I guess it’s been over the last 40 years or so that a certain phenomenon has seemingly snuck its way into the medical profession. Why, I remember back when I was a boy most doctors seemed to be just doctors. You’d have to go all the way to Providence or Boston to find a “specialist.” Now it seems that there are more specialists than there are regular doctors. The way things are going, eventually you’ll have to travel far and wide to find a plain old doctor. Once you’re lucky enough to track down one of these rare beasts, he or she will then refer you back to the teeming cauldron of specialists for further consultation. I wonder how long it will take before the plain old “G.P.” will become so scarce that he or she will become the new “specialist,” a reliable shining beacon in a foggy sea of specialized physicians
Back in the 18th century there were not only not nearly enough doctors to go around, there were virtually no specialists. None except for the “bonesetters,” men and women with no formal medical training but with an almost unnatural and uncanny knack for setting broken bones and restoring dislocated joints The vast majority of these “natural bone setters” as they were known were members of one clan, the Sweet family. And all of these Sweets traced their roots back to one James Sweet who came from Wales in the 1630s and settled in the Shermantown section of our fair town.
When James Sweet and his son and grandson (both named Benoni) lived there, Shermantown was known as Ridge Hill and the Sweets lived side by side with the other farmers of the region: Gardiners, Spinks, Smiths and the like. Everyone around knew of the Sweets’ natural bone-setting abilities and when the need would arise, a Sweet would be called upon to reduce a fracture or re-set a dislocated hip or shoulder. Even though they had no formal training, out of respect, folks would call the eldest Sweet around “Doc Sweet” and just like a regular doctor, Doc Sweet (whoever he might be at the time), would never turn his back on a neighbor in need.
As time passed and the Sweets begat Sweets, their clan spread across New England and New York and their family fame spread across the region. At the time of the Revolution, Job Sweet was employed to set the bones of French officers stationed in Newport. After the war Job was called to New York City to set the dislocated hip of Aaron Burrs’ daughter Theodosia. The poor girl had to wait patiently in pain while he sailed down from Newport. In minutes he had her walking and was on his way back to Newport before her normal doctors were able to question him. During the War of 1812 a Benoni Sweet of Ridge Hill was summoned to New London, Connecticut to set the dislocated hip of a British officer. The simple blacksmith (that was his normal profession) succeeded where a raft of British surgeons had failed, and had the officer on his feet in short order. The British experts had the poor sufferer hooked up to a contraption consisting of numerous ropes, weights, and pulleys to no avail. Doc Sweet walked in, set a pine board against the outside of the ailing hip joint and with one “smart blow” against the board re-set the joint. He was a mite agitated at being dragged all the way to New London and told the Royal Surgeons, in his best Swamp Yankee vernacular, that if they were only smarter he would have been saved the long arduous trip for a few minutes work.
All Sweets, whether they hailed from New Bedford, New Haven, or Utica, or anywhere in between, called Ridge Hill home. The ancestral homestead, known as the Benoni Sweet House, existed on Shermantown Road for nearly three centuries until it was bought up by a familiar name to regular readers of this column, Henry Ford. Yes, that’s right. Henry’s wealthy hand comes into play again here in North Kingstown. Rebuffed by the owners of the Old Narragansett Church in Wickford and the old grist mill on Camp Ave, Henry settled on the Sweet Homestead, among other houses, and hauled it off to Sudbury Massachusetts as part of one of his contrived colonial villages. All that remains here in North Kingstown is the ancient Sweet burying ground behind the home that was built on the site of the old Sweet Homestead and in it lie the remains of generations of Bonesetter Sweets.