Bathsheba Rich Wallace
Date of Birth02/13/1752
Date of Death05/00/1832
Bathsheba (Rich) Wallace was born on February 13, 1752, in New Milford, Connecticut. She was the second of eleven children born to Jonathan and Abigail (McKay) Rich. Jonathan and Abigail moved their family north to Strafford, Vermont around 1773.
In November of 1776, Bathsheba Rich and Richard Wallace were married in Lyme, New Hampshire. The couple settled on land in the western part of Thetford, building a small log cabin. They cleared land for crops, had one horse, and later, several head of cattle, and sheep.
Jonathan Rich and his eldest son, also Jonathan, participated locally in the American Revolution in the Strafford Alarm in 1777. Like Wallace's father and brother, Richard Wallace was also involved, serving as a Ranger, or "Indian Spie", along the Connecticut River from Charlestown, New Hampshire north to Newbury, Vermont. He was away for days and weeks at a time, and Wallace was often alone. One such time was in the summer of 1777, when there were reports of British and Indian raids planned for towns along the Connecticut River. Richard was in Charlestown when he learned of a possible raid near Thetford, forty miles to the north. Fearing for his wife's safety, he quickly headed home on horseback.
Thetford had stockades on the River where settlers would head for safety; bringing children, livestock, and any provisions they could carry. Traveling west through Thetford, Richard met his neighbors heading east towards the stockades. His wife was not among them.
When Richard arrived home, he found his wife had calmly decided to hide herself and their provisions in the nearby woods. The two traveled to the stockade, and after seeing Wallace settled and safe, Richard departed Thetford with many of the Town's adult males, enlisting for active duty with the Army around Lake Champlain.
Not content to wait indefinitely inside the stockade, Wallace traveled back and forth on foot to their homestead during the day to tend and harvest their crops. A one-way trip was six miles, and before it was deemed safe to return home, Wallace had made six round-trips to her homestead. By the end of that year, she had harvested their corn and oats, and cleared nearly an acre of land. It is important to note that Richard did not return home to stay until late that December, and that Richard and Wallace's first child was born in early February, 1778.
1791 marked Vermont's admission to the Union as the 14th state. Thetford, chartered in 1761, had been a town for thirty years, and the Wallaces had lived at their homestead for fifteen years, replacing the original log cabin with a sturdy Cape. Wallace and her husband now had six children, ranging in age from thirteen to two. In addition, the couple had lost a set of twins at birth in 1782.
As her husband made a successful transition from soldier to farmer and furniture-maker, Wallace was skilled in her own right, practicing as a midwife in and around Thetford. She was an accomplished horsewoman, and her sorrel mare with Wallace astride must have been a welcome sight to laboring women in need of her care. Day or night, good weather or bad, Wallace responded to requests for assistance. She and her horse are even credited with crossing the swollen Ompompanoosuc River on a bridge stringer to reach a woman in distress on the other side.
By all accounts, Wallace was fearless in difficult situations, and her horse well-disciplined and reliable. One has to imagine that the rest of her family, especially her older children, had to be equally self-sufficient, with their mother apt to leave at a moment's notice. Fellow townsfolk referred to Wallace as "Granny Wallace", a common term of respect and affection that was given to women who worked as midwives.
Wallace has been described as a tall woman with long, dark hair that never grayed and a dark complexion. Our belief is that she inherited these attributes, as well as her remarkable ability to care for others, from her paternal grandmother, Sarah. There is no indication that Wallace received formal medical training. Family history credits Sarah Rich as the primary source of Wallace's midwifery knowledge. Sadly, very little is known about Sarah, including her maiden name. Her descendants describe her as "a Native American woman, from the Niantic CT area".”
In 1817, Wallace and her husband sold their property, which included more than 100 acres of land, to their son, Luther. The transfer specifies that the two would receive all necessities, including "...a youngerly horse, saddle, bridle, the horse suitable for use in a sleigh or carriage - use of 2 new milk cows, except their calves, 8 barrels of good whole Cyder, ... 30 lbs of well-dressed flax, 20 bushels of good bread grain, 10 score of well fatted pork, hundredweight of beef or mutton, all kinds of sauce that shall be raised on the farm, and use of the house". The document also specified that Wallace and her husband were under no obligation to work for Luther. The "earnings of Wallace by her profession or occupation in the Obstetric Art to be her own and at her own disposal". This is perhaps the most interesting bit of information: Wallace was not only paid for what she did, she was in personal control of her earnings, rather than having to turn them over to her husband.
Wallace's career as a midwife took her to seven towns, and spanned forty-two years. During this period, she delivered an incredible 1,666 children, including twenty-one sets of twins. Even more remarkable, in this era before hospitals and antibiotics, is the fact that no mother ever died in her care. In total, Wallace and her husband had nine children that survived to adulthood. The last, Mehitabel, was born in 1798, when Wallace was forty-five years old. By 1828, the couple's grandchildren numbered fifty. In early May of 1832, Wallace fell ill. Knowing that the end of her life was near, her family sent word to the local schoolhouse. The children were permitted to leave early that day, traveling with their families to the Wallace home and Wallace's bedside, for the honor of seeing her die. Though that might sound odd to our 21st century way of thinking, it is in fact a comforting completion of a circle: so many of the children that she had eased into the world at their birth had joined Wallace at her side, when it was her time to go.
- Practicing Midwife