Dr. Ruttan, though by no means one of our oldest citizens, is now, we believe, the oldest and best known practicing physician in this county, with the single exception of the venerable Dr. R. Kennedy of Bath. He is a native of this county, having been born in Adolphustown on the 26th of January 1826; he has consequently seen his seventy-first birthday this week. He spent his early days in the Township of Sophiasburgh, where his father owned a large farm, a lot east of the Village of Northport. A few months ago, in passing up the Bay on a steamer, the Doctor pointed out to the writer the numerous places along the Bay shore from Davenport's to Northport, where he enjoyed his boyish sports of hunting, trapping and fishing. He seemed familiar with the history of every lot, of nearly every house and of all the old inhabitants of the historical old "Marsh Front" of Prince Edward County.
He was educated at the Picton Grammar School and entered McGill College, Montreal, from which he graduated in medicine and surgery in 1852. Soon after he located in the then thriving village of Newburgh, of which he was a prominent resident for a number of years. At that time, Newburgh was a successful rival of Napanee, as regards population, prosperity and business enterprise, and much in advance in its educational facilities. The appointment of Napanee as the county town, on our separation from Frontenac county, together with the location of the Grand Trunk Railway through here, appears to have been the turning points against it. The Doctor became convinced that Newburgh was not destined to grow much and moved to Picton, where he practiced for two or three years. He came to Napanee in 1865 and has been a resident here ever since.
HIS PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE
The Doctor has always ranked high in his profession, and especially as a surgeon. He often regretted he had not remained in Montreal where he would have enjoyed much more ample opportunities for the study and practice of surgery, for which he had a special adaptation. He was frequently consulted by leading medical men from Kingston, Belleville and more distant points regarding important and critical surgical operations. No doubt in this department of his profession he would have taken first rank in any of our large cities. He always enjoyed a large and lucrative practice and has been the "Beloved physician" of many large families in these counties for the past forty years. Had he been less generous to the poor, more exacting in his charges and as sharp as many about his collections, no doubt he would have become a very wealthy man. Few were ever more considerate of the poor. He frequently boasted that he had never sued anyone in his life. In consequence of his kindly nature in this way no doubt thousands of dollars honestly earned in his practice were never paid to him at all. He was for years the jail surgeon of this county.
A writer has said of him that: "Forty years ago the roads in this country were in a horribly wretched condition, and the people, especially those of the back townships, were less prosperous than they are at present. Very frequently he found it necessary to ride all night, placing a saddle in his gig, and after travelling as far as he could on wheels, would take to horse-back, and when the horse could no longer find a road, he would travel on foot, following a trail through the wilderness with a birchbark torch light, in order to relieve from suffering the wife of some lonely settler, or to amputate a limb from some woodman, with no other assistance than the hand of some kindly neighbour."
Among his contemporaries in his profession in this county in his earlier days we now call to mind Doctors Carey, Chamberlain, Shirley, and Bristol of Napanee; I.B. Aylsworth, of Newburgh; Stewart and Aishton of Bath; Yeomans of Odessa, and others with whom he often came into intimate professional contact, all of whom have passed over to the great majority, but who still live in the kindly memories of many of the older readers of The Beaver.
HIS FAMILY RELATIONS
Very soon after commencing practice in Newburgh the Doctor was married in St. George church, Montreal, to Miss Caroline Smith, a highly esteemed young lady of that city, with whom he became acquainted in his college days. She has been a helpmate indeed to him ever since, and he has always spoken of her in the most kindly and affectionate manner. They have had five children. The sons are Prof. R. Fulford Ruttan, B.A., M.D., now the well known Professor of Practical Chemistry and Registrar of the Medical Faculty of McGill College, Montreal; Dr. Allen Montgomery Ruttan, also graduate of McGill, now residing in the Western States; G.F. Ruttan, the well known practicing barrister of Napanee. The two daughters were Ida E. and Bertha E., both of whom died here, of consumption, a few years ago, aged respectively 24 and 26 years. The gradual fading away of these two promising and amiable young ladies, just in the early bloom of their womanhood, has been the saddest affliction of that household. No parental tenderness and care, and no medical skill could prevent them from becoming victims of that dread disease.
CHURCH AND EDUCATIONAL RELATIONS
The Doctor and his family have all been active members of the Church of England. For many years St. Mary Magdalene church here has not had a more faithful and reliable member. He took a very active and prominent part in the erection of the new and substantial church here. He donated to it the beautiful circular window in the front end, probably as fine a specimen of real good taste and artistic skill as can anywhere be found in this section of country. In many other ways, temporarily and spiritually, he has done much to advance the church's interests, here and elsewhere, and in these matters he has always had the full sympathy of his wife.
He has also taken a very active interest in educational matters. For years, in his earlier days, he was superintendent of schools for Camden township. In Napanee he has also taken a lively interest in the development of our present excellent school system. He was for years a member of the School Board, and was its chairman for several years.
POLITICAL AND MUNICIPAL
In politics, the doctor has been a warm adherent of the Conservative party. Though not a rabid partisan the party has always found a staunch friend and supporter in him, both at the caucus, the convention, at the meetings and the polls. He has also taken a very lively and intelligent interest in all our municipal affairs. At one time he was persuaded to become a candidate for the Mayorlty, opposing Mr. W.S. Williams, who was successful at that time. Though seldom in the field in person, he has always strongly exerted his influence as an intelligent citizen, in endeavouring to secure the nomination and election of those he believed to be the best men for the respective positions at the disposal of the electorate. In all public improvement here he has always taken a deep and lively interest. The Doctor has been jail surgeon since the death of Dr. Chamberlain, in 1876, and was for years chairman of the Board of Health.
OF U.E.L. DESCENT
The Doctor has always taken an honest pride in the fact that he is a descendant of the U.E. Loyalist pioneers of this Province. His grandfather, with his family, were among the first Band of Loyal Refugees who landed at Adolphustown in 1784. The family located on the front of that township near the bay shore, between the Allisons on the east and the Allens on the west, and here they made their permanent home. He is now the proud possessor of a veritable grandfather's clock, which his grandfather had, and is claimed to have been the very first clock ever set going in that old township. It is said that the whole neighbourhood at one time guided their household arrangements by his grandmother's dinner horn, which she took pains always to blow regularly at sharp noon hour, well knowing that there was no other clock for any of them to be guided by. That old clock is still regularly "on tick", and has been on duty, in possession of some member of the family, for over a hundred years.
His grandfather, Peter Ruttan, was a Captain in the Jersey Volunteers during the American revolution, and was one of the first Justices of the Peace appointed in the county. It is said that when an important magistrate's sitting would be held, he would don his old officer's uniform and would thus be accorded the precedence over Major Vanalstine and the other "Squires" who had never been in actual service.
His father, Peter William, was the oldest son of that family. Another son, Henry, became a man of a good deal of note and prominence in this Province in later years. He represented Newcastle district in Parliament for some time and was afterwards appointed Sheriff of Northumberland and Durham, which office he held until the time of his death, at Cobourg, some forty years ago.
A sister married the Rev. Dr. Townley, for many years a prominent Anglican minister, who died at Paris, Ont., a few years ago. His mother was a daughter of John Roblin, also one of the most prominent of the Adolphustown pioneers.
EARLY SCHOOLS AND HOUSES
In order to give our readers an idea of how the young were educated in this county a century ago, and how Kingston then looked, we may as well give here an extract or two from the experience of the men of that day.
Sheriff Henry Ruttan, in his older days, thus wrote about the early school days of himself and his brother Peter. "At seven years of age (1799) I was one of those who patronized Mrs. Carnahan, who opened a Sylvan Seminary for the young ideal; from thence I went to Jonathan Clark's, then tried Thomas Morden, lastly William Faulkner, a relative of the Hagermans. You may suppose that a large amount of knowledge was obtained in these graduations. Not so; for Dilworth's spelling book, and the New Testament were the only books possessed at any of these academies." And these were among the very best at that time in the country. Sheriff Ruttan wrote further, that about five miles distant was another teacher, for older and more advanced scholars, of which his two older brothers availed themselves. The teacher spent the day with all others, chopping in the bush and taught evenings, after the day's toil was over. The brothers went on snow shoes, leaving them at the door. Even there the spelling book and the Testament were all the test books used. The writer adds that "exciting occasions sometimes happened (after the school) when the girls joined the cavalcade."
Daniel Cole, one of the members of that first U.E.L. Band, in his old age thus described his remembrance of Kingston, as the party passed through it on their way up the bay in 1784. He said: "Old Mother Cook then kept tavern in Kingston, in a low flat house with two rooms. There were only four or five other houses in the place. Some of our earlier log shanties were deeply covered with marsh hay or flags, carefully laid on lengthways, which seemed to keep out the rain and snow very well."
We much regret to say that Dr. Ruttan is now in very poor health indeed. Though naturally a strong and healthy man, with not a sick day sometimes in years, he has been failing a good deal during the past year. Last summer he had a partial paralytic stroke and though he rallied a good deal from it, he has been gradually failing for some months past. He is now confined to his house and his friends entertain but poor hopes of his recovery. Hundreds of our readers, both in town and country would greatly rejoice to see him restored to health, activity and usefulness. His manly form and genial face are much missed by the whole community.
Special thanks to Linda Corupe for transcribing “Our Grand Old Men”