1839 Boston Almanac
I always like to recommend the book Dead Certainties by historian Simon Schama. It uses the stories of two unrelated fatalities—the death of General Wolfe as depicted in Benjamin West’s famous painting, and the murder of Boston doctor George Parkman at the hands of Harvard Professor John W. Webster—to provide a meditation on the challenges of the opacity of history.
I was able to connect with the doctor’s murder a bit more when I found a copy of an 1839 Edition of The Boston Almanac. It was produced annually by the S. N. Dickerson printing company for several years in the mid-1800s. One page is a listing of all the physicians in the city. It’s interesting to see George Parkman listed there, along with many of the other doctors who would, some ten years hence, be appearing as witnesses in the trial of Professor Webster.
The Almanac makes manifest the provinciality of both the city and medical community as depicted in Dead Certainties. The city’s population was only 78,000 at the time and many of the large-scale land modifications that greatly expanded its area were still decades away. The short page-full of physicians, also makes clear that they all must have known each other reasonably well, which had to have made the trial all that more difficult and sensational for those involved.
The almanac also contains a nice period map of Boston: