Toledo’s First Black Doctor – Dr. James FIELDS

After reviewing the 1860 Census for the black and colored population, I made an edit to that post for additional suburban communities of Lucas County due to not including them with my initial transcriptions. One family included in the additional citizens lived in Maumee, Ohio at the time and was the FIELDS family.

In 1860 the FIELDS family was headed by James FIELDS. James FIELDS was listed as a “Doctor” on the census, which was interesting considering the nature of his stated employment. He would be the first known black American doctor working in the Toledo area if the entry was correct regarding his occupation.

One of my favorite, boring hobbies includes reading old newspapers online. Recently, I was VERY excited to find an obituary of James FIELDS that was published in a newspaper called The Elevator out of San Francisco, California. This publication was a “negro” publication, meaning it was a black owned and published newspaper in the 19th century. These early negro publications were the infancy of what is now called “the black press.” They focused on major issues of the day and were primarily written by black journalist and funded by black advertisers and subscribers. Unfortunately, Toledo itself did not get a black owned newspaper until the mid-1900s but due to the size of the city, residents of Toledo, including former residents of the city were mentioned in various black newspapers of the 19th century.

The obituary of Dr. FIELDS was published on June 12, 1868 and an image of the obit is included in this blog post. A transcription, which provides wonderful insights about Dr. FIELDS’ life is below. The obituary was written by one of the journalist on staff of The Elevator and provided many interesting details about the personality and life accomplishment of Dr. FIELDS. Unfortunately, I could not ascertain who wrote the obituary, but if I discover the author, I will edit the post with his name.  UPDATE:  I quickly found out who wrote the obituary and published newspaper The Elevator – he is one of the founders of the black press – Philip Alexander Bell

As someone who loves to read about black American history, I was especially pleased in reviewing this obituary and thought it was something others may enjoy. Dr. FIELDS as is mentioned in the obituary also was disabled due to having had a leg amputated as a child, so he would probably be the first black and first disabled doctor to have practiced in our area. He also was a writer, a member of various organizations and he attended the Free African School in New York, City, one of the few places in the early 19th century that black children and teens were able to receive a high quality education in NYC. It was an organization founded by white benefactors, including Founding Father – Alexander Hamilton. The Free African Schools were later absorbed in the NYC public school system for black children. Dr. FIELDS later moved to Adrian, Michigan with his family where the obituary stated he died.

A perusal of records on FamilySearch.org verified that Dr. James Fields died in May of 1868 and was a resident of Adrian, Lenawee County at the time.  Prior to moving to Maumee, Ohio in the 1850s, he was enumerate on the 1850 US Census living in New York City, Ward 1 with his wife and son.

Of interest personally is the fact that there were other FIELDS families in Toledo around the time that Dr. FIELDS moved to the area.  It is unknown whether or not Dr. FIELDS is related to these other families, one of which included George FIELDS mentioned in a previous post as being Toledo’s first professional black photographer.

One of his former associates, mentioned in the obituary Dr. James McCune Smith was the first black doctor to run a pharmacy in America and was a staunch abolitionist and heavily active in working to obtain the rights afforded to black Americans in this country.  He founded the first national, longstanding civil rights organization for black Americans called the National Council of Colored People in 1852.  It can be assumed based on the alumni of the class of Dr. FIELDS that FIELDS  was also involved in the abolitionist movement and early Civil Rights Movement of the late 19th century following the Civil War.  His classmate Dr. James McCune Smith was also the physician at the Colored Orphans Asylum in 1863 during the height of the Civil War and when the New York City Draft Riots occurred (as is alluded to in the film “Gangs of New York”).  In this riot, hundreds of free New York City black citizens were attacked, including the orphanage for black children, which was burned to the ground.

OBITUARY TRANSCRIPTION:

MEN WE HAVE KNOWN
NUMBER FOUR
DR. JAMES FIELDS
By a paper received from Mr. John A. Fields, of Adrian, Michigan, we learned with sorrow the mournful intelligence of the death of his father, Dr. James Fields, who died on the 6th of May ultimo.

Dr. Fields was one of our oldest and dearest friends. He was born in the city of New York, September 20, 1805, where he resided until about fifteen years ago, when he removed to Toledo, Ohio and from thence to Adrian. When about twelve or fourteen years of age he had the misfortune to lose a leg. It was caused by the maltreatment of a physician, who mistook a simple bruise for an ulcer, and by his injudicious treatment it ultimately into a white swelling, and when too late more competent medical advice was consulted and amputation was necessary to save his life.

Being thus maimed and incapacitated for arduous avocations, he became studious, and having acquired all the education then imparted in the New York African Free School (where the writer hereof was a fellow classmate), he sought private tuition, and finally became a thorough English scholar, and also acquired considerable knowledge of the classics.

In 1830 he was one of the founders of the Philomathean Literary Society. We were seven. After a lapse of forty years, four of us survive – Rev. John Peterson, Ransom F. Wake, of New York, Robert Banks, now of St. Paul’s, Minnesota and ourself. We have had to chronicle the deaths of three of our early associates in that institution – Dr. David Ruggles, Wm. L. Jeffers, and now James Fields. Of the others who became immediately connected with us, Dr. James McCune Smith, Rev. Isaiah G. Degrasse and Henry Nott are numbered with the dead. Robert McDougall and Theodore C.B. Vidall still survive.

At the time of the assassination of Elijah P. Lovejoy at Alton, Ill, in November, 1837, James Fields pledged himself that he would never drink ardent spirits until slavery was abolished in America, and we believe he religiously kept his promise.

In 1842-3, in connection with Messrs. Peter Ogden, T.C. B., and U. B. Vidal, G. T. Downing, Henry Smith and a few others, he established the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, for which a charter was obtained from England, the Independent Order of America having refused to admit colored members, or grant a charter for opening a separate Lodge. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows is now a flourishing institution, numbering perhaps twenty Lodges. In 1846 he went to Bermuda, W. I., and organized two Lodges of the Order on that island.

James Fields was a Calvinistic Presbyterian, a member and for many years clerk of Shiloh Church, of which Rev. Theodore S. Wright was pastor. He was a fine writer and a deep philosophical thinker. He contributed frequently to the Colored American, and the essays of “Uncle Ben” were always welcome to our columns.

He was always devoted to the study of medicine, and before leaving New York he became quite proficient in the Botanical practice. Believing he could find a larger field and a wider scope for the exercise of his talents, he emigrated to Ohio, where he was very successful and became favorably known as the Indian Doctor.

Thus has gone to his long and silent home one whom we have known and loved for more than half a century. For over two-thirds of that long period we were almost daily companions. Since our separation we have maintained friendly correspondence, not frequent, but always loving and affectionate. He has lived to a good old age – long beyond our expectations. He was for many years afflicted with a disease of the heart, which at last terminated his existence. Far away in the boundless prairies of the Peninsula State, my heart is in the coffin with my friend.

Copy of original obituary:

James Fields Obituary file

SOURCES USED:

African American Newspapers (accessed via home with library card from TLCPL number and pin on 1/18/17) database – Elevator, published as The Elevator (San Francisco, California)06-12-1868Page [2]

New York, 1850 federal census, Household of James Fields via FamilySearch.org

Find A Grave Memorial – grave of James Fields via FamilySearch.org

Michigan Deaths 1867-1897 via FamilySearch.org (line number 32)

Wikipedia – James McCune Smith (see link above)

University of Chicago Press – The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 (see link above)

Alton, Illinois in the Civil War – Biography of Elijah  P Lovejoy (see link above) NOTE:  Elijah P Lovejoy was a white abolitionist who was attacked by a pro-slavery mob and killed based on his work to help free the slaves in the USA

NOTE many of the individuals mentioned in the obituary were well known black abolitionists and if readers are interested information should be queried about them as many of them have amazing life stories!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *