Rebecca Peabody Davis
Early physician and surgeon. Mother of seven daughters and wife of earliest white settler in Montpelier.
Date of Birth07/17/1770
Date of Death02/05/1854
Primary ResidenceEast Montpelier
Rebecca Peabody Davis was noted for her medical and surgical skills at a time when little professional medical training for female doctors existed. One of eight children of Col. Stephen Peabody and Hannah Chandler, she was born in Amherst, New Hampshire, and migrated to Johnson, Vermont, with family members after the Revolutionary War. Her father was a physician who had fought under General Stark at the Battle of Bennington, held a number of town offices in Amherst, and served in the New Hampshire Legislature.
Along with three of her brothers, Rebecca studied medicine, began setting fractured bones, and practicing surgery with a brother in Johnson. In 1794, selectmen in Montpelier solicited her sevices to treat a poor, lame man who had fallen from a tree and needed medical attention, for which she charged the town seventeen pounds, five shillings. When town officials attempted to pay her only about half the amount, she complained, insisting that she had left a lucrative practice to attend their charge. They eventually paid her fifteen pounds.
In the meantime, Rebecca had met and married Parley Davis from Oxford, Massachusetts, a nephew of Col. Jacob Davis and the earliest settler and surveyor of Montpelier. While his uncle is credited with founding Montpelier, Parley and Rebecca settled on the hill above the village in the center of town that became East Montpelier in 1848. Considered the founder of East Montpelier, Parley built a large frame home that was used for town meetings until the 1820s. A public-spirited man, he promoted education and established the town's first circulating library in their home. Rebecca continued to practice medicine and surgery for both local and regional patients and was also known for her skill working with flax and wool. She raised seven daughters, who attended local district schools and Montpelier Academy.
Parley died in 1848, just after the division of the town; Rebecca survived him by six years. A framed, oil portrait, painted in 1845 by an unknown artist is housed at the Vermont Historical Society.