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 Fincke 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. Fincke lived in Jamestown from 1856 until his death in 1862 yet was not able to practice medicine here.1 

Our understanding of our ancestors is usually confined to success stories and heroes.  A large part of the immigrant experience remains silent – those who made it here and barely got by or failed.  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. Fincke'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 First Lutheran tithe book and a very small Swedish grammar book.  On the opposite side were letters, tin type and carte de visite photographs, a memo book and notes of Fredrik Maurits Fincke. Our families turned out to be unrelated and it remains unclear how these heirlooms made their way into the possession of John Frederick Jones, my farfarfar.  He was Swedish, grew-up in Jamestown, and was a collector of coins, stamps, etc. – so that suggests that the wallet 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 about 300 Swedes – all of them should 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. The professions of surgeon, barber, and badare 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. Lovisa had given birth to four children in Karlshamn, but only their eldest boy survived infancy. Possibly those losses were a motive for their new start in Amerika.  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).  

It was not typical, but several emigrant ships stopped in Karlshamn en route from Stockholm in 1853 and 1854. The ship CAMBRIA took on 156 passengers in August 1854 and arrived 14 September in New York City.  A notice from  "F. M. Finke" was published on the front page of the Karlshamns Allehanda (4 November 1854) celebrating that his wife had safely given birth to a son onboard the ship.

Dr. Fincke and his family first lived in Brooklyn in the new community of Swedish immigrants along Atlantic Avenue. That New York community developed around the tailor shop of Nicholas and Peter Kron, natives of Lönneberga parish, who had connections to Jamestown.  F. M. Fincke likely remained underemployed – one of the documents in the wallet was a copy of his letter to the Russian consulate offering his services to the Tsar's government.  After two years the family headed west to Jamestown.

In Jamestown, they became members of the Lutheran Church. The family was well considered but lived meagerly. Lovisa won county fair competitions for embroidery and the boys, Augustus (1844) and Levy (1854) were in school.

The Civil War began with the bombardment of  Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861.  Frederick M. Fincke enlisted as a private six weeks later (28 May) in Company B of the 72nd New York Infantry Regiment organized by Capt. James M. Brown in Jamestown.  Fincke was transferred after a week to Company S and promoted to Hospital Steward to serve in the medical corp. After working at Ward U.S. Army Hospital in Newark, New Jersey (a converted warehouse), he was discharged 17 October 1862 due to dysentery.

Dr. Fincke arrived back in Jamestown where his wife was dying from consumption (likely tuberculosis).  In perhaps his only official act as a physician, he signed his wife's death certificate on 29 November 1862. She was interred in Lake View Cemetery (Death Certificate No. 254).
Dr. Fincke's health had continued to decline after his return to Jamestown and he died three weeks after his wife on 21 December 1862 (Lake View Cemetery Death Certificate No. 255).3

The couple's oldest son, Gustaf, had enlisted in December 1861 and was mustered in at the beginning of 1862 in Company B of the New York 100th Infantry Regiment.  That company (also organized by the now promoted Colonel of the regiment, James M. Brown) was part of the Army of the Potomac in Virginia in the Peninsula Campaign.  Col. Brown died at the end of May 1862 at the Battle of Seven Pines. Gustaf was stationed in Virginia at the end of the year when his parents died in Jamestown.  Gustaf was promoted to corporal at the beginning of 1864, was taken prisoner at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia on 16 May 1864, and was sent to Andersonville prison.  He was released from the infamous P.O.W. camp on 5 April 1865 in a prisoner exchange and was mustered out on 3 July 1865 in New York City.  

Gustaf was listed as a boarder in the Levant B. Brown household in the 1865 census (3 June) although he was still in the Army.  He returned to Jamestown before moving to Barry County, Michigan in 1867. He lived the rest of his life in Michigan, received a Civil War pension starting in 1894, and died in Kalamazoo County in 1919 at age seventy-six.

The couple's youngest son, Ely, who was born on the voyage to America, was taken in by the Jamestown lawyer Levant B. Brown.4   Brown represented many widows and orphans seeking Civil War pensions and  secured a minor's pension for Ely that continued until the orphan's 16th birthday in 1870.  L. B. Brown died in 1875 and Ely remained a part of the Brown household until after 1880.  Ely took on the surname Brown and apprenticed with a Swedish jeweler in Jamestown and moved to Ohio where he married in 1887. He died in Lake County, Ohio in 1932 at age seventy-eight.

I was lucky to track down a descendant of their youngest son, Ely, and repatriate these extraneous personal papers to the family.  Knowledge of their Swedish origins had been lost in the succeeding generations, so they gained new stories and connections from these rescued photographs and documents.


  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.
    The surname was written as Fincke, Finke, Fink, Finkey, et al, but the most common spelling by the doctor was Fincke. Fincke is listed on the death certificate of his wife and on their grave marker. His older son, Augustus, was often listed as Finkey although his grave marker reads FINCKE.
  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. 

  3. An homage to Dr. Fincke appeared in the Jamestown Journal, 3 April 1863, p 2.
    One of the first volunteers in old Co. "B" died in this place Dec. 21, 1862. He was born in Stockholm, Sweden Dec 14, 1816.  He came to this county in Sept 1854 and shortly after settled in this place.  He was a surgeon of high standing in his country and was a very liberally educated man.  His mind was richly stored with education, his heart with the riches of Christianity, his manners were cultivated and refined, and in his profession he stood unexcelled. But with all his accomplishments and cultivation he lacked the ability of adapting himself to the language, institutions and customs of this county, and his life here was one continued and barely successful struggle with poverty and want. He was unable to avail himself of his knowledge and could perform only the most simple, laborious and unremunerative toil and this at the cost of much suffering and inability from being unaccustomed to labor.  Even at that he could find so little work that he could do, that had it not been for the little earnings of his accomplished and defined wife who sold to our citizens the beautiful and delicate works of her needle, starvation would have met them openly. Their position was truly unfortunate and commiserative. They were appreciated and helped by many of our citizens.
    At the breaking out of the war, he enlisted from sheer necessity. He was attached to the medical staff until sickness procured him a discharge. He returned home in time to stand by the death bed of his wife, whom he shortly after followed to the Land where hunger and want and sickness and toil will not distress them.  A country, let us hope, in which his patience, long-suffering, and Christian devotion will meet the reward of joys that are uninfluenced by natural restraint and in which every pure heart is native and the the manor born.

  4. Ely Frederick William Fincke changed his name to Ely F. Brown, but it is unclear if he was legally adopted by his foster family.  Ely was not mentioned in L. B. Brown's will.  Fredrik August Harms, his uncle, wrote to Ely and this brother in 1865 about the estate of their grandfather, but it is uncertain if they ever received their inheritance.