Oliver Prescott, Remembered by Rev. Timothy Alden

Oliver Prescott should, by now, need very little introduction. The Rev. Timothy Alden, on the other hand, was a Protestant minister in New England, active in the early 19th century. He was also an associate of the Rev. Jonathan French, an ancestor from my mother’s side. In 1814, Alden published a sort of anthology of various things he and others had written; a mix of biography and brief obituaries…summaries, in one form or another, of people’s lives. To my 21st century mind, it’s a distinctly odd book. At any rate, I found among its pages the following tribute to the multi-talented doctor, general, and judge, Oliver Prescott. As it was written by and for people who knew the man, it is pretty much a primary source, and worth including here.

[A brief word on punctuation: I have more or less left the text as is, which includes a failure to capitalize titles, such as Rev. or Dr., etc., and other customs different from our own. Where absolutely necessary, I have edited lightly, to preserve the flow of the prose.–LSL]



A collection of American epitaphs and inscriptions, with occasional notes 2nd ed. by Alden, Timothy

Published 1814 by [S. Marks, Printer] in New-York .

Online text available here.



299. Erected to the memory of the hon. Oliver Prescott, esquire, M. D. A. A. S. M. M. S. S. who departed this life, 17 November, A. D. 1804, aged 73 years, 6 months, and 9 days ; also, of Mrs. Lydia Prescott, consort of the above said Oliver Prescott, and daughter of the late David Baldwin, esq. of Sudbury, who died, 27 Sept. A.D. 1798, aged 62 years, 11 months, and 11 days.

Note.— The following sketch of the character of the hon. judge Prescott is drawn, principally, from a sermon, delivered, on the sabbath succeeding his interment, by a very respectable and worthy clergyman, who had enjoyed a long and intimate personal acquaintance with him, and who had the means of correct information.

He was born at Groton, Massachusetts, 27 April 1731. His father was the hon. Benjamin Prescott, of the same town, a very distinguished statesman, who died, 3 August 1T38, in the 43 year of his age, v/hen the subject of this article was about 7 years old. His mother was Abigail, daughter of the hon. Thomas Oliver, of Cambridge, a near relation of the provincial governour of that name. She died at Groton, 13 September, 1765, in the 69 year of her age. Judge Prescott w as educated at Harvard university, Cambridge, where he received his first degree in 1750. During the course of his collegiate studies he acquired and supported a distinguished character, not only for the regularity of his behaviour, but for his great literary attainments ; and this has been the case ever since that period. Accordingly, he was early noticed and his name enrolled as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Soon after receiving his baccalaureate he commenced the study of physick under the tuition of doctor Roby, of Sudbury, a disciple of the celebrated Boerhaave. His distinguished professional acquirements, his prompt and unremitting attention to his patients, his peculiarly tender and pleasant manner of treating them in their distress, his moderate charges, and forbearance towards the poor and the general success, which attended his practice, operated to render him, for nearly half a century, one of the most popular, while he was, unquestionably, one of the most eminent and useful physicians in the commonwealth. As an instrument in the hand of Providence, he saved the lives of thousands. His high standing, among his brethren of the faculty, gave him a place in the Massachusetts Medical Society at the time of its institution. He was also an honorary fellow of several Medical Societies out of the commonwealth. He was likewise president of the Middlesex Medical Society, and, many years previous to his death, received from Harvard university the honorary degree of doctor of physick.

As a husband, he was affectionate, tender, generous, and condescending. He commenced the care of a family with regularity and constantly maintained domestick religion to the close of life. As a father, he was pleasant, affable, and liberal. His children, ten were born to him, although but two sons and two daughters survive, were his glory ; and, to make them virtuous, respectable, useful, and happy, was his persevering endeavor. He; therefore, took unwearied pains to furnish their minds with knowledge, to establish in them the habits of probity, benevolence, justice, and virtue, and to encourage them to laudable pursuits. His domesticks experienced, in his treatment of them, the kindness of a parent more, than the severity and rigid justice of a master.

Having with his consort, on entering the connubial slate, made. a publick profession of religion, he was a conspicuous, influential, and useful member of the church at Groton, and contributed much to its peace, regularity, and reputation.

Judge Prescott was active in whatever he undertook, upright in all his dealings, remarkable, at once for suavity and dignity of manners, and justly possessed, and in an eminent degree, the confidence of his fellow-countrymen, wherever known. Hence in his native town, he held, for many years, several cf the most important offices, and from his sound judgment, wonderful address, and facility of transacting business, was extremely useful. He regard’ rd schools and the education of the rising generation as highly interesting to the community, and being a trustee of the academy in Groton he was its patron and benefactor, employing his extensive influence to promote its reputation and usefulness.

We find him also connected at one period of his life with military men. He was first appointed major of a regiment ; soon after, he rose to the office of brigadier general, and then to that of major general. [PEN.I.— VOL.II. F]

In these honourable offices he improved his talents for the publick good and with eminent success.

For many years he held the commission of justice «f the peace throughout the commonwealth, and was very respectable and useful as a magistrate. His care and exertions were steadily directed to the due operation of government and the good order of the community. He was a patriot of the old school,” which like old wine is preferable to the new.” He took an early and decided part in the revolution ; assisted cheerfully and largely in the defence of our national rights; and had his influence in forming the government into its present shape, the invariable assertor and defender of which he uniformly was to the close of his active life. He did much to suppress a dangerous insurrection, which, in 1786, threatened the liberties of our country with ruin, constantly and strenuously supported the independence of his native state, and always disdained the idea of subjection to any other in the union, no less, than to a foreign power.

We must follow him to the chambers of the legislature, where he had a seat, for a period, as a member of the supreme executive council, and exerted the popular and active talents, which he possessed, to promote the publick happiness. He was also chosen a member of the board of war, in 1779. On the death of that great and good man, the hon. John Winthrop, L L. D. S. K. S. he was appointed his successor in the office of judge of probate for the county of Middlesex. In this important station he acquitted himself to the general satisfaction of those, who did business in his court. He always appeared desirous to dispatch business, and prevent, as far as he consistently could, the accumulation of cost. In this department, it was evident to all acquainted with his punctuality, Correctness, and condescension to the poor and ignorant, he exceeded most in the same office.

He was very industrious. His active powers and disposition were such as have seldom been surpassed. Business, books, and ingenious conversation were all the amusements he required. He was hospitable and publick spirited in an uncommon degree. He was not only distinguished, but almost unrivalled, for his urbanity and politeness. He possessed much social affection. His wit was pleasant, his imagination lively ; and his wish to please in company, a striking trait in his character to the last. His facetious, sportive manner of conversation, united to a great fund of information and learning, rendered him peculiarly captivating to the young, until the close of his life. His colloquial talents made him a pleasing companion, notwithstanding his hearing was, many of the last years of his life, imperfect; and fortitude was not an inconsiderable quality of his mind. In a word, justice requires that his name should be enrolled with the distinguished worthies of his country.



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