Surgeon’s Kit on Display

By Anne Bentley

A fitted case containing surgeon’s instruments belonging to William Swift, M.D., United States Navy, in the War of 1812 is on display in the USS Constitution Museum’s newest exhibition: “All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812.”  

William Swift (1779-1864), an 1812 graduate of the Harvard Medical School, served in the U.S. Navy from 1812 until his retirement in 1861. He sailed to the coast of Africa in the frigate Chesapeake, and was serving on her when she fought the British vessel Shannon in Boston Harbor, 1813. He later served as naval surgeon in the brig Syren.

The kit was given to the Society by Dr. Lucy H. Swift, 26 October 1991. The MHS also holds Dr. Swift’s papers (Ms. N-162): see the collection guide for more information.

Curators at the USS Constitution Museum have installed Swift’s surgeon’s kit in their “Aftermath” area that very effectively illustrates the realities of war at sea.  You can see it there through December 2010. The grand opening of the exhibit, featuring Boston mayor Tom Menino, will be held on 3 July at 11 a.m.