Dr. John Wilson, Descriptions, Commentary

Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, Pamphlet.jpg

Rinda Fuller Knapp

During his stay in Dummerston he called on the Alvine Knapp family. Mrs. Knapp, having heard he was from England, started to prepare a cup of tea for him. Noticing her action, he loudly commanded "Coffee, Madam, Coffee!"


Josiah Gilbert Holland

Then I had an opportunity to study him more closely. He was fresh from his toilet, and wore the cleanest linen. His neck was enveloped and his chin propped by the old-fashioned "stock" of those days, his waistcoat was white, and his dark gray coat and trousers had evidently passed under Dennis's brush in the early morning. A heavy gold chain with a massive seal depended from his watch-pocket, and he carried in his hand what seemed to be his constant companion, his heavy cane. At this distance of time I find it difficult to describe his face, because it impressed me as a whole, and not by its separate features. His eyes were dark, pleasant, and piercing---so much I remember; but the rest of his face I cannot describe. I trusted it wholly; but, as I recall the man, I hear more than I see. Impressive as was his presence, his wonderful voice was his finest interpreter to me. I lingered upon his tones and cadences as I have often listened to the voice of a distant waterfall, lifted and lowered by the wind. I can hear it to-day as plainly as I heard it then.

From Arthur Bonnicastle: An American Novel

When the young J. G. Holland was teaching the winter term in the District No. 5 schoolhouse in Guilford, Vermont during the 1839-40 term, he became acquainted with Dr. John Wilson. This country doctor encouraged the Josiah Gilbert Holland to attend the Berkshire Medical College. Dr. Wilson had attended classes at the Castleton Academy of Medicine, but did not formally graduate.


Henry Burnham

In a rather inferior carriage, accompanied by his little boy, he visited, in rural districts, those persons who required his professional services, which, in some instances, were highly appreciated.

Though gifted with rare powers of conversation, which gave evidence of extensive information, he rearely, if ever, sought the society of those who could best appreciate him, or the company we should suppose would have been most congenial to a man of his high cultivation.

The visits necessity compelled him to make to the grocery and stores, were improved by some people to draw forth ideas, or get opinions from this mysterious oracle, and when well started in conversation, we have noticed a charmed circle of attentive listeners gather around him, and all seemed willing to adhere to the maxims of Zeno.

Upon one occasion I heard him remark:

I have never witnessed such extravagances in the use of language as I have noticed in New England. For instance, Mr. H. said to me, 'Doctor, there is some grand, almighty, elegant, magnificent, splendid, nice, fresh fish.' My first impression was that Mr. H. had just returned from St. Peter's at Rome, or from the grand Cathedral at Milan, and had commenced to enlighten me upon his discoveries; but judge of my surprise, after he had used up superlatives enough to do justice to the architecture of the middle ages, my attention was directed to a few small, dead fishes.


Julia Ann Rice

Julia Ann Rice was born July 18, 1838 in Brattleboro to Clark Rice and Clarissa, and grew up on the exemplary farm so praised by Governor Frederick Holbrook.

In a letter to the Vermont Phoenix dated January 1, 1903 Julia recalls seeing Dr. John Wilson during his last years, shortly before he became recognized as the highwayman "Captain Thunderbolt"---

The recent items concerning old Dr. Wilson remind me of the time when I was ten years old and used to see him drive into the yard at the old homestead. I remember him very well, more distinctly because the old lady who mended our clothes told us one day "that if we young ones were not good and did not mind marm old Dr. Wilson would carry us off," and with an ominous shake of the head "they do say he has killed a man already".

Julia Ann Rice married the prosperous farmer Milton M. Miller, who bought at public auction in 1847, the wooden heel that Dr. John Wilson always wore in his boot, a prosthetic device that was fashioned from wood, leather, and iron nails. This wooden heel was later owned by John C. Tyler, who sold it to George H. Salisbury for $2.25 in late March 1881.

Dr. Wilson's heel bone was chopped, or sliced off cleanly at about a forty-five degree angle, apparently completely separating the Achilles tendon, resulting in a withered calf muscle that required padding and bandaging to conceal.

Dr. Gardner C. Hill of Keene, New Hampshire had a patient named David Read of West Swanzey, whose father, Rufus Read, made Dr. John Wilson's boots in Brattleboro. The family story was that Dr. John Wilson never tried on his boots in the shoe and boot store, but would always take them home to try out.


Edward Crosby

The writer's father was bell boy at the Chase Tavern and as a boy remembered Dr. John Wilson well, telling many interesting stories relative to his career at Brattleboro and Brookline.

Charles R. Crosby is the writer here, describing his father working as bell boy, helper, and errand boy when he was seventeen years old in 1833.


"A Famous Old Highwayman", The Springfield Republican, October 6, 1893

The story of Mike Martin has been embalmed in the drama, and the older of our theater-goers will remember that something like 40 years ago, at the old National theater, under the management of William Pelby, was brought out a play of that name. It was an equestrian piece, that is, the two principal characters were mounted on horseback. Junius Brutus Booth, the younger, was Mike Martin, Capt Lightfoot; and Samuel Johnson, "Big Sam," was the John Doherty, Capt Thunderbolt. Both of them have been dead years since, and it is doubtful if any one who was a member of the company at the time is now alive.


Dr. John Wilson, Captain Thunderbolt, By Charles J. Brasor, Artist, 1930.jpg

Dr. John Wilson, Captain Thunderbolt

Charles J. Brasor, 1930, Charcoal Sketch


Sadawga Springs

The mineral spring in that village was discovered in 1822, analyzed by Dr. Wilson, and found to contain muriate of lime, carbonate of lime, muriate of magnesis, and peroxide of iron . . . David Eames, one of the most enterprising men that ever lived in Whitingham, claimed to have been cured of an aggravated case of gravel and liver complaint, of long standing, by the use of its waters.

Leonard Brown, Esq., "History of Whitingham; From its Organization to the Present Time". (F. E. Housh, 1886).

Ruby Sparks, Mrs. Hastings A. Williams of Williamsville, Newfane, Vermont, left a handwritten notation "these historians state that in 1822 a Dr. Wilson discovered that a spring near Sawdawga in Whitingham had great medicinal importance".

The William H. Williams store journal accounts indicate that members of the Eames family were patients, or at least figured in the records for Dr. John Wilson. Dr. Wilson was interested in all the mineral springs in Windham County---in Brookline, Guilford, and the Lawrence and Wesselhoeft water cures in Brattleboro.


Brookline Mineral Spring

The other spring was on the old Capt. Daniel Jewett, later Russell Braley, now George L. Smith farm. A reddish colored water flowed from this spring and people drank it in quantities, and even bathed in it, believing it to be a cure for everything from poison ivy to consumption. Acclording to a story told to Clifford E. Cory by Russell Braley who lived there, the sickly, if not consumptive, son of Dr. John Wilson (Thunderbolt) and another person named Barton or Benjamin Joslyn had the disease, and at one time lived there on the farm. It is reported that Dr. John Wilson treated them with this water and that they were cured.

The History of Putney Vermont 1753-1953, Edited by Edith De Wolfe, Lura H. Frost, Edith I. Gassett, Inez S. Harlow, Elizabeth G. Scott. (Putney, Vermont: Published by the Fortnightly Club, 1953).

Wilfred Harris, Brattleboro Pageant June 1912, Early Stage Coach Days.jpg

Wilfred Harris As Captain Thunderbolt

Brattleboro Pageant, June 5-8, 1912 On The Island

Episode VII, Early Stage Coach Days


Captain Nelson Richardson

Captain Nelson Richardson, Swift Waterman.jpg

I have often been up to Bellows Falls with eight hogsheads of rum. Then there was nothing on the present Brattleboro depot grounds save the notorious "Thunderbolt's" home.

From age sixteen in 1833 until the fall of 1847, Nelson Richardson worked on the steamboats "Peacock", "Dispatch", "Royal Tar", and the "Mary Ann".


Dr. John Wilson, Silver Watch, Donated By Gilbert C. Brown, Williamsville Family.jpg

Dr. John Wilson's Silver Timepiece

Owned By Gilbert C. Brown


Louisa L. Hinds, Mrs. George N. Smith

Dr Wilso Brattleboro was
Was one of two notorious robbers
Thunderbolt and Lightoot who
robbed the rich and gave to the
poor. This was not known until
after his death. At that time,
Lightfoot, was imprisoned at
Charleston Mass and told their
story. He died there,
Dr Wilson was good Dr Children
liked him for he liked them and
he was a good Citizen
As you go to Brattleboro his house
was on the left side of street
just as you cross covered bridge
going from Hinsdale George Smiths
grandmother was working for him
at the time of his death,
We have his Picture
His glasses, worn by him
I have tried to get a book
This was the only picture Dr
Wilson ever had taken of himself
and he gave this to Amasa
Buckman who worked for him
as a Printers devil as Dr
printed a paper Buckman
died at my Aunts, Picture was
left there she gave it to Geo
Smith Amasa had no relatives
and she did want him to have it
Dr. Gardner Hill asked him if
He could take it to have a
painting made from it for
the Vt medical Society
and he let him take it
and they got a nice Painting
for the Society taken from
this Picture


George Norman Smith

West Swanzey

N. H.

Dear Mr Lawrence:--

I am returning the Dr
Wilson photo you sent by
mistake .. The revolver I
will send you as soon
as I get it from Keene
it is packed with my
goods there it may be a
little time before -- The
Dr Hill book I think is
in Hinsdale packed with
things there my goods are
most everywhere just now.
I will send to you as soon
as I get them ---

Have you the picture
of Amasa Buckman
handy and could I
loan it for a few days
that I could get a sight
of the gentleman -- My
wife knew the time
he went to Brattleboro
with the mule -- at the
time he lived only about
1/4 of a mile from her

Very Res

Geo N Smith


West Swanzey

N. H.

Mr H R Lawrence



Dear sir:-- The little
box and contents you so
kindly returned, reached me
all ok than you -- Now
Mr Lawrence you can rest
assured these little treasures
will be in my possession as
long as I live I have had
these a long time, The one
I value most you have
known nothing about,
is an all brass flintlock
revolver -- it seemed Dr W---
had it as a relic it dont
look as tho it had been
shot in 300 years -- it was
made by Paterick in Live-
rpool nobody this far that
have seen it ever saw one
like it -- it is fashioned
something like the following

Dr. John Wilson, Flintlock Made By Paterick, Liverpool.jpg

about 2 inches long -- all brass
parts English -- stock Belgian
pattern -- on the side you see
a circular piece with a slot
and pin supposed to be in it
that is to dump powder from
the pan on top to the one
at bottom, very curious and
old, in working order now --

This Scothman you inquired
who was ? his name was
Amasa Buckman a very peculiar
piece of humanity, kept up old
Scotch customs -- lived in
Chesterfield at the extreme
N. E. border lived alone for
years, had mule, cow, & goats,
he lived his last days with
an aunt of my wife --
consequently the way I got some
of the relics -- The framed picture
he always had hanging with the
face toward the wall as Dr
W--- wished him too saying
it is the only likeness of me
on this side of the ocean, keep
it!! as years went on he
knew more about it, and
why he wished it kept facing
the wall -- this old revolver
was Dr W--- also ---this
man Buckman & Dr--- were
close friends -- doubtless both
from Edinburgh ---There
is no trace of Buckmans
appearance in chesterfield we
know he died ---

Some years ago
I loaned this picture to a
Dr Gardner Hill of Keene
to have a painting made
to present to the Burlington
Medical Colledge .. he also
wrote up a brief history
of the Dr's life, he sent
me a book of his production
I have it now, I know
my name was connected with
the picture -- I know Dr Leo-
nard of Hinsdale put Dr Hill
wise to some information ---

I expect John Plummer
is still alive. years ago I
had a jewely business in
Hinsdale -- he use to sell
goods for clapp & jones
I know he had a number of
the little yellow books of
Thunderbolts exploits --
he told me he (Thunderbolt)
was a grandfather of his
or something to that effect --
I was not so much interested
in Dr Wilson perhaps
as now --

Well! Mr Lawrence I dont
know as I will take up any
more time of yours -- now ---These articles you returned I
thank you -- I shall
always have them and would
like to keep in with you in
a way -- your letter to miss
Barrows was very interesting to me --

Oh! I forgot the spoon --
tweezers -- reading glass -- my
Grandmother Smith of
Dummerston got at the
time of his death she worked
there straightening out things
at the house (or shack) she
said they were looting like
buggers, that came there --
she came away with so much
more possessions than she had ..

Very Resp

Geo. N. Smith


While I was in R. I. 13 years
I handled relics as a side
line I have a large lione of
Indian & miscelaneous curios
now in Keene in storage



I thank you
for the picture
of Dr W--- you
enclosed me with
the other ---


The spoon-tweezers (ear scoop and thumb forceps) and reading glass were obtained by Philinda Bemis, born August 22, 1811, the daughter of Phillip and Sally Pierce of Dummerston. During March 1847, Philinda was still known as the widow Lyman Read, but she was soon on March 2, 1848 to marry Benjamin Smith, the grandfather of George N. Smith.

Philinda was working at the Dr. John Wilson house at the time of his death, "straightening out things", and observing those who came there, "looting like buggers". Benjamin Smith was a farmer in Dummerston south from Slab Hollow who died June 14, 1863. Philinda lived on until February 18, 1884, and may have told her story to her grandson directly.


Harry R. Lawrence Letter To Miss Adelia Maria Barrows

Postmistress, Hinsdale, New Hampshire, His First Cousin

Brattleboro, Vt. May 24, 1920

Dear Miss Barrows

Not being familiar with Mr Smiths writing I take the precaution to enclose his letter and ask you to verify same, I have secured the false heel, medicine chest, two brass English pistols, very handsome, a brass inlaid, gun, two cane swords, one apparently homemade, heavily mounted with brass, round blade, the other ivory top, bamboo cane, square blade stamped "Solingen Germy, a beautiful yet terrible weapon, 3 lancets, 3 blade bleeding knife, a portrait he painted in 1821---also typewritten articles that appeared in various newspapers published at the time of death and months after -- (Boston -- Barre, Mass, Westfield, Springfield and other towns), some very interesting literature, giving new facts, also a four page 10 x 13 sheet called the "Thunderbolt Examiner" vol 1 no 1 published by the man that printed the pamphlet, this was to defend his work, allowing both sides to the controversy space in its columns. . . . .


Charles C. Frost

Brattleboro', Vt. June 15, 1847.

Dear Sir: Since I wrote you last, about Dr. John Wilson, I have conversed with the man who took care of him in his last sickness. He says the lower part of his leg was perished---that there was a scar on the calf of his leg, about the size of a cent, having the appearance of a knife or some sharp instrument run into the same scar, and slitted out, making the whole scar some some two or three inches in length---that his heel was gone something like this.

Dr. John Wilson, Wounded Heel Drawing, Letter Dated June 15, 1847.jpg

The part below the dotted line was gone. Also, that a slash some four or five inches long was on the side of his neck, commencing near the carotid artery, and running round toward the back part; the scar being about one-half inch in width. That his front teeth in the under jaw had the appearance of having been knocked in, but were still in the jaw, and a bit of cork was insulated between the lip and the teeth. That he had on four pairs of drawers, in addition to his pants, which were also lined; the perished limb being stuffed out with paper, and bound round with two silk handkerchiefs. The man says there might have been other marks, but he did not examine the body particularly. I should have sent you this information in my other letter, but the man was away.

There is no mistake but the Doctor was something of a 'bruiser' in his younger days; but how he could manage to keep his scars a secret so long, is a problem difficult to be solved.

Your truy,



Captain Lewis Henry

Captain Lewis Henry was born on November 25, 1794 in Charlestown, New Hampshire to Robert B. Henry and Sarah Bellows. He was twenty-eight years old when he began as Postmaster in Dummerston, Vermont on August 26, 1823, serving until March 10, 1832.

Here in Dummerston Lewis Henry first met the fledgling teacher who also worked in the building trades---Dr. John Wilson. His last seven children of nine by Sally Young Buck of Windham, Vermont, may have been delivered by Dr. Wilson.

Lewis Henry was primarily by trade a book binder. An early production was the eminently portable, three-by-five inch booklet entitled "Log-Book; Showing the Quantity of Boards, One foot thick, which can be cut from any log 10 to 27 feet in length, and from 10 to 36 inches in diameter", "Printed and sold by Lewis Henry, Dummerston, Vt."

This booklet was composed entirely of tables arranged in columns of figures, for the purpose of calculating footage according to the most efficient angles of cut and types of wood. Dr. Wilson's 126 volume library at his death in 1847 very likely included Henry's "Log Book", from his days operating his saw mill in Brattleboro from 1834 until 1839, or from long before in Williamsville.

Dr. John Wilson may have been employed by the Lewis Henry bookbindery, since Louisa L. Hinds, Mrs. George N. Smith, claimed that Amasa Buckman worked for John Wilson as his printer's devil.

These ruled tables were completed with a device for ruling the lines that was patented by Lewis Henry and advertised in the Brattleboro Reporter---

New Invention. The subscriber has invented a Ruling Machine on a different construction which he has used and finds it to be very useful, far exceeding the former one. There are two sets of pens so as to rule both ways, and by this we lose no ground. With the advice of good men I invite the public to call and examine for themselves. I will dispose of machines for Cash; and rights for Cash, good writing or printing paper.

Lewis Henry.

Brattleborough, Nov. 30, 1818.

On January 29, 1834 Capt. Lewis Henry announced the dissolving of his business in blasting and digging stone with David M. Bradley in Brattleboro. This business was profitable, and the proceeds from its sale Lewis Henry invested in building a new house on the newly opened Elliot Street, on the south side, two doors west from Elm Street.

On March 1, 1838 the Treasurer for the Town of Brattleboro "Gave an Order to Lewis Henry for sundries furnished Mrs Fish a pauper town rent, firewood &c in the summer of 1837---8..00.

Captain Lewis Henry was the man who attended Dr. John Wilson in the four-day struggle with acute erysipelas that ended fatally on March 22, 1847. The Wilson estate paid Capt. Henry $5.25 "for services in sickness". Lewis was the man who stayed with the doctor "almost constantly" and who "observed that his mind seemed to dwell upon events described in Martin's Confessions in delerium".

Lewis Henry spoke with Charles C. Frost when this shoemaker, teacher, and scientist was composing his report for the pamphlet series "Novels and Tales".

Captain Lewis Henry was trusted by Dr. John Wilson, along with his other close friends Gardner C. Hall and Amasa Buckman. The quality of Lewis Henry shows in this obituary for his wife Sally Young Buck, printed in the Brattleboro Eagle for February 1, 1850 following her death on January 21, 1850---

The nature of Mrs Henry's disease was one of the most painful, and yet during her year of sickness it is said no murmur was ever heard from her. She trusted in God, and we have good reasons for believing she was truly cheered in her time of distress and hour of death by strong hopes in the promises of the Gospel; and we cannot further speak of her as a Christian in a better way than to mention the facts that she was ever kind to all, a true wife and real mother. Those who knew and loved her best must have felt it well for her to leave earth when she did; this was acknowledged, still such exhibitions of sorrow are seldom manifested as were witnessed when husband, children and other near relatives and friends took their last farewell. May all who mourn study the truths of Jesus Christ and ever walk in their beauty and light.

Captain Lewis Henry died in Brattleboro on September 26, 1859.


Royal G. Wood.jpg

Royal G. Wood

Mr. Wood remembers the home of old Dr. John Wilson, which stood near the present site of the freight depot, and he recollects the circumstances of the doctor's death and the discovery of the fact that he was the notorious Thunderbolt, the accomplice of Capt Lightfoot, both daring highwaymen whose exploits were afterwards recited in a pamphlet published here in Brattleboro and which had a large sale.

Lightfoot, it will be remembered, was hanged in Boston for the robbery of Maj Bray in New Hampshire, and it was during his confinement in prison that an attempt was made, supposedly by Thunderbolt, to rescue him. Thunderbolt was buried in the village cemetery, and his gravestone will be seen by the curious.

The Springfield Republican, Special Correspondent Maj. Frederick W. Childs, letter dated June 29, 1895, "Royal Wood of Brattleboro. Some Interesting Stories. Told by the Veteran Farmer of the Early Days of the Vermont Town".


Dr. John Wilson, Captain Thunderbolt is a pictorial history of Thunderbolt's life and career in Boston and throughout Windham County, including eyewitness accounts and descriptions of his appearance and activity.





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