Early Evansville Portraits And Biographies
From History of Vanderburgh County, Indiana
by Brant & Fuller
1889

Madison J. Bray

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MADISON J. BRAY, M. D., the eldest physician and surgeon, and the Nestor of the medical profession of Vanderburgh county, was born in Turner village, Androscoggin County, Maine, January 1, 1811. He is of English descent, and one of a family of ten children five girls and five boys.

His father, Capt. William Bray, was a successful village merchant, and a prosperous man of business. During the war of 1812 he commanded a company of cavalry and was summoned to the defense of Portland, then the capital of the state. He died at the early age of forty-two years having gained in that brief time an enviable reputation and a comfortable competency.

The mother of Dr. Bray, nee Miss Ruth Cushman, was descended from Puritan ancestry, and a lady of much force of character and ability; she survived her husband four years. After her death the doctor was in a measure thrown upon his own resources. Up to the age of sixteen he worked in a carding mill during the summer, and attended the village school during the winter, in this way he acquired the rudiments of a good education, and when sixteen years old commenced teaching, which vocation he followed at intervals for eight years.

The ambitious desire of his youth was to become a physician, and he early developed an aptitude for surgical science. He began his preparatory course under very favorable circumstances, having free access to a good anatomical museum, owned by his preceptors, Drs. Tewksbery and Millett; and, as he says, "saw a very respectable practice of surgery." He attended three courses of medical lectures, one at Dartmouth, N.H., and two at Bowdoin, Me., from which latter institution he graduated with honor in the year 1835.

In November of the same year he left his home to establish himself in the practice, his objective point being the state of Louisiana, his idea being that the patronage of several large plantations would be more lucrative and pleasant than a general practice in the north. Arriving at Louisville, he found his funds exhausted, and to obtain money to continue his journey he made an application for a school. Before his proposition was accepted, he accidentally overheard some gentlemen talking of Evansville, then a little hamlet of about four hundred inhabitants, of the great advantages it possessed, and of the probability that it would soon become a large and prosperous city. He at once changed his plans, engaged passage on a boat, and on the 25th day of November, 1835, arrived in Evansville, penniless and without a single friend or acquaintance in the place. Dr. William Trafton was at that time the only doctor in all this region of country, and, learning that a young physician had arrived in the village, sent for him, and being favorably impressed, proposed a partnership, which was gladly accepted, and which continued for two years.

Dr. Bray soon learned that the field was an inviting one for a surgeon, there being no physician in the southern portions of Illinois, Indiana or western Kentucky who desired surgical practice, or who professed any knowledge of surgical science. Evansville was a central point to this territory. Recognizing this, the doctor decided to abandon his cherished plan of settling in Louisiana, and began what has since proved to be the most successful and lucrative practice ever confided to any physician in Evansville.

At that time the practice of medicine and surgery was attended with difficulties that the physicians of the present day can scarcely comprehend. The physician furnished his own medicines, and the nearest drug store was at Louisville, 200 miles away. The doctor entered very earnestly and enthusiastically upon the performance of his professional duties, in which he exceeded the limits of prudent labor, but possessing a magnificent physique and a robust constitution, he was able to endure a great amount of arduous toil. His practice for many years was devoted largely to surgery, in which he soon acquired an extended and enviable reputation. Patients came to him from long distances, and many difficult and dangerous cases were successfully treated.

In 1846 he spent several months in New York city, where he availed himself of the instruction of those eminent surgeons, Drs. Parker and Mott. He paid especial attention to orthopedic and ocular surgery, and afterwards performed many difficult operations of this character. A detailed mention of the many difficult cases which he has successfully treated is unnecessary, for nothing can be added to the excellent reputation as a physician and surgeon which he has firmly established. He has been in practice for over a half century, and during this time none have been more successful, or have enjoyed to a greater degree the confidence and esteem of the people.

In all things in any way connected with the medical profession his name stands pre-eminent. He became a prominent member of the State Medical Society soon after its organization, and in 1856 was elected its president. He was a member of the Tri-State Medical Society, and wrote for it a history of surgery in Vanderburgh and adjacent counties. He is about the only survivor of the charter members of the Vanderburgh Medical Society, of which he was president several terms, and to which he reported many of his surgical cases. For many years he was one of the prominent members of the Evansville Board of Health, and has done much to place the city in a healthy hygienic condition. The doctor has interested himself in everything pertaining to the city's interest and advancement. He was one of the incorporators of the old Canal bank, now the First National, and for many years has been a member of its board of directors.

In 1847, with others, he procured the charter for the Evansville Medical College, and filled the chair of surgery from the founding of the school until the commencement of the war of the rebellion. After the war he was again called to the same position and occupied it until ill health forced his resignation.

The doctor always evinced a penchant for military surgery, and in 1835 was appointed surgeon of the Maine militia, a position he never filled, however, by reason of his emigration to the west. In 1847 he was appointed by President Van Buren surgeon of the marine hospital at Evansville, which position he filled creditably until the breaking out of the Civil War. As soon as the news was received, in 1861 that Fort Sumpter had been fired upon, Dr. Bray immediately rented a room and formed a little class of students in military tactics, which he himself instructed. He bought for them a bass drum at his own expense, which was the first money expended in Vanderburgh county for military purposes, and was the initial event in the war history of the county. These young men afterwards entered the service and were the leaders of the great number afterwards sent by Vanderburgh County for the suppression of the rebellion.

In 1862, although exempted by age from military service, he resigned a large and lucrative practice in order to aid in the organization of the Sixtieth Regiment of Indiana Infantry. He was commissioned surgeon of the regiment, and followed its fortunes for two years, when he was obliged to resign by reason of ill health, caused by exposure. At the battle of Mumfordsville he was taken prisoner; he was treated with the utmost kindness and distinction by the rebel officers, especially General Bragg, who gave him a set of surgical instruments and such provisions as he thought advisable to take.

At the close of the war he was appointed surgeon of St. Mary's Hospital, which position he held for many years. A fact connected with his practice worthy of special mention is that he never sued a man or made any charge for medical services to any woman who was obliged to rely upon her own labor for a livelihood. He has always carried into his daily life the tenets of his religion; and has since his boyhood been a consistent member of the Episcopal church.

Dr. Bray is now in the seventy-eighth year of his age with unimpaired intellectual vigor and enjoying the full fruition of a well spent life. He has witnessed the transition of a little hamlet to a city of over 50,000 inhabitants, and by his personal influence and effort has contributed largely to the greatness and prosperity which the citizen of to-day is permitted to witness. He married in 1838, Miss Elizabeth, daughter of Charles and Ann (Tate) Johnson. She was the cousin of Admiral James Alden who distinguished himself during the late war. Two children were the result of this union, Madison J., Jr., and Elizabeth; the latter died in infancy. Madison J. Jr., is one of the prominent business men of the city, and at present president of the Business Men's Association.