'The man with the hole in his stomach': Talk to discuss famous local doctor

PHOTO PROVIDEDAlexis St. Martin, an American Fur Company indentured servant, was accidentally shot by a musket on June 6, 1822. After the wound healed, there remained an opening — or fistula — in his side that led to his stomach. This opening allowed for remarkable experiments in digestion by Dr. William Beaumont.

PLATTSBURGH – In Plattsburgh, the Ashley Home Store located at 84 Margaret St. and Beaumont Gastroenterology Services located at 14 Durkee St. have little in common on the face of it.

But Dr. Paolo Fedi makes the historical connection between the two locations as he explores the life, pioneering medical research and legacy of Dr. William Beaumont for the Clinton County Historical Association talk on May 17, 6:30 pm, at the MHAB Life Skills Campus, located at 14 Dormitory Drive, Plattsburgh.

FROM FLORENCE TO LAKE CITY

After 9/11, Fedi, a native of Florence, Italy, left New York City because it was very difficult to live there, and he felt it wasn't the right place for his practice.

“I wanted to live in a more rural area,” he said.

“I ended up coming to Plattsburgh. I was very excited because Plattsburgh is the really the site where this guy Beaumont practiced and published his book on the observation of the digestion of the GI tract.

“It was an incredible coincidence of things. Not only am I a gastroenterologist coming to this town, I did a thesis while I was in Italy for medical doctors on the effect of smoking on the healing on the gastric ulcer.

“He actually was the first one to identify the negative effect of smoking on the stomach. I thought this town was my town, and that's why I decided to come here because it was kind of very interesting.”

Initially Fedi joined a different practice, but he established his own.

“The Department of Education allowed me to use the name Beaumont, so I was able to open the practice,” he said.

NEW ENGLAND ROOTS

William Beaumont was born Nov. 21, 1785 in Lebanon, Conn., the son of farmers, Samuel Sr., a Revolutionary War veteran, and Lucretia (Adel) Beaumont, according to the William Beaumont Collection at the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

“His uncle (William Beaumont) was one of the first settlers of Champlain,” Fedi said.

“He came here (1806), and he became a schoolmaster (1807-10) at the first school in Champlain. He was an avid reader. He was reading constantly, and he realized he was fascinated with science and medicine. Therefore, he trained and became a doctor.”

In 1810, he moved to St. Albans, Vt, and was apprenticed to Drs. Benjamin Chandler and Truman Powell for two years. Beaumont received his medical certification through the Third Medical Society of Vermont in 1812, according to the William Beaumont Collection.

“He moved to Plattsburgh during the Battle of 1812,” Fedi said.

“They needed doctors. The hospital that was set up was split between Burlington and Plattsburgh. That was 1812, and now we are merging between Plattsburgh and Vermont again. It's a circle here.”

Beaumont was assigned to the 6th Infantry Regiment as a surgeon's mate.

After the war, Beaumont resigned his commission from the Army in 1815 and opened a private practice here.

Beaumont's friend, Dr. Joseph Lovell, who was in command of the Burlington Hospital during the war, became the 8th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and recruited Beaumont to become a post surgeon again in the U.S. Army.

MICHILIMACKINAC

In 1819, Beaumont was assigned to Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

On Aug. 28, 1822, he married Deborah Greene Platt in Plattsburgh.

He mostly likely met the daughter of tavern keeper Israel and Sarah (Deane) at the tavern, which was the meeting place of the Clinton County Medical Society in Plattsburgh.

They had four children: Sarah, William W., Lucretia and Israel Greene Beaumont.

“There was a little scandal because she was married and divorced,” Fedi said.

" A child of his died and is in the cemetery here in Plattsburgh.”

Fort Mackinac was an important post for the trade of fur from Canada to the United States.

“All the fur from the Astor family in New York City was all coming through this area there,” Fedi said.

For three centuries, 1550 to 1850, well-dressed men completed their ensemble with a top hat made from black. felted-beaver fur.

“All the hats for men, that were done at the time, they used the fur from the trade with the Canada,” he said.

FATEFUL ENCOUNTER

Alexis St. Martin, an American Fur Company indentured servant, was accidentally shot by a musket on June 6, 1822.

Beaumont was the only surgeon on Mackinac Island at the time.

“He was there to sell the fur that he was collecting,” Fedi said.

“He got a gunshot wound into his abdomen. He got rescued by Dr. Beaumont. A relationship established between Dr. Beaumont and this guy.”

St. Martin was a Canadian voyageur recuperating in a U.S. Army Hospital.

“The Army didn't want to continue to take care of this guy because nobody was paying for it,” Fedi said.

“They wanted to send him back to Canada. Beaumont basically took him in his house and continued to take care of him for two years until this guy was complete except that there remained a fistula opened into his abdomen.”

Beaumont could see St. Martin's stomach from the gastrocutaneous fistula or hole.

“He realized he has an incredible opportunity, and the opportunity was one that he could study and look at exactly what happens when we eat because now he has a person with a hole in the stomach that he could observe,” Fedi said.

“This was not done before on humans. Some people in Europe, especially in Italy and Germany, they had done some studies in animals, dogs in particular, but nobody had ever done in humans.”

What was know about the GI tract was gleaned from cadavers and vomit.

“There is a relationship for approximately 10 years between these two men.

“Beaumont basically hired him a few times. Sometimes, the relationship didn't work well because the guy left him and went back to Canada, where he had a wife and children.”

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter:@RobinCaudell

 

IF YOU GO

WHAT: The Clinton County Historical Associat presents "An overview of the life of Plattsburgh’s medical pioneer, Dr. William Beaumont" by Dr. Paolo Fedi of Beaumont Gastroenterology Services.

WHEN: May 17, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: MHAB Life Skills Campus, 14 Dormitory Drive, Plattsburgh (off New York Road, then Idaho Avenue).

NOTE: This live event is sponsored by the Clinton County Historical Association. Masks and distancing are required. Temperatures will be taken at the door.

ZOOM: There will also be a Zoom connection to the presentation which can be accessed by emailing the CCHA Director: director@clintoncountyhistorical.org.

PHONE: For more information, call 518-561-0340.

Trending Video

Recommended for you