John Jeffries Papers: 1775-1835

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LFR .J4J4P3
Category: Family
Creator: Jeffries, John, Dr.
Description: 2 microfilm textual records ((4 volumes)) ; 35 mm

Dr. John Jeffries, physician, midwife, surgeon, apothecary, and balloonist, was a loyalist from Boston, Massachusetts during the American Revolution. He was educated at Harvard College, received an M.D. degree from Marischal College in Scotland, developed a large private practice, and by 1775 was also employed by Selectmen as Surgeon to the Province Hospital on Rainsford Island. As the war progressed, Jeffries cared for the sick and wounded at the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, inoculated for smallpox, and went thereafter with the British army from Boston to Halifax in March 1776. His Papers indicate he was busy as surgeon to the military hospital on George’s Island, as well as the purveyor for the General Hospital in Halifax, established the summer of 1778. In Feb. 1779 he and his family went to England, where, as his diary states, he passed an examination at Surgeon's Hall and received the new title of surgeon-major, as well as his commission as apothecary to the forces at Nova Scotia and surgeon to the General Hospital at New York. Jeffries arrived at Charleston, South Carolina in March 1780 during the British campaign to capture it, but left the next month with news of his wife's death back in England. Jeffries sold his hospital commission and went back to his children in London, where he set up a successful practice and engaged in an active social life. In 1789, he returned to Boston, set up a successful medical practice, especially in surgery and obstetrics, and eventually died there.

Jeffries is also known as one of the first Americans to take constant weather observations, which climaxed in taking observations while ballooning in Europe. Jeffries both financed and participated in the first balloon crossing of the English Channel.

Purveyor of hospitals - The comforts of the sick depend upon this person who is responsible for the supply and management of all provisions, diet, utensils, etc. belonging to the hospital; also attends the fitting up of hospital ships, invalid transports and pest and quarantine establishments when necessary.


The Papers of Dr. Jeffries follows his life during his career as a physician assisting the British Army hospitals during the American Revolution, including an interlude while in England in 1779, and his life after the war, including his escapades as a balloonist, and his return to and life in Boston, Massachusetts. They contain the following, divided into 4 volumes: Personal Diary, 2 Jan 1778-21 July 1819 (vol. 30/31, pp 1-781); military Orderly Book, Halifax Garrison, 24 May 1776-10 Oct 1778 (vol. 32, pp 1-94); Accounts, personal, 14 Dec-31 Dec 1793 (vol. 32, pp 95-128); Accounts and appointments, professional, 1778-1779 (vol. 32, pp 129-134); Letters and accounts, etc., personal and professional, 1775-1835, (vols. 32 & 33, pp 135-537). Topics covered include American loyalists, health and medicine, British military - army medical unit, leisure and entertainment - England and Ireland, travel and description - England and Ireland, meteorology, ballooning and sport.

Arrangement and Detailed Contents

Reel 1:

  • Diary, 2 Jan, 1778- 21 July 1819, (vols. 30/31, pp 1-781). The first two years follow Jeffries in his role as surgeon, and purveyor to the general hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia (1778-17 Feb. 1779), voyage on the "Iris" and time in London, England (18 Feb. 1779-29 Sept. 1779), and voyage on the "Raleigh" to America (United States) with a stop at Cork, Ireland. Overall, written in a concise manner with impressions and commentary kept to a minimum. The details are more plentiful pertaining to the people at work or at leisure that come into his life, such as their public positions and places of residence. In Halifax most interactions pertain to work and include Mr Marshal (surgeon of the general hospital), J. Crawford (A.D. Commissary General), and his friend, General Massey (commander-in-chief and purveyor of His Majesty's Hospital at Halifax). His close friend Captain George Keppel of the Navy is a constant companion there. Other topics noted include named vessels in and out of port, named prisoners released from hospital, transportation (hazards of passing the harbour in winter), and a bit of insight into the hospital's organisation. During the two-month voyage to England with his wife and two children, notes invalids died often. After leaving Nova Scotia, much of his time in England is spent in London networking to find another public position; this process is well chronicled. Topics noted include leisure and entertainment (many theatres, inns, and plays named, with comments on some of the plays), vessels in dry dock, and description and travel locally. Much interaction is found between Jeffries and - Mr. Thompson (Benjamin?), described as "present favourite of Lord Germain" and who would quickly become a very influential friend to Jeffries; Governor Hutchinson; Captain Charles Feilding of the Navy; and with social friends - Mrs. Winslow at Highgate, and Mrs. Redwood; and in Ireland (6 Oct.-24 Dec. 1779) - General Massey now at Aghada, Colonel Fitzgerald at Corkbeg and of the Independant Irish Regiment, and Colonel James Murray of the 77th Regiment. At Ireland, there are descriptions of fox hunting and landscapes. As of 11 March 1780, Jeffries arrived at Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina to assist with the campaign to capture it, but indicates he fell ill on the 21st with bilious disorder until the 1st of April. On the 26th of April he received letters of his wife's death and returned to England. (See Electronic Finding Aid section for more details.)

Reel 2

  • Orderly Book, 24 May 1776- 10 Oct 1778 (vols. 32/33, pp 1-94)
    • Orderly Book of Dr. Jeffries, Surgeon General Hospital, containing Battalion and General Orders and instructions at Halifax Garrison, Nova Scotia; typically from Major-General Eyre Massey, Commander at Halifax, documenting day-to-day operations. The book contains promotions, appointments; troop movements and distribution, (which regiment or company is where mostly pertaining to Halifax, but province wide also, including Prince Edward Island, then St. John’s Island); garrison assignments, such as guard patrols and alarm posts; procedures and protocol, for example, signals for Flagg Staff at Citadel Hill, soldiers about town; Provost and the running of the prison containing rebel and French prisoners; reports of courts martial, as well as, general marching orders and information on supplies, transportation, engineering works (repairs and construction), insight into the roles played by certain positions and regiments.
    • Pertaining to the subject of health, the following types of information can be gleaned: medical staffing-appointments, for example, Mr. Clarke, on Jeffries’ recommendation appointment surgeon of Independent Companies commanded by Maj. Hierlihy and also the care of all workmen at Collery at Spanish River; medical staff-distribution to assist regiments, ships, or forts, for example, Lt. Pringle to command army detachment on warship Gage and act as their surgeon housing of sick and wounded; prevalence of small pox, for example, orders delivered to inoculate soldiers’ wives and children, and only soldiers who have had the condition are to stand guard the Hospital due to its raging within; a general concern for the health of soldiers, for example, detailed regulations pertaining to work hours and routine altered due to hot weather; extra pay allowances given, for example, due to expensive lodging in Halifax; instructions pertaining to the care of the prisoners, as well as, sick prisoners, for example, inspections ordered for cleanliness of prison which is necessary for the health of the soldiers as well as prisoners, bedding to be aired; administrative procedures pertaining to paperwork, for example, Mr. Hill, surgeon will give steward of Infirmary every evening the number of patients in hospital, nurses, washwomen, etc. remarking number on full/half/low diet.
      • In 1778, staffing at the newly established General Hospital included Mr. Marshall, surgeon; Mr. Jeffries, Purveyor; Mr. Bernard, apothecary; and mates Hay, Crawford, Lawler and Beaumont, based on the Orderly Book.
  • Accounts, personal and family, 14 Dec. – 31 Dec 1793 (pp. 95-128)
    • These pertain to: aerial experiments and publications thereon; household; and family; also includes memoranda: Certificate for pension; and Bills of Exchange drawn.
  • Accounts and appointments, professional, 1778-1779 (pp 129-134)
    • Contains: appointment as Apothecary to the Forces in Nova Scotia, Dec. 1778; Surgeon to Hospital of the Forces at New York, July 1779.
  • Letters, accounts, etc., personal and professional,1775-1835 (pp 135-537)
    • Using the first few years to illustrate the types of documents found, they include for example: permits to travel while employed by Selectmen as Surgeon to Province Hospital on Rainsford Island, in the Boston Harbour; personal legal documents – deed of sale of black person to Jeffries, article of agreement re. house rental in Halifax; letters- personal from S. S. Blowers in England and Rhode Island, and professional correspondence with General Massey concerning in detail Massey’s health: diagnosis and relief; and requests or petitions from the sick, including prisoners.
    • Personal journal-like entries, 1784 (pp 213-225), concerning a trip to England; and among other things, many documents for the next couple of years thereafter pertaining to an aerial balloon trip taken from England to France, and includes sketches of his ballooning experiments.
    • Later years, after Jeffries’ death, many documents pertaining to his estate and correspondingly to his children.


Microfilm was produced from paper copies from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Archival Ref. No.:

MS. N-2067 (XT)

Finding Aids:

A handwritten index, predominantly proper names in content, is available at the start of each reel, covering the content separately for each reel. Preface is included at the start of the Diary, written by Walter Lloyd Jeffries in 1895. Health-related terms found in the index on reel 2: smallpox; hospital at Halifax; Jeffries, John, surgeon; and surgeon general.

  • Online: Indexes noted above are available electronically, see Electronic Finding Aid section.

See Microforms staff for digital copy.

Electronic Finding Aid Record: John Jeffries Index (Reel 1).pdf
John Jeffries Index (Reel 2).pdf
Diary 1778-79 Content List.pdf

Relevant Material

John Jeffries, Kine pox, Boston, 1775-1776, BMS b 1.3, and Smallpocks, Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1775-1779, 1792, BMS b 1.2, located at Boston Medical Library, Contway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Part Of:

Dr. John Jeffries Papers forms part of the larger collection: Jeffries Family Papers.

Other With: