The Strange Case of James Burnite SeBastian, DDS

Without the full story, you have to read between the lines, and this cabinet card photograph inscribed “Yours, J. B. SeBastian” offered lots of room to do just that.

The portrait, taken at the 17 W. Lexington Street studio of William Ashman (1863-1902), displays all the typical characteristics of a post-1900 card photograph: Oversized, simple black textured mount, understated advertising mark, plain background uncluttered by scenic backdrop or papier mache rocks and balustrades.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’d found yet another graduate of the University of Maryland Dental Department.

He was listed among the 1902 graduates of the program in the commencement announcement published in the journal Dental Cosmos. I quickly found census and directory listings in Baltimore from 1903 on for a James Burnite Sebastian, dentist, born in Delaware about 1875.

He had an undistinguished career as a dentist, eventually buying a two-story, two-bay row house at 3521 Greenmount Avenue, just east of Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, in a now-faded neighborhood called Waverly. The ca. 1920 house stands today, virtually unchanged.

Dr. Sebastian served in the US Army Dental Corps Reserves. In these records, his origin was listed as Wilmington, Delaware, born 18 October 1875. His wife, Caroline, applied in 1947 for an Army-provided headstone in Lorraine Park Cemetery, Baltimore, on the basis of his service, using this date of birth.

Things became odder from there, however.

I couldn’t find anything on Dr. Sebastian earlier than 1902.

After trying a number of different possible spellings and variations, I found the surname Bastian. Thanks to the efforts of a family historian on Ancestry.com, I then found an obituary for a Delaware farmer named George M. Bastian (1832-1909) that listed a son, a Baltimore dentist named James Burnite Bastian.

But what the what??

James Burnite Bastian, or J. Burnite Bastian, was already three years old in the 1870 census–not in Wilmington, Delaware, but near a small rural peach-growing and peach-packing town named Felton, in Kent County, Delaware. He was born a good seven or eight years earlier than he’d claimed.

This same portrait, under the name James B. Bastian, appears on page 133 in the 1902 year book for the professional schools of the University of Maryland, Bones, Molars and Briefs.

Why the name change? And why fudge his age–something more usual with women of the period?

His family was a perfectly respectable one: farmer George M. Bastian rated a sketch of his life and family history in volume two of the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware.

This history suggested a clue to James’ change of surname. The sketch mentioned that the family traced its roots to a vague “Count Sebastian” who had fled some sort of unspecified royal persecution in the 18th century.

They had settled in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. George M. Bastian worked as a carpenter in Tioga County, Pa., eventually saving enough to buy a small farm in Delaware, where he and his wife, Rachel (Brion) Bastian (1836-1919), raised 10 children. George and Rachel Bastian are buried in Hopkins Cemetery, Felton, Delaware.

So James had reinvented himself in the city as a younger man with the legendary family surname, telling his classmates that he was 25 when in fact he was about 32 years old at the time he graduated from dental school. His signature on the back of this portrait connects the two parts of the surname with a capital “s” and a capital “b,” suggesting the self-consciousness of the change.

Vanity, thy name is SeBastian.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Fred M. Wheeler, Nashua, New Hampshire

Of the six graduates of the University of Maryland Dental Department class of 1888 whose portraits I have written about,  Fred Morton Wheeler  is the only one who gave up dental practice.

Son of Nashua, New Hampshire job printer Harrison Rodney Wheeler (1841-1898) and Nettie (Mills) Wheeler, Fred was born in April 1866 in Nashua. In 1900 he was practicing dentistry in Milford, New Hampshire, but by 1910 he was working as a printer. In 1920, he had a  position as a clerk in the Manchester, New Hampshire post office, where he stayed for the rest of his known career.

Their family’s ancestry is well documented, thanks to Albert Gallatin Wheeler’s 1914 work The genealogical and encyclopedic history of the Wheeler family in America.

Fred’s grandfather was Daniel Wheeler (1789-1867), an Amherst, New Hampshire farmer. According to family historian Paul Wheeler, the family’s roots go back to American Revolution: great-grandfather Timothy Wheeler (1750-1826) served in Col. Nichols Regiment, New Hampshire Militia, and may have seen action at Fort Ticonderoga.

Fred and his wife, Mary (Batten) Wheeler had one daughter.  Mabel Florence (Wheeler) Lovering (1904-1996), taught school in Manchester before her marriage to Clarence E. Lovering (1905-2000).

Wheeler had his portrait taken at the studio of Russell & Company. Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900 dates Russell’s location at 17 & 203 W. Lexington Street to 1888, which corresponds nicely with the date of Wheeler’s graduation from dental school.

For this vignetted bust portrait, the photographer chose to add a touch of rose to Wheeler’s cheeks, probably on the print, to highlight the sitter’s youth and health.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Julian Gartrell, Brookeville, Maryland

Julian D. Gartrell was yet another dentist who graduated from the University of Maryland Dental Department in 1888, along with five others whose Baltimore cabinet card portraits I acquired earlier this year.

Born in Missouri on 1 April 1860, he grew up in the hamlet ofBrookevilleand the town of Olney, Montgomery County, Maryland, where his father, Rufus Worthington Gartrell (1824-1898), was a merchant and postmaster. Although not a distinguished family, their roots in Montgomery County went at least as far back as the American Revolution.

Rufus appears to have been the only one of five siblings who married and had children. Julian was one of three siblings, and all remained single.

In 1889 Gartrell joined the DC dental practice of C. E. Kennedy at 1426 New York Avenue, NW (Washington DC Evening Star, 23 May 1889).

Gartrell’s interest was oral prophylaxis, and he became a lecturer on this subject at the George Washington University School of Dentistry (GWU Bulletin March 1910).

His mother Caroline (Robinson) Gartrell, and his sisters Hallie May and Laura, kept house for him at 3025 15th St., NW.

Dr. Gartrell died 28 March 1943 in Washington, DC. His funeral was held at All Souls Episcopal Church, just a few blocks from his DC home.

He is buried, along with his parents and sisters Hallie and Laura, at Saint Johns Episcopal Church, Olney, Montgomery County, Md, the church his ancestor Caleb Gartrell helped to found in 1842.

John Philip Blessing (1835-1911) and son-in-law Henry Fenge were partners at 214 N. Charles Street in Baltimore from 1887 to 1904, a timeline that fits my tentative dating of this portrait to 1888 (Ross Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900).

As with many of the other portraits of Maryland doctors and dentists in my collection, the operator chose a vignetted bust for Gartrell’s portrait, in which the background is burned out to create a soft, floating effect.

I am grateful to descendant and family historian William Gartrell, who has posted a Gartrell family tree based on notes made by Hallie and Laura Gartrell and  The Gartrell/Gatrell Ancestry of Colonial Marylandby Randall A. Haines.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Ferdinand J. S. Gorgas, MD, DDS

Some of the lots of cabinet card portraits of dentists I’ve recently obtained have included unidentified men. Working off the theory that these individuals may also have been dentists, I started looking through digitized histories of the University of Maryland Dental Department and the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.

Jackpot. I was able to match this unidentified gentleman to portraits of the founding Dean of the Dental Department of the University of Maryland, Dr. Ferdinand James Samuel Gorgas (1834-1914).

Compare this image to one on page 400 of  University of Maryland 1807-1907: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, volume one, by Eugene Fauntleroy Cordell.

By its subject’s dress, my portrait appears to be of earlier date than the published and widely reprinted portrait of the venerated doctor.

Photographer James S. Cummins’ studio is known to have been located at 5 N. Charles Street ca. 1886-1887 (Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900). Given that a number of the portraits of dentists I’ve acquired relate to the University of Maryland Dental Department’s graduating class of 1888, it again seems plausible that Gorgas had his portrait taken around that time.

Dr. Gorgas’ biography and ancestry are well and widely known, so there is little need to belabor it here. He was born on 27 July 1835 in Winchester, Virginia to Mary Ann Smith and prosperous tinner and stove dealer John DeLancy Gorgas (b. abt. 1819, Md.); grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and attended Dickinson College here; graduated from the pioneering Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1855; was appointed Demonstrator there in 1857 and became a full professor in 1860.

Gorgas earned an MD from the University of Maryland in 1863 and served the Union as an assistant surgeon during the Civil War. In 1865, he returned to the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery as Dean, departing in 1882 to become founding Dean of the University of Maryland Dental Department (now the School of Dentistry), a post he held until 1911.

He wrote extensively on dentistry, revising seminal works by pioneer dentist Dr. Chapin Harris many times, and was one of the editors of the American Journal of Dental Science, one of the first professional academic journals on dentistry.

He and his wife, Anna (Swormstedt) Gorgas (1835-1909), had four children, of whom I have identified three: Ellen, Dr. Lawrence D. Gorgas, MD (1861-1924) and Herbert F. Gorgas, DDS (1857-1958). Only their two sons survived to adulthood. Anna, who married Dr. Gorgas in Jefferson County, Indiana in 1855,  was the daughter of Jefferson County, Indiana merchant Lorenzo Dow Swormstedt.

Dr. Gorgas belonged to the Oriental Grand Lodge of Masons, a lavish 1866 Second Empire-style edifice that is now part of the Tremont Plaza Hotel, on St. Paul Place. The building, designed by Peabody Institute architect Edmund G. Lind and expanded by Joseph Evans Sperry in 1909, was rescued from demolition and lavishly restored as meeting and event space in the late 1990s.

For many years the family lived on fashionable North Eutaw, and they may have attended Mt. Vernon Place Methodist Episcopal Church, Mount Vernon Place and Charles Street; the minister of that church presided over his funeral service. Ferdinand and Anna Gorgas are buried in Green Mount Cemetery; their two sons rest in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Leonidas Wilson Davis

Based on records where his name appears, he preferred to be known as L. Wilson Davis (1862-1947), but Leonidas was his full first name.

Thanks to the thorough work of family historian and cemetery researcher Glenn Wallace, I was able to find Dr. Leonidas Wilson Davis’ grave in Monocacy Cemetery, Beallsville, Montgomery County, Md., and from there, his family history unfolded.

Dr. Davis was the son of Frederick County, Maryland farmer Isaac Howard Davis (1818-1901) and Catherine (Miles) Davis (1822-1897).

L. Wilson Davis was a member of the University of Maryland Dental Department class of 1888, along with Frank Ryland Steel. He set up practice in Baltimore, and married Mary Harrison Griffith, daughter of merchant and Civil War veteran Francis Moore Griffith (1831-1908) and Elizabeth (Dickerson) Griffith of Beallsville, Montgomery County, Md.

Dr. Davis was interested in what became known as orthodontia, as well as the care of teeth as a public health concern. In 1900, he was part of a committee that authored a proposal for a pilot project for the examination of children’s teeth in Maryland schools, and for the education of children in dental hygiene.

Dr. Davis’ brother, Isaac Howard Davis Jr. (1859-1918), also became a dentist as well as an MD. Isaac Davis was part of the University of Maryland Department of Dentistry’s first graduating class in 1884, and was a professor of dentistry at the University of Maryland at the same time as Dr. John C. Uhler and Dr. James H. Harris, succeeding Dr. Harris as professor of Operative and Clinical Dentistry, a position he still held at the time of his death.

According to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900, Richard Walzl’s studios, where Dr. L. Wilson Harris had his portrait taken, were located at the addresses indicated on the bottom of the cabinet card ca. 1887-1893. This photograph of young Dr. Davis may well have been taken on the occasion of his graduation from dental school in 1888.

Dentists I Have Not Known: “I am yours very truly” James Howell Harris, MD, DDS

This cabinet card portrait of Dr. James Howell Harris, MD, DDS, is dated 2 March 1888, the date of the 1888 commencement ceremony for the Dental Department of the University of Maryland, where Dr. Harris was a founding faculty member.

Harris’ life and career are fairly well-documented in the history University of Maryland, 1807-1907.

Harris was born on 31 October 1834 in Albemarle County, Virginia, to blacksmith Alanson Harris (1811-1866) and Sophia Ann Harris (1815-1893).  In 1861, James Harris earned the newly-emerging credential of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the prestigious Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. He obtained a medical degree from the Baltimore College of Physicians and Surgeons.

After the Civil War, he taught at his dental alma mater, then in 1882  left to help organize the newly-formed Dental Department at the University of Maryland.

There he held a professorship of Operative and Clinical Dentistry until his death in Baltimore on 12 December 1910. He was a colleague of Dr. John Uhler, about whom I wrote in a recent post.

Fellow Virginian Dr. Charles Lowndes Steel, Sr. (1860-1904; DDS Baltimore College of Dental Surgery 1881), brother of  Dr. Frank Ryland Steel DDS (University of Maryland Dental Dept. Class of 1888) boarded in the Harris home  on North Eutaw, and married Dr. Harris’ daughter Ella Harris (1868-1924).

His brother, Franklin Lewis Harris (1848-1911; DDS 1870, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery) and two of his sons, Charles C. Harris and James Edwin Harris (DDS, 1884, University of Maryland Dental Dept.), followed him into the dental profession.

Several obituaries mention that Dr. Harris served in the Confederate Medical Corps (Baltimore American 13 Dec 1910; Baltimore Sun 13 Dec 1910). I found a passing reference to his service in Company I of the 4th Virginia Cavalry (Marylanders in the Confederacy, Daniel Hartzler, 1986).

Harris is portrayed as a beloved  and devoted teacher who avoided public life.

Dr. Harris was, according to his biographer, “of a genial disposition and strong domestic habits” and an “active, enthusiastic and beloved teacher of successive classes of dental graduates.” 

One of his eulogists described him thus: “His students at the university were so deeply attached to him and he to them that they spent many of their evenings at his home” (Baltimore American 13 Dec 1910).

During his funeral, said the Sun, the senior class of the Dental Department gathered in front of his residence and marched “in a body” to Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Read and Cathedral streets “to pay their last respects” (Baltimore Sun 14 Dec 1910).

He is buried in Woodbine Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia, along with his second wife, Elizabeth Ann (Hardesty)  Harris (1841-1918).

According to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers, the studio of James S. Cummins‘ (1841-1895) was located at 5 N. Charles Street ca. 1886-1887, which fits nicely with my speculation that Dr. Harris gave this portrait as a token of affection to an unknown dental graduate in March 1888.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Frank Ryland Steel

Baltimore photographer William Ashman (1863-1902) took this cabinet card portrait identified in period ink on the reverse as Frank Ryland Steel (b. abt. 1867, Virginia), DDS. Steel may have sat for this photograph upon the occasion of his graduation from the Dental Department of the University of Maryland in March 1888.

After completing his studies, Frank followed his father,  George B. Steel (1835-1916), and his half-brother Charles Lowndes Steel (1860-1904) into the family dental practice in Richmond, Virginia. Charles had also studied in Baltimore–earning his DDS from the  Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1881.

Frank got his middle name from his mother, Martha “Mattie” Ryland Fleet (1839-1871). His father married three times in all, so the Steel household was a large one. All told, there were 12 siblings and half-siblings.

Frank Ryland Steel married a much younger woman, Dora Robertson,  in 1924; it appears they had no children, and by 1930 he was a widower, living alone in the small tidewater town of Urbanna, Virginia.

I have not been able to trace the Steels back beyond the census of 1860. Frank’s father George B. Steel was active in Richmond politics, and a 1911 campaign advertisement says only that George B. Steel’s father was “George Steel, a former merchant of this city” (Richmond Times Dispatch, 16 September 1911).

However ordinary his life appears, someone cared enough about Frank Ryland Steel to keep his portrait in their collection of dentists all these years.