Home Commentary History Corner: Rebecca Peabody Davis: A Woman in History

History Corner: Rebecca Peabody Davis: A Woman in History

Image of painting of woman in all black with white bonnet.
Rebecca Peabody Davis in her older years. Image courtesy Vermont History Museum.
When reading the history of Montpelier, Vermont, or anywhere, it is rare to come across accounts of women’s lives. But at least one has made it into the history of Montpelier. Rebecca Peabody, a trained surgeon, came to practice medicine in Johnson, Vermont before making her way to Montpelier to aid a man in need of medical attention, according to “The History of Montpelier” by historian Daniel P. Thompson (1860).  Both her father and brother were surgeons. Thompson’s first mention of the young Miss Peabody came in March 1794, where he recounts that year’s March meeting, during which “the first case of pauperism that ever occurred in town” was addressed. Apparently a man named John Marsh became “unable to support himself by reason of lameness.” A tree fell on him and made him unable to earn money and in need of medical assistance. Selectmen voted to provide for his care. Town officials first discussed paying Dr. Rebecca Peabody 17 pounds, 5 shillings (their currency) for her medical expertise, but cut it down to 15 shillings before approving it.

In Thompson’s words, “Soon after coming to Montpelier to attend on the poor invalid, Marsh, she married General Pearley [sic] Davis, and, besides retaining through life a notoriety for surgical skill which continually brought her the visits of the unfortunate from every part of the State, she became truly one of the mothers of the town, not only diffusing blessings among the sick and afflicted, but acting well her part in social life, and at length leaving the numerous offspring, she had so well reared, to look back, as they justly may, with respect and pride on her memory.”

Peabody was born in Massachusetts to Col. Stephen Peabody (a surgeon) and Hannah Chandler, according to rootsweb.com. She married Revolutionary War Major Parley Davis, a founding permanent settler of Montpelier, and relative of Col. Jacob Davis. They wed on Nov. 4, 1794, according to “Marriages in Montpelier, Vermont Town Clerk’s Record 1791–1812.” The Parley Davis house still stands in what is now East Montpelier Center. The couple had at least seven daughters who shall be named, according to familysearch.org: Sally, Asenath, Rebecca, Lucy, Hannah, Ruth, and Dolly.