Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
David Holmes Papers, 1845-1856

Finding aid created by
C.P., February 1996

Summary Information
Title: David Holmes papers
Creator: Holmes, David
Inclusive dates: 1845-1856
Extent: 25 letters, 1 newspaper
In 1845, John Manning of Lebanon, Conn., brought charges against Dr. David Holmes for medical malpractice. This collection contains letters concerning the trial, which was held by the First Ecclesiastical Church of Lebanon.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2788.3.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

David Holmes Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


In 1844, Dr. David Holmes moved his wife and three daughters from Lebanon, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, to set up his medical practice. Upon settling in Providence, his family decided to join Richmond Street Church and wrote to Pastor John C. Nichols of the First Ecclesiastical Church for a letter of recommendation to the new church. Holmes wrote "[w]e have felt some hesitancy about removing our connection from the church in Lebanon, and not till recently have we thought it best to do so." Nichols replied that Holmes was not eligible for a letter, but his wife was. Nichols assured Holmes that "[n]o charges have been brought against you -- The reasons were not given by the women, so that I am not able to state them."

In March 1845, John Manning of Lebanon, Conn., asked Holmes for satisfaction regarding his behavior toward Manning's son David. Manning accused Holmes of attempting to exhort money from David, slandering David's reputation as a new doctor in Lebanon, and raising the price of his estate after an agreement had been made. Manning brought the case before the First Ecclesiastical Church of Lebanon, the Congregational church that Holmes attended while living in Lebanon. The church repeatedly asked Holmes to return to Lebanon to answer the charges of "double dealing and unchristian conduct" but he refused, not wanting to return in disgrace. "I have endeavored to review my short but eventful life in Lebanon," he wrote, "but fail in finding any crime so heinous to require public censure from the church."

"Whatever ground of complaint exists, comes from what has transpired since the aggrieved members have not had an opportunity of seeing you, and as you have been expected in Lebanon, they said and did nothing in the way of admonition," Nichols told Holmes. Nichols urged Holmes to reply to John Manning's charges, but Holmes preferred to communicate with the church committee directly.

The church committee delayed making a decision on the case in order to wait for Holmes to come to Lebanon, which he refused to do since he felt that he had already fully explained the charges to the committee. In April 1846, the church decided to suspend him temporarily.

In September 1846, Wetmore said to Holmes "the main difficulty is that you do not fully understand the matter -- you seem to think that it is all concerning the bargain of your place -- but there were other things which did not concern that contract brought up of which I believe you have not been informed." Wetmore related two separate charges of malpractice: Administering the wrong medicine to a patient and blaming it on David Manning and giving a patient the wrong dose of medicine. The church committee did not disclose the scope of the case to Holmes for almost a year. Less than two months later, the church sustained the charges, voting "to withdraw you from their watch and care."

Holmes felt that the church committee deliberately misled him regarding the scope and nature of the charges.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The David Holmes papers contain 10 letters written by Holmes to church members, primarily Nichols and Wetmore in Lebanon, and 2 letters written by his wife, Betsy Holmes, to Nichols and Calhoun, pastors at the Lebanon church. Nine letters were written by Nichols to Holmes regarding his trial by the church committee. The collection also includes two letters were written by Manning, the instigator of the case, one letter was written by the church committee to Holmes and a copy of Holmes' Medical Herald. The bulk of the correspondence is concentrated in 1845-1847.

There are two main areas of interest in the Holmes papers. First, the letters between Holmes and members of the church illustrate church discipline and the relationship of the church with its members. An individual brought initial charges against Holmes to the church for justice. The church had the authority to charge and try individuals. Nichols tells Holmes that he can appeal the outcome of his case to the New London county council. The prominence of the church in public and private life is apparent in this collection.

The second area of interest in the collection relates to medical practice. The charges against Holmes are finally revealed as malpractice. The malpractice charges are sustained by the church, but no disciplinary action resulted other than suspension. "I think it much cheaper and easier to live down suspicion and prejudice than to quarrel about the matter" Holmes wrote to Wetmore. Holmes wrote a compelling article about pharmacists who dispense medicine carelessly in his newsletter dated nine years after the case with the church was settled: "Most druggists have fallen into the foolish and dangerous practice of preparing different qualities of the same medicine to suit the taste of their customers, the consequence is that no reliance can be placed in their preparations."

While this collection is small, the case against Holmes is fully documented, providing information about church discipline and medical practice in the 1840s.

Subject Terms

    • Lebanon (New London County, Conn.)--Church history.
    • Medicine--Practice--Connecticut.
    • Physicians--Malpractice.
    • Connecticut--Social life and customs.
    • Holmes, Betsy.
    • Manning, John.
    • Nichols, John C. (John Cutler), 1801-1868.
    • First Congregational Church (Lebanon, New London County, Conn.)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   : American Science and Medicine Collection  
    David Holmes papers,  1845 February 18-1856 September 22 [series]