Brown, Charlotte: Diary of a Nurse
BROWN, CHARLOTTE: DIARY OF A NURSE
Charlotte Bristowe Brown's diary provides a rare firsthand perspective on the challenges facing women who traveled with the British forces, providing medical services to the military, in the Great War for Empire (1754–1763).
When the widowed Charlotte Brown was appointed Matron of the General Hospital for the Braddock expedition to America in 1754, she was already an experienced campaigner. Leaving her children in England in November, Brown and her brother, who was an apothecary with the expedition, sailed with other hospital staff and officers on the London, part of the fleet bringing the 44th and 48th regiments to Virginia as part of General Braddock's command. The four-month voyage taxed the tempers of all on board.
EXCERPT FROM CHARLOTTE BROWN'S DIARY, 1756
April the 12. At 3 in the Afternoon we cast Anchor at Albany all the Gentlemen went on Shore but could get no Lodging the Town being full of Officers so returned at Night.
April the 13. Went on Shore with Mr. Cherr'n [Cherrington] who was so kind as to take me a Rome Went out to see the Town which is inhabited by the Dutch saw several Indians who were adorned with Beads in their Noses and Ears and black Blankets being in mourning for their Friend who were kill'd in the last Campaign.
April the 16. Went to the Fort to deliver a Letter from Dr. Bard at New York to Col'n Marshall [Col. Hubert Marshall, commander at the fort at Albany] and was receiv'd with great politeness but the Dutch had a very bad Opinion of me saying I could not be good to come so far without a Husband.
April the 26. Receiv'd an Invitation to dine at Col'n Marshalls Miss Miller an old Acquaintance of mine at Louisburg [on Cape Breton Island] came to see me she told me that the Dutch said I was Gen'l Braddocks Miss[tress] but she had convinced them that I was not for that her Father had known me Maid, Wife and Widow and that nobody could say any thing bad of me ….
May the 25. News came from Oswaga [Oswego, New York] that L't Blare and 40 Men were killed by the Indians.
May the 28. 6 Men were Hanged for Desertion.
June the 1. Captain Rogers came from Lake George with a french Prisoner and 1 Scalp.
June the 11. All the Town alarmed 2 Men taken by the Indians not half a Mile of.
June the 12. A Girl taken by the Indians just out of Town All the Fort Ladies came to see me ….
July 26. This Day War was proclaimed in America [The king's proclamation of war against France was read in Albany, July 28, 1756].
July 28. My Lord Louden [John Campbell, fourth Earl of Louden] arrived at Albany from Hallifax with his Troops.
August 10. This unhappy Day I recēd an Account of the Death of my dear Child Charlott in whom my Soul was center'd. God only knows what I suffer. when shall I die and be at rest! …
Oct'r 4. My Lord Louden march'd with all the Troops to Fort Henry [Fort William Henry, at the southern end of Lake George] and Fort Edward [on east side of the Hudson River, fifty miles north of Albany] to take a View of the Country.
Oct'r 23. Several People died of the small Pox All the New England men left Albany thro' fear.
Nov'r 20. My Lord Louden return'd from the Forts nothing to be done this Year.
Dec'r 1. Mr. Cherrington left Albany for England in whom I have lost all my Friends in one.
Dec'r 6. Extream cold, and I am reduced to my last Stick of Wood there being none to be bought for Mony ….
Jan'y 18, 1757. This is the coldest Day I think that I ever knew.
Jan'y 19. Recēd Orders to remove to the Hospital which was no better than a Shed and it was so excessive cold that my Face and Neck were frost bitten in moving.
source: Colonial Captivities, Marches and Journeys, edited by Isabel M. Calder, Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1967.
The group disembarked in Bellhaven (Alexandria), Virginia, in late March 1755. Braddock and the main force left Bellhaven on April 22 in order to dislodge the French at Fort Duquesne. On June 1, Brown, her brother, her servant (the wife of an enlisted man), two nurses, two cooks, and about fifty sick soldiers in wagons left for Fort Campbell under escort of one officer and forty men. On the second day, Brown's driver insisted on moving from the rear of the column to the front because of the dust. Rising by 4:00 a.m. each day, the column marched between fourteen and seventeen miles with a break for a midday meal, making camp after twelve difficult hours of travel. Brown was nearly "disjointed" from the wagon jolting over crude roads. Every fifth day the column stopped to rest the animals and let the nurses bake bread.
On June 12, 1755, Brown reached Fort Cumberland, "the most desolate Place I ever saw." The fort had no internal water supply and was crowded with both the wives and children of enlisted men and local families who had sought protection from Indian raids. Brown arrived ill; fever (probably malaria or dysentery) moved through the camp, striking both Brown's brother and maid in early July. Although not fully recovered, Brown nursed both of them while supervising the care of others. On July 11, 1755, the camp got first word of the Braddock defeat. Wounded began arriving on July 15, and two days later Brown's brother died. Brown herself suffered a relapse on July 20 and a month later was barely able to stand when she followed a group of troops evacuating to Frederick's Town, Maryland.
Riding on horseback, with a nurse walking beside her as companion, the still ailing Brown traveled 150 miles in ten days, sleeping on the ground all but the final night. In mid-September she made preparations to receive the sick who were being sent from Fort Cumberland on their way to Philadelphia. Choosing to travel with Mr. Cherrington, an officer she had met on shipboard, rather than with the troops, Brown's trip to Philadelphia in October 1755 was hazardous. Cherrington and she quarreled; he overturned the chaise in which they were both riding, and she was thrown from her horse. In Philadelphia she reported to the hospital, was assigned quarters, and began buying fresh provisions each day for the hospital. The hospital moved to New York City in February 1756. Taking first a ship, then a stage, and then another ship, Brown arrived in New York on February 18. After a month and a half, they moved again to Albany.
In each locale, Brown had to find quarters and scrounge for basic furnishings. As matron, she had the social status of a senior officer's wife, and she exchanged social visits with officers' wives and the elite women of the area. Deborah Franklin, for example, entertained her several times in Philadelphia. As an unattached woman traveling alone after her brother died, Brown faced questions about her reputation. In Albany, for example, some women assumed she was the mistress of Braddock or some other officer until the daughter of an officer who had known Brown in the mid-1740s vouched for her. She was then accepted into local society. Brown received another personal blow on August 10, 1756, when she received word from England of the death of her daughter and namesake.
The British king officially declared war with France on July 26, 1756, and New York saw action immediately. As sick and wounded taxed the capabilities of the hospital staff in Albany, and French and Indian attacks came uncomfortably close, Charlotte Brown found little time to write in her journal. She ended it August 4, 1757, too overwhelmed with work to write any further. What happened to Brown is unknown, but her diary has survived to provide glimpses of the life of a woman traveling with an eighteenth-century army in America.
Deakin, Carol C. "Support Personnel: Women with General Braddock's Forces." In Proceedings of Northern Virginia Studies Conference 1983. Alexandria: Northern Virginia Community College, 1984.
Calder, Isabel M. Colonial Captivities, Marches, and Journeys. New York: Macmillan, 1935; Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1967.
Joan R. Gundersen
"Brown, Charlotte: Diary of a Nurse." Americans at War. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/defense/energy-government-and-defense-magazines/brown-charlotte-diary-nurse
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