel Fuller. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fuller, died soon after they landed but Dr. Fuller lived until 1633 and left two children.

In the early days of Plymouth County, and the same was true after it became Plymouth County, the minister was the most important personagage in town. No town could be incorporated, according to the Plymouth Court, unless it had a church and settled minister and could show reasonable ability and disposition to support the minister. He not only ministered to the souls but the bodies of the people. There were always plenty who "did not believe in doctors," and they rather trusted to the prayers of the pastor and the deacons, as they had Scriptural authority for doing. As early as 1623, however, Dr. Samuel Fuller of Plymouth was looked upon as the medical practitioner. This was in the days of Massasoit, great sachem of Wampanoags, faithful keeper of the faith with the Pilgrims, and when his son and successor, Alexander, was taken violently ill in Marshfield, following a controversy with a committee from Plymouth which waited upon him in his wigwam at Monponsett Pond, in Halifax, Dr. Fuller was called into the case, instead of the Indian medicine man.

Early medical practitioners were usually paid for their services with butter, "taller", cider, spinning and rum, or other articles of barter, a custom which is not wholly discontinued to this day.

In cases of illness the stock of dried herbs hanging from the rafters were steeped and administered by a member of the family or a neighbor and the minister was called in. If the doctor was called, he galloped to the door, with his remedies and surgical instruments in his saddlebags. The lancet was always ready at hand and most of the items in the early bills, when any were made out, were for "visit and veesection."

The first physician in the Plymouth Colony, incidentally the first physician in New England, was Dr. Samuel Fuller whose home was in that part of the present town of Kingston known as Rocky Nook. So far as known he never possessed the degree of Doctor of Medicine, but that was a rare distinction in the early days. His remedies included many of the homely herbs which were believed to possess curative properties. His wife was of great assistance to him in his professional practice, especially acting as midwife. Governor Bradford refers to him in his history as "a man of Godly, and forward to do good, being much missed after his death." In 1629, soon after the settlement of Salem, Governor Bradford received a request from Governor Endicott, for Dr. Fuller to come to Salem and help check an epidemic which was prevailing at that time among the Puritans. The request was acceded to and afterward Dr. Fuller practiced for a time in Charleston. he died in 1633, much lamented by the colonists from Cape Cod to Cape Ann.

A nephew of Dr. Fuller came over from England in 1640, practices in Plymouth for a time, removed to Barnstable in 1652, and in 1673 was appointed surgeon-general to the Provincial forces raised in the vicinity. He died in 1678.

Source: "History of Plymouth, Norfolk and Barnstable Counties Massachusetts; Volume I" by Elroy S. Thompson. Pub. 1928. Pages 117-119