Stearns on Stearns: ‘The Universal Kalendar’ for 1784
The November release of Early American Imprints, Series I: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society includes a Revolutionary Era almanac created by a complicated, autodidactic scientist and physician whose life was defined by his Tory sympathies during and after the Revolution. He also happens to be a distant relative.
The Universal Kalendar, and the North-American's Almanack, for the Year of our Lord Christ, 1784: Calculated for the Latitude and Longitude of the City of New-York (1783)
By Samuel Stearns, professor of mathematicks and physic
(Besides the usual Astronomical Calculations)
The most excellent and comprehensive Tide Tables, ever published in North-America—Observable Days—Physical Receipts—Remarkable Events—and An Account of the Times, the Battles have happened in the late War; with many other Things, very useful and entertaining.
Dr. Samuel Stearns was a complex man of accomplishments. He was born in 1741 in Bolton, Massachusetts, and he died in 1810 in Brattleboro, Vermont. His life is documented in “The Famous Doctor Stearns, A Biographical Sketch of Dr. Samuel Stearns with a Bibliography,” written by John C.L. Clark and published in 1935 in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society.
Clark’s publication describes the doctor’s early life and his studies in pursuit of his medical training. At the same time, Stearns sought instruction in the art of preparing an almanac, and in his early thirties he began issuing annually his own “North-American Almanack.” Clark notes that unlike most contemporary almanacs it did not pretend to prophesy: “…one looks in vain in his almanacs for the dire ‘omens and prognostications’ which formed an important part of many such publications, especially abroad.”
Clark takes note of the commentary on the weather which evidenced Stearns’ whimsicality.
The Ladies dress very gay, but they cannot exceed that Gaiety with which the Earth is now adorned.
The grum Thunder rumbles in the Clouds and the lofty Oaks are broken with the heavy Strokes which descend in flaming Torrents from the gloomy Clouds.
The winter we do dread and fear, because the Cold is so severe.
Whisking cold weather.
Cold Weather which make old Maids fret and scold.
Winter like Weather, which makes old Batchelors (sic) toast their Shins by the Fire.
At the time of the American Revolution, Stearns’ loyalty to the King defined subsequent years of tribulation. He was a Tory. Later, he wrote:
Although, he says, I was a loyal subject to the King, yet I never was an Enemy to my Country, for it was always against my Conscience to kill the human species, or to injure them in their Persons, Characters or Properties.
Many of his townsfolk began to harass the doctor for his Tory sympathies. He was accused of a number of crimes, and he suffered financially. Finally, he decided to move to New York which was then under the control of the British. There he practiced medicine and wrote his almanac. At the end of the war he returned to Massachusetts and attempted to regain his properties which had been confiscated by the patriots. More charges were preferred against him which resulted in his being imprisoned in Worcester for three years. It was a crude and crowded jail and, again, he suffered physically and emotionally.
Subsequently, Stearns moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, and reunited with his wife. From his new home he travelled widely from Canada to England to France. When in England he succeeded in winning some compensation for his lost properties and an annual pension. Further he was awarded a degree from Aberdeen University, and he continued to write and publish.
For the rest of his life, Stearns engaged in research and publishing. His wife died, and he remarried. He continued to petition for compensation, was jailed for debt, and dreamed of publishing what he considered to be his greatest work, a comprehensive guide to diagnosis and treatment of all known diseases.
While his almanac is the work referenced herein, and it merits a close read, it is his particular experience as a Loyalist during the Revolution and its reverberations throughout the remainder of his life that are most instructive. He was scarcely the only American Tory, but his history may be taken as an instance of the tribulations of many Americans whose loyalties were to the king and who suffered for their fealty.
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