Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dr. Swithin Chandler

Dr. Swithin Chandler, M.D.
While it's true that Mill Creek Hundred doesn't boast many residents who attained a national level of fame or influence, it doesn't mean that there haven't been plenty of our sons and daughters who have been important on the state or local level. Then, as now, there have always been those special people who seem to show up everywhere and have a hand in almost every aspect of community life. One such person in the mid-to-late 19th century was Dr. Swithin Chandler, M.D.

Swithin Chandler was born in 1830, the second child of Thomas Jefferson and Sarah Yarnall Chandler. The Chandlers and Yarnalls were both prominent families in the area, and among the future doctor's many relatives were his uncle Abram, who operated the old Harlin mill at Milltown, and (I think) his mother's cousin Holton Yarnall, who operated the Yarnall Tavern at Brandywine Springs. At about age seven, Swithin went to live with his grandparents, who I assume lived nearby in Brackinville. [The 1868 Beers map shows a T.I Chandler, who I think should be T.J., and several other Chandlers, but at this point I don't know where the grandfather, also named Swithin, lived. Another investigation, another day.] His grandfather died a year or two later in 1839, but Swithin continued to live with his grandmother until he was 16. He spent the next few years after that attending school in the winter and working during the summers.

After that, Chandler attended the Pennsylvania Medical College, graduating in 1854. He spent part of a year working in Texas, then returned home, taking up residence in Hockessin. By early 1857, Dr. Chandler had begun his practice, married, and moved into the white house at the corner of Newport-Gap Pike and Faulkland Road, catty-corner from Brandywine Springs. For most of the next thirty years, Chandler would serve as the primary physician for much of the area. This in and of itself would qualify him as a notable person in the history of the area, but as previously mentioned, Swithin Chandler was involved in far more than just medicine.

Chandler-Ball House
Only a year after moving into his home, Chandler was elected clerk of School District 33 (the school on Duncan Road), a post he would hold until his death in 1887. Education was obviously important to him, as he also served as a trustee of the Newark Academy. And although he came from a family that was originally Quaker, Swithin Chandler was a member of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church. In typical style, he was not only a member, but also a ruling elder and eventually the president of the board of trustees. Going a step further, he represented Red Clay at the Presbytery of New Castle, and that body at the Synod of Baltimore. (These are the ruling bodies of the Presbyterian Church.) It seems that not only did the good doctor feel it was his duty to protect the health of the members of his community, but also to look after the well-being of the community as a whole. Not surprisingly then, Chandler was deeply involved in politics as well.

In 1878, Chandler was elected to the State House of Representatives, and was promptly named Speaker of that body. After winning re-election in 1880, he was elected to the State Senate in 1882, then returned to the House in 1886. But of course, he didn't just serve in the legislature -- he was also deeply involved in the Democratic party at many levels, and in many committees. And if that wasn't enough, he was also a member of the Free Masons and the Odd Fellows, and ended up serving as Grand Master in each organization. I get the feeling Swithin Chandler had very little down time.

But not least of all, Dr. Chandler was a medical man. In addition to serving his local community as a healer, you'd probably be surprised at this point if you didn't learn that he was also heavily involved in the Delaware State Medical Society and the Board of Medical Examiners. In fact, he served at one time or another as secretary, vice-president, and president of the DSMS, and as president of the BME. Near the end of his life, he took a young doctor named Lewis Heisler Ball into his practice. Dr. Ball, who will undoubtedly be the subject of a future post, was very much like his mentor, and took over Chandler's practice (and even moved into his house!) on his passing. When Dr. Swithin Chandler died suddenly of a heart attack on December 21, 1887, Mill Creek Hundred and the state of Delaware lost an important member of its family. Over one thousand mourners attended his Christmas Day funeral to pay their respects to a man who had spent his life in service to his community.

Dr. Chandler's headstone, RCCPC

1 comment:

  1. Scott-

    Another house I pass everyday. I suspected it was an important building and possibly associated with Dr. Ball; you post confirms my suspicion.