submitted by Madeline Crickard

Dr. Jesse Bennett was an important man in the early history of Mason County. He was born in Frankford, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, July 10th, 1769.

It is said that he entered Elementary School at the age of four years, and after he finished he entered a Philadelphia College, and graduated with a B. A. Degree. Then he turned his efforts to medicine. He was an apprentice in Dr. Benjamin Rush's office for some time, and later attended Medical School. In April 1791, he received his title of Doctor of Medicine, at the same time he received his degree as M. A.

He was well prepared to start out in life. After some consideration, he decided to go west to practice. He stopped in Rockingham County, Virginia. There in a little log cabin, he set up his office tacked his diploma on the wall, and started a career that made him famous.

In the spring of 1793, young Dr. Bennett married Elizabeth Hogg, the talented and educated daughter of Peter Hogg, a noted attorney and at one time the King's solicitor for Rockingham County, Virginia.

Dr. Bennett in 1794 at the age of 24, performed the first successful caesarian operation in America. This operation was one of the most remarkable in the annals of medical history. It was performed without any equipment, and no antiseptics, in a humble home in the backwoods of Virginia.

About a year after the marriage of Dr. Bennett and Elizabeth Hogg, it was learned that she was soon to give birth to her first child. Dr. Bennett engaged Dr. A. Humphrey of Staunton, Virginia, to attend his wife, at the birth of his first child. At the appointed time, Dr. Humphrey arrived at the Bennett home. It was found impossible for the baby to be born naturally, after an unsuccessful attempt at a delivery by forceps. The two doctors held a consultation, and decided that there were only two things that could be done, and Dr. Humphrey felt that either was certain death for both mother and baby, so, he refused to assist in any operation. The only two things that could be done was either a Caesarian or a Creanitorian oper-ation.

Mrs. Bennett felt that either would be death for her, but that the life of the baby might be saved by a Caesarian Operation, so she begged for them to try to save the baby's life, even if she had to die. So it was up to the young doctor, husband, and father, to decide what to do. Remembering his resolution when he first hung out his shingle, "that he would attend the sick, in good or bad weather, night or day, rich or poor, and do all he could to relieve pain and aches." In an instant his decision was made, save both if possible, and he would.

A crude operating table was made, by bringing in two barrels, and placing two boards on them for a table. Mrs. Bennett was given a large dose of laudanum, to make her sleepy, and then she was placed on the operating table, with her sister, Mrs. Hawkins, by her side holding a tallow candle for a light, and two faithful negro servants to hold Mrs. Bennett on the table.

Then young Dr. Bennett, with one long sweep of the knife, laid open the abdomen of his wife, and removed the baby. The wound was then closed by sew-ing it with stout linen thread, such as was used in the pioneer home to sew heavy clothing. Much to the surprise of every one, both mother and baby lived. Thirty-six years later, April 20th, 1830, the mother died, and was laid to rest a short distance from Riverview, the home she loved so well.

The baby girl, seventy six years later, now Mrs. Robert Mitchell, died here in Mason County. Her first marriage was to Enos Thomas, by whom she had six children. Four died in infancy. The other two married and reared large families, and today a large number of the baby's descendants live throughout West Virginia, Ohio, and other states.

The operation by young Dr. Bennett was not done for money, nor show, nor fame, nor for publicity. As a doctor he did what he could to save a patient. As a husband he did what he could to save his wife. As a father his prayers were to save the baby. No desire for money or fame prompted this deed. Modesty and consider-ation for his wife kept him from seeking publicity or recognition. He states that no doctor would believe such an operation could be performed, without any equipment, in a humble home in the backwoods of Virginia. And, he was not going to give them a chance to call him a liar. So, it was never reported to the Medical Society of that day.

Soon after the birth of his daughter, Dr. Bennett left Rockingham County, and located for a short time in Philadelphia. Then, for some reason he went back to Rockingham County.

In 1797, Dr. Bennett with his wife and baby, Maria, and his wife's sister Mrs. Hawkins, her husband and son, with several slaves, horses, and cattle, and their household equipment, emigrated to their new home, locating on his father-in-law's land in the western part of Augusta County, on the Ohio River in what is new Mason County, W. Va., about five miles north of Point Pleasant, now W. Va., where he lived the rest of his life, and where he had established a large practice.

His name spread for miles around as a doctor, as well as an influential citizen in the formation of the new County of Mason. He was appointed Major of Mason County Militia in 1804. He represented Mason County in the Virginia Assembly, and served as Army Surgeon in the War of 1812. It was Dr. Bennett that Aaron Burr visited, and tried to enlist his help in the Burr and Blennerhassett conspiracy.

It was in 1827, thirty three years later that Dr. John Lambert performed a Caesarian operation at Newton, Hamilton County, Ohio, with more modern equip-ment, which was only 10 miles from Dr. Bennett's practice. This operation was reported to the Medical Journals at that time, claiming it to be the first Caesarian Operation in America. Some Medical Societies still give Dr. Lambert credit for performing the first.

It was not until 1842, after Dr. Bennett's death, that Dr. A.L. Knight of West Columbia, Mason County, a young doctor who grew up as neighbors of the Bennetts and heard both Dr. Bennett and his wife tell of this occasion that he felt this injustice should be cleared. He sought out living witnesses who were present at the birth of the baby, Maria. Nancy Hawkins, who held the candle for light, and who was a sister of Mrs. Bennett, and the old Negro servant who helped hold Mrs. Bennett on the operating table during the oper-ation, both of whom gave the facts as stated above, to Dr. Knight, who writes, "The Life and Times of Dr. Jesse Bennett, M.D." which was published in "The Southern Historical Magazine" in 1892.

In 1929, Dr. Joseph Miller, of Thomas, W. Va., whose wife was Mattie Jane Shaw, a great-granddaughter of Dr. Jesse Bennett, wrote an article in the "Virginia Medical Monthly", dealing with this first Caesarian operation. Nine years later, in 1938, Dr. Miller wrote another account of the operation, where he included a copy of the title page from one of Dr. Bennett's Medical Books, where there appears the following notation, "Jan. 14, 1794, J.B. on E.B. Up Feb. 15, cured March 1st., "Miller's Caesarian Section Annals of Medical History".

Copied from papers in the Bennett Collection.
By: L. L. Caldwell


The Allegheny Regional Family History Society
Post Office Box 1804
Elkins, West Virginia, 26241

Comments regarding this page to: Deborah Johnson.