OTIS CLAPP, HOMEOPATHIC PHARMACIST, SWEDENBORGIAN & PUBLISHER
There were at least three generations of the Clapp family in the Boston, Mass. area involved in the medical field, but it was a difficult task to find that the firm was involved in Providence, Rhode Island, as suggested by 2 covers addressed to them. This relationship was eventually confirmed by a blue bottle and a single reference that stated: “In 1877 there were 73 homeopathic practitioners in Rhode Island, thirty-seven being in Providence .....On December 1, 1877, Otis Clapp & Son opened a branch establishment in Providence. This is still continued.”
The first cover which attracted my attention was addressed to Otis Clapp & Son, 417 Westminster St., Providence, Rhode Island, United States of America. It had a red on yellow paper 2½d ‘Stamp Duty’ stamp of Victoria postmarked MELBOURNE/ 16 P/ JY 18/ 99. The reverse was not seen and the sender was not identified (Figure 1).
The second cover with a pink 2 cents U.S. imprinted stamp had the identical addressee and was postmarked with a duplex SOUTH FRAMINGHAM/ JAN 10/ 7 AM/ 01 with barred numeral ‘1'. The sender was identified as Dr. L.M. Palmer of South Framingham, Mass. (Figure 2).
The firm of Otis Clapp & Son was quickly identified as the well-known homeopathic pharmacists, manufacturers and importers of homeopathic goods, located at 3 Beacon Street, Boston. The firm was the second oldest-established homeopathic pharmacy in the United States and its growth mirrored the extensive growth of homeopathy in New England. “Otis Clapp, its founder and present senior partner, commenced with a very limited stock of goods in 1840 at 121 Washington Street, Boston” when there were only 3 or 4 homeopathic physicians in Boston. “In 1841 the firm moved to School Street and in 1855 to the present location in Beacon Street Boston”, where it became one of the largest and most complete pharmacies of its class in the world.
“The Messrs. Clapp manufacture in their laboratory such medical preparations as are made from plants indigenous to this country, and import from Germany and England such as are native to Europe. They also are large importers of sugar-of-milk (lactose) and other products used in their special branch of trade. The preparations of ‘triturations’ - drugs pulverised with sugar-of-milk, a form of attenuating and dispensing remedies peculiar to homeopaths...is carried on by the aid of electricity as a motive power.”
Otis Clapp became a major publisher/distributor of Swedenborgian* writings, a strong advocate of homeopathy and was instrumental in the founding of the Boston Female Medical College. He was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From 1862-75 Otis served as the Federal Collector of Internal Revenue and he devoted a great deal of his time to the Boston School of Medicine where he was a Professor of Pharmacy.
In the early 1870s, Otis brought his son, Dr. James Wilkinson Clapp into the company as a partner. James was a homeopathic emeritus professor of pharmaceutics at the Boston University School of Medicine. During the early 1900s, Lowell T. Clapp, a pharmaceutical chemist, and bacteriologist, the grandson of the original founder of the firm, joined the company. Thomas Clapp was a professor of chemistry and William E. Clapp was a chemist in Boston at the same time period, but their relationship to Otis Clapp is unproven, but likely.
Two items related to the Otis Clapp & Son company, the first being a label for ‘Obtundia’ Surgical Dressing and the blue medicine bottle with ‘Otis Clapp & Son/ Homœopathic Pharmacy/ Providence R.I.’ are seen in Figures 3 & 4.
* Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772): Swedish philosopher, theologian, chemist, anatomist, and mystic, fluent in eleven languages. Swedenborg devoted the first half of his life to scientific investigations. Thereafter he turned his full attention to theology, metaphysics and started to explore mystical experience. Among Swedenborg's most popular books are Heaven and Hell and Earths in Universe. His spiritual writing influenced Emerson, Goethe, Henry James Sr., Dostoevsky, and William Blake. During his life, Swedenborg published over 50 works. His books have been translated into some thirty languages.
The Swedenborg Association of Australia in its celebration of its 10 years’ existence in 2003 listed a time-line of the history of Swedenborg in Australia dating from a tenuous association with Captain James Cook in 1768, up to 1992 when the Swedenborg Association of Australia Ltd. was incorporated. This Table has been divided into 2 parts for clarity of presentation in Figures 5 & 6.
Nora Gaskin found a remarkable reference at the University of Toronto Library which runs into 516 pages on the Clapp family in America, particularly in the New England region, with emphasis on the Boston area. Otis Clapp was one of 3 individuals who spent great effort on attempts to find the linkage of the family which was traced back to England. Under the heading ‘The Emigration of Clapps to America’, I quote “....all of the name who emigrated to this country came over in the seventeenth century, and we have an authentic account of six who did come. Of these, five were among the first settlers in New England, landing at Dorchester from 1630 to 40". The puritanical roots of the Clapp family was stressed in many places of this voluminous document..
I learnt the birth date of Otis Clapp, son of Elisha Bascom Clapp and wife Sally (Hale) Clapp. Otis was born March 3, 1806 (?place) and he came to Boston in 1823, and at that time he was listed as a bookseller and publisher. This was some 17 years before he became a homeopathic pharmacist in Boston, as described above, but this is never alluded to in the entire document. However there is no doubt that this is the Otis Clapp of Otis Clapp & Son on the envelopes: both sold and published books, both were Swedenborgians, collector of the U.S. Internal Revenue in Massachusetts and a representative to the state legislative, and both married twice.
Otis’ second marriage (his first wife Ann Withington Emery Porter married him in 1833, and died in 1843), was to Mary Hadley of Boston in 1844, and ‘the son’ of ‘Otis Clapp & Son’ named James Wilkinson Clapp, was born on 22 September 1847 to the couple. I could not find Otis’ death date, but he was still alive on 19 June1873 when he was an organiser for the large second Clapp family reunion. The frontispiece of the monumental The Clapp Memorial: Record (of) Clapp Family in America is shown in Figure 7.
The above volume contains 2 photos of particularly important members of the Clapp family, the Reverend Nathaniel Clapp, first Congregational Minister of Newport Rhode Island (1695-1745) and of Otis Clapp, in Figures 8 & 9.
I acknowledge the enthusiastic research of Nora Gaskin, Mills Library McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario, Canada who was responsible for finding the exciting volume on the Clapp Family in America.