994. Surgeon John Halstead Sackett, U. S. A., 1789–1822, oldest son of (462) Samuel and Polly Halstead Sackett, was born at Fishkill, Dutchess County, N. Y., February 8, 1789. On September 1, 1796, his mother died, and on October 29, 1803, his father married again. His stepmother, who on the date of her marriage was thirty-one years of age proved to be a woman of broad mind and sweet disposition. At the very outset of her wedded life she captured the affectionate regard of her husband's promising son and retained it in a remarkable degree to the day of his death.
John Halstead Sackett was educated at Dutchess County Academy and at Union College. After completing his college course he took up the study of medicine, first at his father's home in New Windsor, Orange County, N. Y. In 1811, having completed his course, he was duly admitted to the practice of his profession. But war with England promptly received from President James Madison, a commission as Surgeon's mate in the 11th Regiment of U. S. Infantry. He, however, remained in New York City awaiting orders until the month of October, when he was directed to report for active field duty to the commanding officer at New Orleans. The following letters written by him to his father give a most interesting description of his journey thither, his army experience, and his impressions of the Southern people of that period. They at the same time portray his own character and habits of mind, and are, withal, good reading:
Baltimore, Friday, Oct. 9, 1812
My Dear Parents: - Duty and affection equally urge me to address you, now that I am indulged with a little leisure. This you will observe is dated at the capital of Maryland, lately the scene of confusion and death. I left New York on Tuesday and reached Philadelphia the next morning. We left Philadelphia at two Wednesday morning and arrived here at a half past eight in the evening - a distance of 110 miles. The roads through New Jersey were a perfect plain and in good order. The towns of Newark, Elizabeth, Bridgetown, Brunswick, Princeton, and Trenton are all imposing; the country level, generally; entertainment good; charges rather high; bridges, especially at Trenton, admirably fine and ornamental. The tract of level country continues until we reach Philadelphia. I imagine that in general the soil is not so prolific as ours. I was most extremely disappointed in the latter place. No steeples, but little trade, and a dull monotony are it characteristics. Indeed, so far was it from equally my expectations that I left it with disgust, and long before daybreak. The country in general from thence to Wilmington in Delaware is not unlike Orange County, though closer settled and apparently not of so good a soil. Wilmington scarcely deserves a name. It is an obscure and uninviting spot. From thence to Havre-de-Grace, in
Maryland, the soil is white clay, generally level and illy cultivated. From Havre to Baltimore a continual succession of extensive and productive plantations arrest the eye of the traveler. We saw six and eight plows and as many harrows in the same field. These fields they were planting with wheat, and many of them contain from fifty to one hundred acres. Corn is very abundant. At Havre we cross the Chesapeake Bay, of which we got occasional views until we arrive at Baltimore. I should judge Baltimore to be more than half as large as New York. The houses are built altogether of brick and are mostly new. Streets wide and well paved. Water good. Public edifices in the first style - and to sum up all, it is the most elegant place I ever saw. The house where I stop (Indian Queen) is pronounced the finest in America. We sit down continually with fully 60 at table. There are as many rooms and half as many servants. You would be astonished were you to see with what ease I have sustained my journey. Indeed, so far from fatigue I feel sensations of a wholly different nature.
Fortunately I have, in the stage, fallen in with some gentlemen of respectability who reside in Charleston. One of them will probably leave here with me to-morrow for Washington. As yet I should think my money well expended were it only to see the country. We northern people know nothing of the style and state of things in this quarter. The people, so far as I have seen, are far more hospitable than ours. Without further explanation - in this place would I spend my days were my circumstances equal to it. I can give you no idea of its extensive trade and elegance.
Washington City, Monday, Oct. 12th - I arrived here on Saturday - have visited all the public places. It is rather a collection of detached villages than a city. I received my pay for five months and eighteen days. No allowance is made for traveling expenses until I join the army. You will probably not hear from me again until I arrive at Charleston. Be assured that although absent you are ever dear. May the Almighty make us his particular care and restore us in due season to each other, is, my dear father, the warmest wish of your dutiful son,
JNO. H. SACKETT.
Forget not to communicate my good health. Best wishes to ms, Nathaniel, Samuel Bailey, and children.
Charleston, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 1812.—I arrived here at 9 o'clock this morning, after a journey of three weeks and a day, having traversed in my route a considerable portion of the Union. This journey might have been completed with ease from twelve to fifteen days, had I not indulged myself in stopping and viewing the places of interest embraced in my tour. At Philadelphia I tarried one day, Baltimore two, Washington two, Alexandria two, Richmond one, Petersburgh two, Louisburg, N. C., one, and at the river Pedee one, Petersburgh two, Louisburg, N. C., one, and at the river Pedee one. I have crossed thirteen ferried, and bridges innumerable. The stages until Petersburgh were excellent. From that place there was but one line, and I was obliged to take the mail, which accommodated but six passengers, and the indifferently. The horses in general are excellent. The fare at the rate of eleven cents a mile. The public houses mostly far better than ours at the northward, and the charges higher, averaging sixty cents a meal and thirty cents for lodging.
In the mail stage, for 400 miles we rode night and day, except when I delayed. There was no lack of company, as usually there were more passengers than the carriage could contain. After leaving Virginia our course was mostly through a country very thinly settled, covered by pine forests, level, and in many places prolific in cotton, tobacco, wheat and corn. The roads are universally level, sandy and generally very fine. But there are a few exceptions to this which language cannot portray. Owing to the evenness of the country the rains frequently deluge the roads for miles, causing in many places water passes and ponds extensive and dangerous. At night, particularly when storming, these wildernesses have a most terrific appearance. Never shall I forget the horrors of Monday night last, in traveling from the Little Pedee to Black River. In our course we were assailed by a mighty tempest and came near being upset in crossing the fords. You can form but a limited idea of the fury of the storms in these forests. In almost every instance the rivers, which are numerous, swell to a prodigious height, while the lightening and wind obstruct the roads and endanger the lives of travelers by leveling large trees, which sometimes fill the air with their fragments.
Once the horses ran away with us, and once we were upset, but amidst all these calamities it is a little singular that not a passenger sustained any damage, with the exception of having been robbed, which occurred to two, one of whom had his baggage cut from behind the stage. On the other hand we had good company, good fare, good health, and the weather mostly fine.
The lower part of this state and North Carolina contiguous to the rice fields - which is but another term for a marsh - has been as usual very unhealthy this season. But I do not find the yellow fever as prevalent in the city as it was reported to be in New York and along the route.
You would be pleased with the frankness, politeness, and hospitality of the southern people. Their manners form a striking contrast to those of the Yankees. I was twice employed on my way out in the line of my profession, and had the uncommon fortune of disposing of my title to a seat in the stage to a gent, who was extremely anxious to reach here on a certain day, for $50.00. He considered it at the same time a particular instance of friendliness in me.
The city and harbor have many resemblances to New York, only there are extensive marshes in its vicinity. The buildings are good and many of them elegant. It surpasses all other cities except New York for the splendor of its churches. It supports a vast trade. The streets are wide and cleanly and the walks well paved. The harbor commands a most extensive view abreast of the town.
Fort Moultrie, Nov. 11, 1812. - This fort is on Sullivan's Island, six miles below the town, and directly open to the sea, commanding the entrance to the harbor. The island is a mere bank of sand about two and a half miles in length and three-fourths of a mile in breadth. It is the resort of citizens during the autumnal months, and contains about 200 houses. The air is fine, but the water is bad, as we have none except what we collect in cisterns when it rains. Our garrison consists of about 400 men and a dozen officers. The first affords me constant employment, being the only surgeon on the island, and the latter excellent society. The officers are very correct in their manners. They are all natives of this state. Our quarters are excellent and pleasant. Each officer has one room and one servant. We are divided into three messes. My mess consists of Capt. Ion and Lieutenants Hamilton and Brown. We are all bachelors. This military district, composing the two Carolinas and Georgia, is under Major General Pinkney, who resides at Charleston. He is a venerable looking man and was conspicuous during the Revolution. On the 7th I was honored with an invitation to dine with him. He is not only accessible but familiar and extremely friendly. Colonel Drayton commands this harbor and the harbor of Georgetown in this state. He is also much of a gentleman. As to my immediate commanding officer, Capt. Ion, he appears to be all that I could wish.
We frequently see British vessels off the bar, which is about five miles below this. The other day we had the mortification of seeing them picking up one of our coasters. Every vessel entering the harbor is brought to on approaching this fort. Owing to the great fatigue and exposure incident to a march through the low countries, which is literally the region of death, many of our troops who have lately arrived here have been attacked with fever. This low country, or region of rice and disease, has, in common with Charleston, been very sickly this summer.
The above are selected from a package containing nearly one hundred well preserved and intensely interesting family letters, carefully arranged in chronological order by loving hands. Taken together they form an almost complete history of Dr. John Halstead Sackett's life from the days when he began his preparation for college at the Dutchess County, N. Y., Academy, under Rev. Philander Chase, afterward Bishop of Ohio, to the end of his short but not uneventful career. Every one of these letters is addressed to his honored father and bears the signature "Jno. H. Sackett," except the very last one in the collection, which is in a different hand and reads as follows:
My Dear Sir:
It is with deep regret that I am compelled to inform you of the sudden dissolution of your son, Dr. John H. Sackett, who departed his life on Saturday, the 14th instant. It was his particular request that I should take charge of his funeral obsequies, which have been faithfully attended to. He was interred yesterday in St. Paul's church yard, followed by numerous acquaintances and friends. Mr. and Mrs. Bingham, the gentleman and lady with whom he boarded, have performed the duties of parents toward your son. Any attention that humanity and kindness could give, he has received, and they certainly deserve your warmest thanks and gratitude. You are perfectly aware that your son has left a handsome property. The property is secured, but still it should receive your immediate attention. I therefore intreat you to come down by the next boat, as I have many things to communicate which it would be improper to name at this time. With feelings of warmest sympathy for yourself and family allow me to mingle my tears with yours, * * * and to subscribe myself,
Your sincere and affectionate friend,
N. N. Hall.
To Mr. Samuel Sackett,
Monticello, Sullivan County, New York.
Note - On your arrival you will find me either at my house, 250 Broadway, or at my office, 47 Cedar Street.
New York, 17 June, 1822.
For a number of years after the termination of the war of 1812 Dr. Sackett was in charge of hospital service at one or the other of the Government Posts in or adjacent to New York Harbor. While there he became an active member of the Masonic Fraternity, and of Tammany Hall, which was as yet a patriotic and philanthropic organization. Politically he was bitterly opposed to what he termed the despicable Clintonian faction, and occasionally made a political speech not at all relished by the followers of the Clinton. On January 18, 1821, Governor DeWitt Clinton sent to the Legislature a special message, attacking in a bitter manner Surgeon John Halstead Sackett and other army officers and civil appointees of the General Government, accusing them of the heinous crime which in later years became known as "Pernicious Political Activity." The Legislature, at the request to the Governor, appointed a committee to inquire into the most lamentable state of affairs complained of. The principal specific charge brought against Dr. Sackett was that he had discharged a baker, in one of the Government Hospitals in his charge, for not voting as he had directed at recent Gubernatorial election.
Dr. Sackett's complete refutation of the trumped-up political charges against him is made a part of the committee's report. But in the end, the powerful influence brought to bear on the authorities at Washington accomplished the object sought, and on June 1, 1821, an order was issued "disbanding" Surgeon Sackett - that is to say, mustering him out of the service as a supernumerary. He had in his contest with his political opponents, retained his honor and maintained his manhood. It is certain, however, that the contest referred to embittered his last years, and there is but little doubt that the results shortened his life.
In the U. S. Army Register the following record of his service appears:
John H. Sackett, appointed from New York, Surgeon's Mate, 11th Infantry, 25 March, 1812. Hospital surgeon's mate, 22 March, 1813. Garrison surgeon's mate, 15th June, 1815. Post Surgeon, 24th April, 1816, to rank from 22d March 1813* Disbanded June 1, 1821.
(*Performing duty as post surgeon from that date.)
—Weygant, The Sacketts of America