Peter Turner papers  1774-1789
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Peter Turner papers contain 21 incoming letters, received by Peter Turner between 1774 and 1789. His friend and fellow army surgeon, Samuel Tenny, wrote 14 of the letters, while his half-brother, Jabez Campfield, contributed 4. Turner's brother, Daniel Turner; nephew, William Campfield; and fellow soldier, Charles Greene, wrote the remainder of the correspondence. The letters primarily pertain to Revolutionary War medicine and surgery, soldier life, and family news.

Many of the letters describe camp life, conditions, and the everyday experiences of Army surgeons Samuel Tenny and Jabez Campfield, as well as several major events of the Revolutionary War. In a letter of September 9, 1774, Daniel Turner referenced the Powder Alarm, which had taken place in Boston the previous week, calling it a "Bloody engagement" and noting that many had lost their lives and that the city had been damaged. He also wondered how Rhode Island would fare in "these Times of Tyranny & Opresion." Later letters express a great deal of dissatisfaction with the conditions, organization, and compensation of army life. In one, Tenny complained about the meager food, the "vile Whiskey," and the rarity of seeing women, and wrote, "This is not living--tis barely existing" (April 23, 1778). In another, he stated his objection to the army hierarchy, which he accused of rewarding rank rather than merit, and noted that he looked forward to telling the officers "how sincerely I despise them" (October 19, 1780). On July 31, 1781, he described his attempt to write a letter amidst the din of camp life: "such a ceaseless Buzz of Tongues assails my Ears, that my thoughts are much confus'd, as a Swarm of Bees, amidst the Clattering of a Spoon & Fryingpan." The collection also contains brief commentary on the Benedict Arnold treason (October 19, 1780) and the Pennsylvania Line mutiny (January 16, 1781).

Samuel Tenny and Jabez Campfield, in their roles as surgeons, also commented on the medical profession and on the health of the men under their care. On February 18, 1778, Tenny wrote that many men were sick in his regiment and dying at the rate of one per week, noting, "they relapse & rerelapse & relapse two or three times more." In another letter, he humorously described a "Pop-Gun," employed for performing enemas, as a piece of "ordnance" and discussed its use (December 17, 1780). Also mentioned is the inoculation of soldiers for smallpox (April 3, 1782) and the difficulty of starting a medical practice in cities already populated with doctors (March 20, 1782).

The correspondence contains several references to women and Turner family affairs. In a letter dated September 9, 1774, Daniel Turner informed his brother that Jabez Campfield disapproved of his attachment to a young woman and related the importance of a woman's virtuous reputation. Samuel Tenny also discussed his marriage prospects and lamented his "faint heart" for such matters (December 19, 1781). The volume closes with a letter dated May 16, 1789, that gives an account of the killing and scalping of Captain Zebulon King, Sr., by Native Americans near Marietta, Ohio (May 16, 1789).

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