Plymouth County Biographies

Part of the Massachusetts Biographies Project

Giles Heale

Strangely enough, the first physician to minister to the Pilgrims proffessionally has never had his name mentioned in any history in the United States and presumable has not appeared in any history printed in the world. He was a regularly educated and recognized physician, according to the standards and customs of his day, and practiced his profession throughout his lifetime, so far as known, living respected and dying regretted. Dr. Samuel Fuller has always been mentioned as the first physician in New England but the Pilgrims were first under the care of the "Mayflower's" ship's doctor, Giles Heale. His bones and those of the "Mayflower" itself have recently been discovered in England, the latter by people from Plymouth County.

Source: "History of Plymouth, Norfolk and Barnstable Counties Massachusetts; Volume I" by Elroy S. Thompson. Pub. 1928. Pages 142-143

"Mayflower's" Man Overboard - Many times is has been said that when the "Mayflower" sailed on the return trip to England in April, 1621, not one of the passengers accepted the invitation of Captain Jones to return. In February, 1927, something came to light to repute that statement, providing one wants to include in the list of passengers one whom William Bradford evidently decided did not belong there. This mas was Giles Heale, the man-overboard from the "Mayflower" story, who has been missing so long that it makes the long, lost Charlie Ross seem a recent neighbor.

Giles Heale was the ship's doctor and colonel Charles E. Banks came across his signature as a witness to the last will and testament of William Mullins, who died in the early spring following the landing of the Pilgrims. Since he returned on the "Mayflower", he may rightfully have been excluded from the list of Plymouth colonists, the same as other members of the "Mayflower" crew, although they all took part in the investigations made by means of the shallop from the "Mayflower" and were very useful while they remained, during that first winter, with its suffering and toll of death. Heale went back to London and lived and died in "Marry England", missing his chance of being a Forefather and remaining unheard of by his shipmates of the Pilgrim band and their decedents for three centuries. What his record was with the Pilgrims, we have no way of knowing. The "Boston Transcript" takes it for granted that he was a poor doctor because so many of the Pilgrims died while he was at Plymouth. So was Dr. Samuel Fuller. Why condemn one and honor the other" Presumably those who endured that first winder in Plymouth were either very busily engaged in humane ministrations or among those "on the danger list." We can easily imagine a slacker would have had his head and feet tied together and if that had happened to Giles Heale, he would be on Bradford's records. Colonel Charles E. Banks, who brought Dr. Giles Heale out of obscurity, is a retired United States Army officer who has spent years in historical research.

He brought back with him from London a photograph of the nuncupative will of William Mullins, made on his deathbed in Plymouth in February, 1621, in the presence of John Carver, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, chosen the day the Compact was signed in the "Mayflower"cabin in Cape Cod Harbor; Christopher Jones, captain of the "Mayflower;" and Dr. Giles Heale, the "Mayflower" surgeon. This he presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Investigation by Colonel Banks showed the apprenticeship of Heale in the Guild of Barber Surgeons of London and his freedom in 1619, the year before he sailed on the "Mayflower." He practiced medicine in London and lived in Drury Lane. The will is in the handwriting of Governor Carver and is in the provincial Probate Court of the County of Surrey.

Not only were many of the Pilgrims laid low by disease after landing at Plymouth, but there was considerable sickness on board the little vessel tossed about on the broad Atlantic when it was uncertain where it was going but was on its way. Dr. Giles Heale must have been a busy physician on the voyage. It is likely that he officiated at the birth of Peregrine White when the "Mayflower" lay in the harbor. It is evident that he was the physician in charge at the sick bed of William Mullins and it may have been at his suggestion that the latter made his will, after being informed by his physician that death was near. So near was death, as a matter of fact, that Mullins was unable to write the will but this was done for him by Governor Carver. The will appears in the handwriting of Carver and, so far as known, it is the only piece of writing still existence from his quill.

Emaciated by the "general sickness," knowing full well his struggle to retain the breath of life would only last a brief time, surrounded by his wife and young children, amongst them Priscilla, later destined to become the wife of John Alden, perhaps Mullins dictated his will to Governor Carver, in the presence of his physician and Captain Christopher Jones, believing that those who survived until the time of the return of the "Mayflower" would return with it. Knowing that Captain Jones and Dr. Heale would return, if they escaped the "general sickness", may have prompted him to select them as witnesses, believing that the will would be administered in England and the witnesses who would be there. It was the first will made in New England, what is legally known as a nuncupative will. It was unsigned. He merely expressed his desires for the distribution of his few belongings and it it is probable that the actual language of the will was not written out until after his death. It was finally filed with the Probate records of the Archdeaconry of Surrey. The elder children of William Mullins resided at Dorking in that county.

It does not seem especially strange that Bradford did not mention Dr. Heale as one of the Plymouth colonists, as presumable he was employed n the capacity of ship's surgeon by Thomas Weston, a London merchant who was the moving spirit in the emigration and who chartered the "Mayflower" for the use of the Pilgrims, acting for his associates, The Merchant Adventurers. Much interest has been aroused in Dr. Heale, nevertheless, since he was first heard of last February, as a sort of Rip Van Winkle of the "Mayflower" who had been sleeping, not twenty years, but three hundred and six. Dr. Heale was the first physician who practiced in New England and Governor Carver wrote the first will, two facts discovered in 1927.

As for this Dr. Heale, there is on record in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, his own last will and testament, which reads as follows:

In the name of God, Amen:
I Giles Heale of the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields in the Countie of Midd(lesex) Chirurgeon beinge infirme and weake of Bodie but Sound and perfect memorye praysed be God doe make and ordaine this my last will and Testament in maner and forme following:
First I bequeathe my Soule into the hands of Almighty God my Creator and my Body I comitt to the Earth to be decently interred at the discretion of my deare and loving wife and Executrix heeafter named: And concerning my small portion of worldly goods I dispose therof as followeth Vizt:
Imprimis I give unto my Brother Henry Heale my gray Cloth Cloke my best Hatt and a Satten Capp and one Hollond shirt. The rest and residue of all and singular my Goods and Chattles and Debts whatsoever and wheresoever I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Mary Heale whom I make constitute and appoint full and sole Executrix of this my last will and Testament hereby revoking all former Wills and Bequests. In witness wherof I have hereunto sett my hand seale this fourth day of Aprill one thousand six hundred fifty and two.
Giles Heale.

The parish records show that "Mr. Giles Heale" ws buried February 3, 1652-3, doubtless in the church of churchyard, of St. Giles-in-the-Fields. This edifice still stands in London, near Drury Lane.

The signature to his will as above shown, is a complete proof of identification as the same Giles Heale, chirurgeon, who witnessed in Plymouth thirty-two years before the dying statement of William Mullins.

Source: "History of Plymouth, Norfolk and Barnstable Counties Massachusetts; Volume I" by Elroy S. Thompson. Pub. 1928. Pages 144-147

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