Church Monuments Society


Elizabeth Phillips, Licensed Midwife, (1685-1761): Lamson Stones in Phipps Street Burying Ground, Charlestown, MA (USA)

By CMS in Heritage

Many colonial stones commemorate New England’s early doctors,[1] but a well-filled tablet in Charlestown’s Phipps St. Burying Ground identifies another member of the era’s local medical cadre. (Scroll down for photographs of the stones described here.) Licensed midwife Mrs. Elizabeth Langdon Phillips had, by her death, delivered over 3000 infants. Like her colleagues Lucreshia Brewster of New London, CT (active c. 1662);[2] and Martha Ballard of Maine (d. 1812),[3] Elizabeth Phillips likely took early morning and late-night calls with long hours of attendance in all weathers. Like them, she may have seen to more than one birth in a day, travelling by horseback, ferry, or foot.[4]

Elizabeth’s exfoliated stone is nearly illegible now.[5] Based on certain stylistic affinities—its use of italics, the style of the Death’s Head, and other criterion—it can be attributed to Nathaniel Lamson’s (1692/3-1755) nearby Charlestown shop, across the Charles River from Boston.[6] Past readers copied its now illegible inscription: [7]

   Here lyes interred ye Body of
Mrs. Elizabeth Phillips wife
to Mr. Eleazar Phillips. Who
was born in Westminster, in Great
Britain, & Commissioned by John
Lord Bishop of London, in ye Year
1718 to ye Office of a Midwife: and
came to this country in ye Year 1719. and
by ye Blessing of God has brought into
this world above 3000 Children.
Died May 6th 1761 Aged 76 Years.

From the stone’s testamentary evidence and other local comparanda, it was possible to discover some things—but not everything—about Elizabeth and others of her generation.

Gravestone Background: Defining them in terms of the males in their lives, colonial women’s markers, like Nathaniel Lamson’s stone for Margaret Holyoke in the Old Cambridge Burying Ground,[8] often conferred their status and character by association. In fact, Margaret’s text says so much about the men in her life that one must ask, “Who is really being commemorated here?” Her father was well-known in Boston and Ipswich;[9] her husband was Harvard’s 9th president. Her stone, like many others for women of her day, tells us little about her on her own terms. She was born well, married well, and maintained that status: By inference she was socially skilled, a good household administrator, and an attentive parent to her children.[10]

President of Harvard College (and
Daughtr of ye Hon’ble Collo JOHN
Decde’d) Died June 25thA.D.
1740 having enter’d Her 40th
Year ye 19th Day of March last.


Exceptional among colonial women’s markers, Joanna Winship’s smaller 1707 stone, also in Harvard Square, identifies her only in terms of her profession as a schoolteacher. Most likely carved by Nathaniel’s father Joseph Lamson (founder of the Charlestown shop where four generations of Lamsons worked),[11] its inscription says:

                Here lyes ye body of
Mrs. Joanna Winship Aged 62
Years, Who Departed
This Life November
ye 19th 1  7  0  7
This good school dame
No longer school must keep.
Which gives us cause
For children’s sakes, to weep.

Usually, a woman’s stone notes her birth family and/or marital status. Joanna’s inscription refers neither to her father, Lt. Edward Winship, buried nearby, nor to a husband. (As used then, “Mrs.” denoted any respected middle-aged woman, whether single, married, or a widow.) Female teachers had to be single; Joanna is not described as a “relict” of a deceased spouse (the usual term for a widow) so she was probably single all her life.

By comparison Elizabeth Phillips’ stone both gives her profession, and connects her to men of status in both Old and New England. The insertion of male connections may seem to derogate Elizabeth, but they also lead to a more contextualized understanding of her life. The high level of Nathaniel Lamson’s work, used for presidents of Harvard College (see the Wadsworth Table Tomb, left) and their wives (Margaret Holyoke), suggests that Elizabeth and Eleazar Phillips (m. 1751) were respectable and well-off.

Documentary Follow-up: Born in Winchester, in the county of Hampshire in Old England, Elizabeth left for the colonies after her London training—whether married or single, I cannot tell–at age 33.

A documentary gap from 1720-1735 suggests she may have married before leaving Winchester, arriving in London under her spouse’s name; married in London before leaving for New England; or married in Boston and was widowed sometime before 1736, when Charlestown schoolmistress Rebeckah Anderson (c. 1694-1743/4) made over a deed of gift to “my sister” Elizabeth Langdon, “the midwife.” [12]

Such a provision, stipulating live-in care in exchange for inherited housing, was common between an elderly parent in failing health and a younger child. In Rebeckah’s variation on this arrangement, she deeded her estate to Elizabeth, so long as all Rebeckah’s debts were settled and a decent burial paid for from the residue.

Rebeckah’s arrangement at age 42 for live-in care by a 54-year-old midwife, perhaps a relative, is almost poignant. She lived 7 years longer but no death certificate has yet surfaced, so we do not know what ongoing condition made her quit teaching, seek a companion, and provide for her home and its effects after her early death.[13] Elizabeth definitely fulfilled the last stipulation, judging by the well-carved Nathaniel Lamson stone now located next to Elizabeth’s in Phipps St. Burying Ground.

Its inscription says:

Here Lyes Buried
ye Body of Mrs.
(Late School-
Mistress in
This Town) Who Died
March 4th Anno Dom.
1743/4 in the 49th
Year of Her Age.

Elizabeth probably lived in Rebeckah’s home until she married Eleazar Phillips, Jr.[14] This arrangement might have helped her save more from midwifery than she had accumulated before. By July 29, 1751, she may in fact be the “Elizabeth Langdon of Charlestown, widow” who had funds enough on hand to give the Stower brothers a £13 mortgage for their 8-acre orchard in nearby Malden.[15] Three months later, on October 21, 1751, Rev. Hull Abbot of First Church, Charlestown performed a marriage between “Elizabeth Langdon (Mrs.) and Eleazer Phillips, Jr.”[16] and she became the Charlestown bookbinder’s second wife. By then she was 66 years old and he 69; they had no children of their own. In 1761 Elizabeth died intestate.

The men bonded to evaluate Elizabeth’s estate[17] seem not to have filed an inventory, but no forfeiture of their £500 bond appears, either. The paperwork may have been lost, or left unfiled with many other such documents. The purchase of official stamps for such transactions had become unpopular, and many deeds from the 1760s-70s were written and signed, but left unrecorded until a new country’s officials took up their jobs in 1783.[18]

Eleazar Phillips (1682-1763?): Eleazar is easier to trace, but his information speaks only tangentially to Elizabeth’s life and work. His father, Capt. Eleazar Phillips (1654-1709) a “victualler,” or “butcher,”[19] and mother Anna (Foster) Phillips had nine children, five of whom lived to adulthood.[20] Among the first 17th c. Massachusetts arrivants from Old England, the Phillipses were well-to-do, owning land and a Charlestown wharf (“Davison’s”) by the late 1600s. Eleazar, Sr.’s 1709 will parcels out land and homes to his children, and returns all the household effects and money his third wife, Elizabeth (Bills) Phillips, brought to their marriage–plus the wharf and warehouse in Charlestown, and 1/3 interest in a rental house on Boston’s Black Rose Lane.[21]

By 1706, Eleazer, Jr. married Lydia Waite Phillips (1689-1738); five of their six children survived them.[22] At some point he was apprenticed to the book trade, possibly under his uncle Samuel, a Boston printer. [23] By 1709 he had a shop where he sold and bound books under the Town House, and by 1711 Isaac Thomas’ study of colonial printers lists him, age 29, at the Sign of the Eagle.[24] His father may have funded his son’s entry into trade: his 1709 will notes, “I should give more to [my eldest son] but I have given considerable to him in my lifetime.”).[25] But he was hardly ungenerous; Eleazer, Jr returned back across the river from Boston to Charlestown in 1715, probably to take up residence in the “new house built on land bought of the Dows” that his father had also bequeathed him.[26] Once there, he continued in the book trade: several deeds identify him as a “bookseller” or “bookbinder.”[27] In 1733, age 51, he joined First Church, Charlestown.[28]

In 1730, Lydia and Eleazar, Jr.’s eldest son, Eleazar III (1710-1733), bred to his father’s book trade, had gone to set up the first print shop in Charleston, SC[29] as a royal licensee printing official documents. He died there in 1732;[30] Eleazar, Jr. apparently went down to settle his son’s affairs. The stone he probably ordered for his son, now in one of Charleston’s colonial burial sites, is consistent with Nathaniel Lamson’s work, and with the Lamson shop’s known practice of sending stones so far north as Acadia and as far south as Jamaica: at least six stones in Charleston are by Boston carvers for sea captains, presumably from New England, who died nearby.[31]

Later, Eleazar, Jr. apparently returned to Charleston (perhaps after Lydia’s death, in 1738?) to study its incipient sericulture. In 1750 he wrote a pamphlet urging New Englanders to take up the silkworm trade;[32] he married Elizabeth a year later. Wyman, citing Charlestown records, says Eleazar, Jr. was buried Feb. 18, 1763, [33] but no stone exists for him. His will, written on August 6, 1761, three months after Elizabeth’s death, was filed Feb. 21, 1763. [34] He left equal shares in the sale of his Charlestown home, plus a silver porringer, spoon, and pew seat each to his three married daughters (who would have already received dowries during his lifetime). He divided his other real estate between his two surviving sons; his inventory[35] valued his primary house (on the Town Hill side of Main St., near the 17th c. town’s settlement site) at £333.[36]

If his bookbinding and her midwifery practice prospered, and their health continued, Elizabeth and Eleazer may have shared ten comfortable years at the end of their lives. A possible overlap in their interests suggests further conjecture: an innovative bookseller might logically seek a literate wife—or she, him. We do not know if Eleazar repaired or sold medical books; how many colonial women sought medical training; or whether midwives knew of, or were influenced by, the treatises doctors studied.[37] But we know many such works did fill the libraries of the town’s doctors, ministers[38] and professors. A midwife who was also a Boston bookbinder’s wife had a good chance of seeing them. And we know that Elizabeth–like Lucreshia Brewster and other midwives–was probably literate, since contracts into which she entered are not signed with “her mark”—the illiterate person’s signature.[39] Like their male counterparts, female caregivers may have owned medical books or, like Rev. Dr. Wadsworth, kept commonplace “receept” collections or pharmacopoeia.[40] Elizabeth, by her marriage, then, may have gained access to resources useful in her work as a midwife, too.

Backstory: Elizabeth’s London Life – ‘John Lord Bishop’, the other male named on Elizabeth’s stone, was the Anglican John Robinson, elevated in 1714 from the bishopric of Bristol to that of London, which he served until his death in 1723.[41] He thus indeed oversaw Westminster, where Elizabeth’s stone says she was born. We know continental (Catholic) practice in France, Spain and Italy involved state and church in midwives’ oversight. Studies of British midwives show that the “Licensing of midwives was the responsibility of the Church of England throughout the seventeenth century, with the exception of the years 1641-61 when the Church’s authority collapsed along with the breakdown of the monarchical regime….[e]cclesiastical licensing of midwives was reinstated with surprising alacrity less than nine months after the Book of Common Prayer was restored to usage, and at least six women from London and its suburbs were licensed by the Church in January, 1661.” These licensing activities “…continued outside of London until the last decades of the eighteenth century, [but] within the capital itself the system was obsolete by the end of the 1720s.”[42] In 1718, then, John Robinson, one of the last London bishops to license midwives, commissioned Elizabeth Langton, among the last London midwives to be licensed. But why would the Church credential medical professionals?

It was a matter of birth and death. Midwives promised to encourage parents to baptise their infants, and were extraordinarily allowed to baptize stillborns or neonates if no cleric were on hand. They pledged to provide good care, answer calls regardless of family wealth, and to seek more experienced midwives’ help before doing an embryectomy or Caesarean birth.[43] Evenden (2000) cites documents and letters attesting to a formative ‘deputyship’ of three to seven years, so Elizabeth may have begun her training by 1711 at age 26.[44] Once six women, including clients, affirmed the proposed licensee’s character and capability, the presiding chancellor issued a Latin license. (Quakers, who took no oaths, were a special case, but Quaker and non-Quaker midwives are known to have worked together.) Midwives were thus affirmed by other women, trained or not, while surgeons and physicians had to produce peer recommendations–as did at least one female, Dr. Jane Pennell (Pemell), in 1685.[45]

I have found no proof that Elizabeth joined any of Boston’s Anglican churches.[46] Nor did she own the covenant in Charlestown’s Congregational church,[47] but its senior pastor performed her marriage to Eleazar, Jr. so she must have had some standing there.[48] Earlier or later, Elizabeth’s licensure by London’s Anglican bishop could have set her up for friction with Boston’s prevailing Dissenters.[49] But by her arrival in the 1720s, the older acidity of interreligious conflict had faded, sobered by the 1684 loss of the charter and 1692 witchcraft trials, and titrated out of solution by the power of a new, predominantly Anglican, commercial class. The range of church affiliations in Boston (by the mid-1700s, seven confessions worshipped there) meant that congregations once opposed to each others’ very existence were selling buildings among themselves and attending each others’ pastoral installations—despite persistent differences of sacramental theology on baptism, among other things.

The shift away from licensing midwives after the 17th century in Old England may be paralleled by its apparent lack in colonial New England, where licensing either fell off quickly, or never began at all.[50] The ethical, ecclesial, and hierarchical motivations behind the London rules built on close ties between the episcopacy and civil law that did not exist in 18th c. New England. The complex connections that did exist between colonial churches and the state may have made any such effort unviable. Provincial royal governors never quite outran the power base of their colonial adversaries–who had, after all, governed themselves for half a century; been denied military aid against French attack; took Fort Louisburg at their own expense; saw it exchanged for a tea plantation in Madras; and were then taxed for the cost of a war they had not started, and by which they gained nothing. When Rev. East Apthorp, newly named rector of Christ Church Cambridge, built a large home nearby, its threat as a potential “bishop’s palace” so aroused colonists that a pamphlet war ensued and Apthorp left. (The church was built in 1761, the year Elizabeth died; Apthorp departed in 1763, the year Eleazar died.) The “sweet spot” between interfaith cooperation, and political disputes inextricably linked to politial affiliations, had ended.

Triangulation of Evidence Documents shedding some clarity on Elizabeth’s life and work also suggest further lines of inquiry. Her 1761 gravestone calls her “Elizabeth Phillips;” her 1751 marriage record calls her “Mrs. Elizabeth Langdon”—probably still not her birth name, if she were also the widow grantor of the 1751 Stowers mortgage the summer before her marriage to Eleazar, Jr. Such a name change itself may lead us further back in her history; marriage intentions filed on Jan. 22, 1722 between a Henry Langdon (Langton) and an Elizabeth Meakes (Meeks) of Charlestown could logically refer to her, if she landed unmarried in Boston in 1719. A Boston death record for a “Mr. Langdon” in 1723 might also be his, but no corroborating references to Elizabeth Meakes have appeared so this is not conclusive.[51]

Another link merits further study: If Rebeckah Anderson, like most unmarried female school teachers, were not a widow, and was simply called “Mrs.” out of respect (unlike Hepzibah Prentice in Old Cambridge, she is not described as anyone’s ‘relict’)—and if, in her deed of gift she meant “sister” literally (the term could also mean “sister-in-law”), Elizabeth Phillips might have been born Elizabeth Anderson.[52] So far, however, checking for Elizabeth “Meeks,” “Anderson,” or “Langdon,” has revealed no birth records in Winchester or London, and no marriage records in Winchester, London, Boston or Charlestown.[53] Extant London midwives’ registers, [54] not apparently digitized, are so far unsearched. No British or American sailing records name Elizabeth under any likely surname. The likelihood of at least one marital name change (and the contemporaneous existence of at least two other Elizabeth Langdons[55] and three more Elisabeth Phillipses in Charlestown alone)[56] have made her harder to trace.

Since no registry of American colonial midwife activity[57] surfaced in this survey, and the occasional references in letters or deeds (like those found here for Elizabeth) are yet to be systematically teased out and studied, it is also harder to say much with certainty about Elizabeth’s career. Other models for professional training suggest that some time spent as a ‘deputy’ midwife may be presumed, and some listing of such workers yet found. Economic records may also be of some help. In the 17th century no male under 21 in Massachusetts could set up a shop with less than seven years’ apprenticeship to the trade–arrangements often documented as ‘indentures’ in land deeds and probated records.[58] Journals like Dr. Elihu Ashley’s Diary (1775/2007) also relate his work under an older established mentor in colonial Deerfield (and complain, like any student, of the assigned medical works read on his off hours in the doctor’s study).[59]

From Then to Now: Federalist era midwife Martha Ballard’s handwritten journal, historically contextualized in Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale,[60] tells of the 816 children she delivered later, in rural Maine, from 1785-1812. By the 19th century, in a well-documented process of market-share takeover,[61] male urban doctors—claiming themselves better-equipped than ‘medically untrained’ women to deliver good pre- and post-natal care, and to treat patients in distress—began to take over the midwife’s profession. Ironically, in fact, midwives observed better caregiving and sanitary practice: forceps injuries to infants and death to their mothers by purpureal fever (spread by doctors not washing their hands when going from bed to bed in a hospital setting) were among the early legacies of the male “medical” takeover of childbirth.[62] Misapplied instruments, rigid orthodoxy over birthing positions, and the overuse of Caesareans for the attendant physician’s convenience have come to suggest more value in the midwife’s profession, which has in many places seen a recent resurgence of use.

The commissioning of Elizabeth’s stone by the capable Charlestown carver Nathaniel Lamson indexes the Phillips’ status and income; its detailed text, tightly but elegantly fitted into the tablet, suggests great care given by both the compositor and the carver. Her high birthing rate suggests informed skill, conscientious deliberation, and the likelihood that she was as medically well-informed as a midwife of her day might be. Her enterprising study of an exacting profession and travel to a different, far-distant place are evinced in her inscription. She seems, like Winship, to have died much-mourned. The many births she attended bespoke care and attention to detail in her life’s work. Her stone’s inscription attests to the pride and value her husband and her community placed on her as well. Perhaps he, or they, wrote the text for her inscription.

Or perhaps she composed her own epitaph.



(All photos by DLa Rue)

Articles and Chapters:

See: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Robinson, John (diplomatist)” . Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 422–423.

French., H., “Early American Bookbinding by Hand,” in Lehman-Haupt, ed., (1967), Bookbinding in America, p. 101.)

Holmes, O. W., (1843). “The contagiousness of puerperal fever,” in New Engl. Quart. J. Med. Surg. 1, 503–530.

John Carter Brown Library (1949). The Colonial Scene: 1602-1800 Exhibition Catalogue (Worcester, MA: Am. Antiquarian Soc.), pp. 81-2. See:

Lambeth Palace Library, Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide: Medical Licences Issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury 1535-1775 (London, UK : Lambeth Palace Library) (Seen 11.11.01).

Littlefield, G., (1900). “Eleazer Phillips,” in Early Boston Booksellers, 1642-1711, (Boston: The Club of Odd Volumes), p. 219, accessed 11.11.11: )

Phillips, E., (1750). Boston Evening Post, on silkworm cultivation, summarized in I. Thomas, History of Printing in America. See: , pp. 422-23.

Reese, W.S. (1990) “The First Hundred Years of Printing in British North America” (Worcester, MA: Am. Antiquarian Soc.): See:

Sawyer, T.T., (1902). “Charlestown Neck” in Old Charlestown: Historical and Biographical Reminiscences, (Pub: James H. West Company), April 26, 1902.

Tucker, R., (1993). “The Lamson Family Gravestone Carvers of Charlestown and Malden, Massachusetts,” in Markers X, Meyer, R., ed., (Worcester, MA: Asso. of Gravestone Studies), pp. 152-217.

Weissman, G., The FASEB Journal, vol  24 (Sept. 2010; accessed 2012.01.10): .



Ashley, E., (1775/2007). Romance, Remedies, and Revolution: The Journal of Dr. Elihu Ashley of Deerfield, Massachusetts, 1773-1775, Miller, A., and Riggs, A., eds., (Amherst, MA: Univ. of MA Press).

Ayers, L., (1976) Harvard Divided, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)

Benes, P., (1977). The Masks of Orthodoxy (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press).

Budington, W.I., (1845). The History of the First Church, Charlestown, (Boston, MA: C. Tappan, Pub.)

Church Publishing Society, (1982/2007). Book of Common Prayer, (New York City, NY: Church Pub. Soc.), pp. 439-44.

Colonial Society of Massachusetts, (1980). Medicine in Colonial Massachusetts: 1620-1820. Proceedings of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts Vol 57.

Evenden, D., (2000). The Midwives of Seventeenth-Century London, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press). at: (Accessed 01.11.11.)

Forbes, E.H., (1942) Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, at:  (accessed 2011.12.18)

Forbes, H.M., (1953/1973). Gravestones of Early New England and the Men Who Made Them (Pyne Press: University of Michigan)

Franklin, B., (1788/1909, C. Eliot., ed.) Autobiography, (Cambridge, MA: Hvd Univ. Press),

Frothingham, R., (1845) History of Charlestown (Boston: Little & Brown),

Holmes, O. W., (1855). Puerperal Fever as a Private Pestilence, (Boston, MA: Ticknor and Fields).

Joslyn, R.G., (1984). Charlestown Vital Records, (Boston, MA: NE Hist. Gen. Soc.), vols I and II.

Littell, E. & R., (1862). “Female Physicians,” in The Living Age, (Boston: Littell, Son, and Co.), vol. 73, p. 245, accessed 11.11.11: ).

Manwaring, C.W., (1904). A Digest of Early Connecticut Probate Records, (Hartford district, 1635-1700) vol 1, p. 158 (orig); p. 122 (digitized). See also:

Rhoden, N., (1999). Revolutionary Anglicanism (Palgrave Press, MacMillan and Co.)

Thomas, I., (1810/1874/1970). The History of Printing in America, (orig. Burt Franklin, NYC; repub. Weathervane Books, M. McCorison, ed.). ( )

Watson, P., (1991). The Angelical Conjunction, (Nashville, TN: University of Tennessee Press).

Ulrich, L., (1991). A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (Vintage Books)


Web- and blogsites:

American Ancestors: Has .pdf copies of all MA probated wills and other documents.

Ancestry: A family history wiki-site useful for generating new avenues of inquiry. Connections must be verified by checking the original documents, however: duplications, mis-matched names, and other misinformation often appear.

Family Search.: Originally established to help prospective members “prove themselves” into religiously-related families to the LDS church, this provides fairly reliable interpretive aids (always check original documents):

A Vast Public Indifference: A personal blogsite with an interest in colonial history and the lives of women. Accessed 11.11.2011, at


Government Documents

NB: Deeds and probate records are filed by the year they were recorded–often as late as ten years from the date of signing noted in the document’s text. Resistance to the (1765) Stamp Act (requiring purchase of a government-issued stamp, affixed to all officially recorded transactions) and the 1776 war’s distractions led to longer delays, until 1783, when the new state’s officials caught up.

Land Transactions, Deeds, and Related Documents: These are kept in various county locations throughout the state. The State Deputy Register’s website lists them as a courtesy to researchers at: ( )

Middlesex County Court House (South) (208 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02141); now only online on American Ancestors. Citation format: (M’sex D/R, bk.  p.  ) All pre-annex (1874) deeds are here, as are all Cambridge, Medford, Malden, etc. deeds.

Grantors: “Green Books” (4th flr, M’sex Cty Ct. Hse): “Anderson,” vol 1; “Langdon,” vol. 5; “Phillips,” vol 6

Grantees: “Tan Books” (4th flr, M’sex Cty Ct. Hse): “Anderson,” vol 1; “Langdon,” vol. 5; “Phillips,” vol 6

Deeds and Related Transactions: Now only available online. (Wrapped and stored on the Gd floor, M’sex Cty Ct. Hse.)

1699: M’sex D/R bk. 13, pp. 154-6: Boston Langdons bought “Haugh’s Farm,” a large parcel of land in Cambridge

1706: M’sex D/R bk. 14, pp. 101-3: Boston Langdons sold “Haugh’s Farm” in Cambridge

1706: M’sex D/R bk. 14, pp. 9-10: Thomas Savage, goldsmith sold wharf to Eleazar Phillips, Jr.

1713: M’sex D/R bk. 16, p. 418: Widow Elizabeth Bills Phillips sold inherited wharf to group/mariners

1720: M’sex D/R bk. 20, p. 529: Josiah & Elizabeth Langdon, far outside Boston, were active before ELP’s arrival.

1731: M’sex D/R bk. 31, p. 418: Eleazar, Jr., listed as a “bookbinder,” buys “Nichol’s Field” from Joseph Lemmon.

1744: M’sex D/R bk. 43, pp. 638-9: Rebecca Anderson, deed of gift to Eliz. Langdon (written/1736, recorded /1744)

1751: M’sex D/R bk. 50, pp. 275-6: Stowers’ Orchard, Malden mortgaged to Eliza. Langdon (forfeited?/no redemption)

Suffolk County, MA Records (24 New Chardon St, Boston, MA 02114) Boston, towns S./Charles River (American Ancestors)

Citation format: (S’ff’k D/R, bk. p. ). Charlestown deeds after 1874 incorporation into Boston are in Suffolk, not M’sex books.

Grantors, Grantees, and Deeds and Related Transactions were located online, using the American Ancestors site.

Probated Documents (physical copies): (220 Morrissey Blvd, Boston, MA 02125): Columbia Point State Archives has all wills, etc.

Citation format: (Probate no. xxxxx (yyyy)). (They are also online on American Ancestors as noted above)

Massachusetts Probated Documents: No. 17308, 1709: Will of Eleazar Phillips, Sr.

Ibid: No. 17312, 1761: Administration of Elizabeth Phillips, (filed Jan. 26, 1762, inv.?)

Ibid: No. 17310, 1763: Will of Eleazar Phillips, Jr.

Town and Other Compiled Records:

Charlestown MA Vital Records, Vol I part 1, pp 65-6: 1680.12.28.b: Henry Phillips s./Eleazer, Sr.; 1680.; 1680/1.d:ibid)

Ibid:  Vol I part 1, p. 90: 1682.04.23.b: Eleazar Phillips s/Eleazer, Sr. & Anna his wife)

Ibid:  Vol I part 1, p. 202: 1704/5.01.11.d.: Sarah Phillips, w/Eleazer, Sr.)

Ibid:  Vol I part 1, p. 204: 1709.04.29.d.: Capt. Eleazar Phillips, Sr.)

Ibid:  Vol I part 2, p. 284: 1724. 50.18.b.: Mary Phillips d/Eleazer, Jr. & Lydia his wife)

Ibid:  Vol I part 2, p. 103: 1751.10.21.marriage: Phillips-Langdon

Deaths in Boston: 1700-1799 (A-L) (Dunkle & Lainhart, eds; NEGHS pub.): Mr. Langdon, bur. 18 June, 1723

Source R30: Alger, A.M. (1876). Descendants of Philip and John Langdon, p. 33 ff.)

Massachusetts Marriages, 1695-1910, database, FamilySearch ( : 9 February 2018), Henry Langdon & Elizabeth Meakes, 22 Jan 1722; citing reference; FHL microfilm 0928191 IT 2.)


Permission to use photo of Eleazar Phillip’s gravestone in Charleston, SC kindly granted by Debra Mosley.



[1] The stone for Dr. Jacobus Halkerston (d. 1721) in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground is one among many in the area. In the same Phipps St. grounds that holds Elizabeth Phillips’ stone is an early marker for a Dr. Chickering, “Practitioner in Physik,” (d. 1676).


[2] See: Manwaring (1904). “Mrs. Lucreshia Brewster, midwife” in New London, CT was one of three deathbed witnesses to Richard Hartley’s 1662 will, per the testimony of another involved in the event.


[3] Ulrich (1991).


[4] Despite contemporary claims to the contrary, Anne Hutchinson (d. 1647) was probably not a midwife. As an upper-class female who understood issues of faith, she may have been called in to help a woman prepare her soul for the ultimate dangers of birthgiving, but there is no evidence that she delivered laboring women. (David Hall, Harvard Divinity School, May 21, 2018, in conversation).


[5] Repair or stabilization may still be possible, but the stone is nearly illegible. My transcription depends on Littlefield (1900).


[6] Tucker (1993), p. 153; Forbes (1977). A reference in Sawyer’s History of Charlestown (1902) places the Lamson shop on Mill St., it was probably just around a curve in the shoreline that led from Phipps St. Burying Ground to the Mill Pond causeway. All of this is now covered by highway development and subway lines, but it should be possible to locate the site,


[7] Littlefield op. cit, noted: “Some mischievous person has skillfully changed the number on the stone slab so that 3000 reads 13000”; The (now only partially visible) upright stroke near the “3” may have also been the final letter in a word rather than a numeral:


[8] Nathaniel Lamson’s interest in graphic style often led to some use of italics in his inscriptions; here, the words “Harvard College” are also in German/Gothic lettering, honoring the institution opposite the Old Cambridge Burying Ground where the stone is placed.


[9] Margaret’s father built the (c. 1681) Col. John Appleton House, still standing, in Ipswich, MA. Gravestones for him and other family members are in Ipswich North Burying Ground, Old Cambridge, and various Boston grounds, where later family members settled.


[10] Margaret Holyoke bore eight children from 1726-1739. (Compiled from: )


[11] Information in several deeds make location of the actual workshop site possible (Tucker, 1997). It may have been near what was then the Mystik River outlet into the Charles, where a dam was placed to create a mill pond.  Sawyer (1902) mentions a site near Mill and Main Sts. for later family members; this could have been the same site (now buried by Interstate Route US-99).


[12] Written in 1736, recorded in 1744: (M’sex D/R bk. 43, pp. 638-9) The family connections between these two women is under further study


[13] Rebeckah’s death certificate does not appear in Charlestown’s spotty (neither alphabetically nor chronologically arranged) records.


[14] No deed of sale or probated will transferring the house into Rebeckah’s name has appeared; nor is its disposition after Elizabeth’s death given. The house may have been absorbed into Eleazar’s holdings, per legal custom; Elizabeth’s estate records are incomplete.


[15] “Widow” Elizabeth Langdon of Charlestown gave Richard Stowers and his brother a mortgage on their Malden orchard, which was both noted and recorded in 1751.  (M’sex D/R bk. 50, pp. 275-6)


[16] Per Charlestown Vital Records (Vol I part 2, p. 103), Eliza. Langdon and Eleazar Phillips were married by Rev. Mr. Hale Abbot on Oct. 21, 1751. Here, the parenthetical “Mrs.” suggests that “Langdon” was a formerly married name.


[17] Her probated Administration (M’sex no. 17312, filed Jan. 26, 1762), charged Thomas Goodwin and Eleazar’s son Richard Phillips as bondsmen to do the customary inventory required for an intestate decedent, but no later documents were apparently ever filed. Eleazar ‘s will (no. 17310) does not note or itemize her property separately (as his father’s will (M’sex no. 17308), unusually, did).


[18] By observation. While documenting ownership of house in Concord, MA., lacunae in the a 18th -19th c. records led me to check further ahead. A flurry of deeds from as far back as 20 years before were entered once the need for the inflated cost of the stamps that let the recorder enter them under “George III” was obviated. Feelings about this may have been particularly strong in the Boston area.


[19] In 1706, for £7, Eleazar Phillips, Sr. bought this wharf back from “goldsmith Thomas Savage of the Barbados Islands,” (calling himself one of Henry Phillips’ ‘natural children,’ and naming Henry’s inheritor Mrs. Mary Phillips as ‘mother’ and Eleazar “our brother.” Exploring this intriguing set of relationships unfortunately overruns the scope of this study).  (M’sex D/R bk. 14, pp. 9-10)


[20] See Ancestry tree: ( )


[21] In 1713, Elizabeth Bills Phillips, “widow,” sold the wharf for L50 to “William Smith of Charlestown, Mariner,” signed “by her mark” (M’sex D/R bk. 16, p. 418) Wyman also records the sale (Wyman, vol. 2, p. 744). The rental house may have been one of Eleazar, Jr.’s bookstore sites (it is near the second site named by Thomas; it is also in the same area as today’s “Black Rose” pub.)


[22] Eleazar, Jr’s will (no.  17310) names them; Wyman (ibid.) cites an inventory that does not appear in the online records


[23] No indenture papers for Eleazar, Jr. have yet surfaced but crafts like bookbinding required a period of training and service in order to be learned properly and to operate a business. Most young boys were “bred to a trade,” as Franklin’s father put it, by the age of 8 or so. (Franklin, B., (1788/1909, pp. 5-10) Littleton (1900, pp. 215-) cites his uncle Samuel as a likely mentor, and locates his first shop via deeds.


[24] Eleazar Phillips’ first shop was in the Old Town House (before the 1711 fire); his second shop was the Sign of the Eagle, on old Newberry (now Washington) St. Later he moved to King (now State) Street. By 1715, he had crossed back to Charlestown. (See: Thomas, I., (1810), pp. 154, 194, 422, 566); French., H., (1967); and Littlefield, (1900)).


[25] Eleazer, Sr.’s will (No. 17308) was filed in 1709.


[26] Eleazar, Sr.’s will probably refers to land purchased of Nathaniel Dows(e) (M’sex D/R, bk. 14, p. 103) in 1706. Eleazar, Jr’s inheritance of a house built on that land could have taken as late as 1715: processing wills and other documents often took ten or more years, even before the Stamp Act (passed March 22, 1765 by the British Parliament) led to the workers’ slowdown noted above.


[27] Charlestown deeds in 1714 (M’sex D/R, bk.16, pp. 513-14), 1729 (M’sex D/R, bk. 30, pp. 47-8), and 1731 (M’sex D/R bk. 31, p. 418) call him “Eleazar Phillips….bookbinder.” Thomas identifies works he had published as well (Thomas, 1810/1874/2007)


[28] This seems late in life for a town resident of this era to join their local church; perhaps his son’s death impelled this decision.


[29] Wyman, vol. 2, p. 744, gives Eleazar III’s birth date as 1710. Earlier sources confused Eleazar III and his father, thinking the latter to have taken the ill-fated trip to the South. Oddly, in 1761, having made all his bequests, Eleazar, Jr.’s will says, “and my son Eleazar, in South Carolina”—perhaps ill and in confusion?—but makes no bequest.


[30] South Carolina offered a Ƚ175 bounty to draw printers to the area; Benjamin Franklin may have had some agency in the offer. The hot climate overcame Eleazar III and his assistants; all three died within two years. On Eleazar III’s travel to Charleston, SC, see: Littell, E. and R., (1862); Littlefield, (1900); and Reese, (1990).


[31] My images for these stones are the work of Ray Zimmerman. Transport of stones from a dock near the Lamson shop is presumed.


[32] This seems out of character with Eleazar, Jr’s bookwork, but in 1710 and 1712 he sold copies of The Husbandman, which John Allen of Boston printed for him. (John Carter Brown, 1949), so perhaps his interest in sericulture was better-founded than it looks. (Post, 1750) Thomas, (1810), pp. 422-3. In 1837 it was tried: an 1843 mulberry blight ended the experiment (Nourse, p. 168).


[33] Wyman, vol. 2., p. 744, lists but does not attribute the source for Eleazar, Jr.’s burial date. The probate date seems improbably swift (4 days after his burial) but not impossible. Usually such transactions took years, not days, to be recorded and processed.


[34] Probate could take up to ten years, so a probate date, like the recording date for land deeds, only established a tempus ante quem for the event–in this case, sans a gravestone or other death record, Eleazar, Jr’s, death date. 


[35] No deed of sale has appeared for Rebekah’s house; Eleazer, Jr.’s brief will of 1761 (Prbt. no. 17310 (1763), does not mention it. He and Elizabeth may have lived in it, and sold his inherited home, but no deed of sale exists for that, either. Perhaps they kept both houses, with Rebeckah’s house included in the (uninventoried) “real estate” Eleazar, Jr. passed onto his sons (Prbt no. 17310, p. 3).


[36] Wyman, vol. 2., p. 744. Is this is the house Eleazar’s father built on land “bought of N. Dowse,” or the one Elizabeth inherited from Rebeckah? Probate records with payments for gravestones often help identify early carvers; Eleazar, Jr’s will says nothing of stones for him or Elizabeth. (Listings of probated stones, based on Harriet Forbes (1953) research, exist for most New England towns.)


[37] Evenden (2000) discusses the possibility of midwives’ familiarity with standard medical texts in Old England. See: “Ecclesiastical Licensing of Midwives,” at: Accessed 01.11.11. 


[38] The Colonial Society included an inventory of library holdings in its (1980) conference proceedings on its 1960 early American medical knowledge. See also Watson (1991) and Dr. Elihu Ashley’s published diary (1775/2007) for more information on this topic.


[39] From signatures on wills (which may be skewed towards those who were well-off and/or learned to write their name on request), the female literacy rate was high for colonial New England women (some say up to 70-90% of the female population (Lockridge (1974); Perlmann and Shirley (1991, 1997)); young women may also have learned Latin and Greek alongside brothers preparing for college.


[40] Women have also had medical or para-medical caregiving as apothecaries and infirmarians in women’s religious orders. Before the advent of the commercial bookmakers, women scribes, knowing Latin, may have also copied out medical texts. Wadsworth’s book is at the Harvard/Countway library. See$27i


[41] See: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911).


[42] Evenden (2000), p. 34, notes also that: “…although a firm date for the inception of licensing of London midwives has never been established, it is certain that the process was in place by the early sixteenth century…”.


[43]  Ibid., pp.11-13. Midwives received monetary gifts for going to christenings and were expected to urge new mothers to attend the Anglican “churching of women” (still in the American Book of Common Prayer (1982), pp. 439-45 as “A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child.”) By the 1600s, it was a social occasion for which clergy were also paid. Dissenters challenged it as popish.


[44] Evenden, op. cit., pp. 58-9.


[45] Licensed M.D’s in the Lambeth Palace Library list ( ; include this and two other women’s’ licenses (item 637, p. 4), among them, “WHEATLAND (Elizabeth), wife of John Wheatland, of St. Michael near Winchester, Hants., 1687” (p. 26) is intriguing: 20 years older, could she have known or taught Elizabeth ?Meeks/Langdon?


[46] Without a certain last name it is difficult to tell absolutely, but she married in Charlestown’s First Church (Congregational); it is unlikely but not impossible that on first reaching Boston she joined an Anglican church [King’s Chapel, Boston (1684); Christ Church, Boston (1626); or Trinity, Boston (1633); the only other nearby church, Christ Church, Cambridge (1761) opened the year she died].


[47] Budington, W.I., (1845). The History of the First Church, Charlestown, (Boston, MA: C. Tappan, Pub.), p. 254. Two of Eleazar’s earlier children, Mary and Elizabeth, joined in 1741; See: .


[48] Rev. Hull Abbot, a native Bostonian, was ordained associate in 1724, and took over the duties of the senior pastor when his father-in-law, Rev. Dr. Bradstreet, became incapacitated 15 years later. (Budington, op. cit., p. 125.)


[49] Identification of Mary Dyer as a midwife often carries vague hints that either her profession or her professionalism disadvantaged her in debate with male colonial authorities; had she also been licensed in England some taint of Anglicanism might have accrued to her. But nothing about her possible rôle as a birth assistant is pertinent to her disputes over differences of theology and civil law.


[50] Little actual research seems to have been done in this area, so I am reluctant to say that there was no licensing. At present, the most one can say is that there is no evidence for it.


[51] The 1722 Boston marriage banns for Henry Langdon and Elizabeth Meeks, (Massachusetts Marriages), do not prove an actual marriage occurred. If the Mr. Langdon (bur. 1723) listed in Deaths in Boston), were he, the famously epidemic smallpox may have been at fault.

[52] Both the word “widow” in the Stowers’ document, and the “Mrs.” in parentheses in her 1751 marriage record improve the likelihood that Langdon is a former married name. (Charlestown MA Vit. Rcds, Vol I part 2, p. 103; the 1984 Josselyn transcription has “Ms.”).


[53] I have examined the Winchester and London documents as far as possible online; I have worked from transcribed original texts, in either book or digitized form, from Charlestown and Boston, where Elizabeth or Eleazar were known to have lived, and in the neighboring towns of Medford, Malden, and Cambridge, given that boundaries have shifted and people were actually rather mobile.


[54] Evenden, D., (2000). Note also that: “…although a firm date for the inception of licensing of London midwives has never been established, it is certain that the process was in place by the early sixteenth century…” (op. cit., p. 34).


[55] Boston victualler John Langdon and his wife Elizabeth bought (in 1699: M’sex D/R bk. 13., pp. 154-6) and sold (in 1706: M’sex D/R bk. 14, pp. 101-3) “Haugh’s Farm” in Cambridge. A Josiah Langdon and his wife Elizabeth, also active in Leicester real estate (1720: M’sex D/R bk. 20, p. 529), even before Elizabeth (Langdon) Phillips arrived in New England, were far outside of Boston.


[56] Eleazar Phillips, Sr. named one daughter “Elizabeth” and at least one of his sons married an Elizabeth. In addition, he married as his third wife Elizabeth (Bills) Phillips, just a few years before his death in 1709.


[57] An online search of the Harvard Countway Medical Library’s holdings yields information on later midwives, but nothing on colonial era practitioners.


[58] Forbes, E.H., (1942) p. 40.


[59] Ashley (2007).


[60] Ulrich, L.T., (1991) op. cit.


[61] The use of forceps required women to lie on a table for delivery, rather than walk about or give birth standing up (as Pathviers Hospital, outside of Paris, re-instituted in the past century).


[62] Lister’s understanding of germ process had not been fully accounted for in medical care or taken seriously enough by obstetrical doctors. Until Boston Dr. Oliver Holmes insisted that doctors wash their hands after delivering or examining a patient, the mortality from purpureal fever was alarming. (Holmes, O. W., (1843); Holmes, O. W., (1855); and Weissman, G., (2010).


Comments (2)

  1. I am so glad this fascinating piece has been published!

    Jean Wilson

  2. Thank you! I have since located her license in the London Metropolitan Archives, but continue to search out more on her history.

    Donna La Rue

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