Dr. John Wilson, Wilder Knight

Captain Thunderbolt Relics Display, 1928, Old Brooks Library, Brattleboro.jpg

Dr. John Wilson's Portmanteau Or Medicine Chest

Prescription By Thunderbolt.

Peculiar Document in Possession of Mrs. H. E. Bond

in Handwriting of Dr. John Wilson,

Notorious Highwayman.

Mrs. H. E. Bond has in her possession an interesting souvenir of Dr. John Wilson, known in the early forties as "Thunderbolt," and supposed to have been the notorious highwayman of Ireland and Scotland. It is a prescription written probably about 1843 or 1844 for her father, Wilder Knight.

Mr. Knight had been a victim of indigestion and to cure his ills had been using a seaton, a form of torture that is no longer practiced. A piece of thread was passed through the skin, just above the hip, and at regular intervals the pleasing operation of pulling it back and forth was indulged in by the one to be cured. This caused running sores and was supposed to alleviate the suffering and finally the cure of the disease.

It was used indiscriminately for almost any disease and was supposed to have almost miraculous powers, which may easily be believed as the pain of the thread wearing at the skin probably would take a person's mind off any other troubles he might have.

Mr. Knight's indigestion did not seem to improve to any great extent under the action of the seaton and Dr. Wilson was called in to prescribe. He ordered the seaton to be removed and prescribed as follows:

"Ry for a Compoound to Restore the blood & to Cure the Dispptick Complaint & Regulate the bowels take Sasseperilla roots &am; &am; Dandelion roots & with black Cherry bark & nettle roots a handful Each boil in 3 Quarts of water Down to a quart Strain off & add a table spoonful each of Gum alloes & gum myrrh & add a pint of rum & half a pint of molases take three table spoonfuls at a time before Breakfast & supper evrey Day til Gone."

The spelling, capitals and lack of punctuation are Dr. Wilson's own. Mrs. Bond is taking especial care of the document as it is doubtful if many of the former highwayman's prescriptions have been preserved.

Vermont Phoenix, September 29, 1911.

Dr. John Wilson retained his Scotch accent even this late in his life, as reflected in the spellings of "compoound" for "compound" and "dispptick" for "dyspeptic." The Brattleboro directories for 1842 and 1843 list John Wilson as an eclectic physician resident on River Road, now Vernon Road.


Wilder Knight and his father-in-law John Kathan gave a note to Dr. Wilson for $27.46 that remained in John Wilson's estate until it had gathered $3.87 in interest as well. This note was dated March 21, 1846.


The word seaton is from the name of the man who promoted its use, British officer and general Sir John Colborne, first baron Seaton (1778-1863), veteran of the Egyptian campaign, Sicily, the Peninsular War, and Waterloo. Seaton had carried a bullet in his badly wounded shoulder for two years.

The seaton was a special kind of surgery, drawing a strip of silk or linen through a wound made in the skin. As described by William Salmon in his Ars Chirurgica (1699) the technique was as follows---

"Take up the skin and perforated pair of forceps, nip it pretty hard to stupify it. Through the perforations of the forceps and skin, pass a needle red hot, after which, with another needle, bring through the silken string or cord. Afterwards let the string be drawn every days sometimes to this side, sometimes to that, that the mattery part may hang out of the wound: the ulcer is thus to be kept open, as long as need requires." The idea behind these drastic methods of treatment, as with the universal practice of blood-letting, was to "evacuate superfluous humours". In the same way, as suppuration was regarded as an inevitable consequence of almost any wound, wounds were deliberately kept open to provide for the exit of pus. A favorite method, and one used by all the surgeons of the of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was by the insertion of "tents" into the wound; these were bunches or rolls of linen or other material.

The Early History of Surgery, W. J. Bishop. (Robert Hale, Ltd., 1960) 102-3.


Louisa Kathan, the eldest child of John and Rhoda (Burnham) Kathan, married Wilder Knight, son of Captain Jesse and Polly (Fairbanks) Knight of Dummerston.

They commenced their house keeping in Putney, Vt., where Mr. Knight was engaged in the cabinet making and undertaking business, which he carried on successfully until failing health compelled him to retire from active labor, and he and Mrs. Knight returned to the home of her parents where they remained until the fall of 1855, when they removed to Westmoreland, N. H., where they met with reverses and again returned to Dummerston.

In the spring of 1857 Mr. Knight bought a small farm and gristmill near Dummerston Centre where he and his family lived until the spring of 1867, when they removed to Brattleboro and resided with their daughter, Mrs. Bond, many years. Mrs. Knight died June 29, 1884, aged 65 years. Mr. Knight was born in Dummerston, September 22, 1814, and died in Brattleboro, December 1, 1888, aged 74 years.

They united with the Congregational church in early life, lived consistent Christian lives, and were much esteemed for their uprightness of character, showing unvarying kindness and thoughtfulness in all the relations of life.

Their two children were: Jerome W. Knight, born in Dummerston, February 15, 1842, married February 15, 1869, Ella H., daughter of Asa Sherwin of Brattleboro. She died August 28, 1895. Mr. Knight has been in the employ of the Estey Organ Company 35 years, as chief inspector of organs. He spent two years in Europe, where he traveled extensively in the interest of the company, visiting many of the large cities on the continent and London in England.

Maria L. Knight was born September 28, 1843, and married October 3, 1865, Henry E. Bond of Dummerston.

History of Captain John Kathan, the First Settler of Dummerston, Vt., by David L. Mansfield (E. L. Hildreth & Co., Brattleboro, 1902).


The death of Wilder Knight, which took place last Saturday, removed a man of remarkably attractive character, and one who was held in the highest esteem by all who knew him. Mr. Knight was a native of Dummerston, where he was born in September, 1814, and fifty years or more of his life was spent in that town.

He was a cabinet maker by trade, but for years owned and carried on a grist mill and a small farm in Dummerston. He came to Brattleboro about the year 1867 and has since lived here with his son in law, H. E. Bond. His occupation during these twenty years has been at cabinet-making and carpentry.

His membership in the Congregational church dated back to early life. Rarely is there seen such an illustration of the beauty and gentleness of character which springs from a life pervaded by religious faith and governed in all things by the Christian rule of live. His was the spirit which in the fullest sense of the term "thinketh no evil." No word of condemnation of another ever came from his lips. For the wrong-doing of others some word of excuse or palliation sprang forth spontaneously.

A class of boys in the old Sunday school at Dummerston, now grown to men in middle life, recall with affectionate reverence the influence which he then exerted upon them. Mr. Knight had been in failing health for some time, but the end came suddenly. His funeral was held at his home with Dea. Bond on Monday. Mr. Knight's wife, whose maiden name was Louisa Kathan, and who was also a native of Dummerston, died some four years ago.

Vermont Phoenix, December 7, 1888.


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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