2011-04-14 / News

The lost diary: Dr. Bates tells his story as a reform school scholar

By Geoff Campbell

William Lincoln Bates is best known for establishing the Dr. Bates Sanitarium that operated in Jamestown from 1900 to 1944. The Sanitarium “provided a variety of services” and “treatments for various ailments including electrotherapy,” according to Sue Maden and Rosemary Enright of the Jamestown Historical Society.

The two collaborated on an article that was published in the 2009 spring edition of the Journal of Newport Historical Society—the piece was titled “Dr. Bates Sanitarium in Jamestown, 1900-1944.”

Scratching the surface of his story reveals a start in life that was replete with untold challenges.

Born in North Kingstown in 1855, Bates was a virtual orphan by the age of 5 following the death of his mother in 1857 and the perpetual institutionalization of his father.

According to notes prepared by Maden, Bates was born William Henry Carr and was legally adopted by his great-aunt Hannah Fowler Carr Bates and her husband John Bates. The couple successfully petitioned the state to changes Bates’ name to William Lincoln Bates. The Carr family is among Jamestown’s founding families.

The agreement to take on the young boy was official, governed by an indenture and supervised by John H. Gardiner, overseer of the poor of Jamestown. The town was the presiding authority in the affair because Bates’ father was a Jamestowner.

Next, Maden’s research revealed a most interesting turn in the young man’s life.

Just before his 18th birthday, Bates allegedly stole approximately $64: $59 in cash and a check for $4.85 from his great-uncle, Isaac Carr of Jamestown.

The Newport Daily News covered the grand jury proceedings in the March 21, 1873 edition: An indictment was granted against William L. Bates for burglariously entering the house of Isaac Carr, on Jamestown in the Night, and stealing money therefrom.”

The indictment continued: “He is an adopted son of John Bates, and is a bright active lad of seventeen, fond of work, in whom there is an inborn disposition to steal when a temptation offers, that amounts to Kleptomania.”

On March 19, 1873, Bates pleaded guilty to larceny and was sentenced for three years to the Providence Reform School. The school was in operation from 1850 to 1880, Maden said. Alternatively he was offered a six-month sentence in conjunction with restitution, to be served at the county jail, according to Maden. He declined the alternative sentence due to his inability to pay the restitution and was “received” by the Providence Reform School on March 26, 1873, according to court records. He was assigned “scholar No. 2067.”

A diary, kept by Bates while he was a “scholar” at the reform school, was given to the historical society by Barbara Magruder, the great-granddaughter of Bates. In it he kept copious and revealing notes of his time at the school. Portions of Maden’s transcription of the hand written diary from 1874 follow. All spelling and punctuation errors are original to the document.

Thursday, Jan. 1: “My motto for the New year is ‘thou God seest me.’ It is good sleighing. We had an Orange a peice to night for supper. I am reading Wild men & Wild beest written by Lt. Col. Gordon Cumming. To day is my Birth day. 19 years old. Frank Crane was returned to the School yesterday after being gone 4 or 5 weeks. he run a way from the engine room one morning. Wether Clear & Cold.”

By Jan. 1, 1874, Bates had been a scholar at the school for more than nine months. As was typical of the time, reform, rehabilitation and redemption were inexorably tied to religious thought. Although not noted here, it was about this time that Bates began reading the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, cover to cover, a task he will announce as completed on Dec. 31, 1874.

Thursday, Sept. 3: “Worked on the roof fixing it. 3 men were there & Mr. Chase & Potter Tucker Butler?. Milked 0. Watered down the St. this am. The River Belle was burnt at NY last night at Pier No 8 Loss? 75.000 she belong to the america SB Co of Providence she was running between NY & Long Branch. Went to the P.O. got 6P 7L. got up at 4 am this am?. The wind blows hard this evening at 1/2 past 8 Pm. I thought that I smelt smoke or fire this evening but it was not. Mr. Cobb is sick a bed. I slep on the floor last night. Jessey [a resident dog] is in my room tonight. Rat 2. Wether Pleasant. Hot.”

In both the Sept. 3 and Oct. 3 entries, Bates describes his daily life in vivid—if not tedious—detail. The work accomplished, the comings and goings of all of the scholars, his own ailments or those of his colleagues, the weather, and special events or trips are all part of his entry routine. According to Maden, Bates appeared to exercise a great deal of freedom as evidenced by some of his entries.

Saturday, Oct. 3: “Clark is sick in the hospital. Milked 3 cows. Went to the P.O. with the team 3L 0P. R.J.L.P.C. has not been to work today. I carried some seats down to the Depot this Pm. Carried a lady home tonight. I took the school this am. Mr. Charles went down St. I had to punish several boys boys for disorder. I helped Mr. Shumway mach stockings to day or a part of the day. Took a good dose of Ginger for my cauld tonight. I have got a cauld. Mr. Talcott had a suit of clothes made in the sewing room. I took them to day. Wether Beautifull.”

The Thanksgiving entry speaks to things unchanged: football and turkey for dinner, and the politics of education and reformation in the form of visiting trustees of the school and the mayor.

As was sometimes the case, scholars were permitted on trips home and in the case of this entry Bates reported the visit of his aunt, Mary Fish, to the school.

Thursday, Nov. 26: “Thanks- Giving day. The boys had a grand good time foot Ball &Turkey for dinner. The Mayor & Trustees & Rev. Mr. Staples & a number of Gentlemen address the boys at 4 Pm. I saw Wm Young here with his aunt. Mary Fish came here from E.G.[East Greenwich] in a buggy with a man. Milked 2 cows. Went to the P.O. 9P 0L. R.J.L. [his future wife] came here this pm at 1/2 past 12. I went to walk with her & Maggie this evening. she wrote me a letter & I to her. I helped carve 7? Turkey 7? for me. Wether Pleasant.”

In his final entry of 1874, Bates announces that he has finished his reading of the Old and New Testaments, and offers a note of thanksgiving for a good year.

Thursday, Dec. 31: “I finished reading the old & New Testament to day. I took me about a year. It was very cold last night. it has been very cold today. I have been fixing up my feed room & the barn in general. I feel that God has blessed me the past year & I put all my trust in him. hoping to do better the next year if I live. I Pair of Mittens 25 N.P. Wether Pleasant Cold.”

Scholar No. 2067 was declared “reformed” on April 4, 1876, and was discharged, Maden said.

For the final two years of his three-year term, prior to being released, Bates was listed as an employee of the school. Six months after his release, he married scholar Rebecca Lewin.

Bates would work several jobs and a career as a motorman for horse-drawn and electric trolleys before becoming a doctor. His work with the riding public combined with his work with electric and battery driven trolleys gives fodder to speculation concerning his profession as a doctor of electrotherapy and the eventual establishment of the Dr. Bates Sanitarium.

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