Biography of Dr. J. Mortimer Crawe


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DR. J. MORTIMER CRAWE, who has been so prominently known in professional and social life in the county for a period of nearly forty years, is a native of Watertown, born May 23, 1831, and is the son of Dr. Ithemer B. Crawe, the latter an early physician of the county and one of the most noted botanists of his time. As is mentioned at length in the medical chapter of this work, Itherner B. Crawe was born in Enfield, Hartford county, Conn., June 11, 1792, and after suffering from injuries resulting from overwork on a farm, turned his attention to botanical studies, for which he had a special taste and was peculiarly adapted by nature. Indeed, throughout the long period of his active professional life Dr. Crawe employed every favorable opportunity to pursue his botanical researches in new and unexplored fields, and important discoveries rewarded his zeal and perseverance. In his younger life this earnest student had many obstacles to contend with, the most serious of which was impaired health, but by careful habits and selftreatment he at length became physically strong, and in 1822 finished his medical studies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at New York, and in the same year began professional life at Clinton, Madison county. Six months later he came to Watertown and after several years removed to Ogdensburgh.

After about three years there Dr. Crawe took charge of a lead mining enterprise in Maine, which gave promise of success, but resulted in disaster, upon which he located at Pontiac, Mich., where he lived about three years. Then he returned to Watertown, and was prominently connected with the medical profession throughout the remainder of his life. He was an excellent physician, a pathologist and physiologist of ability, therefore eminently successful in his practice. But it was as student of botany and mineralogy that Dr. Crawe acquired his highest standing among scientists, and in this field he attained distinguished prominence and was brought into acquaintance and association with many of the most learned men and scholars of the time. He discovered and described several new plants, one of which was named for him “Carex Crawei,” or “Crawe’s Sedge.”

In 1847 he was asked by the noted Professor Gray, of Cambridge, Mass., to procure for him some rare plants which grew in the vicinity of Perch lake, and which were in perfect development about the first of June. Employing this opportunity on the third day of that month, Dr. Crawe visited his patients, and then set out upon his favorite quest with two companions. The lake was crossed in safety, though the boat was old and leaky. A large collection of plants was secured, the return trip was begun, but when about twenty rods from the shore the doctor saw that the boat must sink. He told Enoch Eddy, who could not swim, to stick to the boat, then he with William C. Gould, sprang into the water, assisted Eddy in gaining a good hold on the frail craft, and struck out for shore. Dr. Crawe was a strong, powerful swimmer, yet young Gould reached the land first; and turning, saw the doctor’s feet above water, from which it is thought he must have been seized with cramps. The body soon disappeared and was recovered the next day by Masonic friends who had hastened to the scene as soon as the unfortunate news was learned. Thus was cut off one of the most useful lives in the medical profession in northern New York, and thus was removed an enthusiastic toiler in bontanical and mineralogical pursuits. A life almost had been devoted to those loved pursuits and was lost at its very height.

Dr. Crawe, during his many years of botanical and mineralogical research, accumulated a rare collection of specimens of great value. The weight of his cabinet of minerals was eight tons. He became a member of the County Medical Society in 1822; was its secretary in 1825; censor in 1826, ‘28—30, ‘34 and ‘41; president in 1827 and again in 1842, and delegate to the State Society in 1834 and 1844. In 1846, on the recommendation of the State Society, the Regents of the University conferred on Dr. Crawe the honorary degree of “Doctor of Medicine.” thus in a measure recognizing his worth to the profession at large.

Dr. J. Mortimer Crawe, of Watertown, who, by reason of his untiring and unselfish devotion to his profession and its societies, is looked upon by his associates as one of the senior members of that profession in the county, was the son of Ithemer B. Crawe by his marriage with Charlotte F. Mortimer. His early elementary education was acquired in the public and select schools, and he also attended the then famous Jefferson County Institute. He then read medicine under the instruction of Dr. H. G. P. Spencer, and later finished his medical course at Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia, from which he was grad nated in 1859. His practice began at Hamilton, Madison county, but failing health suggested a change in location, whereupon he removed to Champion. Here his stay was short, for in July, 1861, he chanced to visit Madison county where he found an unusual number of diphtheria cases among his old acquaintances; he yielded to their persuasions and returned again to live in that vicinity.

During the summer and early fall of 1862 the 157th N. Y. Vol. Inf. was recruited in Madison and Cortland counties, and Dr. Crawe was commissioned assistant regimental surgeon. He served in the reserve hospital at Fairfax Court-house until March, 1863, when, on account of ill health, he was ordered to Washington, and then sent home on sick leave. Two months later he rejoined the regiment at Acquia Creek, just previous to the Chancellorsville battle. In that fearful engage. ment he was taken prisoner while acting as surgeon of the 182d Illinois, and remained three weeks in the enemy’s hands before an exchange was made. He returned to his command much broken in health, hence was ordered home on another leave of absence, but soon learning that the troops were about to move, went back to the regiment and acted as operating surgeon during the battle of Gettysburg, thereafter remaining in the Eleventh Corps hospital about one month, caring for the sick and wounded and also acting as hospital recording officer. He then reported to General Hallock at Washington, but in the mean time the 157th had moved to Morris Island, opposite Charleston, S. C., which city they were besieging, and our determined young surgeon at once reported for active duty notwithstanding his own physical condition. He served in this department until February, 1864, when he was promoted to the rank of surgeon, and assigned to the 128th N. Y. Regiment in Sherman’s army at Savannah. From this time Dr. Crawe served as medical inspector and brigade surgeon until August, 1865, when he returned to Albany and was mustered out of service.

After his return from the service Dr. Crawe took up his residence at Watertown and began practice, not in a new field but in his native village. During all the years of his absence he was not forgotten by the friends of his youth, nor had the medical profession or the people at large lost all memory of the son of Ithemer B. Crawe, the botanist, scientist and physician; and on returning to his native town Dr. Crawe was at once among friends and quickly established a successful and lucrative practice. He took an active interest in the affairs and well being of the County Medical Society; was one of its reorganizers in 1868, and from that time to the present has been one of its most influential members and sustainers. It is doubtful if the society has an office he has not held several times, but in all his zeal and interest in its affairs he has never accepted any promotion or high position other than for the good of the organization and the advancement of the profession in the county and at large. Indeed, Jefferson county never had a practitioner who had greater regard for legitimate methods than Dr. Crawe, nor has there been one who more earnestly sought to weed out from the ranks of the profession all charlatans and quacks. It is only by the endeavors of such men that any profession or calling can be kept pure and clean.

In 1884 he, with others, became disgusted with the methods and action of the State Medical Society in relation to the code of ethics, whereupon they withdrew their membership in the old organization. In the same year the New York State Medical Association was formed, Dr. Crawe being one of the chief factors in the organization and its first vice president. The offices he has filled in the several medical bodies of which he has been a member need no mention in this place, and it is sufficient to say that in each position he has been found faithful, as he has to every charge in professional, political and social life. He was appointed pension examiner in 1869, held the office four years, and then resigned. In 1881 he was asked to and did accept a place on the Jefferson County Board of Pension Examiners, and was its president four years. This is the extent of his political holdings, though in that boundless and sometimes uncertain field Dr. Crawe takes the same commendable interest as in professional and fraternal circles. He is a firm Republican, but has never sought political preferment.

On October 3, 1860, J. Mortirner Crawe was married to Mary E., daughter of Jacob Hecox, of Earlville, N. Y. Of this marriage four children were born: J. Mortimer Crawe, jr., a practicing physician of Watertown; Harriet S. C., wife of Fred H. Moore of Syracuse; Frank Frederick, who died in infancy; and Edwin Paddock Crawe, now living in Syracuse.

Our County and it's people
A descriptive work on Jefferson County, New York
Edited by: Edgar C. Emerson
The Boston History Co., Publishers 1898

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