History of the Seal

Originality in the Seal dates to Hippocrates (460-361 B.C.) reflects kindliness, concern and love in the healing qualities practiced by that great Greek physician, who earned the immortal title of “Father of Medicine.”

The scene itself shows the Temple of Faith, Hope and Charity from which continuously flow comfort and compassion to all who seek the aid of the true physician.

The key word appears at the bottom of the Seal – Confide. In Latin it means to have complete trust in.

Just above it the anchor and rope depict safety, security and assurance from the storms of life, provided by members of the Society.

When the Society held its first meeting in Exeter on May 4, 1791, at which time Dr. Josiah Bartlett, the Kingston physician and sitting governor, was elected its president, it was “Voted that Joshua Brackett, Ammi R. Cutter, Hall Jackson and John Jackson be the Committee requested to report a device for the Seal of the Society.”

Those physicians, along with Bartlett, were among the nineteen incorporators of the New Hampshire Medical Society present when Dr. Bartlett, as governor, signed on February 16, 1791, the Act, a measure he had prepared and shepherded through the Legislature.

In the historical records of the Society there are two other references to the Seal.

A meeting in Dover on June 13, 1792 states: “Voted that the Secretary, Samuel Tenney (Exeter) procure an elegant engraving of the Society Seal … ” (the interpretive design was prepared from researched source material by the author of the current history of New Hampshire Medicine and the Society).

Another notation is dated May 21, 1794, in Exeter: “Resolved that the Secretary shall get the Seal for this Society engraved on silver of three ounces weight, if it can be done in Boston for six pounds … if it can not be engraved in Boston for that price, procure it in Europe of that weight.”

Immediately after the American Revolution hard money was difficult to come by. A popular saying was that the paper money issued by the Congress wasn’t worth “a Continental.” British imports to the American Colonies in 1768 amounted to 2,157,218 pounds and fell to 1,336,122 pounds in 1769 when tea cost $2.50 a pound in Boston.

By the time of the war, the exchange rate was $5.00 for a sovereign, $5.25 for a British gold guinea, 50 cents for a Florin, sixpence at 12 cents, with 12 pence to a shilling or two cents.

The Boston engraver Paul Revere was the person the Society leaders had in mind to make the engraving. He had become close friends of Portsmouth merchants, like Samuel Cutt, and seacoast physicians who were active with the Sons of Liberty, the group that arranged the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, and dumped 15,000 pounds of the tea into Boston Harbor.

On December 13, Revere rode into Portsmouth, where that night merchants and physicians met at the Cutt house to plan the first assault of the Revolution, December 14, by overcoming the few guards at Fort William and Mary and dispersing the military stores there to outlying church cellars for temporary safekeeping.

No wonder then that Dr. Tenney turned to Paul Revere to make the engraving for the New Hampshire Medical Society Seal. There is no hard evidence as to whether he did or did not. In any event, a Seal was provided as required by the Act of Incorporation … “one common Seal, and power to break, change and renew at their pleasure.”

Another clause in the Act gave the Society “full power and authority to examine all candidates for the practice of Physic and Surgery … and if found skilled in their profession and fitted for the practice of it, they shall receive the approbation of the Society in letters testimonial of such examination under the Seal of the Society, signed by the President or such other person or persons as shall be appointed for that purpose.”

From the outset, the Society considered the examination of candidates to be of the highest priority and for any officer or other person elected for this purpose who “shall obstinately and unreasonably refuse to examine any candidate so offering himself for examination … shall be subject to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds, nor less than twenty pounds” (in those days the value of the English pound was stabilizing at 100 pence).

Taking into consideration the Act of Incorporation of 1791 simply looked at the sparsely settled population and the paucity of physicians. It limited the number of Society members, “who are inhabitants of the State, to be no more than seventy nor less than fifteen” (there were already 19 incorporators).

With establishment of the Dartmouth Medical School on November 22, 1797, and certification of the graduates by the Society, the legislative restriction on the membership had reached 70 by 1800, and this restriction was withdrawn.

On the 19th of June 1793, Dr. Bartlett declined re-election as President, pointing out that his duties as governor and “other arduous and important duties so engross my whole attention.” The Society had established that its censors would examine candidates who would be required to pay five Spanish milled dollars.

On June 1, 1819, the Society voted to publish the names of all members in two newspapers and to strengthen its legislative Act to further discourage empiricism and quackery. At the suggestion of Dr. Reuben D. Mussey of Hanover, president 1824-1827 and 1834-1838, the Society named two official delegates to attend the examinations of candidates at Dartmouth College for medical degrees and to sign medical diplomas. Diplomas carried the Society seal.

Dr. Joshua Brackett of Portsmouth was the Society’s second president, serving from 1793-1799, and as such signed the first medical degrees and applied the Society Seal, then a handheld one, not the 35-pound iron and lead Lion faced one that now holds the Great Seal, to the M.B. degrees awarded Dr. Joseph Adams Gallup, practicing in Woodstock, Vt., and Dr. Levi Sabin, practicing down river from Hanover in Rockingham, Vt.

In the first catalogue of the Dartmouth Medical School issued in 1806 only a few of the 45 medical students attending Dr. Nathan Smith’s classes received degrees signed by Dr. Ammi Ruhami Cutter of Portsmouth, president 1799-1812, and Dr. Smith, who followed him into the presidency 1812-1814.

In 1928, the House of Delegates voted to have solid gold medals struck with the image of the Great Seal of the Society. In order to have this work done by the Robins Company of Attleboro, Mass., the Seal had to be removed from its casing, one of smaller design and much less weight.

Concord physician Dr. Dennis Edward Sullivan, then secretary-treasurer of the Society, in his report describes the result: the Society needs to pay special tribute to its members who have been associated in the New Hampshire Medical Society for a half-century, a memorial befitting the occasion of fifty years membership. In accordance with instructions from the House this solid gold medal struck from a special die (made from the Seal) with silk ribbon hanger and individual leather case with name and date on the back has been prepared.

The Seal was reassembled in its present form and can be found in the Executive Office where it is used as a convenient doorstop and occasionally used to certify something official when the Seal is required.