29 May 2023

Memorial Day and Dr. Fredrik Maurits Fincke

Memorial Day in Lake View Cemetery celebrates the many Swedish Americans who have died in American wars.  This is a photograph of the grave marker for Dr. Frederik Maurits Finke who died from dysentery after serving in U.S. Army hospitals as a steward.

Our histories tell us that Elliot M. Peterson was the first Swedish American doctor who practiced in Jamestown.  And that is only true because the Swedish community in our area was too poor before the Civil War to support a physician. Dr. Finke lived in Jamestown from 1856 until his death in 1862 yet was not able to practice medicine here.1 

Our stories about our ancestors are usually confined to success stories and heroes.  A large part of the immigrant experience remains silent – those who made it here yet failed or barely got by.  Their misery, hard work, and aspirations for the next generation are part of our immigrant story.

More than a decade ago I came across Dr. Finke's story and it launched my research into the early Swedish settlers in Jamestown, New York.  I found a wallet among my great-grandfather's belongings – a leather bifold with documents on each side.  One side held tin types of my great, great grandmother, her tithe book and a Swedish grammar book.  On the opposite side were letters, tin type and carte de visite photographs, a memo book and notes of Fredrik Maurits Finke. Our families are unrelated and it remains unclear how these heirlooms made their way into the possessions of John Frederick Jones. My farfarfar was Swedish, lived in Jamestown, and was a collector of coins, stamps, etc, so this suggests that this was picked up at a household sale.

I found almost nothing about Dr. Fincke in the few histories written about those early Swedish immigrants in Jamestown. That seemed implausible for a community of only 200 to 300 Swedes – all of them would have known the only physician who could speak to them in their native language.  How did someone so important get lost in history?

My research eventually led to the details about the lives of F.M. Fincke and his family. He was born in Stockholm in 1815 to Johan Petter Fincke  and Margreta Christina Halling.  He apprenticed there and then moved to Karlshamn in 1841.  A year later he married Lovisa, the daughter of Peter Harms who was a merchant in Karlskrona. 

Dr. Fincke's title is especially Swedish.  He was a Badaremästaren, a Bathing Master.  Badare, surgeons and barbers had shared overlapping responsibilities since the Middle Ages. A Badare was to be skilled in shaving, cupping, bloodletting, applying leeches, using Spanish fly, performing enemas, as well as cleaning corns and nails. Badare should also know how to stop bleeding, deal with unconscious patients, apply dressings to wounds, provide medicines, relieve external diseases and perform minor surgeries.2

Fredrik Maurits Fincke apprenticed with C.M. Gröndahl in Stockholm from 1830 and became a Badaremästaren in July 1837. In Karlshamn he served as the Stads Badaren at the  Fattighuset.  Despite his professional success, F. M. and Lovisa decided to emigrate to America in 1854. In a published announcement, Fincke noted "To the esteemed community of Carlshamn. As I am now ready to leave the Fatherland, after nearly seventeen years of residence in Carlshamn, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for the goodwill and trust shown, and the memory of it shall always remain in grateful remembrance. Carlshamn in July 1854. Fredr. Maur. Fincke."  (translated from Karlshamns Allehanda, 19 July 1854, p. 3).  Lovisa had given birth to four children in Karlskrona, but only their eldest boy survived infancy. It may be that these losses were a motive for their new star in Amerika.

It was unusual, but the ship CAMBRIA stopped in Karlshamn for 156 passengers enroute from Stockholm.  The ship arrived 14 September 1854 in New York City and "F. M. Finke" sent a happy notice that was published on the front page of the Karlshamns Allehanda that his wife had safely given birth to a son onboard the ship (4 November 1854).

Dr. Fincke and his family first lived in Brooklyn in the new community of Swedish immigrants along Atlantic Avenue.  However, we can guess that Fincke remained underemployed because he wrote a letter to the Russian consulate offering his services to the Tsar's government.  After two years the family headed west to Jamestown.

In Jamestown, the family was well considered but lived meagerly. They were members of the Lutheran Church.  Lovisa won county fair competitions for embroidery and the boys, Augustus (1844) and Levy (1854) were in school until the outbreak of the American Civil War.

In 1862 Fredrik M. Fincke joined the United States Army.  Later Augutus also joined.  [more soon...]

I was lucky to track down a descendant of his youngest son and repatriate these extraneous personal papers to the family.  They gained new stories and connections they had not previously known.


  1. Dr. Fincke is mentioned briefly by Lannes.  A. J. Lannes, Civic and Industrial Progress of the Swedish People in Jamestown, 1848-1914, 1914, p 57.

  2.  The law of 19 December 1807 regulated the profession. Source: Bo S. Lindberg, Kirurgernas historia, om badare, barberare och fältskärer. Uppsala Universitet, 2017, p 130.                                  Denna sålunda bebådade nya ''Ordning för Badarne i Riket" utfärdades av Collegium Medicum den 19 december 1807. Enligt dess § 1 äro badarnas uppgifter hädanefter: "At till Allmänhetens tjenst altid hafva en väl inrättad Badstuga för allehanda slags Bad; at äga färdighet i rakning, koppning, åderlåtning, blodiglars, spanska flugors och clistirers  applicerande samt i liktornars och naglars putsande; at känna de medel, som i hast böra tillgripas at stilla förblödningar; at weta huru skenbart döde skola handteras och uplifvas; huru förste förbanden anläggas vid benbrott, friska sår m. m., som hörer til utvärtes åkommors lindrande och den mindre chirurgien." Vidare innehåller den nya stadgan för badarna noggranna föreskrifter för "En Yngling, som Badarekonsten lära will'', huru denne genom anställning hos en badaremästare utbildas och på grund av genomgångna, föreskrivna prov efter tre år kan förklaras för "Badare-Ämnessven". Efter ytterligare utbildning i tre år kan denne så uppnå rättighet "at sig til Badare Mästare Examen hos Stads Physicus och Chirurgus, eller någondera, om allenast endera i Staden finnes, anmäla." Protokoll över hållet förhör insändes till Collegium, som prövar, om han må förklaras för badaremästare.  
    This new "Order for Bathers in the Kingdom" was issued by the Collegium Medicum on December 19, 1807. According to its §1, the tasks of the bathers are henceforth: "To always have, for the service of the public, a well-equipped bathhouse for all kinds of baths; to be skilled in shaving, cupping, bloodletting, applying leeches, Spanish flies and enemas, as well as in cleaning corns and nails; to know the means that should be used in a hurry to stop bleeding; to know how the apparently dead should be handled and raised; how the first dressings should be applied to broken bones, fresh wounds, etc. m., belonging to the relief of external diseases and minor surgery". 
    Furthermore, the new statute for the bathers contains detailed regulations for "A young person who wants to learn the art of bathing", how to be trained through employment with a master bathers and how, after three years, on the basis of passing the prescribed tests, he can be declared a "bathers' friend". After further training for three years, he can then achieve the right "to register for the Bathing Master Examination with the City Physician and Surgeon, or either of them, if only one of them is available in the City." The minutes of the hearing were sent to the Collegium, which examined whether he could be declared a master bather. However, if he so desires, after having increased his knowledge of anatomy and if he continues to practice his languages, he can also apply to the Royal Collegium in the future.