The History of Otsego County, New York


D. Hamilton Hurd

Published by Everts & Fariss, Philadelphia


YATES, William - Morris

The subject of this sketch was born at Sapperton, near Burton-
on-Trent, England, in 1767. At seventeen years of age he 
commenced the study of medicine, and soon after became a private 
student of Sir James Earle, of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, in London. 
For two years he was his dresser and afterwards was house surgeon 
in that hospital. He attended the first course of lectures ever 
delivered by Abernathy. At twenty-three he left London, and 
returned to his home. Inheriting an ample fortune, and caring 
absolutely nothing for money, he never entered upon the practice 
of medicine as a profession.
To more than ordinary talents was added great benevolence, 
which he never ceased to exercise during the whole of his long life, 
but always as secretly as possible. He rather avoided the praise of 
men, and was never ostentatious. The first marked display of his 
benevolent inclinations was in a scheme for the treatment and cure 
of lunatics upon the humane plan, which was subsequently adopted 
by Esquirol and Pinel, of France. For that purpose he built in 
Burton-on-Trent a house which he conducted for several years at 
his own expense, and treated with great success a large number of 
pauper lunatics. This benevolent effort cost him upwards of L7000 
sterling, besides occupying his whole attention. An unfortunate 
circumstance occurred which altered his plans entirely. One of his 
patients, in a paroxysm of frenzy, took the life of another patient 
under shocking circumstances, and then committed suicide. He 
was so horrified at the act that he determined to close the asylum, 
and, after providing for proper treatment among their friends and 
otherwise of the remainder, he sailed for Philadelphia, where he 
arrived July, 1799.
Previous to this incident he had become greatly interested in the 
subject of vaccination, which was then just becoming known to 
the medical profession in England. And it was the desire to extend 
its blessings, along with the shock to a sensitive mind of the accident 
mentioned, that determined his visit to America. Before sailing he 
made the personal acquaintance of Dr. Jenner, obtained from his 
hand a large supply of the virus, and from his mouth all additional 
Immediately upon his arrival in Philadelphia he engaged himself 
with all the zeal of an ardent and philanthropic mind to disseminate 
the knowledge of the then new discovery. And it is certain he was 
the first to introduce into America this great boon to humanity, 
although the credit of its first introduction has been generally 
accorded to another. He knew this, but had a morbid dislike to 
publicity, and never publicly contradicted it, being satisfied to extend 
its usefulness to the utmost. While preaching incessantly its
powers, he inoculated thousands with the vaccine virus. The doctrine 
and practice were received by the American public with greater 
avidity even that with the English.
The following year his affairs demanded his return to England, 
but in a few days he sailed again for Philadelphia. He made the 
acquaintances of Judge COOPER, father of Fenimore Cooper, of 
General MORRIS, Judge FRANCHOT, and others, and their 
intimate friendship he enjoyed until they dropped one after another 
into the arms of death. With Judge Cooper he ascended the 
Susquehanna to Otsego County, and being charmed with the passing 
beauty of the scenery, and also captivated by the daughter of a 
leading settler in the valley of Butternuts, he married the young lady, 
and resolved to pitch his tent here. He returned with his bride to 
England, where he deposed of Sapperton, which, as the eldest son, 
he had inherited, to his brother.
After spending a year in England, and making a tour of the 
continent, he sailed for the last time for America, and purchased 
a large estate in Butternuts (now the town of Morris), where he 
resided until the day of his death, and where his life was an 
uninterrupted scene of contentment and happiness. His reputation 
as a medical man was very great, thought he never practiced 
medicine as a profession, and rarely accepted a fee. His 
benevolence was always of the most active and quiet kind, and to 
it at last he became a sacrifice, for it was in one of the severest 
days of an inclement winter now past, while on the mission of 
mercy, about four miles from home, his foot became so much chilled 
that the disease called gangrena senilis was induced, of which he 
died. To his last moments he retained perfectly the faculties of 
his mind and his physical senses. They were never impaired by his 
great age. To his last days he was conversant with the politics of 
the world, and the progress of science and literature.
He lived and died a consistent and practical Christian. He was 
an Episcopalian, though no sectarian, and contributed to the funds 
of many Christian denominations. He was always very partial to 
the Society of Friends, whose hospitality he had largely enjoyed on 
his first arrival in Philadelphia, and who most assisted him in 
disseminating the knowledge of vaccination. The Quakers thus 
found a warm place in his affections during the remainder of his life.
He was very simple in his mode of living. He often stated that 
during the present century he had not tasted of wine, and till his 
last illness had not since childhood been confined to his bed for a 
single day, except for a fracture of the leg, received in a fox hunt 
when a young man. Neither had he taken a dose of medicine, but 
if he felt ill he fasted on bread and water till well again. Till he 
was seventy-five he habitually rode much in the saddle.
He was a first cousin, once removed, of John Howard, the 
philanthropist, and, curious enough, he bore the same relationship 
in blood to Sir Robert Peel, the statesman, whose mother was his 
cousin. His widow, his constant companion for more than half a 
century, has since followed him to her long resting-place. Four of 
seven sons, and a large number of grandchildren, survive him.

Excerpt from History of Otsego Co., NY, opposite page 210


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